Saturday, July 18, 2015

Movie Review: "Ant-Man" (2015)

© Walt Disney Studios

It may not have helped that I walked in to watch Ant-Man literally as the credits rolled on Trainwreck, the best comedy of the year so far. By comparison, the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe just couldn't compete. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem: one is a comedy, one is a sci-fi adventure... except that Ant-Man really wished it was comedy, and it wasn't. Maybe my assessment of it would be different had I seen it first, but I guess we'll never know.

The first film to delve into the world of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a professional burglar-turned-convicted felon who would go on to become the superhero Ant-Man. Before all that can happen, though, we need the origin story. The movie, partially written by the brilliant Edgar Wright before he abandoned it due to creative differences with the studio, bopped around through a series of re-writes before focusing in on the tale of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man. Pym developed a serum that, when used through a special suit, could shrink the wearer down to the size of an insect—with super-human strength. Pym's protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), goes cuckoo-bananas about getting his hands on the formula, pushing Pym out of his own company in order to develop a new version, this time into a weapon.

That's where Scott Lang comes in. Recently released from prison, Scott is desperate to stay on the up-and-up in order to regain visiting rights to see his young daughter. But it isn't long before Pym recruits the thief to steal the "Yellow Jacket" suit Cross is developing, much to the dismay of Pym's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), by giving Scott his own suit to become the new Ant-Man. Of course, it wouldn't be Ant-Man without a multitude of ant species that Scott must learn to control if he wants to succeed in his mission. After plenty of joke-cracking and training montages, we're off to the races.

While all of the action and the shrinking was delightful fun, the comedy didn't quite fit. Littering the script with laugh lines doesn't serve a movie like this—which has the potential to be silly in the all the wrong ways already. Paul Rudd is one of the funniest actors working today, and he doesn't need jokes to get a laugh. He just is funny, and that's how Scott Lang needed to be. There are moments where Wright's writing came through and Rudd could shine, but then it slipped away into goofiness, which just highlights how goofy the concept of Ant-Man kinda is. The only thing that saved it was the stellar acting talent from the leads. Lesser actors making the same jokes, I fear, would have been laughably terrible.

Visually, it's clear that they figured out how not to make it goofy. The VFX were wonderful, in line with what you'd expect from Marvel, but that doesn't earn it a whole lot of extra brownie points. Where it did impress was in the uniqueness of the world we got to experience. It's the first time we get to explore a 'microverse,' and there's enough science jargon thrown in there to show that they tried, but not so much that it backed itself into a logic-hole. I just wish it had been more balanced tonally. Lilly isn't given much to do but scowl, which is too bad, and Stoll is equally one-dimensional, but hey, it's never really about them, is it? Douglas and Rudd have lovely moments full of righteous indignation, and the chemistry really works.

Regardless of what the film does or doesn't accomplish—which isn't much other than introducing new potential Avengers—it's still a piece of the now massive Marvel puzzle that we know we have to see before the next movie comes out. I have a theory that half the audience goes to these movies just to see the post-credits scene(s), and who can blame them? We're all too invested now to forego any new Marvel flick, and their formula is pretty predictable at this point. They're never going to spring unexpected deaths or scene-less credits on us, no matter how much we're aching for a mix-up and some higher stakes. So buy a ticket and some overly buttered popcorn and lower those expectations. We'll likely never get another Iron Man-caliber story, but we will get plenty of fun and superpowers. That's probably enough for most of us.

Rating: ★★½ / 5 stars

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