Mark Reviews Movies



2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, Tip "T.I." Harris, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson,

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)

Running Time: 1:57

Release Date: 7/17/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 16, 2015

Ant-Man offers the usual beats of a superhero origin story, but at least it's trying to give those beats a different tune under which to drum. "Trying" is the operative word there. These origin stories have become predictably formulaic, and they have been for quite a while now. When the movie reveals a second suit that allows its wearer to shrink to the size of an insect and gain superhuman strength, the question is not who will end up in the suit, what the result will be, or at what point in the story that will happen. There's just one question: Why, oh why, must these movies telling the story of the beginnings of a superhero do the same things over and over and over again?

To give credit where it's due, the inevitable fight between the hero and the generic villain, who has found a way to match the hero's powers, is the movie's best sequence. It doesn't just try to play with the clichéd climactic brawl. It actually finds a few clever ways to undermine the cliché, but we'll get to that later.

Up until that point, though, the story's form and the movie's sense of style are molded by the same cookie-cutter formula we've experienced so many times. That's unfortunate, because Ant-Man features one of the sillier superheroes of any comic-book universe to come along since these characters have become all the rage in Hollywood. That's saying something when one considers that we've seen the adventures of a Norse god who is actually an alien, a teenager whose DNA is modified by a radioactive spider, and all sorts of mutants with sometimes questionable powers, such as somehow being genetically predisposed to control the weather.

The inherent usefulness of those heroes' powers has never been in question. When this movie introduces its hero's gimmick, though, the instant reaction is to let out a chuckle.

With the help of his super-suit, our hero can shrink down to the size of an ant. A promotional video for the technology boasts that such a weapon will be a deciding factor for any country or organization that wields it. We might be thinking that it's all well and good until someone's foot comes down to do in our hero with an anticlimactic squish.

Yes, the movie explains that the suit also gives its wearer a massive boost in strength, so such a scenario is unlikely. When we see bodies flying through the air after being hit by an object the size of a bug, though, the chuckle grows into something a little stronger. During this section, it's pretty safe to assume that screenwriters by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and star Paul Rudd are laughing right along with us. It's all the stuff between this and the final battle that has difficulty finding a similar tone.

The man who will eventually don the shrinking suit is Scott Lang (Rudd), a master thief who is released from prison after a three-year stint for pulling off a Robin Hood-esque heist. He needs to find gainful employment so that his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her current fiancé Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) will allow him to see his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson).

Instead, Scott ends up involved in the internal politics of a technology company. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the company's founder and erstwhile CEO, and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) want to stop the present CEO Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from developing his own version of the shrinking technology, lest it fall into the wrong hands.

From here, we're handed to the customary shtick. Scott trains to become Ant-Man. We get a few sprinkles of humor through the montage, primarily physical comedy involving Scott trying to shrink mid-leap to fit through a door's keyhole and his woeful first encounters with various species of ants that will become his future allies. He tests out his powers with a preliminary mission, which gives us a fairly neat fight of shifting scale with one of the Avengers. There's some tension between Hank and Hope, which the movie handles with dreadful, momentum-wrecking sincerity. That is until Scott makes an off-handed comment about the resolution of the drama.

That's the movie's primary approach to humor. It treats everything about this hero and his origin story seriously, but every so often, there's a sarcastic tangent in the dialogue. The movie's characters are occasionally flippant within the strict confines of the material, but the movie is rarely jokey about itself. Its characters are allowed to be silly and self-deprecating, but the movie doesn't allow itself that indulgence.

That all changes in the final skirmish and during parts of the climactic heist, in which director Peyton Reed uses the concept of relative size to poke fun of the notion of a large-scale destruction—a common staple in these superhero movies. A scale model of the facility explodes in a hail of bullets. A falling briefcase becomes a perilous, zero-gravity obstacle course. A toy trainset becomes the setting for a life-or-death battle. A table tennis paddle is suddenly a deadly weapon. This is legitimately funny, wacky stuff, befitting our diminutive hero of questionable value. It's a brief and far-too-late—but still notable—glimpse of what Ant-Man could have been.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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