ANT-MAN: A Retrospective by Joel Copling

Rating in Stars: ***½ (out of ****)
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale
Director: Peyton Reed
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)
Running Time: 1:57
Release Date: 07/17/15

Ant-Man contains all the usual ingredients of the superhero movie (Indeed, it also contains many of the same things that have made the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe so creatively tired lately), but it’s in the way screenwriters Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd rearrange and, in a roundabout way, mock them that the movie finds its pretty considerable success. This is the best introduction to a hero we’ve seen yet in this universe (and, if you’re into ranking things, the second-best movie overall that Disney and Marvel have overseen these past seven years). Mark it down to a mixture of the kind of wacky fun that most of these movies have been missing and a serious approach to the mythology that, finally, is starting to feel lived-in.

But yes, all the usual plot elements are here. We have the Everyman with a hero complex and a unique past: Scott Lang (Rudd) was the well-meaning dad to daughter Cassie (an impossibly cute Abby Ryder Fortson) before wife Maggie (Judy Greer, one of our brightest comic actresses again semi-wasted here in a wife role) remarried to policeman Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) and Scott himself became a career criminal, ending up in the slammer for three years. The film begins as he is finally released–only to procure and then lose a job with a popular ice-cream chain.

We have the Hero’s Destiny, which is here for Scott to be an expendable soldier/guinea pig for Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a billionaire scientist who, in 1989, was attempting to discover how to shorten the distance between the atoms (or something). In the present, he is emerging from what seems to be reclusive period in solitude, having handed the company down to his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) years ago; Hank’s daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is some sort of head of research, too. Cross has perfected shrinking technology that Hank gave up on years ago, except without the knowledge that Hank’s suit, which shrinks its wearer to the size of a bug, is still active.

Enter Scott into this whole thing, because Hank thinks the technology is dangerous and simply wants to fight fire with fire. From here, we get the usual superhero shtick: Scott trains to become a hero dubbed “the Ant-Man” much to his chagrin by “communicating” with the counterpart insect, which does give us a cool sequence where he fights with another, cameoing Avenger. When the climax comes, director Peyton Reed’s shifting perspective of big-vs.-small takes over in creative ways (such as the battleground of Scott’s final encounter with someone in a different, also-tiny suit called the Yellowjacket being a Thomas & Friends train set or a particularly thrilling battle with a suitcase that turns LifeSavers hard candies and an iPhone into deadly weapons).

This all combines to make this one of the better films in this dominating franchise and just simply an enormously clever ride on its own terms (Even the sequences juxtaposed into the end credits, a phenomenon that has now dominated the franchise’s way of imparting important plot details regarding the whole she-bang, are better than they’ve been in ages). The actors all gel rather wonderfully with their characters (Rudd in particular has a way of making Scott’s abrasiveness likable, and who knew the actor we needed in these movies was Douglas, who hasn’t been this strong in years), and even when the pieces of the puzzle connect exactly where one expects them to, Ant-Man succeeds rather hugely at making us grin too much to care too deeply.

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