Monday, July 27, 2015

Ant-Man (mild spoilers)

Ant-Man is a light-footed and winning superhero movie, one with human-sized stakes and a sense of its own silliness that’s too often lacking in the genre. If only the writers (including Edgar Wright, Peyton Reed directed) didn’t have to tie the story into the larger Marvel Universe, because it is the Marvel scenes that bring Ant-Man to Earth and promise a less interesting future for the character. Comics fans will know that the Ant-Man character has a long and busy history, but the rest of us may be surprised to know that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is the second man to don the shrinking suit. Lang is a just paroled burglar with a do-gooder streak, and it’s only desperation that brings him to the home of original Ant-Man Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). No superhero movie would be complete without at least one scene of pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, and Douglas pulls off the explanation of the shrinking - due to something called the “Pym particle” -  like he was born to it. The plot involves an attempt to prevent Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from selling the shrinking technology, but the pleasures of Ant-Man come from watching Rudd’s Lang discover his inner hero.

The visual wit on display in Ant-Man might be due to Peyton Reed, or Edgar Wright, or some combination, but it’s definitely the best thing about the movie. Pym teaches Lang how to control ants, and the sight of a shrunken Lang interacting with ants like they were farm animals is just one of many delightfully off-kilter images. The final fight between Cross and Lang takes place in the bedroom of Lang’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), and Cross and Lang fighting on Cassie’s toy train is worthy of a William Joyce children’s book. (There’s also a great sight gag in this scene involving a well-known children’s character.)  The sequence in which Lang, with the help of Pym and Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), trains to break into Cross’s lab is full of visual jokes. I especially liked the image of Lang  popping through the soil in Pym’s back yard like a mutant gopher.I’d happily watch a movie with Paul Rudd, who plays Lang as a well-intentioned rogue with a soft spot for his daughter, as the leader of some kind of hip Ocean’s 11 gang. Michael Pena is very funny as Lang’s motor-mouthed sidekick and the two montages of exposition his character narrates are gentle mockeries of laborious genre storytelling.

But of course we’re in the Marvel Universe, and Lang must fight with a second-tier Avenger while the post-credits scenes signal Ant-Man’s involvement in future movies. There’s a prologue relating Pym’s departure from S.H.I.E.L.D  and a certain villainous collective pops up. All of this is necessary for the larger Marvel project, but that’s no reason to look forward to Ant-Man getting subsumed into The Avengers. Ant-Man is a charming intermission between acts of Marvel’s ongoing space opera. Enjoy it, but don’t get used to it.

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