Saturday, September 12, 2015

"ANT-MAN" (2015) Review




"ANT-MAN" (2015) Review

When Marvel Studios first announced that its new movie about the comic book hero, Ant-Man would be the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) second stage, I found myself scratching my head. Why would a solo effort like "ANT-MAN served as the end of Stage Two? Why not the epic "THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON", which had been released two-and-a-half weeks earlier? 

Needless to say, I had no idea what was going through the mind of MCU show runner, Kevin Fiege. So, I sat back and watched how he and the filmmakers for "ANT-MAN" would handle this. And I must say . . . I found myself more than pleasantly surprised. This surprise, along with the actual movie also taught me another lesson about making assumptions. One day, this lesson will remain with me and I will stop making assumptions for good. Hopefully.

As for "ANT-MAN", the movie created a small controversy when the Marvel and Disney Studio bosses decided to fire British filmmaker Edgar Wright and replace him with Peyton Reed as director. They also dismissed the screenplay that Wright co-wrote with collaborator Joe Cornish and allowed the film's star Paul Rudd and Adam McKay to re-write the script. A good number of critics and moviegoers believe this move may have harmed "ANT-MAN". Others are contemplating on how the movie would have turned out if Wright had remained the film's director. After seeing "ANT-MAN" and recalling that 2007's "HOT FUZZ" was the only Wright film I have ever truly liked, I realized in the end that I could not care less about how Wright and Cornish would have done the film. Yes, I enjoyed "ANT-MAN" that much.

The movie begins in 1989 when the recently widowed Dr. Hank Pym resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D., after discovering their attempt to replicate his Ant-Man shrinking technology. Believing the technology is dangerous, Dr. Pym refuses to release the technology to S.H.I.E.L.D. or anyone else. The story jumps twenty-six years later. Pym's estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne, and former protégé, Darren Cross, have forced him out of his own company. Cross is close to perfecting a shrinking suit of his own, the Yellowjacket, which horrifies Pym. Fortunately, Hope realizes the danger that Cross' new invention poses and decides to help her father destroy it. 

At the same time, convicted burglar Scott Lang is finally released from moves in with his old cellmate, Luis and the latter's two friends - Dave and Kurt. After making a surprise visit to his daughter Cassie's birthday party, Scott is dismissed by his ex-wife Maggie and her police-detective fiancé, Paxton, for not providing child support. Unable to hold a job because of his criminal record, Scott agrees to a burglary job that Lang agrees to a burglary job that Luis has discovered - one that involves breaking into an expensive Victorian manor. Only the house belongs to Hank Pym and the only thing Scott was able to find inside Dr. Pym's safe is the Ant-Man suit. Scott tries on the suit and accidentally shrinks himself. Terrified by his experience, he tries to return it to the Pym manor and is arrested by the police. However, Dr. Pym pays the jailed Scott a visit and helps the latter break out of jail, using the suit. Then he recruits Scott to help him and Hope pull a heist on Darren Cross' new Yellowjacket suit before his former protégé can sell the technology to dangerous people.

Following the over-the-top action fest of "THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON""ANT-MAN" proved to be something of a respite for me. Not only did the movie proved to be a respite, but also quite enjoyable. But before I go into why I enjoyed the film, I have to point out its shortcomings. The worst thing I can say about "ANT-MAN" is its pacing. There are a few moments in the film in which director Peyton Reed nearly rushed the film. This was especially apparent in the montages that conveyed Scott Lang's training as Ant-Man at the hands of Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. And I cannot help but wonder why Hope had snitched on Scott to the police . . . a day after he had broke into Dr. Pym's home and taken the Ant-Man suit. Unless she was unaware of the actual date that Scott had planned to make the original heist. The movie also suffered from two abrupt endings. One ending featured Luis' revelation that Sam Wilson aka the Falcon was searching for Scott. The other abrupt ending was scene in the movie's second post-credit scene in which Sam revealed his discovery of the missing Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier to Steve Rogers aka Captain America. 

"ANT-MAN" had its usual set of flaws, but I cannot deny that I found it very entertaining. More importantly, I found it to be one of the more unconventional entries in the MCU. On one level, the movie is an origin tale about the comic book figure, Ant-Man. On another level, the movie began with the Ant-Man character already established. This is due to the fact that the movie's main character, Scott Lang, is the second person to become Ant Man. The superhero's first origin happened back in the 1970s or 1980s, when Hank Pym assumed the role and his wife, Janet van Dyne became the Wasp. There has never been a Marvel film before in which a second person assumed the role of a particular superhero or superheroine. If one really looked at the movie from a certain perspective, the role of Ant-Man revolved around three people - Scott Lang, Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. "ANT-MAN" told how Scott became the superhero. In the case of Hank and Hope; the movie told how the "hero" affected the lives of both father and daughter. Hank's role as Ant-Man had eventually led to the death of Janet van Dyne, which affected their relationship. And Scott becoming the new Ant-Man eventually not only led to their emotional reconciliation, but also helped him reconciled with his ex-wife and her fiancé, which allowed him to spend more time with his daughter. Even the villain, Darren Cross, seemed to have some kind of emotional tie to Hank. The latter had not only considered the former as a protégé, but also a son. Yet, Cross' growing obsession with the Pym Particle and Hank's refusal to tell him about it, led to resentment on Cross' part and coldness on Hank's. I have never come across a Marvel film with that scenario. Come to think of it, I have never come across a Marvel film in which family ties had such a strong impact . . . with the exception of 2003's "THE HULK" and 2010's "IRON MAN 2".

As I had earlier pointed out, "ANT-MAN" is not the usual "superhero/heroine" origin tale, due to the lead character being the second person to assume the role of Ant-Man. The movie is also unusual, due to the fact that it is basically a heist film. Remember that following the death of his wife back in 1987, Hank had concluded that the Pym Particles, which powered the Ant-Man and Wasp suits, was too dangerous to be used . . . by anyone. This is why he had resigned from S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place . . . to ensure that the government agency would not develop something similar. Unfortunately for Hank, Cross finally managed to create his own shrinking technology (called Yellowjacket). And this forced Hank to recruit Scott to become the new Ant-Man and steal Darren's technology. Scott's past as a professional thief and Master's Degree in Engineering proved to be two of the main reasons why Hank recruited him in the first place. One last aspect of "ANT-MAN" that made it so unusual for me was the offbeat humor that surrounded the characters of Scott, Luis, Dave and Kurt; along with the film's bizarre action sequence in the last twenty minutes.

The technical aspects for "ANT-MAN" seemed pretty solid. But there are two aspects of the film that I found very impressive. One aspect focused on the movie's visual effects created the team led by Allison Gainza. Not only was I impressed by their work in scenes featuring Scott's interactions with many insects, but also how they shrink and inflate both the Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket characters at will. This was especially apparent in scenes featuring Scott's encounter with the Falcon at the Avengers facility and his fight against Cross in the film's final action sequence. Ironically, the visual effects were enhanced by the editing from Dan Lebental and Colby Parker Jr. that made that fight scene so memorable for me. I had never seen such a bizarre action sequence in a Marvel film, since 2013's "THOR: THE DARK WORLD".

When "ANT-MAN" was first in the development stage, the producers had two actors up for the role of Scott Lang aka Ant-Man - Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Paul Rudd. However, Gordon-Levitt dismissed the matter as a rumor and Rudd became the frontrunner. To be perfectly honest, I would have been satisfied with either actor in the role. But I have to give kudos to Rudd to making Scott Lang a plausible professional thief, but also providing the film's emotional backbone. More importantly, Rudd did a superb job of combining both his sardonic style of humor with the emotional desperation that drove his character's actions. I used to believe that the character of Tauriel from "THE HOBBIT" films was actress Evangeline Lilly's best role. Then I saw her portrayal of Hope van Dyne and completely changed my mind. She was exceptional as Hank Pym's embittered daughter, who finds herself willing to work with her father and prevent Darren Cross' plans to sell the Yellowjacket technology. I had read somewhere that Edgar Wright had plans to make Hope a femme fatale character. And while that may have been interesting, I found this new version of Hope equally interesting. Lilly did an exceptional job of expressing Hope's resentment and anger toward her father, while keeping her feelings barely under control. Rounding off this trio is Michael Douglas, who was excellent as the very complicated Dr. Hank Pym. What I enjoyed about Douglas' performance is that not only did he manage to effectively portray the role of mentor, but also revealed certain negative traits in Pym's personality that made him so difficult for both Hope and Cross to deal with.

What can I say about Michael Peña's portrayal of Scott's closest friend, Luis? Some have complained that his character is basically a comic stereotype of the Latino-American male. I would agree . . . superficially. However, between the screenplay and Peña's energetic performance, Luis turned out to be quite an exceptional character who not seemed to be very verbose; but also a lover of fine wine, abstract art and video games. He also proved to be very proficient with his fists. And thanks to Peña's performance, he nearly stole the show. Come to think of it, Corey Stoll was equally effective as the film's main villain, Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket. Of all of the wealthy industrialist/scientists (good or bad) that permeate the Marvel Universe, Cross was one of the most interesting and scariest I have seen. And I have to give kudos to Stoll for making Cross both scary and a bit vulnerable at the same time.

The movie also featured first-rate performances from T.I. "Tip" Harris and David Dastmalchian as Scott and Luis' fellow crew members, Dave and Kurt, who somehow managed to form quite the little screen team by the end of the film. Their discussion of the 1997 movie, "TITANIC" had me rolling on the floor with laughter. "ANT-MAN also featured fine performances from Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, a very funny Wood Harris, and a very charming Abby Ryder Fortson, who portrayed Scott's daughter Cassie. Rounding out this cast was Martin Donovan, who portrayed a former S.H.I.E.L.D. top official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson. Although his appearance in the movie was not as long as the others, Donovan did a great job in setting up the malevolent Carson as a future threat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By the way, Donovan had worked with Paul Rudd in the 2000 movie, "THE GREAT GATSBY"; and with Michael Douglas in the 2006 political thriller, "THE SENTINEL". To ensure the movie's tie-in with the MCU, "ANT-MAN" featured cameos from Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), John Slattery (older Howard Stark) in the prologue; and Chris Evans (Steve Rogers) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes). But for me, the real thrill came in the form of Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson aka the Falcon. His surprise appearance, along with that crazy fight scene between his character and the lead proved to be one of the movie's highlights for me.

"ANT-MAN" is not the type of Marvel film that would strike anyone as mind blowing or epic. And there are those fans who are still castigating it for not being written and directed by Edgar Wright. I personally do not care. I enjoyed the movie very much. Thanks to Peyton Reed's direction, a great cast led by Paul Rudd and a very unusual screenplay written by Rudd and Adam McKay that featured a strong, offbeat humor; I enjoyed the movie very much. In fact, I would go far as to say that "ANT-MAN" was one of the most unusual Marvel productions I have seen. Probably the most unusual. And that makes it unique for me.

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