Monday, July 20, 2015

'Ant-Man' review

"Ant-Man" is a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The special effects are impressive as is the cast. The actors have viable onscreen chemistry and for the most part, it's believable that they have a history together.

Some naysayers will say "Ant-Man" is stupid or ridiculous.

But let's face it, it's a movie about a superhero who can shrink and command ants. So let's not make more of it than there is. There are a few montages and sequences which feel like "Honey, I Shrunk the Superhero," but that's more than OK. Those scenes are a hoot and do a great job of showing how overwhelming it is to operate as a tiny person. Why shouldn't Marvel Studios have some fun — especially with a guy who has such an uncool superhero name?

As the father of an 11-year-old girl, I can say this is the first Marvel and/or superhero film I can take her to see without reservations. There are only less than a half-dozen curse words (usually the same one) — and they're mild.

When it was announced Paul Rudd was cast as Scott Lang, I had my doubts and reservations. What helped me enjoy "Ant-Man" was I bought Rudd as a burglar who served time for getting back at the shady, high-tech company for which he worked and who had majored in mechanical engineering.

Sure, there are times the script takes advantage of Rudd's usual smartass antics and delivery, but it's not overdone. They don't distract from Rudd playing it straight. To not take advantage of Rudd's history of playing the you-can't-help-but-like-this-knucklehead schtick would be similar to the "Iron Man" and "Avengers" scripts not doing something with Robert Downey Jr.'s charisma, lightning fast delivery or his random sense of humor.

Speaking of straight, that's exactly what Lang wants to do; he's determined not to go back to the slammer.

Lang also wants to be a better dad to his young, adorable daughter. Speaking as a father who doesn't live with his daughters, it's tough being away and missing the everyday stuff, so I resonate with that. Rudd looks at his onscreen daughter and you see the pain he has in knowing that getting a job as a felon and paying child support will be tough. Lang's ex-wife has a message for Lang that every father should hear: "Be the hero she already thinks you are."

Dr. Hank Pym (an always superb Michael Douglas, who is stoic and believable) is seeking a bit of redemption of his own.

His estranged adult daughter, Hope Van Dyne (the striking Evangeline Lilly), finally starts connecting with her father once she realizes her employer and Pym's former protege, the sleazy Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is going to use her dad's Pym Particle technology to create an army of insect-sized soldiers and spies known as Yellowjackets. Van Dyne and Pym's hearts ache over the death many years ago of Hope's mother, Janet, but Pym hasn't been straight with his daughter on how her mom died. Hearing Douglas tell the story is bound to pull at your heart strings — and bring joy to every Avengers fan at yet another allusion to Pym and Janet Van Dyne's comic book history as Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Cross hasn't perfected the ability to shrink live subjects — which Pym had used when was Ant-Man, who worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. In an homage to Pym's ongoing struggle with mental health in the comics, Pym — whom Cross forced to retire — knows Cross is in danger of the Pym Particle technology taking its toll on his mental well-being (just as it did Pym). So Pym needs Lang's expertise in breaking into what was Pym's building to steal the Yellowjacket armor and make sure Cross can't use it.

There are many Marvel Easter eggs in "Ant-Man."

Cross, when he announces his Yellowjacket plan, alludes to Pym's legendary time as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as "tales to astonish" — the Marvel title in which Pym and Wasp made their first appearances.

My favorite homage is the Milgrom hotel where Lang stays after being released from prison. It's named for Al Milgrom, a longtime AVENGERS artist who penciled, inked and did the covers for the must-read Pym story, "The Trial of Yellowjacket."

Marvel nerds like me would recognize the shout-out to Lang's first appearance as Ant-Man in MARVEL PREMIERE No. 47, published in April 1979. No. 47 is the number Pym gives to the flying ant that Lang rides. That issue is also the first comic-book appearance of Lang's daughter, Cassie, and Cross. (For the record, Lang himself made his first appearance in THE AVENGERS No. 181, published just one month before MARVEL PREMIERE No. 47.

"Ant-Man" ties nicely into the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With Douglas' Pym being retired, it's obvious he's been around for quite a while. Early in the film, Pym visits S.H.I.E.L.D, which gives actor John Slattery a second chance to play Howard Stark, whom he played in "Iron Man 2." Hayley Atwell has a cameo of Agent Peggy Carter. In some ingenious makeup and special effects work, Douglas' Pym looks as if Douglas would have in 1986.

We also learn how The Avengers got access to the large facility, which is now the team's headquarters. That's where Pym has a nifty confrontation with another Avenger (no, I don't want to ruin the surprise for you if you don't already know!) on his way to retrieve some technology which will help fulfill Pym's plan. And while Pym isn't pleased to know about the fight — much less that Lang introduces himself by saying, "Hi. I'm Scott." — but the fact his mission is successful gains him credibility with Pym and his daughter.

Grade: B+

As Marvelites come to expect, there are two post-credit scenes — one right after the cast is listed and the final one after the entire credits has rolled.

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