Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant-Man film review: Big things in a small package

Ant-Man film review: Big things in a small package
by rick olivares

 What did I like about Ant-Man?

I had giant-sized concerns heading into the showing of Ant-Man.

For starters, the trailer was rather underwhelming. Nothing really impressive and I wondered if this is where the gravy train would come to a screeching halt. The trailer for Iron Man III was good except for the revelation that Ben Kingsley reprised Gene Hackman’s buffoon of a Lex Luthor in the first ever Superman film with a moronic portrayal of the Mandarin who has always been a terrifying foe for old Shellhead. So when the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy hit, there was a form of trepidation. Guardians who? I know them having read them as a kid but for the world at large, it’s WTF? The Guardians aren’t even a second tier group in Marvel. They are probably third. For crying out loud, they didn’t even have a comic book when it was announced that the space-faring team was getting its Hollywood treatment. But Marvel hit a home run with Guardians so maybe we had to take a leap of faith for Ant-Man.

And that leads me to the character itself. In Marvel Comics mythology, Ant-Man was a founding member of the Avengers. Yet for its entire place in history, Ant-Man in both the Hank Pym and Scott Lang incarnations have been largely underused if not misused. Hank Pym went from heroic to a bad guy while Scott Lang went from a bad guy to a good guy.

In the Marvel pantheon, Spider-Man is its most recognizable character on a worldwide scale followed by the X-Men and Captain America and Iron Man to a certain extent. But I’ll say this for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they got cojones. 

Here’s what I loved about Ant-Man:
The Marvel formula for its comics was to feature the most unlikely character to be a hero and torment them with real life problems. Steve Rogers was a soldier. Tony Stark is an industrial warmonger. Peter Parker is an unpopular high school nerd. The film adaptations have added several crucial ingredients to the Eureka mix: A-list actors, humor, and great soundtracks. 

A-List Actors
Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) has that comedic background (Saturday Night Live) and has a resemblance to Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) with an aww shucks look that makes him likeable and sympathetic. Pratt’s Scott Lang is a true accidental hero.

Michael Douglas (Hank Pym) The gravitas Robert Redford provided for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Douglas reciprocates the same for Ant-Man. Age certainly hasn’t dulled his intensity. 

Michael Peña (Luis) IS A SCENE STEALER. As the wise cracking Luis, he not only provides comedy relief but is always in memorable scenes. His punchlines are awesome. When he recounts stories in a good-natured but long and winded way, it’s absolutely hilarious!

Howard Mackie (Sam Wilson aka "the Falcon”) Who says that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is the only hero with eagle eyes? Pretty cool fight scene between the Falcon and Ant-Man.

Love how Bobby Canavale as Paxton, the boyfriend of Lang’s estranged wife, Maggie, doesn’t end up as the stereotype jerk/bad boyfriend.

Hip hop artist T.I. “Tip” Harris (Dave) and David Dastmalchian (Kurt) who we last saw as a deranged henchman of the Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight are part of Luis’ team of ex-cons on the mend. They hold their own and actually remind me of a modern-day Ghostbusters unit.

Am not sure about Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne who is expected to be the Wasp, the partner of Ant-Man. Maybe because she looks older. But she definitely isn’t any cookie clutter. She provides a fount of strength for the cast.

Corey Stoll as the vengeful and deranged Darren Cross could use a little more malevolence. Sort of like how Jeff Bridges portrayed Obadiah Stane in the first Iron Man film. 

It never gets cheesy and it’s just right. What makes the injection of humour is it is never expected. It just happens. In a tearjerker moment when the Pyms — Hank and his daughter Hope talk about the “death” of Janet, wife and mother respectively to the two - Lang interrupts that moment with an awkward remark that is just perfect. And there’s Peña who his witticisms. When Yellowjacket and Ant-Man fight in Cassie’s (Lang’s daughter) bedroom, they the destruction is horrific but from macro view, it’s hilarious. When Thomas the Engine is thrown out of the window but tagged with the giant-growing Pym particles, it’s even crazier. 

The soundtrack
One of the cool things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe films are the people behind them are 70s and 80s kids -my generation as we were kids in the 70s and were in school in the 80s. You can see references and the music of the times in the films. In Iron Man, it was AC/DC. For Guardians, it was the 1970s. For Ant-Man, there’s composer Christophe Beck who did Buffy the Vampire Slayer, We Are Marshall, the Hangover among many others. There’s also the music of The Cure. Curiously, the credits cites Adam and the Ants’ “Ant Music” but I don’t recall hearing it,

If Avengers was a super hero film in every sense of the word, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy flick. Guardians was sci-fi. And now, Ant-Man is their heist film. Any one care to wonder if the upcoming Dr. Strange flick is a nod to the macabre?

Ant-Man, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is a heist film that is incidentally a superhero film.

The Easter Eggs I liked:
When Darren Cross says “tales to astonish” that is actually the comic where Ant-Man debuted.
The Milgrom Hotel that is a nod to former Marvel artist and editor Al Milgrom.
When Scott Lang asks Hank Pym why can’t they call the Avengers, the latter responds that “they are busy dropping cities out of the sky” a reference to Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Howard Stark and Peggy Carter appearing in a flashback.
One of the corporate terrorists who travels to Pym Tech and is interested in buying Darren Cross’ version of the Pym Particle has a Mandarin tattoo. So you know these guys are still around. 10 Rings of the Mandarin and Hydra? Wow. The bad guys are in force. Now if those beehive sci-fi terrorists of AIM (Advanced Ideas in Mechanics later switched to Murder) show up then we’ve got a legion of adversaries.
When Peña’s Luis is whistling inside Pym Tech hope you caught it that he’s whistling “It’s A Small World After All” 
The Quantum Realm. In Marvel Comics lore, this is called “the Microverse.” Could the Micronauts, the toyline first developed by Mego and now owned by Hasbro be in the offing? JJ Abrams was reported to have signed up for a possible film adaptation of The Micronauts that at one time was a popular Marvel Comic (with the new adventures published first by Image Comics then by Devil’s Due. With that it mind, it is sort of next to impossible that the Micronauts will be given its Marvel treatment. But there are other heroes who during their comics history have traveled to and fro from the Microverse, there’s these dudes who all appear in that pocket universe of Marvels that is 20th century Fox -- Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four, and Dr. Doom. If Spider-Man will be in the mix in the near future then why not Marvel’s First Family and franchise ever?
The last scene in Ant-Man where an acquaintance of Michael Peña’s Luis is talking telling the Falcon that “we’ve got guys who jumps. We got guys who swing. We got guys who climb up walls.” Spider-Man cometh to the MCU!
The post-match credit scene where The Falcon and Cap talk about finding Bucky but keeping it from Iron Man. We all know that Captain America: Civil War is coming up. A glimpse of the schism that is developing between the two main heroes of the Marvel Universe?

Non-Marvel Easter Eggs
Love the crack about the Titanic as the film “where they killed DiCaprio.” That had me laughing out loud.

And Thomas the Engine! What a sight!

You know the saying don’t judge a book by its cover? We should adjust that to not judging a film for its trailer. But basing it on the number of people who watched the Ant-Man screening when I did which wasn’t packed, maybe Marvel would be better served by coming out with one that kicks some serious butt because there really wasn’t much buzz for this film. 

So maybe now the buzz will be via word-of-mouth.

I have giant-sized concerns about Ant-Man heading into the film. I came away with giant-sized platitudes for director Peyton Reed who pulled off this heist of a film. And as Vincent Van Gogh once said, “great things are done by a series of small things brought together."

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