Got Marvel Malaise? Clever “Ant-Man” Offers Cure for What Ails You

Ant-Man Peña

Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)

Tired of big, bombastic studio superhero films such as Avengers: Age of Ultron? That movie may have grossed over $1,000,000,000 at the world box office, but I, for one, was bored silly. The genre is tired. How many times can the world be almost destroyed, and then saved at the last minute, before audiences across the globe demand a different story? Time will tell. For now, however, we can take heart that the folks at Marvel occasionally come out with gems like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man that have as much fun subverting the genre as playing into it. True, some of the self-serious films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier rise far above the rest, as well, but the refreshing cheekiness of Marvel’s new pint-sized hero is a much-needed breath of fresh air in a universe of stale sameness.

That’s not to say that Ant-Man exists outside of the Marvel Universe. Au contraire; all of these stories are linked. We start in 1989, where Michael Douglas (Behind the Candelabra) – as Hank Pym, inventor of an-as-yet-mysterious technology (to play a big role later in the movie) – walks out of a meeting with Howard Stark (father of Iron Man‘s Tony Stark), declaring that his life’s work will never be used by the military (a sure sign, of course, that come the start of the main story, someone will have made sure that it will). Flash-forward 26 years to our present, and we meet Paul Rudd (This Is 40) as Scott Lang, a convicted cyber-hacker on his last day in prison. Michael Peña (Cesar Chavez), as his former cellmate Luis, greets him at the gates and takes him back to an apartment where he and two other ex-cons try to bring him in on another score. Scott’s have none of it, as he wants to rebuild his life and reconnect with his young daughter. It’s tough to get a job as a convicted felon, however, and things look bleak. So far, so boring. Rudd is a charismatic screen presence, and Peña is fun, but other than the fact that our main character is a crook, this looks and sounds fairly conventional.

Meanwhile, back at Pym Industries, Corey Stoll (Peter Russo in Season 1 of “House of Cards“) – as Daren Cross, Hank’s former protégé – has almost replicated that mysterious technology. Hank’s estranged daughter, Hope – played by Evangeline Lilly (Kate on “Lost“) – has helped him do it, but without Hank’s involvement, some major glitches remain. At the same time, Rudd, fired from yet another dead-end job, agrees to go in on a heist with his new roommates, and this is where the film finally picks up steam and becomes the irreverent wonder that it remains for the rest of its duration. In a brilliantly funny montage that showcases a manic Peña, Luis spins the yarn of how he learned about the score, convincing both Scott, and us, that we’re on to something special. So the team breaks into the house in question, where, in the vault, they find something that looks very much like a motorcycle suit (see poster, above, with tiny guy on Peña’s shoulder). Disappointed, Scott nevertheless packs up the suit, goes home, and then can’t resist trying on his new find. Which is when the film kicks up into an even higher gear.

For, you guessed it, this suit can shrink the man wearing it to ant-sized proportions, and this is also that mysterious technology which Hank has tried to hide from the military-industrial complex all these years. Before he knows it, Scott (and his roommates) are involved in a scheme to defeat the forces of evil (OK, that part is nothing new), working with Hank to stop Darren from finally completing his own research. Along the way, in spite of certain necessary genre tropes, we get a superhero movie unlike any we’ve seen in a bit (even more smart-alecky than the first Iron Man film), filled with gags both verbal and visual that keep us laughing even while the action scenes go at full tilt. My favorite moments remain the ones where we cut to a wide shot in the middle of a battle between diminutive participants, revealing the tiny size of the high stakes. The film is a delight, with all actors at the top of their game, and a fast pace that keeps us engaged even when the plot makes almost no sense. Ant-Man is a winner.

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