1 hour, 57 minutes
The early reviews for this week’s latest Marvel Comics outing, “Ant-Man,” were decidedly mediocre. Looking at sites like MetaCritic or Rotten Tomatoes you saw a lot of critics dismissing the film, and even those that liked it couched their opinions with caveats. “I liked the film, but …”
My suggestion, and I say this at my own peril, ignore the critics. “Ant-Man” was one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in a long time. Of all the movies I’ve seen this summer, it was easily the most fun. Those other critics, I believe are operating under a self-induced superhero fugue, which comes from refusing to take these films on their own terms and instead see them as a trend that will eventually end.
That’s not fair, especially to a movie like “Ant-Man” which comes with almost no baggage, since hardly anybody has ever heard of the character before. This allows the filmmakers to create a story that exists within a larger universe, but is not slavishly referencing other films or well-worn character tropes, i.e. you don’t have to be a giant comic book nerd to enjoy it. This is Marvel’s most inclusive movie since the original “Iron Man.”
At the film’s opening, we see a dramatically de-aged (and very well-done, by the way) Michael Douglas playing Dr. Hank Pym in the mid-1980s. He’s angry at SHIELD, the agency he works for, because they had tried to steal his life’s work, something called the Pym Particle, which has the ability to reduce the space between atoms, without losing strength or stability. This allows for significant shrinkage, as George Costanza might say.
One thing I like about Marvel movie science — it sounds just good enough without having to really delve into realities of why this is actually nonsense.
However it works, it works, and Pym’s not giving it to anyone. He leaves SHIELD and turns to a life of science and research. Along the way, Pym takes on a protégé named Darren Cross, an ambitious young man who refuses to let rumors of a secret shrinking formula die. The rumors also spoke of a SHIELD agent called the Ant-Man, who could transform to impossibly tiny sizes while maintaining super-human strength. Now in the present, Cross is close to duplicating the formula and plans to sell it, and his own super-suit, dubbed the YellowJacket, to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile, Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, just released from prison for a high-profile burglary and about to find out the hard way that ex-cons don’t have an easy time readjusting to society, Masters in Electrical Engineering or not.
Desperate to raise enough money to pay back child-support and gain visitation rights for his young daughter, Scott decides to take his roommate Luis up on his offer to take part in a big score. The score ends up leading our hero to Pym and to the fabled Ant-Man suit. Soon Scott is communing with insects, jumping through keyholes, and taking punching lessons from Pym’s beautiful daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly. Pym needs Scott to use the Ant-Man suit to infiltrate Cross’ security and stop him before he unleashes this dangerous technology on an unsuspecting world.
Part of what makes “Ant-Man” so refreshing is a combination of the tone set in the script and the talented actors carrying it out. Rudd, primarily known for comedic roles, is excellent as Scott Lang — serious when necessary but always with a witty rejoinder just around the corner. Douglas as Pym and Lilly as his daughter are perfect in their roles, with Lilly especially digging in deep to play a conflicted character.
Stealing the show, however, is the great Michael Peña as Luis. His enthusiasm is infectious and his scenes are some of the funniest in the film.
Make no mistake, however, “Ant-Man” isn’t a comedy. It’s funny, but it’s not a goof. In fact, it feels like a throwback. There was a time when you could take your entire family to see a horror movie or an action movie and not worry that you were exposing your kids to mind-numbing levels of sex and violence. It’s not that the movies were sanitized or childish, they just didn’t need all that.
“Ant-Man” feels like that. In fact, I saw the movie twice this weekend, the second time with my 7- and 5-year-olds, a trip I wouldn’t think about taking for the other Marvel movies, no matter how much I enjoy them. I’m sure “Ant-Man” is rated PG-13, because anything lower would be the kiss of death for a movie like this aimed at 15- to 25-year-olds, but believe me, it should have been a PG.
I have to say that “Captain America: Winter Soldier” is probably a better movie. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” certainly painted it’s tale on a larger canvas and had much higher stakes. But “Ant-Man” is much more fun than either of those films. It keeps things personal, keeps the tone relatively light, though not silly, and really focuses on character over bombast.
There is a clever scene in “Ant-Man” that tweaks other, more “serious” superhero films like “The Avengers” or “Man of Steel.” Ant-Man is running from two armed security guards who start blasting away at him with their sidearms. Shrinking, our hero finds himself dashing through a scale Styrofoam model of an upcoming building project, complete with buildings and tiny Styrofoam cars. The bullets tear through the model as Ant-Man dodges debris and flying cars — all very exciting until the camera pulls back and you see they’re just blowing up a toy town.
Needless to say I was very impressed with “Ant-Man.” It is a movie that achieves a surprising level of humor and sweetness without ever sacrificing the action or the dramatic tension. It is a fantasy that is appropriate for all ages in the way movies in the 60s were, and it propels the Marvel storyline, but in a much subtler, more inclusive way than has been done in the past.
“Ant-Man” is my vote for the best big studio film of the year, and that’s no small thing.
“Ant-Man” is rated PG-13 for less swearing than you hear on TV nowadays and some sci-fi violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.