Movie Review: Ant-Man

From the sky-rocketing studio that has brought you everything from billionaires in iron suits to green rage monsters, and everything in-between, comes Marvel Studios' next giant adventure. Taking a cue from the first Iron Man, which established one of the studio's biggest money-makers in Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, as well as giving birth to a new age of superhero films, Marvel's Ant-Man brings us a whole new character to breath even more life into the acclaimed Marvel Cinematic Universe. Working as both an efficient origin tale for one of Marvel's not-so-exciting heroes in the comics, and also as a build-up for the studio's next flick, 2016's Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man may feel unconventional at times, but it definitely isn't left out of the amazing reputation of the blockbuster studio.  

Following a scuffle back in 1989, as scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) discovers the budding peace-keeping organization of S.H.I.E.L.D. may be plotting to replicate his ground-breaking particle formula, he resigns and hides his designs away, essentially going into retirement. Now, in present day, Pym's former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) aims to do the same with his mentor's technology, developing an army of soldiers with the ability to shrink down to the size of an insect. With few options left for Pym, as he struggles to regain his designs and prevent Cross from selling them to the villainous HYDRA organization, he must enlist in the help of former con-man and thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Tasked with donning the shrinking Ant-Man suit in an attempt to infiltrate Cross's headquarters, Lang reluctantly becomes Pym's next protégé as he learns how to be the true hero he needs to be. With Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), a rag-tag team of fellow crooks (Michael Peña, T.I, David Dastmalchian), as well as his own army of useful ants at his side, Lang must save the world from a power it can't control, and also protect his own daughter from a new threat.

When I first heard about this film, I have to admit I was skeptical, with the acclaimed studio of massive superheroes and big names offering up a minuscule newbie with an odd premise behind him. Marvel Studios began its great success with an efficient tale of retribution and heroism with 2008's Iron Man, and has since delivered a collection of decent origin stories for their top tier characters, and a few entertaining sequels as well. Then, in 2014, after we met the much-anticipated Avengers team for the first time, fans got a little taste of something new with James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. An unconventional, rag-tag team, which was quite reminiscent of the gang from Star Wars, the Guardians revolutionized the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing us into a broader universe outside of our earth-bound heroes. Now, with Ant-Man, we return to that grounded realm and we don't leave unsatisfied. Following the introduction this year to one of Marvel's most grounded heroes, in Netflix's Daredevil, a much more earth-bound hero on the big screen was greatly welcome. Yes, while we did have the Avengers come through and kick ass in May, Ant-Man felt a lot more refreshing, mainly because of its very human characters, especially the leading hero Scott Lang. In the end, Ant-Man may not be as exciting as the Avengers or feel as fresh as the Guardians, but it holds its own place in the universe, introducing a great (and very much human) character to join in on the fun.   

More grounded...Get it?

With such an unconventional and somewhat lame premise behind this shrinking character, many fans predicted this film to be quite underwhelming and, to be frank...kinda stupid. But believe me, a man who can shrink down to the size of an ant is a hell of a lot more exciting than you might think. A character whose been both beloved and highly underestimated in his comic book history, Ant-Man was a very surprising next step for Marvel's next film, given that they've made most of their money off well-known top-tiers since 2008. But, as I said before, with the impact of the space romp Guardians, Marvel learned that they could take some risks here and there, and still come out unscathed. Marvel takes their next leap of faith with Ant-Man, a film that many moviegoers will leave gleefully surprised and wanting more. For those who underestimate the character, because shrinking may not be as cool or purposeful as a suit of armor or a shield, they will leave the theater knowing just how expansive and awesome Ant-Man's past is, as well as how useful his abilities can be. Yes, while he may not be on Avenger-level just yet, the character's thick history involving the great and troubled scientist Hank Pym, as well as fresh-faced Scott Lang's own tales, are as plentiful and entertaining as Tony Stark's and Steve Rogers'.  

This guy can talk to ants...If that's not cool, then I don't know what is

Speaking of entertaining tales, the story of this film, or very much the genre it fits into, was one of the highlights of the film. From the trailer for the film, we pretty much understand what it's about: Big bad steals mentor's designs to create weapons, mentor enlists in the help of an unlikely hero, hero goes on a "quest" to find out just what kind of hero he wants to be (as well as learning how to use his new-found abilities), hero and big bad fight in climactic battle. Sound familiar? Yes, while it may piggy-back off of the first Iron Man just a tad, there's something else that we don't yet see until we're in the theater seat. With the second Captain America film being very much a 70's political thriller (with a lot more gun-play), and the second Thor being more mythical than its predecessor, Ant-Man was most definitely a heist film. Being very reminiscent of the Mission: Impossible films, where the characters outline their heist and infiltrate their target, the film felt quite refreshing in that sense, as it was the first heist-like film in the MCU. A lover of heist films, for one, as well as superhero films, this was like a wonderful mix of two great genres, just as Captain America: The Winter Soldier was with its thriller feel. With a valiant yet snarky leading thief played by the comedic veteran Paul Rudd, as well as a sufficient team of comic reliefs and computer geniuses, Ant-Man played off much like an adventure of Ethan Hunt and his team of spies, at least after its introductory first act. 

Expect lock-picking, climbing through vents, and propelling
 from deadly heights...Sound familiar? 

Laying beneath the thrilling heist plot, we also have some great characters, with some equally great lessons to learn. The cast of the film felt very unconventional at first, much like everything else in this film, but later blossoming into something you wanted to watch for more than just two hours. Starting with our leading man, we have Scott Lang, played effectively by comedic actor Paul Rudd. Not as well-versed with this comic book character as I am with Tony Stark or Steve Rogers, I didn't really have a preference as to whom would be perfect to play the troubled father and thief. However, I soon realized that Rudd didn't have to be a perfect Lang, he just had to utilize his own charisma and smart-ass nature to make the character his own. And that, fortunately, is exactly what the actor did. Coming off of his generic yet hilarious comedies from the likes of Anchorman to Admission, Rudd was a quite unexpected choice for Marvel's next big action hero. But in the end, Rudd gives likely one of his best performances as the down-on-his-luck father and crook. A guy who you might have seen cross paths with the likes of Matt Murdock's Daredevil, as a fellow street-level hero, Rudd's Scott Lang felt very human and real, with as much charisma and bravery as Stark and Rogers combined. Set to cross paths with said heroes next year in Civil War, here's hoping we can see some of that Rudd charm bounce off hilariously with the wit of big-time guys. 

Next in the cast, we have the aging Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. An actor greatly established in the realm of Hollywood for years now, Douglas may be old (excuse my Terminator Genisys reference) but isn't yet obsolete, as he breaths life into this well-known Ant-Man character. Known to many comic fans as the first guy to don the shrinking suit, as well as the genius mastermind behind the "Pym Particles" which fuel the suit's power, Pym has been around just as long as Iron Man and Captain America have. Now, with this primary Avenger teammate in the comics taking a back seat to the new Ant-Man, Douglas doesn't hesitate as he plays perfectly as the brilliant mentor to Scott Lang. A character with a deep-seated past with the likes of Howard Stark and the first members of S.H.I.E.L.D., Pym's character (even with him not being the one to don the suit in the film) wasn't wasted at all, as he provided an impacting father-daughter dynamic with his troubled past flowing into his daughter, Hope's, life. Even if he may not be kicking that much ass now a days, Pym still has an expansive history behind him, one that would be awesome to see play out on the big screen one day. 

As for the supporting cast, there were many fantastic surprises that made the film a lot more fun than it already was. First off, we have the hilarious Michael Peña, the central comic relief for the film, and one that did not disappoint. An actor whose delved into many genres from comedy to drama to thriller and back (End of Watch, Cesar Chavez, Tower Heist), Peña wasn't a complete stranger to action-heist films, and applied his unique comedy to the film with a fantastic final product. A highlight of the film, Peña's great timing and hilarious bouts made the film definitely one of the funniest in Marvel's collection. Another great addition to the film was Hank Pym's courageous yet arrogant daughter Hope Van Dyne, played by the beautiful Evangeline Lilly. An actress who hasn't had as big an impact on Hollywood as her costars have, just recently ending her time in Middle Earth in the final Hobbit film, the former Lost star plays a generally stiff Hope, but soon becomes as dynamic and funny as Douglas and Rudd. 

Meet the "Antourage"

Finally, we have our villain, Darren Cross, played by the popular television actor Corey Stoll. Veteran of shows like House of Cards and The Strain, Stoll makes for a convincing villain, working his calculated and menacing nature into the character. Most definitely a very cliché villain, a typical aspect of most action films, Marvel films included, Cross plots against Pym and makes for a pretty bad-ass-looking baddie to take on our hero. The typical corrupted protégé who disagrees with his wise mentor and gets high on his own power, Cross may have felt like a very familiar villain (especially when compared to Iron Man's Obadiah Stane), but he was definitely one of the most purely menacing antagonists Marvel has had lately. With Guardians' Ronan the Accuser being more monster than man, and Avengers' Ultron having many unclear motivations, Cross felt very human, and was much like the dark side of Douglas' Hank Pym. An interesting contrast to Pym's good nature, as well as formidable (and quite bad-ass-looking) opponent to Ant-Man, Stoll's Cross may be one of the best villains in the MCU (right after the psycho Loki and the awesome Winter Soldier). 

That final fight scene was the greatest by the way

Overall, the newest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a worthy successor to Age of Ultron's mighty grip, introducing an awesome and unlikely hero into the mix of superpowered giants. Much like how the first Iron Man film brought to us into a revolutionary new age of superhero films, and how Guardians delivered an surprisingly wonderful new team of outsiders, Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air as we get a whole new take on the superhero genre with a great heist adventure. With a fun cast of surprising performances, an amazing range of special effects, and some of the most exciting action scenes in the MCU, Ant-Man is an unlikely romp for comic fans and non-comic fans alike. Providing a worthy tale of a struggling thief trying to regain his old life, as well as a father trying to hold onto his estranged daughter, Ant-Man isn't all glam and galore, as it delivers a very grounded story among its quite fictional and unusual superpowered premise. 

I gave this film an 8 out of 10, because while it may have some clear clichés present, the film works well to not take itself too seriously, and delivers one of the coolest new superheroes of the year. With a brilliant cast at play, a great tease towards Marvel's grand future scheme, and one of the funniest comic reliefs in the business, Ant-Man may not dominate the box-office, but it will definitely stick with fans as it concludes the exciting second phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Oh...and don't forget to stay after ALL the credits.     

Wonder how Edgar Wright's version might have been different...
maybe more Simon Pegg?

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