BIG THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES: Movie Review of Ant-Man by Howard Casner

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ant manWhen word came down that they (and we all know who “they” are even if we don’t know who “they” are) were making a movie based on the Marvel character of Ant-Man, well, let us say that there was a bunch of groaning and/or unintentional laughter followed by, “Oh, you’re serious”.

Among my comic book geek friends, Ant-Man, a superhero who could miniaturize to the size of the referred to hard working insect, as well as control them, had never been taken that seriously.

With the name not really helping much.

And when I first saw the previews, I didn’t see any additional reason for optimism. They seemed fairly, well, lame.

So now I’ve seen the movie itself and I have to say…it’s not bad and actually has some worthy virtues to speak of.

Who’d have thought it?

The basic premise is that an ex-con (but don’t worry, one of those heroic ones, a computer hacker robin hood, so that way we can cheer him on) gets lured into a life of superherodom by a retired scientist trying to stop an-ex intern, now owner of the scientist’s former company, from exploiting the scientist’s technology of shrinking objects and people and selling them to the highest bidder for world domination purposes (with that neo-Nazi group HYDRA somehow managing to have the most moolah to do it after being so soundly defeated by Captain America and Co. a year or so ago—where do they get their funds? The Koch brothers?).


Don’t you hate when that happens?


The negatives mainly abound on any story point that doesn’t actually involve Ant-Man. These sections tend to be a bit turgid and fall flat. Part of this is the rather pedestrian writing that gets the job done and little else. But part of this is also due to the similarly rather pedestrian acting.


Of course, I do admit that some of this may be due to personal taste, of course, but many of the actors didn’t really connect with me. Michael Douglas (or the latest former A-lister following Robert Redford to get sucked into, I mean, offered a nice little paycheck, to be in a tent-pole film) is perfectly fine as the retired scientist Pym, but is let down by those flatlining bits of dialog.


The real issue is Corey Stoll as the main bad guy, Darren Cross, and Evangeline Lilly as the love interest and Pym’s daughter, Hope.


Stoll tries very hard and he brings a lot of energy to his scenes. But he doesn’t quite have it to play an over the top, bigger than James Bond villain type villain. He seems too average and every day and overmatched. It’s hard to believe he would ever be a threat. One might say, he gives as good a performance as he can give in a role he I’m not convinced he is really suited for.


Lilly is saddled not just by uninteresting dialog, but even more unfortunately by a hair style that makes her look like she is in a 1930’s Fu Manchu movie, and a presence that lacks real sex appeal such that a final scene between Rudd and Lilly feels more obligatory than convincing.


The positives mainly abound, and they do abound at times, whenever Paul Rudd is on the screen along with his hapless sidekicks made up of a nice group of loveable losers, especially Michael Pena who has been given a scene stealing part in the role of Luis, someone who always thinks he’s smarter than he is, but nevertheless is up to the task at hand when it’s required of him.


ant man 2But like the idea of even making the movie, Rudd seemed like the most ridiculous idea of someone who should don a superhero outfit (he seems more like the sort of guy who would wear one down at Grauman’s Chinese, asking for money from tourists who want to take his picture).


But here, as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, he really comes through and is quite ingratiating. The part has been tailored to fit his hangdog face and personality (he is listed as one of the screenwriters, which I’m sure didn’t hurt) and he makes his part of the movie far more successful that it probably has any right to be. He makes so much of the movie just a lot of fun, which, believe me, ain’t nothing to sneeze at.


And the whole thing ends with a series of over the top climactic scenes of espionage and epic battles and second units going all out that are often served up with tongue in cheek jokes involving a Tommy the Tank Engine railroad set.


The screenplay is credited to four authors (Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and M. Rudd himself), all major players in the comic muse of late and whose talents are definitely put to good use here. The director is Peyton Reed who is bailed out by his writers.


With T.I. and David Dastmalchian quite amusing as Lang’s two other henchmen; Judy Greer, of Archer, and Bobby Cannavale, always a welcome addition, as Lang’s ex-wife and new husband; Martin Donovan as a bad guy who first appears with Douglas in a scene that takes place years earlier and has the best use of CGI to make someone look younger that I’ve ever seen (which should be making actors very, very nervous); and John Slattery as John Slattery.

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