Smaller, better, faster, stronger—
Now the world must wait no longer.
Here comes Ant-Man, skilled at shrinking;
Watch and try to keep from blinking.
Armed with ants and talents stranger,
He won’t shrink from wicked danger.
Shrink or grow for each endeavor,
Tiny minds can still be clever.
Though the Ant-Man may seem minor,
No insect-sized man is finer.
Heroes don’t depend on sizing,
MPAA rating: PG-13
While Ant-Man was given an understandably smaller reception upon release last year, my dad helped make it a bigger film for us. For some reason, he connected to Ant-Man on some deep cosmic level, having read the old Ant-Man comics with Hank Pym back in the day. He was singing the praises of both the character and the film long before we finally got to see it, and while this might have raised my expectations too high (like with Guardians of the Galaxy), it instead piqued my interest and enjoyment for one of the silliest Avengers yet.
It starts off in 1989, upholding the always cool Marvel continuity by mixing some familiar faces from past films with the latest S.H.I.E.L.D.-connected supergenius, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a master of physics and entomology (since atoms and bugs just go together). Jump ahead to the present, and we find Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) getting out of jail and meeting up with his Latino ex-cellmate Luis (Michael Peña). However, Scott faces an uphill battle toward normalcy since his criminal record mars job opportunities, even as his ex-wife bars him from seeing his young daughter. Little does he know that he’s a potential pawn in the cold war between Pym and his former protégé, the power-hungry CEO Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who has grown ruthless from years of turning life forms into tiny piles of goo in an effort to replicate Pym’s fabled shrinking technology. Got all that?
Ant-Man isn’t as jam-packed as Guardians, but its convoluted plotline does require attention and may not entirely make sense. Yet, according to Marvel’s prized strategy, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Hank and his estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly of Lost fame) may be wholly familiar with the concepts of quantum realms and communicating with ant armies, but Scott and Luis offer hilarious reactions to it all even as they embrace the role of hero over crook. Despite his history with raunchy comedies, Rudd manages to combine self-deprecating humor with relatable sincerity as he works to be with his daughter and, you know, save the world.
While on one level, Ant-Man may seem like just another brick in Marvel’s multimillion-dollar wall, it stands out in unexpected ways. For one thing, the origin story is more reminiscent of the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Phase 1 films like Iron Man, and features more of a Mission: Impossible-style heist tone, aided by Christophe Beck’s bombastic score. While the Avengers are present and even referenced, their involvement in Ant-Man’s covert operation isn’t as starkly missed as in The Winter Soldier or Thor 2, in which only one main Avenger seemed to care about the end of the world as we know it. Here, the fate of the world is at stake, since the propagation of Cross’s shrinking suits would change the balance of power and “the texture of reality,” but it’s on a much more personal level than just stopping the latest baddie from blowing up the world. These characters have history with each other, whether it be Cross’s resentment toward Hank or Hope’s need for reconciliation with her father, not to mention Scott’s concern for his daughter who becomes plot-relevant in the finale. Even Scott’s ex-con accomplices are different from the professional agents or warriors we’ve become used to; they’re his beer-and-waffle buddies who have useful skills but are still down-to-earth, like how Luis remembers to save the guy he just knocked out before the building is destroyed.
Another unique aspect is how Scott becomes Ant-Man. Rather than self-experimenting with newfound powers or tapping into latent heroism, he is actually trained by the previous wearer of the Ant-Man suit. I can’t recall seeing this different dynamic of passing the mantle from one generation of hero to the next since an aged Bruce Wayne did so in the futuristic Batman Beyond (and before that, The Mask of Zorro). It’s an advantage that most superheroes don’t get, and shows onscreen what the comic books have done for years in letting more than one character inhabit the super persona. I wouldn’t mind learning more about Hank Pym’s missions back in the ‘80s.
Technically, Ant-Man should have been in Marvel’s Phase 1, since Ant-Man and the Wasp were founding members of the original Avengers in the comics (along with Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk). Yet I suppose it’s hard to take seriously a tiny guy in a mask who controls bugs. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man was a gamble that I think paid off. It offers a new hero, new history, new technology, and a new way of looking at things from an ant’s perspective, from a bathtub to a toy train set. The incredible special effects help to sell both the shrinking concept and the almost cute ants, and are just one strength in Marvel’s latest hit. I enjoyed Ant-Man. On a more muted level, my VC and my mom liked it too. But my dad loved it.
Best line: (Luis, about his girlfriend, in a line that my dad has made his own for anytime bad things pile up) “Ah, she left me. And my mom died too. And my dad got deported…. But I got the van!”
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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