Review - Ant-Man (3D)

Ant-Man (2015), PG-13, 117 minutes - Prior to the last few weeks, I had been pretty happy with the consistency with which I had been adding content to the blog this year.  That pace has decreased significantly over that time, but I honestly can't be too disappointed as we've been consumed by other much more important things.  To those who check in regularly, my apologies for the recent lack of updates.  If it is any consolation, Jurassic World (my last update) was the last movie I saw prior to this one.  I hope that I can get back to some sort of regularity, and with a little luck, catch up on a few films that I have not yet seen this summer.

Because of how busy my wife and I have been over the last few weeks, Ant-Man sort of snuck up on me.  Maybe it was due to my general lack of familiarity with the characters or maybe it was because I have been distracted by other things, but I didn't realize until this past Thursday that this week was indeed the week for Ant-Man to hit theaters.  When that revelation did hit me though, I was very excited to check out the latest MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) offering from Marvel Studios.

My knowledge of Ant-Man's sliver of the Marvel Universe is severely limited compared to other characters we've already seen on the big screen, television, and Netflix.  I was aware of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man (and time to time Avenger) in the comics, as well as the fact that another man named Scott Lang was the current Ant-Man.  What little exposure I have had to Ant-Man from the comics has primarily revolved around Pym, but it has provided a basic understanding and an awareness of the characters involved in this film.  Enough so that I feel pretty comfortable saying that Marvel has once again succeeded in bringing their previously drawn characters to life in live-action.

Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is a molecular physicist who created what he calls 'Pym Particles', which, when used in conjunction with a special suit allowed him to shrink in size while retaining his human strength.  In other words, the smaller he got, the stronger he was proportionally (the suit also allowed him to communicate with and control ants).  He used the suit to help S.H.I.E.L.D. during the Cold War, but when they wanted to mass produce the technology, Pym walked away, fearing that weaponizing the Pym Particle tech would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.  Years later, after retiring from his individual venture Pym Technologies, his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stall) is on the verge of duplicating Pym's accomplishment and is shopping the tech around to the highest bidder.  Pym is determined to keep Cross from successfully completing his transaction and enlists the help of reforming burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) against the wishes of his estranged-but-reconciling-daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly).  Ant-Man is very much a family oriented action-comedy, focusing specifically on father/daughter relationships (between Hank and Hope and Scott and his daughter Cassie who is played by Abby Ryder Fortson).

Despite not being as familiar with these characters as I am with others in the Marvel pantheon of super heroes I do feel as though Rudd, Douglas, and Lilly were excellent for their roles.  Rudd was the perfect every-man trying to redeem himself after being released from prison and trying to live up to the hero-like vision Cassie had of him.  Douglas was equally great in portraying one of the Marvel Universe's most brilliant minds.  He can hold his own with and even outperform the Stark's of the world and has the stones to stand up to (and protect his work from) even the likes of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the betterment of the world when necessary.  Lilly gave Hope's animosity towards and reconciliation with Hank weight and helped strengthen the father/daughter theme of the film.  Corey Stall's Darren Cross/Yellowjacket was also a pretty good villain for this film - a viable antagonist for Pym/Lang but also someone who's plans could have had larger, more sinister implications if not stopped.  Other familiar faces in the cast include Michael Peña (Luis), Bobby Cannavale (Paxton), Judy Greer (Maggie Lang), rapper T.I. (Dave), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), and Wood Harris (Gale).  There are also cameos from a couple other recurring MCU characters but I'll touch on them more in the spoiler section below.

I happened to see Ant-Man in 3D because that was the show time that I could make it to.  The 3D effects were well done and enhanced some of the action sequences.  Especially those in which Ant-Man had shrunk.  However, I don't think that it was amazing enough to go out of your way to see it above and beyond the standard 2D format.  3D or no, where Ant-Man really excels (aside from how heartfelt and humorous it is) is in how well it executes the shrinking and growing effects and the creative ways in which they are portrayed.

This is the twelfth film produced by Marvel Studios, but Ant-Man has been in development for quite some time.  It was originally announced years ago with Edgar Wright attached to write and direct.  After almost six years of development, it was announced shortly before production began that Wright and Marvel had reached a mutual agreement to part ways.  I've always been a huge fan of Wright's work (best known for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End), and must admit that he was the primary reason I had been looking forward to this film.  When news of his departure hit, I was still intrigued by the film as we were beginning to hear casting news as well, although I was admittedly less excited.  I knew nothing of the new director - Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break-Up, Bring It On), but I had always enjoyed the works of Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly.  While waiting for the the now-standard mid/post credits sequences I was happy to see that Wright still received a story/screenplay credit.  It is good to know that at least some of his contributions to the project were still put to use.

Whether or not Ant-Man puts up the box office numbers of some of its MCU predecessors will remain to be seen, but it is absolutely as entertaining as any Marvel installment that came before.  It successfully introduces us to a handful of new characters while fleshing out another 'corner' of the MCU.  Ant-Man could even be considered an analog for the MCU itself - proving that they can produce a film for just about any kind of story or genre just as Ant-Man has a size for any task at hand.  This is a wonderfully fun film, that from a pure enjoyability standpoint may only be surpassed by last year's Guardians of the Galaxy (but may be ever so slightly more family friendly) in the ever-growing collection from Marvel Studios.











*****SPOILERS*****

- As most people are used to doing at Marvel Studios films by now, be sure to stay through the end credits.  Ant-Man includes two post-film scenes.  The first is mid-way through the credits and shows Hank Pym revealing the existence of a prototype Wasp suit that he is passing on to his daughter Hope.  The second is post-credits and leads into the events of next summer's Captain America: Civil War.  In that scene Falcon and Captain America have tracked down Bucky/Winter Soldier and are trying to determine who they can enlist for help.  Cap says that they cannot go to Stark because of 'the accords'.  In the comics, the Civil War story line pitted Captain America against Iron Man over the Super-Human Registration Act.  Iron Man supported legislation that required all super-humans to register with the government and receive special training while Cap felt that the act violated their rights. Falcon mentions that 'he knows a guy' and we then see a screen that says 'Ant-Man Will Return'.

- Hank Pym's first appearance in the comics was in Marvel's anthology book 'Tales to Astonish' #27 back in 1962 (created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby).  His first appearance as Ant-Man was from issue #35 a few months later.  Scott Lang's first appearance as Ant-Man was in 'Marvel Premiere' number 47 from 1979 (created by David Michelinie and John Byrne).

- The phrase 'tales to astonish' is used by Darren Cross early in the film while he is giving a speech about his Yellowjacket technology.

- The film opens with a scene set in the late '80s at a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility.  That facility is the Triskelion, previously seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and t.v.'s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  At the time of the flashback, the Triskelion is still under construction.  The scene shows a meeting between Hank Pym and three high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. officials.  Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell reprising her role from the Captain America films and t.v.'s Agent Carter), Howard Stark (John Slattery, reprising his role as the elder Stark from the first Iron Man film), and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan), who goes on to try to buy the Yellowjacket tech from Cross for HYDRA (who have continued rebuilding after the events of Winter Soldier just as S.H.I.E.L.D. has).

- Scott Lang's first mission in the Ant-Man suit is to infiltrate an old Stark warehouse in order to steal another piece of Pym's old tech.  That location is now the Avengers base of operations that was set up at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron earlier this summer.  It also includes an appearance/fight sequence with Falcon (Anthony Mackie), helping to illustrate this film's inclusion in the timeline of the overall MCU.

- Stan Lee has his typical cameo.  This time around he plays a bartender from one of Luis' stories, and concurs that the journalist in the story is 'super fine'.

- One last cameo that I am aware of, and I cannot take credit for spotting it myself (thank you internet for bringing it to my attention), but it is fun and worth mentioning.  Garrett Morris plays a cab driver in the film.  I personally had never heard of Garrett Morris before, but he played Ant-Man in a Saturday Night Live skit from back in the Bill Murray-era of the show (Murray plays Clark Kent/Superman in said skit).  That SNL skit was the first time Ant-Man was portrayed in 'live action'.

- In the comics, Scott Lang's daughter Cassie becomes Stature as a teenager after exposing herself to Pym Particles over a prolonged period of time, she develops the ability to shrink/grow in size and becomes a member of the Young Avengers.

- Pym's wife Janet van Dyne is referenced on a number of occasions.  In the comics, Janet is The Wasp and at one point was thought dead because she had shrunk to a sub-atomic size similarly to how her demise was portrayed in this film.  We also get a visual of the classic Wasp in a flashback to one of Pym's Ant-Man missions.  There has been no word on whether or not Janet will pop up in future Marvel films, but now that we know Scott was able to return from the Quantum Realm, it is certainly at least a remote possibility.  As mentioned earlier, Hope will be filling the shoes of The Wasp in the MCU, potentially as early as next summer's Captain America: Civil War.  She currently sports the same hairdo that Janet did in the comics and the new prototype Wasp suit is reminiscent of Janet's super-hero look in more recent years (although the colors are different).

- Other than the various Avengers locations shown in the film, the super-hero team is also referenced in dialogue a couple of times.  At one point Lang suggests calling the Avengers to handle their problem and Pym says that 'they are probably too busy dropping cities from the sky', alluding to events seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  During one of Luis' stories (the same one involving Stan Lee's cameo), he references 'one that jumps, one that swings, and one that crawls up walls'.  The last of which is a nice little nugget pointing to Spider-Man's new-found inclusion in the MCU after the deal between Marvel and Sony to share the film rights of the character.  Spidey is set to debut in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War and will be played by Tom Holland.

- More comedic relief from Luis: at one point he suggests whistling may help him blend in when he goes under cover as a security guard.  An idea that is shot down by Scott.  Sure enough, Luis whistles anyway.  The tune? 'It's A Small World (After All)'.

- After getting out of prison, Scott lives in The Milgrom Hotel.  This is a nod to comic book artist Al Milgrom who had a forty issue run on West Coast Avengers beginning in 1985 that featured Ant-Man prominently.

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