Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Big Fun Starts When “Ant-Man” Starts Shrinking

(I actually did write an Ant-Man review. I turned it in, but it never was published. I want people to see it. I also want to get back to blogging consistently, and this gives a pretty easy post the put up. Life has been pretty awful lately, but if you're fan of Stranded in Hickville, have faith. As soon as I can get on my feet, more regular posts will be coming.)

Most movie franchises have a pretty serious problem.  They tend to push toward bigger, more epic set pieces as they roll along, leading them to lose sight of what made so cool to begin with.  Marvel’s movie offerings have been suffering from that very condition lately.  Every movie needs to expand the universe while finding new, more outlandish ways to save the Earth from being wiped out of existence.  Few big franchise films ever try to do the opposite and pull back. But Marvel’s latest offering, “Ant-Man” shows how much fun smaller stories can be.

”Ant-Man” stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a down-on-his-luck ex-con who’s about to lose his daughter, Cassie (the sweet and hilarious Abby Ryder Fortson).  Scott’s recruited by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to help put the brakes on a plan by Pym’s former protoge, Darren Cross (Cory Stoll).

Pym has discovered a way to shrink people down to the size of insects while retaining the strength of their full size selves.  Cross has developed his own version of Pym’s tech and plans to sell it to the highest bidder.  Pym recruits Scott to steal Cross’s goodies before he sells to someone with bad intents.  Can Scott save the day, impress the girl, Hope (played by Evangeline Lily), and prove he’s good fatherhood material?  Well, you have to watch to find out.

While most of the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are big, sci-fi-laced action films, “Ant-Man” is basically a heist movie.  Said heist brings Scott into conflict with Cross, as well as some other surprising foes.  The focus of the film is on getting Scott into Cross’s lab to snatch and grab.  Along the way, a few jokes and a few skulls get cracked.  Thankfully, though, “Ant-Man” never get too big for its britches.  It scales the scope down in favor of being fast, fun and light on its feet.

Mr. Rudd is perfectly cast as Scott Lang.  Rudd’s is as good at cracking one-liners as anyone, but his face displays earnestness and vulnerability that make him easy to like.  Rudd gets excellent support from Mr. Douglas.  Douglas was terrific as Pym and it made me wonder what an Ant-Man movie with him in the lead role could’ve been like.   Mr. Stoll gets handed a pretty cliched role, but he look like he had fun with it.  Michael Pena steals every scene he’s in as one of Scott’s buddy’s.

The first 30 minutes or so of “Ant-Man” are a little clunky and slow, but once Scott gets the suit and starts training, the movie really takes off.  The jokes and visual gags fly fast and plentiful and the action scenes are amusingly put together while still packing plenty of punch.  Scott’s size-changing skill are put to great use.

As are ants.  This may not be the movie for you if you don’t like ants.  They play a pivotal role and have a lot of screen time.  That said, these ants do some pretty clever and creative stunts to help Scott achieve his goals.  They even help out in the final battle against Cross, a fight which is set in Cassie’s bedroom and is one of the most creative and entertaining fight scenes to come along in years.

”Ant-Man” is a smart, funny movie that serves as a refreshing coda to the MCU's Phase Two and serves as a bit of an antithesis to Marvel's big blow-up-the-world method of storytelling.  The cast is great, the jokes are funny, and the action is a blast to watch.  If it wasn’t weighed down by a clunky first act, it would be pretty much perfect.  As it stands, “Ant-Man” is up there with “Guardians of the Galaxy”, the first “Iron Man” and the first “Avengers” flick as the most fun movies in the Marvel movie cannon.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy an ant farm.