Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie Review: Ant-Man

Credit: Marvel
(Grace and I found the time to go see Ant-Man on Sunday.)

So, I just have one question for you . . . how prepared are you to be emotionally invested in the life and death of an ant? Because if you aren't willing to give that ant a tiny space in your heart for two hours, then the new Marvel Cinematic Universe cog Ant-Man is maybe not the right movie for you.

But if you can possibly suspend your disbelief long enough to wonder if one insect among billions is worth your time, and if you . . . like me . . . enjoy the interconnections between the various tales of super heroes living independently but possibly working together? Well, then . . .

Ant-Man never stops being a piece in the MCU master plan, but I am not mad at it for being that. Last summer Guardians of the Galaxy was exactly that, and it boogied its way to many, many millions of dollars and many people seemed really happy about it. (And THAT move heavily featured a monosyllabic tree creature. So hows about that for emotional disbelief?)

Back to the MCU cog comment. What do I mean? Take the confrontation Ant-Man had with Falcon, at the Avengers training ground--which was shown in a scene at the end of Age of Ultron. But that location was first introduced with Captain America: The First Avenger and was also called back to in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This doubling-down on information gives enjoyment because it lends depth to the MCU world you are inhabiting. As with all easter eggs, it rewards you for prior knowledge and makes you feel a bit like a participant in the story rather than a passive consumer. And, I'm a sucker for that fan wish fulfillment. I like knowing things that the narrative isn't going to spend five minutes expositioning to me. I like being aware of the story as it is being told.

It is this depth of knowledge that has contributed to the comic book industry for decades, a steady accretion of information, connections, relationships, and history. And if you are accepting of that information, then you are already in line for Captain America: Civil Wars no questions asked and while you are waiting for your ticket, you'll expound on whether or not Black Panther should have gotten his own movie before Black Widow even gets anything to herself.

But enough about the overall strategies of global cinema synergies. How was the movie?!??

I thought it was loads of fun. Many of these superhero movies have a tendency to become ponderous and weighty as the characters battle for the fate of everything or the possible futures of something. But Paul Rudd's tiny hero recognizes the humor inherent in what he's doing. He shrinks and sneaks around. He rides ants like a Vietnam soldier being dropped into a hot zone. He commands other ants like Aquaman and asks them to do his bidding. He's got no guns--just stealth, agility, the proportional strength of an adult human in a teeny, tiny package . . . and the willingness to call insectoid billions to his aid.

Rudd's Scott Lang is trying to be better than was before, earn the respect of his ex-wife and daughter, and live up to his own potential. Those goals could turn Ant-Man into another version of the Thomas Hayden Church's Sandman portrayal that we got in Sam Raimi's Spider-man 3). But Rudd keeps it light, as do the other characters in the movie--especially Scott's ex-con roommates, who are an endearing combination of social bumblers and reliable technocriminals. Add in Evangeline Lilly as the stoic Hope van Dyne and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym (your grandfather's Ant-Man) and you've got your cast. I don't know who was playing the bad guy, but it doesn't matter. He doesn't have the charisma of Red Skull or the fighting skills of Winter Soldier. He's just an evil businessman, like Robert Redford's head of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a corrupt bureaucrat.

The plot is a heist break in type of thing that you might encounter in the first Mission: Impossible movie. The only wide-scale destruction (on the scale of the first Avengers movie or Man of Steel) that you have to endure in this movie is the collapse of a scale model city block that our tiny hero has to run through on a CEO's desk. And once the plot is resolved, we get the required additional scenes that suggest future events and firmly predict upcoming tie ins.

In all of the most important corporate ways, this movie hits the beats of the MCU template. But it did so with an awareness that I enjoyed and with a tone that I welcomed.

[Sidenote: Grace and I sat beside two couples that appeared to be in the later 60s or maybe even their 70s. At first I wondered why they were at this film, since most of the MCU isn't really targeting Baby Boomers in their demographic breakdowns. But, they were really into the movie, laughing at all of the same things that I laughed at, and staying for the end-of-credit scenes along with us. And, why not, after all? For all I know, they grew up reading Hank Pym's adventures as Ant-Man in actual comic books--which is something that I never did. Why wouldn't people like that want to watch a fun movie about something that maybe meant something to them a long time ago? Or . . . what do I know . . . maybe they just dig movies?]

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