Monday July 20, 2015
Movie Review: Ant-Man (2015)
On the way to the theater, I wondered if Paul Rudd was the first person to ever play Ant-Man on screen. For the record, he’s about the 10th, but almost everyone else on IMDb’s list is animated and from the past decade.
On the way home from the theater, I realized that one of the movie’s cameos—which I’d mentally noted but hadn’t connected—was the actor who’d first played Ant-Man on screen, even if IMDb.com doesn’t list him. In March 1979, Margot Kidder, fresh off her “Superman” triumph, was the guest host on “Saturday Night Live,” and they did a skit in which Superman (Bill Murray) and Lois Lane (Kidder) throw a superhero party. It was kind of a revelation for me as a teenaged comic-book nerd. Other people knew about this stuff? Adults? The best gag, besides the Hulk bathroom bit, was watching Garrett Morris as Ant-Man being ridiculed for his less-than-super powers:
Flash: You can talk to the ants, is that it?
Ant-Man (childlike, trusting): Well, partly. But mainly I shrink myself down to the size of an ant while retaining my full human strength.
At which point the Flash (Dan Aykroyd) calls over the Hulk (John Belushi) and they proceed to give Ant-Man shit:
Flash: Hey Hulk, check this guy out. He’s got the strength of a human.
Hulk: Hey, Ant-Man! Where’s your ants? [Laughs]
Ant-Man: They’re at home in the ant farm.
[Hulk and Flash stifle laughs.]
Ant-Man: I don’t see what’s so funny. Is there something wrong with being Ant-Man?
So it’s a brave cameo for the film. Morris’ turn as Ant-Man revealed exactly what was wrong with the character. He’s just not cool.
Now he is. Score another one for Marvel.
Wanted: SWM (Again)
It’s a fun movie, I’ll say that. It also demonstrates how kick-ass Ant-Man can be. (He fights Falcon to a standstill outside of Avengers HQ.) I mostly enjoyed it.
But first ...
OK, I know it’s wrong to talk plot holes in a movie in which a man can shrink down to the size of an ant, but here I go.
Rudd plays Scott Lang, a likeable guy (go figure) who just got out of San Quentin for hacking into some awful global financial meltdown corporation and redistributing its wealth. He’s basically Robin Hood as burglar/hacker. As he’s leaving prison with his friend Luis (Michael Peńa, overacting for comic effect), he assumes he’ll be able to get a job with his engineering degree. Cut to: Scott working at Baskin Robbins. From which he then gets fired when his past is discovered.
The movie almost becomes a light version of the serious 1978 Dustin Hoffman movie “Straight Time.” Since Scott is unable to get a job, he is forced back into a life of crime—robbing an old rich dude who turns out to be Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the first Ant-Man, and who, of course, wanted him to break into his home, as a test, since he sees Scott as the new Ant-Man.
All of which is fine. The plot hole? That Scott wouldn’t be able to get a job once he got out of prison. That he wouldn’t be a celebrity. C’mon! He’s the one guy in the whole fucking world who made Wall Street pay. He’d be on every talk show in the country! He’d have book deals, opportunities. He wouldn’t be working at no Baskin Robbins.
The movie begins in 1989. Apparently Ant-Man was an under-the-radar superhero of the Cold War/Reagan era, and S.H.I.E.L.D.—represented by the good (Howard Stark and Peggy Carter) and the douchey (Martin Donovan as Mitchell Carson)—wants his shrinking tech; but Pym is too worried it’ll upset the balance of power. He’s worried it’ll destroy the world, so he keeps it to himself.
(Sidenote: The best CGI in the movie isn’t the shrinking and enlarging; it’s in this scene, where Michael Douglas looks 25 years younger than his 70-year-old self. And not in a fake or creepy way. He looks legitimately 25 years younger.)
Today, Pym Technologies, or whatever it’s called, is run by Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), as well as Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly, encased in a vampy black bob), both of whom never got enough affection/attention from the old man, and get back at him by booting him from his own company. Then Cross becomes obsessed with recreating the shrinking tech. He is to “Ant-Man” as Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stone was to the original “Iron Man”: the greedy CEO who recreates the hero’s powers in villainous form. He becomes Yellow Jacket.
Which is why Hope joins her father in helping train Scott, who will become the new Ant-Man.
The movie’s not particularly kind to women and minorities, is it? Peńa and his cohorts, including T.I., are there for comic relief, while smart, cool-headed white men run things. Hope is smart, too, and a better athlete than Scott, and she keeps begging her father to let her become Ant-Man. Or the Wasp. But no go. Pym lost his wife that way—flashback to 1987 when she saved the world but went subatomic to do so—and he’s not going to lose his daughter as well. That’s sweet, but it means Hope is passed over for the less-qualified man. Given the discussion of the lack of female superheroes in the Marvel Age of Movies, it’s all a bit awkward.
Merry Marvel Marching Society
Scott has daughter issues as well, in that he’s prevented by his ex (Jude Greer, wasted), and her cop-fiancé (Bobby Cannavale, meatier), from even seeing his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, adorable). The final battle takes place in Cassie’s bedroom, where we get some humorous bits. We see the clash between Yellow Jacket and Ant-Man from their perspective (monumental, pitched) and then from Cassie’s perspective (a toy train falls over). At one point, a Thomas the Train is enlarged, bursts through the roof, and lands on the front lawn, its smiling eyes continuing to shift back and forth.
“Ant-Man” is directed by Peyton Reed, whose previous movies don’t exactly blown us away (“Yes Man,” “The Break-Up,” “Down with Love”), and written by a ton of comedic talent whose CVs are a little better: Edgar Wright (the Cornetto trilogy), Joe Cornish (“The Adventures of Tin Tin”), Adam McKay (“Anchorman”) and Rudd himself. Apparently the whole thing began with Wright, but he soon left the project because of the usual creative differences with Marvel Studios. Marvel has a history in this area, but at the least it isn’t making a shit product. (Cf. Fox.) Maybe the juice is in the clash? Marvel’s goal is to be clever within the feel-good formula; I’m sure its more artistic types want to break away a bit from the formula.
So do I. Example: In the end, when Scott goes subatomic to destroy Yellow Jacket and save his daughter, I wanted him to disappear forever in the void—like Leo’s face disappearing into the void in “Titanic”: a shot, I would argue, that made the movie an extra half a billion bucks worldwide. I wanted the sacrifice to have meaning. Yeah. Lotsa luck, Charlie. Rudd’s already signed up for next year’s “Captain America: Civil War”—one of 10 “Marvel Universe” movies we’re supposed to get before 2020. It’s the new Merry Marvel Marching Society. Try not to get stomped.