Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review: Ant-Man

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
I'll admit to having some comic book movie fatigue at this point, which is why it's a pleasure to find an example of that genre that feels fresh, despite a few bad habits on behalf of the filmmakers. "Ant-Man" is a fun movie that features performances that rise a little above the level of your typical blockbuster franchise entry and special effects that impress rather than overwhelm.

In the picture, Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, the kind of criminal for whom most audiences can root. He's just finished a jail stint after robbing the corporation for which he previously worked that, we are told, was a crooked and shady business. He's enlisted by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who was voted out of his own company after hiding a discovery involving shrinking human beings to ant-sized proportions because he feared that it would be used as a dangerous weapon.

Sure enough, the new CEO of Pym's company, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, of "House of Cards"), wants to use the shrinking formula to develop "yellowjackets," mini-soldiers with the strength of able bodied men who can infiltrate enemy encampments. To beat him to the punch, Pym brings on Lang, an able cat burglar, to steal Cross's yellowjacket suit before it is sold to the highest bidder.

Also thrown into the mix are a group of ex-cons (Michael Pena and T.I. among them) who Lang brings on to assist him in his heist as well as Evangeline Lily as Douglas's estranged daughter who acts as his mole in Cross's company, which is also working closely with HYDRA, the villain of the "Avengers" movies.

If this all sounds a bit convoluted, well, it is. But what rescues "Ant-Man" from the doldrums that plagued this summer's "Avengers" movie as well as numerous other recent Marvel properties is that the picture, directed by Peyton Reed, often plays the material for comedic effect, rather than the serious-faced speechifying and moralizing present in so many other recent comic book movies.

Of course, that's not to say that the movie is without its flaws. There's an "Avengers" cross reference during a sequence in which Lang comes face to face with Falcon (Anthony Mackie) that feels a bit forced. And there are references to sequences and plot points from this summer's "Age of Ultron" that nearly made me want to throw something at the screen. Seriously, I know these films are all about "world building," but the nonstop tie-ins to other comic book pictures is becoming this genre's equivalent of product placement - actually, come to think of it, there's a semi-heavy handed pitch for Baskin Robbins in this film.

Anyway, "Ant-Man" is, despite these quibbles, a pretty fun movie. As I'd mentioned, the visual effects are pretty impressive. The sequences in which Lang is shrunk to tiny proportions actually look semi-realistic and are not as clunky as the CGI in many other blockbusters. And there's a fair amount of humor during these scenes, especially one involving a ping pong paddle and a hanging lamp.

So, while I'm still pretty tired of the endless super hero movies that have populated cinemas every summer for the past decade or so, "Ant-Man" puts a refreshing spin on a tired genre. It's a fun movie and a little better than most of the other big budget extravaganzas this summer has offered thus far.

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