Tiny Triumph

Ant-Man is another worthy Marvel entry

After a shocking directorial exodus and a series of rewrites, Marvel’s Ant-Man makes it to the screen as a reasonably enjoyable piece of summer fare thanks to the total charmer playing the title character.

Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, the professional, wisecracking thief given a new lease on life when Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) shows him the wonders of his incredible shrinking suit.

Rudd was given the job by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), who left Ant-Man as its director after working on the project for years. While Wright still gets an executive producer and some writing credit, Peyton Reed (Yes Man), a virtual stranger to big budget blockbusters, wound up at the helm with a script rewrite from Adam McKay and Rudd, himself.

Reed does a good, although not outstanding, job in Wright’s place. The framework for the movie plays it mighty safe, with an emphasis on family viewing and very little of the offbeat touches that are the hallmark of a Wright affair. A wonderful moment involving The Cure is as strange as this movie gets.

After a setup that involves Lang’s release from prison, some business with his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and daughter (Abby Rider Fortson) and a short lived job at Baskin-Robbins, he winds up in the company of Pym, who is concerned that his technology has fallen into the wrong hands. Pym’s concern is justified, as sinister business partner Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has uncovered Pym’s shrinking technology, and has created his own suit (known to comic fans as Yellowjacket) for nefarious purposes.

Lang is hand picked by Pym to break into his own company headquarters and steal the new suit. Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily), who wants her own suit, reluctantly trains Lang in the ways of punching, shrinking and conversing with insect friends.

Rudd is so good as Lang I’m convinced that the film would’ve been a dud without his presence. He’s a naturally funny guy who can play schmaltzy drama and make it look cool. The soap opera stuff with his daughter winds up having a silly edge and actually becomes almost heartwarming.

Michael Pena is consistently hilarious as the perpetually smiling sidekick Luis, who keeps grinning even when he’s revealing family deaths and marital strife. While Pena is often cast in dramatic roles (Fury, End of Watch), he’s proven in the past that he has major comedic chops in films like Observe and Report). Douglas brings a nice does of class and wisdom to the proceedings.

The mostly CGI special effects are well done. The first shrinking sequence that involves a bathtub and eventual placement on a crowded dance floor evading feet in the dark is a true stunner. Lang’s interactions with insects remind of another shrinking movie, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, where an ant was treated like a pet horse. It’s a little cutesy, and the kids will dig it.

As the commercials have revealed, Ant-Man acknowledges the Avengers universe in many ways, including a prominent appearance by Anthony Mackie as Falcon and John Slattery as Howard Stark. The film, wisely, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach with the Avengers, playing things mostly for laughs. It will be interesting to see how Lang inserts into future Marvel movies like the next Captain America. As always with Marvel movies, stay through the entire credits, folks.

Ant-Man is fun, but somewhat less than remarkable. The movie feels very much like a typical Marvel movie on par with the likes of Iron Man 2 or the first Captain America. It plays it safe and, I imagine, that’s why Wright probably left the scene. Knowing his work, I’m thinking he was shooting for something that was standalone funny and outrageous, and that just won’t do in the firmly established, tightly knit Marvel world.

Those who have followed the project from its Wright beginnings will find some relief in the fact this is a solid Marvel entry rather than a tonally messed up disaster.

Ant-Man is not going to leave you breathless with delight, but it will leave you feeling like it’s a worthy Marvel entry and, for my money, it’s a better all-around movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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