Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, Tip "T.I." Harris, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Abby Ryder Fortson, Martin Donovan, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Hayley Atwell
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Directed by: Peyton Reed
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Running Time: 117
Date: 07/17/2015

Ant-Man (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bug Love

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Frankly, the superhero movies are getting overwhelming at this point, with Marvel cranking out more celluloid than James Franco ever could. Everything is interlinked, with everything teasing everything else, and there are endless blogs, trailers, and merchandise, and tons of hype, with anxious, angry fanboys ready to jump on anyone exuding the slightest whiff of criticism. The movies are getting bigger, more complex, and more exhausting; they're beginning to feel more like an obligation than fun. Except, thankfully, here comes Ant-Man, bringing all the surprise and joy we got when we wandered into the first Iron Man or Guardians of the Galaxy. And fun! Yes, fun.

Ant-Man works for two reasons. The first is that he's a second-tier hero and there's less at stake. It's OK to mess around with him, and have a few laughs. The second is very simple: personality. I can't stress enough how important personality is to a good movie, and yet the makers of summer blockbusters routinely ignore it, thinking that looks are more important. Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy are so good and so much fun because the casts have tons of personality. They're not just musclebound models. Paul Rudd, who plays Ant-Man, easily fits into that category. He has been a warm, funny actor in comedies for over a decade, since he became part of the Anchorman ensemble, but he's also fairly handsome and capable of pulling off romantic stuff. As far as I can tell, this is his first action or sci-fi movie, and he has done some bodybuilding for the role, but he's still Paul Rudd.

The other part of this equation is more complicated, given that the film's original director Edgar Wright left the project. Wright is an outstanding director with a strong persona, and it appears that large portions of his screenplay still remain; he has a credit, alongside his colleague Joe Cornish. The other two writers are also good news; there's Rudd himself, who may have contributed some of his character's own wisecracks, and there's Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman and other fine comedies. The replacement director is Peyton Reed, who normally makes comedies, including the brightly-colored Doris Day tribute, Down with Love. It doesn't sound like any one voice emerged here, but this particular combination results in a bright, perky, spiffy, funny, and exhilarating experience.

Set in San Francisco, the movie begins with a flashback, starring a CGI-created younger version of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man, and the inventor of the shrinking technology. Basically, others want the technology and Pym refuses to share it. Years later, Pym is retired and his protégée Cross (Corey Stoll) seems to have come close to re-creating the technology himself. Pym concocts a plan to let a skilled burglar, Scott Lang (Rudd), break into his house and steal the Ant-Man suit. Scott has just been released from jail and wants nothing more than to see his daughter, but can't earn visitation rights without a job. So Pym's offer of employment, i.e. wearing the suit and stealing Cross's technology, is appealing.

We get some training sequences, of course, with Scott not only learning how to shrink and grow, but also learning how to speak to ants, as well as a little kung-fu, courtesy of Pym's pretty daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly); this may be a spoiler, but most Marvel nerds know by now that she will become the Wasp. Finally there's the heist itself, which, of course, does not go exactly as planned. The always terrific Michael Peña plays one of Scott's criminal pals who lends a hand, and he gets some of the movie's funniest scenes.

Reed handles the comedy nicely, and it's a happy surprise how smooth and clean his action sequences are, more so than most directors who actually specialize in action. The script has a couple of very basic moves that are a bit on the predictable side, but the movie handles them cheerfully and with style. Of course, Ant-Man will go on to appear in more Marvel movies, but for now, in this first time out, it feels like nothing is at stake. It's a refreshing summer breeze of a movie, and it jumps to the short list of superhero movies that I will actually watch again.

I wasn't able to get a Blu-ray copy, but Disney was kind enough to send me a digital copy, complete with extras. The picture and sound look flawless to me, at least on my computer screen. There are tons of featurettes for fans, plus a gag reel and an entertaining commentary track with Reed and Rudd.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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