Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Incredible Shrinking Ant-Man


Whenever someone complains about Superman wearing red briefs on the outside of his outfit, I want to pull my hair out. Are his red undies pointless? Maybe from a utilitarian point of view, but there's a good reason they're there: to provide contrast to the suit and to keep it from appearing artistically boring. Visually it's perfect. Superman without underwear seems even more childlike to me, like a grown man wearing a onesie. If everything should have a function, then why not ditch the cape while you're at it? I think the real question is why should an alien's sense of fashion conform to ours, especially in the age of tramp stamps and UGGs? When you attempt to modernize that which is timeless, you stamp it with the misguided sensibilities of your own stupid era.

What's great about Ant-Man is it embraces the fact the source material is a comic book. Sure, it sometimes pokes fun at the absurdity of the concept, but it's more comfortable in its own skin than Bryan Singer's X-Men, which literally went out of its way to trash the idea of superheros in yellow spandex (years later, the Watchmen adaptation managed to prove yellow spandex could look cool). Without giving too much away, if you were disappointed Ant-Man's filmmakers appeared to be skipping Hank Pym's story altogether then you might be pleasantly surprised. Michael Douglas gets some of the best stuff in the movie.

When I reviewed Avengers: Age of Ultron, I said I'd probably be skipping this one. I'm glad I didn't. You can't blame me, though, since we all thought Marvel was reeling from the standard set by Guardians of the Galaxy when we heard Edgar Wright had been removed from the director's seat. There's still no doubt in my mind Wright would have made a better, more entertaining movie, but his stamp is still there, albeit slightly. The final product offers something much more imaginative than a routine Marvel movie. Imagine The Incredible Shrinking Man with battles ripped straight from the pages of a legitimate comic book.

Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, hangs up the shrink-suit early in the picture. In present times he discovers Darren Cross, his villainous protégé, has uncovered his research and plans to sell it to some very shady individuals. Cross, played by Corey Stoll, makes a pretty decent bad guy. It all sounds awfully standard on paper (as will the subplot involving Scott Lang's family), but each cliché has been given just enough of a tweak to feel fresh.

Then we meet Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a former cat burglar who's trying to go straight so he can be a good father. Yeah, we've seen that a million times before so it's nice the movie doesn't dwell on it. The problem with the way Lang is written is he's supposed to be a kick-ass cat burglar, but the filmmakers make him and his crew of misfits bumbling idiots for comedic relief. It's just kind of hard to believe Pym, a brilliant scientist, would choose to pass the torch to somebody who gets himself captured by police so frequently. That's a very minor complaint because the aforementioned comedic relief is, after all, pretty funny.

Lang's first big outing as Ant-Man leads to a battle with an Avenger. I won't tell you which one, because it might seem like a letdown until you actually see it, but it makes a lot of sense on more levels than one. The battle is unlike anything we've seen before in a Marvel movie. It sets the bar pretty high. Thankfully, the film manages to top that scene every time it tries.

This is not a normal movie. Normal movies just don't have the audacity to make battlefields out of briefcases. Whereas most Marvel movies destroy entire cities, Ant-Man is content with destroying train sets. Although the trailers give away much more than they should have, that scene is still so good it hurts.

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