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Ant-Man

Hello MoFos! It is once again time for At the Theater with The Gunslinger45! Summer is well underway, and that means summer blockbusters. And Marvel has a strong hold on the summer blockbuster market. From the Avenger’s to last year’s surprising success Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel usually pays off with a good product and has done so to become the highest grossing franchise in the world. It's latest installment Ant-Man was originally supposed to be directed by Edgar Wright. Who is one of those directors everyone else seems to love and adore, but I think is just okay. Was never a fan of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz was hilarious, and I never bothered to see The World’s End. But he has a huge fan base, and many were very curious to see his take on Ant-Man. This is significant, since Ant-Man is not exactly a hugely popular character, despite being one of the founding Avengers. More on that later. But even with Edgar Wright on board I was not exactly chomping at the bit to see this film. So when Edgar left the production (citing creative differences) a lot of the buzz surrounding the film went away. I myself decided to still see the movie, but I felt it was more out of obligation then genuine interest. Like going to see a movie your girl really wants to see but you couldn't care less for. You don’t care about the movie, but you dig your lady and you want to make her happy. Well that was Ant-Man for me. Love Marvel Studios, but not crazy on the Ant-Man idea. Or at least those were my initial feelings. After a few trailers I actually looked at the film with more genuine interest than before. Even to the point where I was actually looking forward to this movie. And you know what? The movie is actually pretty damn good. Way better then I was expecting. But how good was it? Well grab your Pym Particles and mount your flying ant steed, this is Ant-Man!

We open the film in 1989, where a really good CGI render of 80’s Michael Douglas steps into SHIELD HQ looking like Gordon Gekko. But instead he is playing Dr Hank Pym, a scientist and sometimes SHIELD field operative. He is pissed at Howard Stark (Tony’s Dad) for trying to duplicate his Pym Particles. These are rare subatomic particles that can change the space between atoms, causing items to shrink. But while small the person gains super strength, and has the ability to lift around 50 his body weight just like an ant. He has used these particles in a suit in many super secret covert missions as the Ant-Man. But he has not shared the formula with SHIELD. Naturally SHIELD and the US military want the tech. I mean war would be revolutionized on the logistical side alone, not even counting the combat and espionage potential. But Hank is a scientist first, and does not want his work abused. So he quits SHIELD, punches a guy from the defense department and the face, and may have well given Stark the finger. He then starts up his own company Pym Tech, takes on a protégé named Darren Cross, and devotes his life and company to new scientific research. A problem arises when Cross rediscovers Pym’s old research and sets out to try and recreate the technology for a new project called Yellow Jacket. Pym wants to prevent this because not only does he believe his technology is dangerous, but he also feels that Cross is unstable. But the long retired and now old Pym needs help in ensuring the research is destroyed. That help comes in the form of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). A former electrical engineer turned ex-con after he broke into a supposedly unbeatable security system of his former employers VistaCorp. Scott is brought in to help Hank and his daughter Hope Van Dyne to end the schemes of Darren Cross, save the city, and help Scott find redemption in the eyes of society and the eyes of his own daughter Cassie.

All in all the film is really good. It hits the high notes you expect from a Marvel movie. You get a lot of big comic book action, some well timed comedic beats, some very likeable characters, and overall a lot of fun. And Marvel continues its current trend of inserting its Marvel characters into what are essentially comic book takes on genre films. Where Captain America: Winter Soldier was very much a 70’s political thriller and Guardian of the Galaxy was a space opera, Ant-Man is a heist movie. You have the MacGuffin that they want to steal, they assemble a crew, they prep for the heist, have a few montages, and then in the final act they pull off the job. Think Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job in spandex. In addition, the scenes where Scott shrinks down to ant size are done really well. They effectively showed how something so mundane as a tub filling up with water could be catastrophic for someone the size of a bug. Making big action out of very small settings. Sometimes for comedic effect like you saw in the trailer. And the way the film was able to handle the action scenes to easily transition between the shrunken and full sized Scott Lang, even to the point of Scott shrinking and growing in the course of a single fight was superb. I admit I was very surprised that the director for this film had only previously worked on movies like Bring it On, The Break-Up, Down with Love, and Yes Man. Kind of crazy he went from those movies to this. Give the man props though; he really stepped up his game.

As for the actors, Paul Rudd was a fantastic casting choice for Scott Lang. Not only do I buy Paul Rudd as a super smart tech guy, but also as a thief. Now sure he only really did that one job, but Paul does portray himself well as a guy who learned a few things from the pen. And during the scene where he does steal the Ant-Man suit, I totally buy that he has done this before. But there is a lot more to the Scott Lang character. Just like in the comics, Lang was a thief with a good heart. In the comics he stole the Ant-Man suit so he can steal money save his his daughter from a life threatening heart condition. They keep to that tradition here in the film. Only instead Scott turned to burglary to return a butt load of ill gotten cash from VistaCorp back to their customers (whom they have been overcharging). If only Scott could do that for me and Time Warner Cable. Why he did not go to a trade commission or something of the like after he was fired for whistle blowing, I have no idea. But I admit becoming a thief and driving the CEO’s car into a pool does sound like a lot more fun. So I rolled with it. Besides, no one wants to see a movie about trade regulations and corporate fines. I want to see s**t get stolen and blown up! Scott also does come off as a really likeable guy. He has great chemistry with his daughter Cassie, Hank, Hope, and with his former cellmate Luis. Thus keeping true to the character trait of Lang being a good person, but driven to do bad for the right reasons.

Hank Pym on the other hand was given a complete character overhaul from the comics. And boy was it for the better. For the film Pym does remain a scientist first, and a reluctant superhero second like in the comics. He was also married to Janet Van Dyne and they were Ant-Man and The Wasp. Unlike in the comics, Janet dies (supposedly) in an operation involving a Russian ICBM. The details I will leave for when you watch the movie, but it explains why Pym left SHIELD and further delves into his complicated relationship with his daughter Hope. All of which is a very touching scene, setting up Pym as an old worn down scientist / old school superhero that has significant emotional baggage. But even with his flaws, you like him because you understand his pain. The charisma of Michael Douglas does help a lot though. And I think these changes were the best route Marvel could have made for Hank Pym. In the comics he is far more complicated (or convoluted) and WAY more despicable. He was a founding Avenger (which is cool),was married Janet Van Dyne (as is standard), and he had several other super hero code names. Like the time he used his Pym particles to grow and became Giant-Man. But he also went crazy, became Yellow Jacket, had a brief stint as a villain, started beating his wife, and eventually got divorced. Top it off in the comics not only did Hank Pym create Ultron, he eventually BECAME Ultron. What a lovely guy right? I think you can see why Marvel Studios opted for Lang over Pym as the main lead, since Pym has WAY too much baggage. Also explains why they wrote out a lot of the more distasteful details of Hank’s past, which is recommended when you are making your family friendly movie.

The supporting cast is great as well. Evangeline Lilly was great as Hope Van Dyne, Michael Pena was hilarious as Luis, and the use of TI and David Dastmalchian were very good as part of Lang’s crew. Judy Greer played Scott’s ex-wife very well and her new San Francisco cop fiancé Paxton started out as the douche you hate, but end up liking in the end. After you learn he is not a complete d**k-hole. Plus Haley Atwell’s return and the addition of Anthony Mackie as Falcon really helped cement this movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was awesome to see the Avengers and SHIELD bleed into this movie resulting in that awesome 80’s flashback and an awesome fight scene at the new Avenger’s compound. And keep your eyes peeled as Stan Lee continues to pad his Marvel Cameo list. Overall the cast was great. But this movie does fall to a typical Marvel movie problem, a lackluster villain. Don’t get me wrong I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but really good villains are hard to find. Loki is easily the best of them, Robert Redford was awesome as Alexander Pierce, James Spader was great as Ultron, and I am REALLY looking forward to Josh Brolin as Thanos. But we have yet another forgettable corporate bad guy with Darren Cross. At least when he is outside of the suit. Inside the suit in the fight scenes he was awesome, but aside from the last 20 or so minutes of the movie he is pretty generic. And I do not think that this weakness is due to Marvel Studios or even the casting, but from the source material. Comics are riddled with super villains from the corporate landscape. I mean you have the Roxxon Oil Company, LexCorp, OsCorp, and plenty other companies from Iron Man alone. Problem is there is really not much you can do to make yourself standout as a unique and credible villain in a role like that. Even when you are Jeff Bridges or Guy Pearce, your roles just are not that memorable. At least Ben Kingsley was memorable as the pseudo Mandarin, but that was hardly a faithful adaptation of the character. But at least Darren Cross is more memorable then Malekith from Thor: The Dark World. Not exactly high praise, but it is true. I mean come on, you remember the Loki scenes more than the Malekith scenes in that movie.

Overall the film was very good. It was better than I was expecting, and did make for a very good time at the theater. I wish they would have ironed out a few writing issues that I felt were not that well spelled out and a better villain for the beginning of the movie, but it was still very good. A few hiccups here and there, but this film is the an overachiever of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like with Guardians of the Galaxy, it came in with low expectations, but delivered well beyond what I was expecting. Though Guardians is by far the better film. I would recommend seeing it in the theater if you are into these kinds of movies. Also do stay after for the end credit teasers. There are two of them. One involves what involves one of the characters of this film, but the last one at the very end of the credits builds up to Captain America: Civil War.