Thursday, July 23, 2015

Salem Watches a Movie: The Indelible Ant-Man

Warning: what is this, a spoiler for ants?

Ant-Man, the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is not a big, flashy event movie like an Avengers or Iron Man title would be. The events don’t, at least at first glance, hold earth-shaking implications for the greater narrative of the MCU. Startling revelations are not made about previously beloved characters.

And you know what? That's OK. It's exactly what it needs to be. After the last few films it's nice to get a fun little flick that works on a few levels and doesn't amp up the adrenaline level of the MCU.

Like most Marvel films, Ant-Man is primarily a genre film first, with added superhero panache. Like Winter Soldier was a spy film with superheroes, Thor was a fantasy film with superheroes, and Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera with superheroes, Ant-Man is a tight, competent heist movie with superheroes (and shades of the old 50s giant insect movies). It's certainly not on the level of The Italian Job or Ocean's Eleven (or even Ocean's Twelve), it does its job well and retains the trademark Marvel sense of fun while displaying a level of technical storytelling that wouldn't be present in one of the event films like Age of Ultron. While Age of Ultron brought us “Bad guy uses space metal to lift a city and drop it in an extinction-level event,” Ant-Man instead gives us “Reluctant criminal uses liquid nitrogen to expand the door and locking mechanism of a safe and blow it open.”

The character work in this film in interesting as well, as it brings us a new take on a hero. Paul Rudd's Scott Lang is a bit of a fuckup. Like Chris Pratt's Star-Lord, he's very good at what he does, but unlike Star Lord is nowhere near the master criminal he'd like to think he is, as evidenced by the opening scenes showing him being released from San Quentin, and then later being arrested twice, once even in the Ant-Man suit. There's something really humanizing about the protagonist being someone who really just wants to do the right thing but constantly goes about it the wrong way.

Michael Douglas (finally!) brings us the Marvel Universe's most maligned super-genius, Hank Pym, and adds a really interesting human touch as a much older character (even having an altercation with Howard Stark and an aged (but lovely) Peggy Carter in the opening) who is a driven scientist and neglectful father filled with regret over a tragedy in his life. His daughter, Hope Van Dyne (portrayed by Evangeline Lily, who I don't think I've ever seen in anything before), is bitter and angry, and as we learn by the end of the film, has every right to be. 

Aside from the continuity nod to Howard Stark and Peggy Carter, there's an appearance by The Falcon, making up for the disappointment of not seeing him in action on Age of Ultron, with a proper throw-down between he and Lang. This is probably the best and most blatant bit of fan-service in the film: a throwback to the superhero crossovers of comics, where two heroes meet, fight, and team up... only this one is without the team-up. The fight is fantastic, utilizing both Falcon's and Ant-Man's power sets well, especially with Lang ending it by straight-up cheating.

Ant-Man is not a driving narrative piece of the MCU, but I feel it's what we need right now. A smaller story, with a few ties to the other, larger pieces and a chance to catch our breath after Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Age of Ultron one right after the other, and Civil War in May of next year. And speaking of Civil War – stay after the credits. You'll see some familiar faces. 

Pictured: Team Ant. Seriously, how does this keep happening? 
Seriously. Go see Ant-Man. It's fun, it's down-to-earth and fantastical at the same time, and it's really good. 

And keep an eye on Hank Pym's key-chain.  

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