Past the Popcorn: Marvel and Disney Have Another Big Hit with Ant-Man

by Jeff Walls

Avengers: Age of Ultron was more of the same for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the new chapter in the expanded universe franchise offers something new.  A new superhero, Ant-Man, is introduced to the same world that is already occupied by heroes like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.  His superpower—the ability to shrink down to the size of an insect—takes the franchise to new heights, quite literally.  It’s as if Marvel crossed over with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and it is just as fun as that high-concept idea sounds.

The movie introduces us to scientist Hank Pym, creator of the Pym Particle, which combined with a special suit grants the wearer the aforementioned shrinking ability.  The movie opens in 1989 with Pym explaining that due to the dangers that his invention represents, he is keeping his formula secret, even from the powers-that-be at S.H.I.E.L.D.  Fast-forward to present day, however, and Pym’s former protégé is on the verge of replicating the formula and selling it to the highest bidder.  Fearing the dangers of an army armed with his ability, Hank is determined to break into the lab and destroy all traces of the new formula.  Unfortunately, years of using the technology himself has taken a toll on Pym.

ant-man-insetEnter Scott Lang, a just-released-from-prison thief looking to turn his life around for the benefit of his young daughter Cassie.  After discovering Pym’s suit and its abilities, Scott learns that the scientist has been watching him for some time and arranged their meeting.  He wants Scott to take over his role as the world’s smallest superhero and stop the villainous Darren Cross from destroying the world.  “I know what we should do; we should call the Avengers” says Scott.  Sorry Scott, they’re busy.

In the comics, Hank Pym was the founder of The Avengers, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has taken until the very end of Phase 2 to introduce him.  The movie does, however, successfully establish that he has been saving the world long before any of the other Avengers became the heroes we know them to be today (other than Captain Rogers, of course), but that he has been determined to keep his power and heroic acts secret (think of him as the anti-Tony Stark).  The flashbacks and backstory really help to establish the veteran Ant-Man within the universe Marvel has already created and a plot revolving around him passing it on to the next generation was an inspired idea.

Although all of the Marvel movies bring with them a sense of humor, Ant-Man is certainly the most comedic of the bunch.  It’s a good strategy for the movie, because if the filmmakers had tried to take the film too seriously, the story of a man standing less than an inch tall and fighting full-sized bad guys while leading an army of ants would have come across as ridiculously silly.  It helps that the movie cast Paul Rudd, an actor best known for comedies, in the lead role (although it should be mentioned that oft-serious actor Michael Pena delivers many of the movie’s funniest moments).  In many ways, Paul Rudd acts as a stand-in for the audience members who have been watching these Marvel movies for almost ten years now.  His observations about the world of superheroes, such as the previously mentioned “call the Avengers” quote, often reflect our own thoughts while watching these movies and are questions that we have always wanted to ask.

Whereas it is no surprise that Rudd succeeds when it comes to the movie’s comedic elements, it is a delightful surprise to find that he can also pull of the movie’s action sequences quite believably.  We buy him as an athletic thief who can hold his own in a fight, especially after he receives training from an especially bad-ass Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne.   It does help that Rudd is given one of the slickest looking costumes we have seen, and the villainous Yellowjacket may be the most visually impressive villain Marvel has yet introduced.

The action scenes themselves are hit and miss.  Ant-Man and Yellowjacket are continuously growing and shrinking throughout the fight scenes, which can get very disorienting.  The visuals of them fighting amid giant everyday objects (a Thomas the Train toy set, for instance) are quite impressive and offer something entirely different from what we have seen in all of the other Marvel movies. Although the technology has certainly improved in the past twenty-six years, however, many of the scenes involving the ants looked like something right out of 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  They still work, though, thanks largely to the movie’s less-than-serious tone.

Ant-Man is just the latest chapter in what has become a pretty good track record for Marvel Studios.  Like Pixar in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s, Marvel just continues to release one hit movie after another.  This movie is a strong finish for what the studio has dubbed Phase 2 and things are looking very positive as we move into the third phase.

Ant-Man opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16 and the AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Eat local before you go!

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