Ant-Man (2015)

Director: Peyton Reed

Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña

Size doesn’t matter. Movies like these are made for the big screen, but are no less enjoyable at home. You can even catch some things you might otherwise have missed in staring at a larger image. Since the inception of the film series known as the Marvel Comics Universe in 2008, I’ve missed the theatrical runs of only two out of the dozen movies released thus far. The two MCU movies I did not see theatrically both have heroes who use their size to their advantage. I felt justified in waiting on 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” based on the recasting of the big green monster, which has largely left that (average) solo film expendable. Size is also at the very heart of 2015’s “Ant-Man,” the only other MCU film I managed to miss until it came to DVD. After so grandiose a chapter as “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” it makes sense to go smaller in scale. What better way to do that than with a hero who can shrink himself down to the size of an insect?

“Ant-Man” begins with an introductory scene in 1989, where Hank Pym (Michael Douglas)  is seen taking a moral stand by resigning from SHIELD. Present are founding SHIELD agents Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (John Slattery). The fourth person in the room is agent Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan). More on him in a bit. The dispute at hand is over Pym’s shrinking technology. SHIELD would very much like to make use of it but Pym, believing it to be too dangerous for anyone to use, refuses.  This is my favorite scene for a number of reasons, among them the effects used to de-age Michael Douglas to appear more or less as he did in 1989. By 2015, Pym has had time to develop his own company, Pym Technologies, only to see it ripped from his control by former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). To make matters worse, Pym’s estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) has gone to work for Mr. Cross. However, both father and daughter share the same concerns about Cross’s attempts at recreating the shrinking technology with a project he calls the Yellowjacket. Pym recognizes that the Ant-Man will almost surely need to be resurrected for the first time since the end of the Cold War and the loss of his wife Janet van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp. But Pym has grown too old to be the man for the job and Hope, who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, is simply not expendable.

In each Marvel superhero’s origin story, there has been some form of a redemption angle present. In the case of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), his way of bettering himself is to leave his criminal past behind him and do right by his ex-wife and daughter, to become a true role model for his little girl. This is made difficult by the fact that his record makes it nigh impossible to obtain a real job, and by his old crew dangling the prospect of a new job in front of him. What Lang doesn’t know is that the house he is breaking into is Hank Pym’s, that the item he is after is the Ant-Man suit, or that it was Hank Pym himself who contacted Lang’s crew in the first place. The whole thing was a test to see if Lang can infiltrate Pym Technologies and steal the Yellowjacket suit before Cross gets it into working order. Part of this sequence involves breaking into the headquarters of the Avengers for a crucial piece of tech. Anyone who sees “Ant-Man” without having previously seen “Avengers: Age of Ultron” will be somewhat confused by the appearance of Falcon (Anthony Mackie) as an official team member.

Unfortunately, Pym’s and Lang’s efforts are not in time to prevent Cross from perfecting the Yellowjacket suit, however they are able to crash the unveiling ceremony. Mitchell Carson, now a high-ranking member of Hydra, intends to purchase the Yellowjacket and weaponize it. Instead, once the Hydra agents have been dispatched and Cross has fled the scene in his Yellowjacket suit, Lang gives chase while Carson flees with a vial of Cross’s formula. Several amusing bits arise, including the reveal of Pym’s tank keychain as being a real tank that’s been miniaturized. Meanwhile, Lang is arrested for at least the second time by his ex-wife’s new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). This time it’s particularly untimely, as Cross has taken Lang’s daughter captive. When Lang does make it back to the house, the fight they engage in escalates, eventually involving a toy Thomas the Tank Engine which becomes enlarged. Cross is finally eliminated when Lang performs the same act of “self-sacrifice” that Janet van Dyne did to disable a Soviet nuclear missle, shrinking himself down to the point-of-no-return subatomic level to disrupt Cross’s suit, rapidly shrinking Cross’s body to the point of killing him.

All is not lost, for there ARE sequels to be had. Miraculously, Lang is able to normalize himself, leaving Pym to wonder if his Janet is still alive out there somewhere. As I said, further adventures of the Ant-Man are already in the works. Post-credit scenes point to Lang’s involvement in “Captain America: Civil War” and a second solo adventure in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” I’m certain Mitchell Carson’s hasty exit means we’ll see him again soon enough. I hope so, because I’ve been a fan of Martin Donovan ever since he played DEA Agent Peter Scottson in Seasons 1 and 2 of Showtime’s “Weeds.”

Well before “Ant-Man” had even gone into production, the movie had already generated a fair amount of controversy. This was due to the film’s original writer/director, Edgar Wright, quitting the project. I know I’ve had a couple of disputes on the subject. I was always of the opinion that the director shouldn’t matter, so long as the story is good enough. I imagine that some were thinking that an Edgar Wright “Ant-Man” might have been akin to the artsy Ang Lee “Hulk” movie from 2003. While that might have LOOKED better, it’s not what the MCU necessarily needs. The movie as it stands is more than good enough. It’s one of Marvel’s most entertaining movies so far, although both “Iron Man” and “Captain America” rank higher as origin stories. Still, while the other guys are off defending the Earth against invading alien forces and rogue A.I.’s, this superhero adventure proves that with small size comes big heart.

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