The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



The Marvel Cinematic Universe has provided a lot of fun, but it's not without its share of problems. The studio's incessant desire to tie all their movies together has started to feel a little monotonous. It sapped some of the fun out of the should-have-been-a-home-run Avengers: Age of Ultron, whereas last year's Guardians of the Galaxy absolutely benefited from being able to go its own strange way. Ant-Man is, to a degree, chained to the “rules” of the MCU – it has to set some things up for next year's Captain America: Civil War - yet still manages to be uniquely quirky. That suggests it will hold up to repeat viewings, plus satisfy viewers who neither know nor care about the MCU as an entity.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, an ace burglar just released from prison. His crime, which entailed getting back at a company that committed white-collar theft, ended his marriage to wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and distanced him from his young daughter. Determined to prove himself a good man, Scott swears off crime. Then he's approached by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the inventor of a suit that shrinks its wearer to miniscule size, while also giving them super-strength and the ability to control ants. Pym's former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has plans to weaponize this technology. The only way to prevent this from happening is for someone to wear the suit, break into Cross's highly-guarded office, and steal/destroy the prototype he's created. Scott agrees to the deal, quickly finding himself in his new guise as Ant-Man. Meanwhile, Pym's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) acts as a double agent, getting information from Cross and feeding it to Scott.

To say that this film is a breath of fresh air in the MCU would be an understatement. Even the studio's best films can feel kind of similar to each other. Ant-Man has such an appealingly bizarre premise that it often seems like a whole new kind of superhero picture. Whereas many comic-book movies are big – think smashed buildings, epic battle scenes, etc. - this one is appropriately small. There's an action sequence set inside a briefcase, in which Scott must dodge such ordinary objects as a cell phone and a roll of Life Savers. Another is set inside a child's bedroom, where otherwise innocent toys become weapons of destruction. Creative use of ants adds another dimension to the fun. Pym has an army of the insects, all of whom have different skills. A scene in which Scott floats through a water pipe while riding a herd of them is indicative of the kooky pleasures Ant-Man has to offer. Superb visual effects heighten the impact of these moments.

This is also a very funny movie. Rudd and Adam McKay (Anchorman) worked on the screenplay (originally written by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish), and a genuine sense of wit pervades the story. In their hands, Scott is a wise-cracking, kind of insecure guy, always ready with a quip. Rudd does this as well as any actor working today. Allowing him to have a hand in tailoring the character to his own strengths proved to be a good decision. Meanwhile, Michael Pena has a supporting part as his friend/fellow thief, who tells very long, drawn-out stories involving friends of friends of friends. He is legitimately hilarious in the role. Even Michael Douglas, who ostensibly plays something of a straight-man, manages to get off some one-liners.

Because of the strong emphasis on humor, Ant-Man is more funny than exciting. By this point, we've come to expect dazzling action from Marvel movies. What's here is quite good, but it focuses more on earning laughs than thrills. The picture would also have benefited from a stronger villain. Corey Stoll is a fine actor who does solid work as Cross. His character doesn't get a ton of development, though, and for the most part, he's a shady businessman as opposed to a truly menacing baddie. There's additionally the issue of Ant-Man having to do official MCU “business.” A couple of scenes are squeezed in to set up Ant-Man's presence in future Marvel installments. They feel like fan service, often stopping the plot's momentum dead in its tracks. This type of thing has become tiresome. Why can't the films just have their own identity?

In spite of some weaker elements, Ant-Man has enough going on that's original and new to make it continually entertaining. Director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love) shoots in a specially-tailored visual style (Ant-Vision?) that emphasizes Scott's small scope, and he isn't afraid to indulge in the concept's inherent eccentricities. We've had so many superhero movies in the last decade that it's amazing one can still feel surprising. Ant-Man does. In that sense, it's a triumph.

( out of four)

Ant-Man is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.

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