On Saturday evening we drove to the strip mall movie theater to see Ant-Man. I asked the stoner kid selling tickets what he thought of the film; after a pause, he replied, “It was surprisingly good. Ant-Man is played by Paul Rudd, who has a quality of douchèyness, which works for the role.” I am in complete agreement with his assessment—Paul Rudd’s douchèbag roots are crucial to Ant-Man—but more on that later.
I hadn’t been to a second-run movie theater in many years, and had forgotten about the threadbare seats, Skittles chemically bonded to the floor, and giant family groups crashing in after the movie starts. But where else can two people see a movie for $5? We smuggled in drinks and chocolate bars, making it an especially cheap date. On with the review.
Ant-Man is yet another Marvel movie executive produced by Stan Lee (et al; I never catch the other guys’ names) and directed by Peyton Reed. It stars Paul Rudd, an actor I knew nothing about except that he’s the poor man’s Ben Affleck. (Brainteaser: who is cooler, Ben Affleck or his various imposters?) Ant-Man’s workaday identity is Scott Lang (same initials as Stan Lee, who has a reasonably sized ego), just released from San Quentin for his Robin Hood type computer crimes against a corrupt bank. Oh, he’s also a master cat burglar and has a young daughter, Cassie, now being raised by his ex-wife and her fiancé, a dim-witted cop who looks not unlike Cromagnon man.
Lang tries to avoid falling back to thievery, but after he’s fired from Baskin Robbins he gives up and joins a ragtag bunch of ex-con kindred spirits. Their first job is to rob a safe in a fancy Victorian house (the movie is loosely set in San Francisco), but all Lang finds in the safe is a slamming retro suit and beakers filled with green Kool-aid. The house belongs to Dr. Hank Pym, a jaded old scientist played by Michael Douglas. Dr. Pym allows his suit to be stolen (he set up the robbery, actually), knowing Lang will try it on and shrink down to half a centimeter tall, and gain some handy super-strength. Which he does, in a scummy clawfoot bathtub. Lang’s buddy turns on the faucet, and tiny Ant-Man is splashed out and through the floorboards, down onto a spinning turntable in a bumping party; he must escape through giant stomping platform shoes and a scary mouse hole. The imagery is very well done; like in many Marvel movies, the CGI ties back visually to Ant-Man’s comic book roots—it’s a series of clean action shots in vivid colors.
Lang tries to unsteal the suit but Dr. Pym’s daughter, Hope, calls the police, and Lang is busted by fifty or sixty cops (standard response for breaking & entering calls, I assume). Hope is played by Evangeline Lilly, one of my favorite actresses lately. Here’s what I like about her: she’s totally badass and has made brilliant career moves. Lilly is Canadian, and started out as a model for phone sex ads (the “call me” girl); then she got hired to play Kate on the TV show Lost, and from there, she jumped to movies. At the very end of Ant-Man, there’s a teaser scene for the sequel; Dr. Pym takes Hope down to his secret lab in the basement and shows her the flying, shrinking supersuit he was making for her mother, The Wasp (who died a hero, in a touching superhero family flashback). Dr. Pym says something like, “I think it’s about time we got you into that suit,” and Hope replies, “It’s about damn time.” From phone sex model to Marvel Superheroine; impressive career arc. Hope’s shiny black bob and pinstripe suit are the classiest costume in the movie, though I did enjoy Michael Douglas in a tweed jacket and John Lennon glasses.
A brief plot synopsis is required here: for decades, Dr. Pym successfully hid the Ant-Man suit from his protégé, Dr. Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll. Dr. Cross is evil (and, it must be noted, very stupid), and takes over Pym’s company, then makes his own microsuit, the Yellow Jacket, a weapon of war. To stop this weapon from being released into the world, Dr. Pym needs Scott Lang—so he busts him out of jail with his ant army, which he controls via telepathic technology (apologies if this jumps around a bit—it was noisy in the $2 movie theater and my notes are jumbled). The newly formed team of Dr. Pym, Hope, and Ant-Man manage to break into Tony Stark’s warehouse and borrow some fancy gadget—Ant-Man goes a few rounds with the Falcon—and then they’re ready to blow up Cross’s headquarters. The loveable ex-cons from scene two are brought in to round out the team and gawk at Evangeline Lilly’s smokin’ curves. In essence, their plan relies on the unilateral stupidity of the bad guys; it’s a comic book movie, so the plan holds.
I can accept incompetence in security guards, cops, and other miscellaneous cartoons in the protagonist’s way. (Example: two bumbling undercover cops leave the keys in the ignition when they get out to waylay Dr. Pym, facilitating a crucial joy-ride diversion). But the main bad guy must be compelling and intelligent; Dr. Cross is neither. He’s the weak link in this movie, with few decent lines and a sum total of three facial expressions. They gave him a Lex Luthor sort of look (I know, I’m mixing DC and Marvel here), and the most clichéd possible pathos: he found a father figure in Dr. Pym, then that father figure let him down. He sees Ant-Man as Pym’s “chosen son,” and longs to squish him. I don’t believe Dr. Cross (as in, double cross) was smart enough to get a degree in nanoscience, let alone steal a company, set up an arms deal, and plot nefarious revenge.
As you’ve probably guessed, Ant-Man manages to take out Dr. Cross, save the world, reunite with his daughter, and play some quick tonsil hockey with Hope, his future partner in the Ant-Man sequel. Stan Lee gets his mandatory cameo (in this case, as a leering bartender), and Dr. Pym miraculously recovers from a bullet wound to the chest. Michael Douglas was the correct choice for Dr. Pym; he’s the right kind of jaded for the role, and brings valuable street cred to a mostly younger cast. The quality of douchèyness Paul Rudd offers is vital, because Ant-Man is actually a B-list superhero; he knows he’s not on par with the Avengers, his extra mask is cockiness. When an introduction with that A-team is hinted at towards the end, Lang is ecstatic.
I liked Ant-Man, despite its plot holes and lack of a convincing villain. The CGI was artful, especially the insects, which had faces and personalities. Ant-Man rides a flying carpenter ant, whom he names Antony; poor Antony is shot by Dr. Cross in the final chase scene. A single wing floats gently down to the pavement, reflecting rainbow light; it’s a welcome slow breath in the middle of the loudest action sequence. The last battle between Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket goes down in Cassie’s bedroom, on her train set; the micro-fighters hurl Thomas the train engine at each other (which our audience found gut-bustingly funny, for some reason). To destroy Yellow Jacket’s suit, Ant-Man must go “subatomic”; he releases his own suit’s molecular constraints and begins to shrink down, down, down. It’s an interesting subatomic trip; he kind of enters a bardo, a place of limbo between lives. And, like a bardo, a familiar voice calls Ant-Man back—here it’s his daughter. The costumes were cool, the soundtrack knew when to back off, and the $2 movie crowd laughed at every joke, no matter how flat. I’ll give Ant-Man three and a half stars, and maybe we’ll hit the second-run movie theater again next week.