Friday, July 17, 2015

ANT-MAN Proves That Paul Rudd Can Be A Marvel Superhero Too

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

ANT-MAN (Dir. Payton Reed, 2015)

The first time I was introduced to Ant-Man it was in an old Saturday Night Live sketch from the late '70s. Margot Kidder was hosting at the height of the success of the first SUPERMAN movie so they did a sketch with her reprising Lois Lane in the premise of hosting a party with the man of steel (Bill Murray) as her new husband. Dan Aykroyd showed up as The Flash, John Belushi made quite an applause-filled entrance as The Hulk, and extras came in dressed as Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, The Thing, etc.

Then there was Garrett Morris (SNL cast member from '75-'80) as Ant-Man, who was mocked mercilessly by The Flash and The Hulk. “He has the strength of a human!” Aykroyd’s Flash joked. I honestly thought at the time that they had made up the character for the sketch - it was a while later that I found out that he'd been around since the early '60s.

The gag that Ant-Man is one of the lesser superheroes is one that still endures. Paul Rudd, who takes on the role as the tiny crime-fighter in the new comic book blockbuster wannabe opening today, said on LIVE with Kelly and Michael this week that compared to the rest of the Marvel family he felt like “cousin Oliver to the rest of the Brady bunch.”

It’s just that sort of self-deprecating comic charm that Rudd has in spades that helps elevate ANT-MAN from the all-too familiar formula makes it one of the most fun films of the summer.

The movie opens in the late ‘80s with Michael Douglas, who with the help of make-up and CGI looks like he did when he won the Oscar for WALL STREET, as Dr. Hank Pym storming in on a S.H.IE.L.D. meeting angry because they've been trying to reproduce his shrinking technology without his knowledge. Pym, who was the original Ant-Man in the comics, resigns from the agency and takes his formula with him.

Cut to 25 years later where we meet Paul Rudd as master thief Scott Lang as he's being released from prison. Rudd's Lang doesn't want to return to a life of crime, but a stint at Baskin Robbins gets cut short because they learn about his record. Lang is desperate to see his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), but his ex-wife (Judy Greer), who is now married to a cop (Bobby Cannavale), forbids it until he can pay child support so he takes on “one last job with his old cohorts (Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and David Dastmalchian).

This involves breaking into a vault made out of the same metal as the Titanic, but all that's in there is Pym's old Ant-Man suit. Lang tries it on when he gets home, presses a button on it and is shrunken to, yep, the size of an ant. The amped-up experience, which results in a scene that comes off like HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS on acid, scares Lang into returning the suit, but this gets him arrested.

In jail, he's visited by Pym posing as his lawyer. Pym had set him up because he's chosen Lang to be the new Ant-Man, and with the help of the suit Lang breaks out. Pym's daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) isn't happy with this, but goes along with geting Lang in shape to help them pull off a major heist. 

Pym wants Lang to steal the dangerous garb duplicating his shrinking technology dubbed Yellowjacket, which was developed by his former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stohl from House of Cards). 

From there it becomes the expected mix of fight scenes, surreally-tinged chases, and comic asides, which all breeze by without an instance of clunk.

As Cross, Stohl isn't the strongest villain, and the plot mechanics can feel pretty standard at times, but thanks to the wit, charm, and likability of Rudd, a well executed origin story, and a strong supporting cast (funnily enough, it's Peña who gets the most laughs), ANT-MAN is a welcome, and far from lesser, addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Back when Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) who was originally slated to direct dropped out of the project and was replaced by Peyton Reed (director of the definitely un-super rom coms  DOWN WITH LOVE, YES MAN, and THE BREAK UP), it looked like it could end up a bomb, but the result is a summer superhero movie that satisfyingly pops.

Wright is credited for co-writing the screenplay, along with Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Rudd, so a lot of his vision is happily intact, and with a running time of under 2 hours, it's the least bloated Marvel movies in ages. 

Rudd plays well off his fellow cast members, especially Lilly, who appears to be primed to have her own superhero character soon, The Wasp, and Douglas, who, like Robert Redford in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, has one of his juiciest parts in recent memory. There's also a cameo by one of the Avengers, but I won't tell you which one. There's maybe more than that if you stay to the stinger at the end of the credits, but, again, that's all I'm gonna say.

Rudd also plays well off his CGI-ed insect pals, which Ant-Man can communicate with, and his affection for a winged carpenter ant he names Antony is cute in a way that only Rudd can pull off.

ANT-MAN is a delightful ride through yet another franchise starter, and a fine finish to Phase Two of the MCU. All that, and it's got a cameo by Garrett Morris in it too. Coincidence?

More later...

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