Big Laughs, Big Thrills

I never was a fan of Ant-Man when I was a kid. My earliest favorite comic book was The Fantastic Four – I started reading them with the first issue – and I enjoyed Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, and the others from the 1960s. But the idea of a miniscule superhero wasn’t big enough to capture my interest, so I ignored him. Thus I was a skeptic about how it would play as a movie. After seeing Ant-Man at an early showing last night, I’m happy to report the film is one of the best movies to come from the Marvel Universe.

There were other reasons for concern. The original story and screenplay was written by Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), with Wright scheduled to direct. For geeks, that was a dream pairing. However, the head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, wasn’t pleased with the script and had revisions made without Wright’s input. When he saw the changes, Wright walked away. Instead Marvel brought in Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Other Guys) to polish the script along with star Paul Rudd, and gave the movie to Peyton Reed (Bring it On, Down with Love) to direct. Such conflict can often sink a movie, but instead it seems the best parts were kept in the script, and the movie even made its original release date.

The movie begins with a preface from the 1980s. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man, meets with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) to resign from SHIELD when he discovers Carson is trying to fabricate the formula Pym uses to miniaturize. (Note: There is gaff in the scene: look for the disappearing blood.)

Fast forward to the present day. Pym has been ousted from his own company in a boardroom revolt led by his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly from “Lost”). He’s invited back to witness Cross’s announcement that they will soon perfect a new version of Pym’s formula, allowing for the creation of an army in high-powered suits that would be unstoppable by conventional forces.

At the same time Scott Lang (Rudd) is being released from San Quentin. The mechanical engineer had turned into a Robin Hood burglar to take back the money a corrupt businessman had stolen, but instead of thanks he’s sent to prison. When he gets out he tries to go straight for the sake of his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson). It’s tough, since no one will hire an ex-con, and to add insult to injury his former wife (Judy Greer) is engaged to a cop (Bobby Cannavale).  Eventually Lang goes along with three other ex-cons (Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, and rapper T.I.) to break into a house. It leads to one of the wildest job interviews ever.

Ant-Man balances off-kilter comedy with its thrills and manages to succeed on both levels, not an easy thing to do. While all the Marvel movies have an element of humor, the laughs are secondary to the action. In Ant-Man, it’s beautifully blended so that you’re rolling with laughter even as you’re breathing fast from the thrills. Rudd is the perfect actor for this role, handling the performance with tongue-in-cheek intelligence. Michael Douglas is in excellent form as well, capturing some of the cocky attitude from Romancing the Stone along with a droll humor. The writers gave him and Evangeline Lilly a complex relationship that, like flint and stone. keeps sparks flying, though they manage to pay it off in a way that makes it understandable.

While it isn’t Wright directing, Peyton Reed’s work captures Wright’s spirit and supports the script beautifully. I would have liked to have seen what Wright would have done if left on his own, but I have no complaints about the final product.

While Avengers and dinosaurs have been the big items this summer movie season, it’s worth it to aim small and see Ant-Man. The filmmakers have crammed a lot of delights into a tiny package. Also make sure you stay to the very end as there are two tags, one after the initial credits, and another at the very end. The one at the end is a lead up to probably the most anticipated movie of 2016

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