Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant-Man

3/4

Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Bobby Cannevale, Abby Ryder Fortson, Judy Greer

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

Long have I bemoaned the superhero movie.  Not just their generic formulas, but that they seem to come out every week without end.  And it's not going to stop (Marvel Studios, with the backing of Disney who now owns them, made sure of that with "The Avengers") any time soon...they've got new entrants planned til 2020.  And when the budget gets too big or the actors get too tired of their characters (and the time demands associated with them), they'll just reboot the franchise.  Sigh...

I can at least breathe easier when I say that "Ant-Man" is at least entertaining.  It lacks the angst and cornball dialogue of most Marvel movies and isn't bogged down by an endless supply of in-jokes, references and set-ups for future installments (two things that kept both "Avengers" movies from being better than they are).  Director Peyton Reed keeps things moving at a decent clip, and keeps things from becoming too serious (another thing that held the "Avengers" movies back).  The humor isn't laugh-aloud funny (more of a wit variety a la "Kick-Ass" lite), but unfortunately the best joke was given away in every single trailer.  And for a comedy director with little experience directing action movies, the action scenes are nicely staged (no shaking of the camera and very little rapid-fire editing).

Scott Lang (Rudd) is a former cat burglar (not a robber, since he isn't violent) with a master's degree who has just gotten out of prison.  Unfortunately for him, no one, not even Baskin-Robbins, is willing to keep an ex-con on their payroll.  That puts his relationship with his daughter Cassie (Fortson) in jeopardy, since his ex Maggie (Greer) won't let him see her until he gets his life in order.  All out of options, he's quickly seduced back into a performing a quick and easy job.  It's a set-up, however.  A technical mastermind named Hank Pym (Douglas) thinks he's good and wants to see if his hunch is correct.  You see, twenty years ago, Hank created a serum that can "decrease the space between atoms," aka shrink things.  Realizing that this could produce chaos in the wrong hands, Hank buried it.  His former protégé, Darren Cross (Stoll), is desperate to find it to he can sell it to others for big bucks.  So Hank and his daughter Hope (Lilly), who is Cross's right-hand lady, train Scott to become Ant-Man so he can steal Cross's new replication of Hank's research.

The performances are fine.  Paul Rudd makes a likable, if curious, choice for a superhero.  Known for his comic performances, Rudd has proved aptitude with drama (usually in semi-serious moments in comedies).  But the guy does a solid job here.  It's always nice to see Michael Douglas on screen, even if he's not given much to chew on (his character is a cliché, and certainly nowhere near as interesting as, say, Gordon Gekko).  Evangeline Lilly is cute, but like Douglas, the role is essentially thankless.  Up and coming actor Corey Stoll has a lot of fun chewing the scenery; he's quite threatening.  Michael Pena is meant to be comic relief, but he's not all that funny.  Bobby Cannevale is wasted.  Cannevale gives a good performance as Maggie's new squeeze who is also a cop on Scott's trail, but his character is annoying and pointless.  The performances by Judy Greer and Abby Ryder Fortson are strong enough by themselves.

The problem with this movie is that it's essentially a carbon copy of every single other Marvel movie.  Right down to the Stan Lee cameo.  Producer Kevin Feige has refined the Marvel formula to a point where he can change only the names and costumes, and come up with a hit.  It's entertaining, but it's also painfully generic.  There are also some glaring errors, such as a bullet wound that doesn't show until the conflict is resolved and background characters who appear and disappear.  That sort of sloppiness is inexcusable.

This isn't a great movie, and I don't imagine anyone who is not a superhero obsessive missing much by skipping this one.  But it's not painful to sit through.

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