ANT-MAN – AFJ MOVIE REVIEW

It must be nice to have over a billion dollar cushion for your studio going into your opening weekend. Especially for what some consider to be a "B-List" Marvel character but as it's turning out, these second-tier character movies are turning out to be some of the best and the most profitable. Just take a look at last year's Guardians of the Galaxy which wowed audiences without a single household superhero name amongst any of the Guardians. Ant-Man though does come in with some serious street cred and name cache as well as a storied history as one of the very early Avengers. It seemed only natural that when Kevin Feige was creating his Marvel Cinematic Universe stages, Ant-Man would be called off the bench for his own solo movie. Writer/Director Edgar Wright had championed the idea of an Ant-Man movie for years, making a test reel that made the rounds on the Internet and it looked like he was the man for the job. But like a lot of things in Hollywood, Wright left the project as director (but still retains a writing credit) and paved the way for director Peyton Reed who is no stranger to superhero movies. In fact, years ago he was the front-runner for the original Fantastic Four film before bowing out. The director who is known for comedies like Bring it on and Yes Man! did seem like a solid choice for Ant-Man because of his comic background. And I have to say that when I saw that when Anchorman architect screenwriter Adam McKay's name was attached to the screenplay, my heart knew that Ant-Man was going to be an awesome mix of sweet comic goodness with a solid dose of humor and boy was I right.

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Paul Rudd has made a career as a leading man mostly in comedies and has become a consistently bankable star. So when the news broke that he was going to be anchoring a summer Marvel movie, it seemed like studio execs in Hollywood was a little nervous. Then again, Rudd was already an established A-List star while Christ Pratt was a virtual no-name going into Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 but that's Hollywood thinking for you. From the main players to the supporting cast, I think that this is one of the complete all-around casts that I have seen for a solo Marvel film. The story of Scott Lang and his adventures as the Ant-Man is the perfect compliment to the summer that saw the monster Avengers: Age of Ultron sequel do boffo business. But to tell you the truth, after walking out of Ant-Man, for all of the Avengers fanfare, I think I would take the easier to concentrate on Ant-Man if I had to choose between the two. I really liked how it is clear that this film takes place after Age of Ultron because there are a couple of jabs taken at the actions of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. There are no real competing storylines like in Age of Ultron and the Easter Eggs that we do get in Ant-Man are served up deliciously without us having to wade through the storyline desperately trying to find a thread to latch onto.

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It is important to note that their is some serious backstory to Ant-Man with the opening scene having the brilliant Hank Pym (a Gordon Gekko looking Michael Douglas) confronting Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Agent Carter herself (Hayley Atwell) to let them know that they will never get their hands on the Pym Particles, the seminal creation of Hank's life that reduced both him and his late wife, Janet, to minuscule size secret soldiers of the Cold War. Pym vows that they will never have his tech; not in his lifetime. Hmmm.

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Although it is a fairly simple three-act structure for Ant-Man, I find that simplicity sometimes works best when it comes when trying to tell the origin story of a single character. Scott Lang (Rudd) is a brilliant electrical engineer with a good heart, a wife, and an adorable daughter. He seemingly has it all until he is bounced from a major conglomerate for their shady practices for which he decides to become a Robin Hood type noble thief hacking his way through impenetrable tech to give back the people their hard earned money. This lands him a three year stretch in San Quentin and the loss of both his wife Maggie played by the always wonderful Judy Greer and the precocious Abby Ryder Fortson who plays Cassie Lang, the apple of Scott's eye. When Scott is paroled from prison, he has nothing lined up except that he wants to go straight for his little girl. He is taken in by his old cellmate Luis, the always hysterical Michael Pena who even on the jail pickup home is on Scott to come back for one more job. Scott insists that he is out of the game but when he realizes how difficult it is for an ex-con to get work (there is a hysterical scene where he tries to do right by his daughter and work at Baskin Robbins that goes disastrously hysterical), he decides to listen to Luis and his cronies Kurt & Dave played respectfully by David Dastmalchian (the really creepy guy from the parade scene in The Dark Knight) and T.I. most recently in Furious 7. This trio is a God Damn riot, seriously and Reed orchestrates what the "job" is about in a filming style I have never seen but entertaining as hell.

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Scott is back in his element but when he busts through the safes in the house they are supposed to pinch and all he finds is some "motorcycle suit," he exits with it thinking the robbery was a bust. When he tries the suit on after seeing its intriguing makeup, Scott goes on a quick adventure as his first time as the Ant-Man under the ear guidance of....Dr. Hank Pym. It is a brilliant display of what the Ant-Man suit can do and after thankfully coming back to regular size, Scott is so distraught that he actually returns the suit committing yet another felony because the experience was so unnerving! Naturally, he gets pinched and his benefactor at the jailhouse is none other than Pym himself who along with his little friends subtly says without saying that this is all part of his plan. Like every part has been his plan! After getting out of prison (again), Scott is updated on what the real play here is and the role that he is going to play, reluctantly or not.

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While Pym was voted out by his own daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) losing his seat at the very company he created, his old assistant Darren Cross has risen to power with ferocity. Obsessed with the tall tales of the Pym Particles, Cross has done everything in his power to create the Yellowjacket project which is an homage to Pym's always rumored but never confirmed Ant-Man project but he has yet to perfectly configure the miniaturization and enlarging aspects of the project. It is pretty gruesome to see Cross try and reduce a good sized baby lamb into mush and then without skipping a beat calling for the next lamb. Corey Stoll plays Cross voraciously and ironically Gordon Gekko would be proud while chewing every bit of scenery that he can. Sometimes its a little over the top but I do think that he was a good choice for the role. On a separate note, I think that the casting of Bobby Cannavale as Maggie's new fiancee that just happens to be a cop is wasted in kind of a throwaway cliche role. Cannavale is a better actor than that and his talents aren't able to really soar in this venue.

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While Scott takes on the role of Pym's protege and the choice to be the one to don the Ant-Man suit and take down Cross and the Yellowjacket tech, Hope is still working for Cross playing both sides but her loyalties secretly lie with her father unbeknownst to Cross who is set on world domination. It's a little cat and mouse but it works and nothing is kept super high stakes which I liked. The air of levity that the film has been a breath of fresh air and something I did not think possible for a Marvel film. Cross kind of reminds me of Obadiah Stane from the original Iron Man film but a little less threatening. Hope feels that she should be the one to take on this mission to bring down what Cross is doing, but her father is vehemently against it all because of what mysteriously happened to Hope's mother. Janet van Dyne's demise was never told to Hope leaving a great deal of father-daughter resentment. When Scott commits to the job and everyone makes nice, the film, funnily enough, becomes kind of like the Rocky of superheroes with bona fide "training sessions" and montage-like scenes as Scott trains to become the hero everyone knows that he can be. And to be honest, you can't help but root for the guy.

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I am fascinated by the insect and bug shows on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel so seeing all of these cool breeds of ants and how Scott learns to use them all via the olfactory senses was pretty dope. This really updated anything miniature I have seen since Innerspace and that was a long time ago already. I think one of my favorite parts of the film was when Scott and his army of ants fly into a supposed old unused facility of Stark but it turns out to be the new Avengers training camp we see at the end of Age of Ultron. Ant-Man has his first fight and it with none other than one of my favorite Avengers, The Falcon! It is an awesomely choreographed fight with Scott diminishing and growing in size at super fast paces and miniaturizes to even short out Falcon's wings!

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The third act is set up as a Mission Impossible-styled heist for Scott to gain access with the assistance of everyone including Hank, Hope and the triumvirate of Luis, Kurt & Dave that pays off in spades. The hybrid of comic hijinks and comic book heroics is a potent combination making for a truly entertaining time at the theater. I loved the fight choreography in the inevitable battle between Ant-Man & Yellowjacket and it plays out as very well thought and executed. There are even some hints to the Marvel cosmic universe when Scott momentarily goes sub-atomic. You'll see what I mean. Overall, I just really dug the movie and was most importantly having fun and to me, that is what I consider to be a good summer movie. As far as my Marvel obsession goes, it was fully satiated but I do have some questions about the second bonus, post-credits scene. Yes, we get two bonus scenes. Love 'em or hate 'em, (for the record I love 'em), Marvel has orchestrated a delicately balanced cinematic universe and I am thrilled that Ant-Man is now a part of it. Ant-Man will next be seen in 2016's Captain America: Civil War.

7.5 Total Score

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