Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ant-Man


  Ant-Man is Marvel's latest stylish entry in their cinematic universe, and by far it is one of the most fun. Not saying it's one of the best, but certainly one of the most enjoyable. It has one thing going for it that none of their movies have had since the original Iron Man, and that would be the fact that it's simply uncomplicated. Sure there's easter eggs and nods to the other films in the franchise, but Ant-Man works independently of those movies. It's also not a dog and pony show like the Avengers movies. It's just a fun little adventure flick. With Daredevil darkening things up on Netflix, and Age of Ultron complicating the hell out of things on the big screen, it's nice to see a Marvel movie that does neither- it's just pure Saturday matinee fun.

  The cast is uniformly great. It's nice to see Michael Douglas in a movie again and kudos to the special effects team for that prologue scene in which he appears to be in his early 40's again. Tron Legacy tried the same thing with Jeff Bridges a few years ago and nothing about the effect looked natural. He looked computer generated. Whereas here, I had a five minute argument with my mother about whether or not it was practical makeup, CGI, or according to her... a fantastic face lift. That's saying a lot. Obviously, this is a movie full of CGI special effects. To start off strong with an effect that by it's very nature and intention shouldn't stand out, in a movie full of eye catching over-the-top CGI, was very cool. It was the first "Wow!" moment in a flick chock full of them.

   Douglas himself looks like he's having a blast in the mentor role of Hank Pym, training ex-con career thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to be a hero. Of course, nobody can tell Hank that Scott is wrong for this sort of daring-do faster than Scott himself can. But, Scott has an ex-wife and a young daughter who he cares about immensely- so Hank points out to him at one point, "It's not about saving our world... It's about saving theirs." This is another reason why Ant-Man works so well, the motives of our hero are reduced to something personal, relatable, and emotional. Scott Lang is just a man who wants to be the hero his daughter already sees him as. This is obviously an uphill battle, but Scott is endearing because he's willing to fight that battle.

  This is the essence of a good superhero movie. Scott's personal and emotional battle has become transposed into a save-the-world context full of laser beams, fist fights, explosions, evil monologues, and super-suits that can shrink to sub-atomic sizes. Thus, by saving the world, Scott proves himself to those he loves. It's simple. It works. We aren't tracking the emotional development of a whole team of characters- just a few. Scott also isn't the only one lending an emotional core to the story, there's something to be said about the dynamic between Hank and his estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). As both of them mold Scott into hero material, they find themselves having to confront their own demons. None of this stuff is game-changingly emotional, but it works. It's a big focus of the story instead of being crammed into a few throwaway scenes (Cough. Age of Ultron. Cough.)

  The writers of these stories should be able to make them as emotionally compelling as they are visually. Though their style and action sequences are beyond reproach, I'd love to come back from a Marvel movie and say it was genuinely moving. I'd love to say it genuinely affected me. After all, why not? Blockbuster action movies these days are learning and picking up on that. Guardians of the Galaxy, despite how bloated it was, understood the need for an emotional core. Ant-Man gets it as well. Plenty of Marvel's past efforts fall flat in this category. They're so needlessly over-plotted and so much attention to visual detail is paid, that the real emotional core of them are often lost in a jumble of explosions and one-liners.

  Marvel wants us to be invested in characters who are currently only being taken as seriously as their latest costume update. There's glimpses of emotional depth in all of them, but it's not being exploited enough. The easter eggs and post-credits stingers are great, but now that the point has been well and thoroughly proven that you guys (Marvel Studios) can make a comic book movie without botching it like someone who's never read a comic book in their life- how about trying to make some next level stuff? Daredevil and Captain America: The Winter Soldier transcend the trappings of their own niche genre and managed to be pretty fantastic. Imagine if this wasn't the exception to the standard, but rather the standard itself?

  Ant-Man for me, was close but still felt like typical Marvel fare. Which is still plenty of fun and full of some of the most "wow" worthy visuals ever seen in a comic book movie... but what's stopping it from being more? That's a much larger discussion that I will probably dedicate a whole post to someday, but for now, let me wax a bit more praise on the visuals of this movie. The world from the perspective of an insect is incredibly fascinating and Ant-Man never fails to realize that. It's a movie full of style, color, and breathtaking scale. For all it's simplicity, it's visuals are top shelf stuff. When all is said and done, Ant-Man is a clever and creative action-adventure flick full of eye candy and wall-to-wall CGI used in the best ways possible. I had a lot of fun with this movie and I don't see why anyone else can't as well, but I'm waiting for Marvel to step their game up. Simple Saturday matinee fare is fine, but there's so much more potential in there just waiting to be unleashed.

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