Ant-Man (2015)

*. If you’re looking hard to find some significance here it may be in the comic evolution of Marvel films. Sure they always had a sense of humour, what with wise-cracking superheroes and an awareness of their own absurdity, but with Ant-Man you get something that’s a big step toward a superhero comedy. A proto-Deadpool, if you will. And even if you don’t care for such levity, it’s more welcome than those awful Dark Knight movies of Christopher Nolan. But then, could you imagine Christian Bale cracking wise?
*. It’s a good thing the tone here is so light, as it has to carry a very slight, very improbable, and very predictable plot.
*. I was wondering, before things got started, just how they were going to get started. I mean, we know the basic outline cold by now. Ordinary guy (even billionaire Tony Stark is very much an ordinary guy) gains super powers through some kind of accident. He has the usual problems adjusting his personal life to fit the new circumstances he finds himself in. There’s usually an older mentor figure who is involved at some point, and an evil corporation or alien force (sometimes allied) with designs on global domination. So as you take your seat you just want them to get on with it.
*. Well, at least things move quickly, even if there are no surprises. This is a movie that doesn’t want to surprise us. Is there anyone who didn’t think the safecracking business was a test right from the start? Or that Darren Cross was going to double-cross our heroes? You had to know that even without knowing his last name.
*. They even make a joke of this at times, especially with the running gag involving sucker punches. The person being punched is always taken by surprise, but I don’t think the audience ever is. And the movie knows this. It doesn’t have any tricks up its sleeve.
*. And yet it still works pretty well. The good guys are all likeable. Paul Rudd has that “scruffy yet buff dude” look that has become dominant for male leads (I mistook him for Ben Affleck in Gone Girl). Michael Douglas is decent. Evangeline Lilly comes close to stealing the show, in a part that is very poorly written. The three “wombats” are conventionally funny.
*. Where things fall down is with the villains. They aren’t interesting at all, and their motivations are only a throwaway. Basically they’re just Lex Luthor and Hydra ex machina (who the hell are those guys anyway?). Eventually it all comes to seem very much like the first Iron Man movie. Which, again, is something the movie is aware of. Michael Douglas makes the point early that his particle is far more significant an invention than Iron Man’s fancy suit. Because he knows you’ve already made the connection.
*. This knowingness could be annoying, and I guess it is a bit, but it’s all kept very low key. We go through all the obvious dramatic stageposts, like Hank Pym telling his daughter Hope about what happened to her mother, or Lang and Paxton bonding at the end, but then they’re undercut with a grin and a wink at how this is all just a “moment.”

*. Maybe it’s this winking knowingness that helps paper over what I found to be a rather disturbing scene when Cross miniaturizes a corporate enemy into a dab of goo and then wipes him up off the floor and flushes him down the toilet. I found that rather uncomfortable, but given the movie’s attitude of “it’s just a movie” it doesn’t carry any weight. Still, I wish they’d left it out.
*. Little people have always been a popular subject for effects films. Yet despite all the advances that have been made from the days of The Devil-Doll, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tom Thumb, Gulliver’s Travels, and Fantastic Voyage, I didn’t find the effects here very compelling. I never had the sense of a tiny person in an oversized world. Maybe it was how fast everything was cut. Maybe it was the way Ant-Man was able to keep zipping back and forth from big to small. Maybe it was the fact that small Ant-Man has increased atomic density (or whatever) and so is just as strong as when he’s full-size, so he is in no real danger from angry kittens or vacuum cleaners. Or maybe it was the way CGI makes everything look fake. Whatever it was, I just didn’t feel involved in the microworld. Though the Thomas the Tank Engine stuff was cute.
*. One thing that did strike me as interesting was the idea of the fully wired hero. I guess Iron Man is somewhat the same thing, but Ant-Man, with his hacker friend, helmet that puts him in constant communication with everyone, ant-mounted cameras seeing everything, and special insect telepathy powers (that make no sense at all and which the movie doesn’t even try to explain), is networked. It almost seems like someone should be controlling him with a joystick while everyone else watches him live online.
*. It could have, and probably should have, been a lot worse. It’s incoherent and slapdash. There’s a whole scene of Ant-Man breaking into the Avengers mansion to steal . . . something, which is just an excuse to tie the character in to the rest of the Marvel universe. I guess. The jokes are lame. As noted, the plot is predictable, and also improbable in the extreme. I mean, ant-sized people who hold on to ICBMs while in flight? I can’t even begin to explain all the things wrong with that. Finally, the action scenes struck me as unexceptional. I couldn’t get into any of them.
*. Nevertheless, it has a kind of goofy charm that has become the Marvel house style. This helps smooth things over. Like all the Marvel movies I can think of (or remember) it’s certainly not worth watching twice, but it’s painless the first time around.

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