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Armed with the amazing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang must channel his inner hero and help his new mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of ruthless villains! With humanity's fate in the balance, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a daring heist against insurmountable odds. (From Marvel’s official synopsis)

 Ant-Man
In a world where Troma Entertainment alum James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a black horse hit for Marvel Studios, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man was similarly successful. No matter how un-mainstream-friendly Ant-Man is as a concept, it has nothing on the Gunn’s eccentric cosmic goofballs. However, the Ant-Man movie had plenty of unique challenges, from the silliness of its title character’s power set, to the well-publicized behind-the-scenes strife, and the fact that it was being released in the wake of the studio’s biggest production – Avengers: Age of Ultron – and, arguably, their only Phase Two folly.

As many readers likely know, Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), World’s End (2010), and Scott Pilgrim (2013) director Edgar Wright was originally attached to Ant-Man. He brought friend and Attack the Block (2011) director Joe Cornish along as co-writer. This was the appeal of the project – Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish making a superhero comedy for the budding Marvel Cinematic Universe. That didn’t end up happening. According to educated hearsay and conjecture, Wright left the project because he was concerned that the movie he and Cornish had been developing for the better part of a decade was being shoehorned into the ongoing MCU universe. It’s hard to blame him, especially after awkward Phase One attempts at interlocking storylines ( Iron Man 2 and Thor, in particular). In the end, we don’t really know what caused the rift between Wright and the Marvel brass (we don’t even know if the people he ‘clashed’ with are still in charge of the MCU) or precisely how his version would’ve differed from Reeds and, though it is fun to speculate and compare known aspects of both versions, I’d rather not do too much of that for this review. Though, I do imagine the final film has more in common with Wright’s intentions than fans originally assumed, in large part because it feels like a relatively self-contained story. The core narrative choices – specifically switching focus from inventor and original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, to master thief Scott Lang – were maintained all throughout pre-production and these are the keys to the film’s success.

 Ant-Man
The problems in adapting Hank Pym to a blockbuster movie begin with his status as yet another super-scientist/inventor-turned-superhero. Mainstream audiences are already familiar with the likes of Bruce Banner/Hulk (two solo movies and two Avengers team-ups), Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (three movies, including the one released just before Ant-Man), and, of course, Tony Stark/Iron Man (three solo movies and two Avengers team-ups). While comic fans understand that there’s plenty of room for dozens of super-scientists in the greater Marvel universe (though even great writers have trouble finding compelling reasons for them to overlap), their similar attributes are magnified on the big screen. In the context of the MCU, Hank Pym becomes a crankier version of familiar characters. He holds the patent on shrinking technology (or ‘Pym Particles’ ®). This brings us to the second problem – Pym’s ‘crankiness’ has been amplified tenfold throughout his nearly 50-year history. His long arc includes violent self-esteem issues, identity crises, bouts of chemically-induced schizophrenia, the ill-conceived creation of Ultron, spousal abuse, and even a bit of blatant supervilliany. Even the family-friendly Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series presented Pym as a frustrated pacifist that is so obsessed with his work and unable to communicate on an emotional level that he may very well land on the autism spectrum. As a movie studio, Marvel has said they’d rather not deal with Tony Stark’s alcoholism, so I can’t imagine a character with a history of emotional issues as extensive as Pym’s could make the cut as a central antagonist.

Wright & Cornish’s story sidesteps both problems with an elegantly simple solution – they use the second Ant-Man, criminal-turned-hero Scott Lang. Marvel and DC comics have a long tradition of heroes passing off their mantles and, in choosing Lang, Ant-Man doesn’t only recognize the trope, but it sets a precedent for future Marvel movies. After all, Robert Downey Jr. isn’t going to play Iron Man forever. Comic fans get their cake and eat it too, because Pym is still included in the story as the older guy that hand picks Lang as his successor, which itself solves even more narrative problems. Reed’s film does endure the growing pains of acute ‘origin-story-itis’ (more on that below), but casting an older Pym as Lang’s mentor softens the blow, simply because we haven’t already seen this in a big-budget comic book franchise (the half-baked finale of The Dark Knight Rises notwithstanding). Also, by implying a different origin story via flashbacks, Ant-Man expands the idea of the MCU having a more fully-formed sense of history. Stuff like this and the Agent Carter TV series help to fill the gaps in less abstract ways than the cosmic histories glimpsed in Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy.

 Ant-Man
Ant-Man’s powers translate beautifully to screen. Even outside of the context of a superhero movie, the concept of taking a human character and scaling him/her down to the size of an insect makes for dynamic imagery and good adventure. Had Marvel chosen to explore Hank Pym’s back-story, I imagine Ant-Man would’ve been heir to the throne of ‘50s/’60s sci-fi adventures, specifically Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). In fact, the idea of an Ant-Man movie was rejected in the late ‘80s, because Disney already had future Captain America director Joe Johnston’s ode to Arnold, Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989), in production. Changing the genre focus from sci-fi to a heist film gives Ant-Man a unique edge over dozens of Shrinking Man-style adventures. The fact that it’s a pretty well-orchestrated heist is a bonus.

Even with a number of unique elements and a more concrete structural basis than most superhero origin stories (many tend to be starkly divided into two acts), there are still plenty of issues with the script. And most of these problems have already appeared in other MCU movies, making their reappearance significantly more frustrating. The central dilemma here is that the plot settles too comfortably into well-worn grooves. Typical shortcuts, like training and expositional montages, are cleverly compiled (Michael Peña’s little flashbacks are show-stoppers), but editing tricks, amusing jokes, and a great cast aren’t enough to disguise the predictable nature of the story. Yes, it’s charmingly done, it moves quickly, and it introduces concepts that will hopefully be built upon in future entries, but it’s still the same basic formula we’ve seen from superhero origin stories for several decades now. I also find myself dreading the onset of final battles in these movies. Ant-Man plays with the conventions of the escalating action ‘required’ from modern special effects-driven movies by staging the ultimate fight on the smallest scale imaginable, but the story function is the same. Still, there is a sweet promise of strange tales to come when Scott enters the microverse.

 Ant-Man
The biggest problem is once again the treatment of the film’s lead female. And this isn’t just a matter of accusing the studio and filmmakers of not pursuing more politically correct gender roles for their blockbusters, because, even if I pretend that the lack of progressive feminine characters in Marvel’s films doesn’t bother me (though, Jesus Christ, the only other woman in this movie with any lines is a nagging ex-wife), I just don’t buy the movie’s central insistence that Hope van Dyne can’t don the Ant-Man costume. The main (maybe only?) argument against Hope as Ant-Girl or the Wasp is that Pym simply doesn’t want to put his daughter in danger, but I never bought it and I’m not sure Reed and McKay do either (perhaps it is an artefact of the Wright/Cornish draft?). First of all, she’s already in significant danger, seemingly with his blessing, by acting as a spy and an undercover girlfriend/confidant of the villain. Then, the script repeatedly reminds us that she is infinitely more prepared and talented than Lang – she’s better at fighting, she has better control of the suit, she has better control of ants, she’s familiar with the science, and she knows more about the building they’re infiltrating. Lang’s pre-training thieving skills are rarely, if ever, called upon. The final straw is that she wants to take Langs place. Why frame her personal arc as a constant stream of emotional defeat at the hands of her overprotective father? It doesn’t make sense and, in extension, weakens Lang and Pym’s characters, who come across as either inept or irrationally stubborn. Rudd is charming as Lang, it’s nice that his positive personality is his ultimate weapon, and I understand that it is his movie, not Hope’s, but I can’t help but agree when she is finally confronted with a suit of her own – ‘It’s about damn time.’

 Ant-Man

Video


Ant-Man was shot using digital HD cameras (mostly Arri Alexas) then, like most (all?) MCU movies, it was post-converted into 3D for theatrical and Blu-ray release. This review pertains to the 2D, 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray (the only 1.85:1 Marvel release, aside from The Avengers). This is probably a good time to mention that, despite mostly enjoying Ant-Man, I think it is an unattractive movie, specifically because of its palette, which is apparently modeled on Age of Ultron’s similarly ugly palette. Most of the film is divided between cobalt and golden/orange bases with red, pink, and green highlights. The limited palette is then limited further by dark lighting and desaturation. There are exceptions, of course, like the early scenes in Baskin Robbins and a couple of daytime outside shots. Though, even here, the lighting evokes a dismal San Francisco overcast. And it’s too bad, because Reed and cinematographer Russell Carpenter do an otherwise nice job filling the frame with interesting imagery. They even achieve a surprisingly film-like texture. The dark blue foundation and high contrast facilitates a lot of tight detail and complex patterns, even when diffused backlights are involved. Despite the excessive digital grading, the actual gradations are pretty subtle – not overly smooth and artificial or as stacked as some film-based productions. I didn’t notice any major issues with compression, though there is some low-level noise against warm hues during the darkest scenes.

 Ant-Man

Audio


Ant-Man was apparently mixed with the Dolby Atmos system in mind, but Marvel and Disney aren’t quite ready to make the leap to next-gen audio, so this Blu-ray features only a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix. ‘Only’ is a relative term here, because the results are spectacular. Everything is punched up for maximum impact, seemingly to pay homage to the film’s comic book origins and to simulate the magnified sounds of the tiny hero’s world. There are plenty of standard-issue superhero movie effects, like gunfire, smacking fists, and flaming jet packs, and they all sound great, but Ant-Man’s original science fiction sounds are the most fun. The seas of chattering ants and shuddering shrink effect noise is fantastic and the wild dynamic range of the climatic battle (big, small, big, small) is the cherry on the aural cake. The score, provided by Muppets and Frozen composer Christophe Beck, nestles softly beneath the dialogue, then springs to life quite boisterously during the action sequences. Traditional symphonic cues are set alongside throbbing techno dance music, bongo-jazz heist music, funky montage music, pop tunes (The Cure’s “Disintegration” has never sounded so good), and even the escape theme from Coffy (which Tarantino also used during Jackie Brown).

 Ant-Man

Extras


  • Commentary with Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd – Reed takes the lead on this track and digs in pretty deep into the technical discussion (both in terms of machinery and the structure of storytelling), occasionally ‘interviewing’ Rudd (who has plenty of anecdotes all his own), and saying very nice things about the cast & crew. Wright and Cornish’s involvement is acknowledged, beginning with the first of the Michael Peña montages, which was one of many things Reed and McKay added when they were brought on the movie. But Wright/Cornish fans shouldn’t expect a blow-by-blow breakdown of the differences between the two scripts and, honestly, Reed shouldn’t really be expected to do as such, because the final film really is his own.
  • Making Of An Ant-Sized Heist: A How-To Guide (14:40, HD) – The cast, crew, and a couple of Marvel Comics’ people discuss the concepts, the characters, production design, costume design, special effects, stunts, and Ant-Man’s comic book history in this fluff-piece EPK.
  • Let's Go To The Macroverse (8:10, HD) – A look at the concepts, special effects, and macro-photography behind the film’s shrinking scenes. It includes comparisons between cropped 2.35:1 images (the original AR) and the final 1.85:1 shots.
  • WHIH News Front (9:20, HD) – Four brief in-universe news programs, including a newscast, surveillance footage of Scott that is mentioned during the movie, a puff piece interview with pre-villain Darren Cross, and a pre-movie interview with Scott.
  • Eight deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary (8:40, HD)
  • Gag reel/outtakes (3:30, HD)


 Ant-Man

Overall


One more thing I really like about Ant-Man is that its divorce subplot doesn’t end with the hero getting back together with his ex-wife. Too many mainstream movies are still mired in the idea that divorce is the end of the world and it’s nice to see one imply that non-traditional families can flourish, too. This certainly isn’t Marvel’s greatest movie, but it is a tasty antidote to Age of Ultron and a nice reminder that there’s plenty of room for this cinematic universe to grow. Marvel/Disney’s Blu-ray has slightly better/more substantial extras than most recent MCU home video releases, including a commentary and nice collection of deleted scenes, but the featurettes are still pretty disappointing. Not surprisingly, its A/V qualities are fantastic

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer..


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