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Ant-Man (2015) - MCU Retro Review

 

Heading into the final few chapters of Marvel's Phase 3 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we decided it was time to take a look back at the last ten years worth of films (18 in all) and re-evaluate them based on how well they hold up today and how connected they are to the greater MCU now that the films have advanced so far into the timeline, which culminates in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and it's untitled sequel. Are they as good as you remember? Do they still hold up today? Are the deeper MCU connections even deeper than before or weaker? Join us as we attempt to answer those questions and take another look at the last decade of Marvel Studios with our Retro-Review Series!

DIRECTED BY: Peyton Reed
WRITTEN BY: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, & Paul Rudd
STARRING: Paul Rudd (Scott Lang / Ant-Man), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne), Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym), Corey Stoll (Darren Cross / Yellowjacket), Bobby Cannavale (Paxton), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Judy Greeg (Maggie Lang), Michael Pena (Luis), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), T.I. (Dave), Haley Atwell (Peggy Carter)  
STORY: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.

Thinking back, I can still recall the collective groan voiced by many of the Marvel fandom when it was announced that ANT-MAN would be receiving his own solo film as a part of the studio's Phase 2 initiative. I get it. I mean, it's right there in the name, right? Ant-Man. Pffft, that doesn't sound very super at all, does it? However, as is the case with many things in cinema, sometimes very big surprises come in small packages. And let's be honest, even Iron Man was a C-list character when he first arrived as the introductory hero in Marvel's plot for cinematic supremacy.

Of course, you can't talk about ANT-MAN without mentioning the involvement of HOT FUZZ and BABY DRIVER director Edgar Wright. As you might recall, Wright had been hired by Marvel to direct the movie, which he was also set to write alongside his ofttimes film partner Joe Cornish (ATTACK THE BLOCK, THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN). Then, after working on the film for upward of eight years, Wright exited the project while citing "creative differences" as the reason for his departure. It wouldn't be until years later, while promoting his musically-charged acion film BABY DRIVER (a movie born out of ANT-MAN in many ways), that the filmmaker broke his silence about the withdrawl by saying: "I think the most diplomatic answer is I wanted to make a Marvel movie but I don’t think they really wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie." Thus, BRING IT ON and YES MAN director Peyton Reed was brought on board.

Like many people, when I'd heard that directorial duties on ANT-MAN had shifted from the helmer of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD to the guy who shot THE BREAK-UP, I got real nervous about the state of what I felt was Marvel's riskiest film (at the time). After doing a bit of digging, I discovered that Reed had directed several episodes of programs like MR. SHOW, UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE, and THE WEIRD AL SHOW. It was then that I thought to myself, "Oh, so this movie does have the potential to be unique and funny." Do you know what happened next? ANT-MAN arrived, and I thought it was damn good. While appearing relatively small in scale, I think that, at its core, Marvel's ANT-MAN is a witty visual feast with a lot of heart.

To begin, I really enjoy Paul Rudd's approach to the Robin Hood-like and wholly affable Scott Lang. I remember being excited about Rudd's involvement when it was announced that he'd be joining the cast, and to my delight, I think he did a great job. In ANT-MAN, Rudd uses his natural charm to introduce Marvel fans to a "slightly above-average Joe," who's chief concern for his post-prison self is to get right in the eyes of his only daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). At the time of the film's release, I welcomed the idea of following a would-be hero who wasn't a billionaire genius, super soldier, or god of thunder. Thankfully, I think Rudd excels at playing both the roles of Scott Lang and as his super-suited counterpart, Ant-Man. In watching the film again, I'd found that Rudd's performance still lands. His Ant-man is an egaging and self-effacing foil to Hank Pym's original version of the character.

That being said, Lang would not be nearly as enjoyable a character to watch if it were not for his supporting cast members. For my money, I think Michael Douglas positively nailed his part as the ornery and emotionally-stilted Hank Pym. While Marvel's pint-sized adventure isn't FATAL ATTRACTION, FALLING DOWN, or THE GAME, I find that it still provides Douglas with a platform to strut his stuff. Furthermore, the comic book reader in me was quite impressed at how Douglas, in delivering his performance as Pym, appeared to tap into his comic book counterpart by presenting a man who's clearly haunted by the demons of his past.

Moving down the line, it would be remiss of me not to dedicate some time to Hope van Dyne. In all honesty, she has always been my favorite character in the ANT-MAN movie. As one of the few women featured in Marvel's MCU at the time, Lilly quickly establishes Ms. van Dyne as a force of nature, both as the estranged daughter of a secretive prodigy as well as a more-than-capable candidate to wear the Ant-Man tech. I also really dug the way Scott's dedication to the cause steadily chips away at Hope's seemingly rigid exterior. It shows me that Hope recognizes the value in having Scott as a member of the team, which is a mature place to have arrived, after harboring such resentment for his inclusion from the get-go. I also must confess that I very nearly made a mess of myself when, during the film's post-credits sequence, Hank gifts his daughter with the super suit she was always meant to wear. Oh, and just as a side note: Thank you Marvel, for not doing the "hair as an emotional barometer" trope with Hope's character progression. By this I mean that I'm bored of seeing a female lead with straight, or otherwise prim and proper hair become progressively disheveled, as her character becomes more vulnerable. While Hope had multiple looks throughout the film, they were more professional versus personal, which is frankly, more realistic.

Of course, no ANT-MAN review would be complete without a mention of the "Wombats," as played by Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, and Tip 'T.I.' Harris. In my opinion, this hapless trio does a lot to raise the level of humor found in the movie. I particularly enjoyed Pena's easily-excited Luis, whose hilarious, almost childlike wonder would always leave me in stitches. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, I think I would enjoy seeing something akin to a special Netflix presentation starring these three boneheads. It doesn't have to be a 13-episode season. It could be upward of  three episodes, in which the group engages in their signature shenanigans. Yeah, I'd be down for that.

Last on the main character front is Corey Stoll as the warped, attention-seeking madman, Darren Cross. While Marvel has presented audiences with their fair share of corporate villains since the start of the MCU, it wasn't until I was introduced to Stoll's Cross that I saw a suited Marvel villain with true complexity. Now, while I'm not looking to take anything away from IRON MAN villain Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who himself was an admirable foil to Tony's antics, I find Cross' motivation (and Stoll's performance) to be more nuanced. In watching the movie again, I really grew to appreciate just how desperate Cross is for Hank's approval, and how that seemingly means more to him than being recognized by the rest of the world for his would-be contribution to the arms race. The way I see it, Cross demonstrates that he's an arduous villain for both Pym and Lang - particularly as the unstable elements of his Yellowjacket invention continue to ravage his already deteriorating mind.

Like several other characters from Marvel's pint-sized adventure, Stoll left me with the impression that he was really pouring himself into the role. As Yellowjacket, he arrives as a power-hungry lunatic, wanting the approval of his mentor just as much as the fame, fortune and influence that would undoubtedly come from the sale of his new tech. As compelling as that is, it's in the moments when Cross "peacocks" in front of Dr. Hank Pym that I thought his performance truly shined. This is a character that, despite being a genius, will sacrifice his reputation, career, and integrity for the sake of an old man's congratulations.

Contraily, I must admit that I don't particularly find the score by Christophe Beck to be particularly memorable. That's not to say that Beck doesn't deliver the goods for some, I simply find myself at a loss to recall any particular arrangements that stand out. I also think that while many of the Ant-Man sequences are just as creative as they are visually entertaining, a sub-par effect does sneak its way into the adventure, every now and again. If you need an example, I'd like to direct your attention to the moment when the Pym building explodes. It was during this scene when I audibly yelled "Oh, c'mon!", at my screen. For me, that instance looked like an explosive overlay stunt from the 90s, as opposed to a tried-and-true 2015 effect. Granted, these moments are fleeting, and they certainly don't come close to breaking the immersion of the film, though I do find myself wondering where the budget went when crafting this particular scene. All things considered, in a series of films as technologically advanced as the previous MCU installments have been, it's a small price to pay for the larger-than-life, almost cosmic-level of action that comes from when Ant-Man shrinks down to his HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS stature. 

In conclusion, I think ANT-MAN makes for a fabulous ride along the MCU roller coaster of fantasy action and heartfelt super heroics. In my opinion, it was the first Marvel movie that stood the chance of being rejected by audiences, regardless of their willingness to drink the MCU Kool-Aid. The film introduced me to a series of characters that I'm looking forward to spending time with, again, and I can't help but smile when thinking about the creative ways in which the sequel is bound to utilize the size-altering Pym tech. I also think it's cool that ANT-MAN gives us our first glimpse of a Marvel world beyond the one we already know. By this I'm referring to the sub-atomic plane shown in the final moments of Ant-Man's battle against Yellowjacket. In many ways, this movie feels like the start of Marvel leading us toward such outrageous locations as the cosmos traveled in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or the Astral Plane featured in DOCTOR STRANGE. In other words, ANT-MAN strikes me as the point when Marvel meant to signal to their audience that they're not afraid to "get weird." Here's hoping that ANT-MAN AND THE WASP will deliver yet another tale to astonish, as both Scott and Hope continue to spread their wings among such superhero royalty as Captain America, Black Widow, and the rest of the Earthe's Mightest Heroes.

READ THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL REVIEW!

Both instances of what I like to call "Storytime with Luis." This, of course, refers to the telephone-style manner with which Luis gives Scott the 411 on his latest bit of insider information.

The sequence in which Scott cracks Pym's Carbondale safe: It's during this series of moments that we really get to see Scott in his element, using his patience and expertise to cooly solve a formidable puzzle. The scene quickly establishes Scott as a problem solver, and someone who's capable of performing well under pressure. These are all qualities that a hero can only hope to have in both the best and worst of situations.

Scott's first experience with the Ant-Man suit is also a highlight of the film. It begins with Scott at the bottom of a bath tub, the establishing shot making it look like he's on some forbidden planet. What happens next is like HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS on steroids, as Scott travels from bad to worse situations, while seemingly trapped in his miniaturized form.

Ant-Man versus Falcon at the Avengers facility. Nuff' said.

Ant-Man smacks Yellowjacket with a ping-pong paddle and into a bug zapper. Classic!

Honestly, anytime Ant-Man enters a battle is pretty amazing. The scuffle between him and Yellowjacket, while trapped inside a briefcase, is especially memorable, for me. I particularly enjoy the moment when Siri cues up The Cure's "Disintegration". Oh, and of course there's the final battle in which Ant-Man and Yellowjacket trade blows while flying around Cassie's Thomas the Tank Engine train set. Not only is that scene super-nostalgic, on account of my owning most of the toys featured in it, but it's also downright hilarious while still appearing epic in both scale and ferocity.

Hank introduces Hope to her new super suit: This was the moment when we knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that ANT-MAN AND THE WASP was an inevitability. It was also a fist-pumping moment for established fans of the character, of which I am most certainly one.This was an earned moment for Hope, and it makes me excited to see what she can bring to the upcoming sequel. 

Scott: You guys have the weirdest goodbye rituals.

Dale: Baskin-Robbins always finds out.

Dave: That's witchcraft! 
Luis: That's amazing. That's like some David Coppefield shit! 
Dave: That's wizardry! 
Kurt: Sorcery! 
Luis:
How do you do that, bro? 
Scott Lang: Don't freak out, look at your shoulder. 
Luis: Get it off! Get it off!

Yellowjacket: I'm gonna disintergrate you! 
Siri: Playing "Disintergration" by The Cure.

Luis: How serious are we talkin' Scotty? 
Scott Lang:
[Looking at a safe] It's a Carbondale. It's from 1910, made from the same steel as the Titanic. 
Luis: Wow.
Can you crack it? 
Scott Lang:
Well, here's the thing, it doesn't do so well with cold. Remember what that iceberg did? 
Luis: Yeah man, it killed DiCaprio. 
Dave: Killed everyone. 
Kurt: Did not kill the old lady. She still throw the jewel into the oceans.

Luis: Thank you for the coffee ma'am. It's not too often that you rob a place, and then get welcomed back. Because we just robbed you! 
Hope Van Dyne: You know that he was arrested for stealing a smoothie machine, right? 
Luis: Two smoothie machines.

Hank Pym: Do not screw with the regulator. If that regulator is compromised you would go sub-atomic. 
Scott Lang: What does that mean? 
Hank Pym: It means that you would enter a quantum realm. 
Scott Lang: What does that mean? 
Hank Pym: It means that you would enter a reality where all concepts of time and space become irrelevant as you shrink for all eternity. Everything that you know, and love, gone forever. 
Scott Lang: Cool. Yeah. I'm... If it ain't broke...

Hank Pym: [to Scott] Second chances don't come around all that often. I suggest you take a really close look at it. This is your chance to earn that look in your daughter's eyes, to become the hero that she already thinks you are.

Frank: Long time no see, Dr. Pym. How's retirement? 
Hank Pym: How's your face?

Scott Lang: No, I'm the Ant-Man!... I know, it wasn't my idea.

At one point in the film, we’re told that "we’ve got one that jumps, we’ve got one that swings, we’ve got one that crawls up the walls.” This is clearly thought to be a Spider-Man reference, right? Well, according to Kevin Feige, “When that was shot, that was before the whole [Spider-Man] thing had happened. It really was just her listing relatively generic powers leading into Falcon saying, ‘I’m looking for someone who shrinks.’ Now that the Spider-Man deal has been announced, it takes on a different connotation.” However, Peyton Reed expressed a different opinion on the matter when he stated that “Well, as everything the Marvel Universe, things are constantly changing and evolving,” he said. “It was something that very late in the game happened. We had those conversations about, ‘Are we going to deal with it in our movie? Should we deal with it in our movie and if so, how?’ We liked the idea of just dropping a little, tiny reference toward the end of the movie. That excited me. Just to have that connection with a character I grew up loving – it was great.”

As Darren reveals classified footage of the Ant-Man technology being used on an old school battlefield, he refers to the stories as "tales to astonish," which serves as a clever wink to the comic where Hank Pym was first introduced.

A passenger on a cable car is reading a newspaper that bares the headline "Who's to Blame For Sokovia?" Of course, this is a reference to the events of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, where the city of Sokovia is lifted from the ground at the hands of Ultron, with the aim of dropping it to meteoric effect.

In the 1989-set sequence, we see the Washington DC S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters the Triskelion under construction. In that scene, we witness Hank tender his resignation from S.H.I.E.L.D., after discovering that they made an attempt to replicate his Ant-Man shrinking technology. Present in the scene are an aged Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Howard Stark (John Slattery), and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan), who'se later revealed to be an agent of HYDRA.

The Madarin Connection: While serving time in the San Quentin Correctional Facility, an eagle-eyed watcher might notice an inmate sporting a "10 Rings of the Madarin" tattoo on the left side of his neck. This unique symbol is worn by followers of the IRON MAN 3 villain.

When Scott first tries the Ant-Man suit on for size, he's eventually ejected onto the top of a nearby cab. Upon landing on the vehicle, we see that the cabbie is indeed Garrett Morris, the first actor ever to portray Ant-Man on screen alongside Bill MurrayDan Aykroyd, and Jim Belushi for a skit on Saturday Night Live.

As I've mentioned above, the characters Peggy Cater (Hayley Atwell), Howard Stark (John Slattery), and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) each appear toward the start of the film.

During a flashback sequence, we learn that Janet van Dyne's version of the Wasp (Hayley Lovitt) had become trapped in the Quantum Realm, a subatomic place where time and space are irrelevant. It's now known that the search for her character will continue in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, where Janet will be portrayed by legendary actor Michelle Pfeiffer.

Scott Lang's daughter, Cassie Lang, eventually goes on to wear a size-altering super suit of her very own as the Marvel hero known as Stature. Sadly, Cassie dies somewhere along her career as a superhero, an event that crushes Scott's spirit for years to come.

After being tasked with "stealing some shit" from an old Stark Industries building, Scott discovers that the facility has since been converted into a wing of the New Avengers base. Upon tripping an alarm, Ant-Man is left with no choice but to face off against Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a battle that forever places Lang on the Avengers' radar.  

Toward the end of the movie, Luis is telling Scott a story about how Falcon asked about Ant-Man's whereabouts. While telling the tale in his signature motor-mouth-like fashion, Luis lays bare the past events. It's during this flashback that we see Stan Lee in the role of a bartender, mouthing the words Luis, in real time, says to Scott. 

Fueled by a desire to become a household name within the science industry, Darren Cross was recognized throughout his high-schooling career as a genius of his craft. After graduating as valedictorian from MIT at the age of twenty, Cross was hand-picked by Hank Pym to be his protégé while studying at Pym Technologies. During his time with Pym, Cross became obsessed with his mentor's invention of Pym Particles, a formula that allows for the manipulation and isolation of subatomic particles. Before long, Cross usurped Pym as CEO of the the company, and re-branded the institute as Cross Technologies. With Hank no longer calling the shots, Cross began searching for a way to replicate Pym's secret formula, with the intent to sell a weaponized version of it to terrorist organizations the likes of HYDRA and the Ten Rings.

After building his own version of Pym's Ant-Man suit - dubbed the Yellowjacket Suit - Cross launches an all-out attack against Ant-Man and his team. By the close of the film, Cross becomes a victim of his own hubris as he fails to defeat the Ant-Man, who after damaging the Yellowjacket suit, triggers a localized subatomic implosion that destroys the technology, and Cross along with it.

 

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Source: JoBlo.com

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