Ant-Man: dads and daughters foil $15 billion deal in sub-atomic dimension

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By Bill Stamets

This originally ran on billstamets.com

directed by Peyton Reed
written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
acted by Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Wood Harris, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian
presented by Marvel Studios
distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures


Add another entry to the Marvel Comics encyclopedia of sensitive super-heroic smart alecks: Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). And open an insectarium for his allies– the bullet ant, crazy ant, carpenter ant and fire ant.

Unversed in Marvel lore? The hyphenated title character is no chimera. Unlike the insect-human mutants in “The Fly” (1958) and “Return of the Fly” (1959), both with Vincent Price, or David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986). Nor is the “Ant-Man” of 2015 a descendant of “Mant,” the faux 1962 film shot in “Atomo Vision” that figures in the plot of Joe Dante’s “Matinee” (1993). And Ant-Man is certainly not akin to Spiderman, with five films to his name since 2002. Same phylum, different class.

For Marvel Studios, Peyton Reed (“Yes Man,” “The Break-Up,” “Down with Love,” “Bring It On”) directs comic sci-fi action fare based on Dr. Hank Pym, a character introduced by “The Man in the Ant Hill” story that appeared in “Tales to Astonish #27” from 1962.

Reed’s PG-13 version stars Michael Douglas as Pym. In 1987 his secret formula for “alter[ing] atomic relative distance” let him and his wife miniaturize as mini-operatives in cool outfits. They intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile launched by Soviet separatists. Sacrificing herself to complete this covert mission, she vanished into a “quantum” void.

Due to misgivings that his “game-changing” gizmo could fall into the wrong hands for “toppling governments,” Pym hides his technology for mobilizing “a soldier the size of an insect, the ultimate secret weapon.” That gets the inventor ousted from his San Francisco company. He returns years later to thwart his evil ex-protege Darren (Corey Stoll) who’s selling out to the evil consortium Hydra.

Pym recruits Scott (Paul Rudd) to re-operationalize Ant-Man. A neuro-tactical interface in his helmet lets him command an army of normal-sized ants upgraded with semi-sentience. Pym’s estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is on board as an anti-Darren co-conspirator. She ends up falling for Scott.

We first meet Scott leaving San Quentin after a three-year stint for his whistle-blowing Robin Hood-style burglary of a bad Bay Area billionaire. Even with a masters degree in electrical engineering, the ex-con cannot hold down a gig at a Baskin-Robbins. He’s way behind on child support and wants visiting rights to see his daughter Cassie (a winsome Abby Ryder Fortson missing her upper front teeth).

Repairing damaged family relationships is a sentimental through-line of “Ant-Man.” Pym and Hope reconcile. Cassie can ultimately see her dad as her hero. As in “Contact” (1997) and “Interstellar” (2014), a channel of father-daughter communication will open despite inter-dimensional obstacles.

The screenplay is witty. A Pym Technologies marketing video pitches this blather: “It’s time to return to a simpler age, one when the powers of freedom can once again operate openly to protect their interests… to create a sustainable environment of well-being around the world.”

Rudd– credited as a screenwriter along with Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Adam McKay– gets four scenes where his character comments on his own and others’ dialogue to create comic discomfort. These self-referential lines are less insidery than usual for a franchise keen on meta-quips. Cue a whistling of “It’s a Small World” and one tune by Adam & the Ants.

In contrast to the 14 earlier Marvel vehicles for Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man and Thor, “Ant-Man” is aptly scaled much smaller. Its action sequences in micro-landscapes and sub-atomic interstices are nonetheless spectacular. And there’s the usual teasing warmth, high-tech dazzle, and moralizing on international justice. Advertised as “a high-stakes, tension-filled adventure,” “Ant-Man” is more like an anti-corporate comedy about dads, daughters and the distance between atoms.

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