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‘Ant-Man’ squishes its way into “good movie” status

By Matt Maielli / Staff Writer

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“Ant-Man”

Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly

Directed by: Peyton Reed

Grade: B+

He has the power to shrink while maintaining his strength. He can communicate with insects. He is Ant-Man — OK, this might be a tough sell.

Peyton Reed, known for his comedies “Yes Man” and “Bring It On,” took on “Ant-Man” after Edgar Wright — who was the film’s director until he dropped out in 2014. The movie, which came out July 17, channels absurdity the way Marvel does best — into comedy. How else did “Guardians of the Galaxy” turn a talking raccoon and a sentient tree into instant favorites?

“Ant-Man” follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a former thief trying to leave his past behind so he can see his daughter again. And Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), an aging, paranoid, millionaire-scientist and former soldier, gives Scott an opportunity to get out of the ex-con rut for good. Turns out, Hank is the first Ant-Man and the inventor of the “Pym particle,” the elusive formula that powers the superhero suit. But, Ant-Man’s nemesis, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), an ill-minded scientist and Hank’s former apprentice, has managed to replicate Hank’s shrinking technology. With the help of Hank’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) — who is also Cross’s assistant — Scott’s mission is to steal back the tech before Cross can militarize it.

If you can buy into the fact that Ant-Man is an insectile superhero, you will thoroughly enjoy this movie. The film tries really hard to convince you these powers are much cooler than they actually are, with scenes of Ant-Man jumping through key-holes and riding flying ants. The film also capitalizes on mini-action scenes, zooming the camera out for context and maximum hilarity.

“Ant-Man” is half superhero heist, half “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” antics. It pulls off the heist well, but the second part seems to encompass more than half of the film. Like “Honey,” “Ant-Man” has a lot of family themes at work. Scott tries to be the man his daughter thinks he is, while Hank and Hope hash it out, leaving Cross feeling betrayed by his fatherly mentor.

Until “Ant-Man,” Marvel hadn’t experimented with other fathers as superheroes, so Rudd’s Scott has warmer motivations than other Marvel heroes.This makes the usual end-of-the-world stakes more personal and small-scale, both to the characters and the audience. Rudd makes every scene glow, and his quips turn bricks of tension into butter.

After the laughable premise, one would think that any more comic relief would crowd the film. But the quick-talking, ex-con Luis, played by Michael Peña (“Tower Heist”), proves you wrong. With a fumbled line here and a lingering pause there, he constantly veers off-topic, such as “I’m more of a post-cubist man myself.”

Lilly gives a balanced performance as Hope, a martial arts master and skilled with ant communication. She  is subdued, yet superior to Scott. She’s also the film’s only strong female lead — the supporting characters, like Scott’s daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) and his ex-wife (Judy Greer), are less dimensional.

Case in point: a feature film about a guy who shrinks shouldn’t be as good as “Ant-Man” actually is. It never misses a laugh, even turning its begrudging product placement ironic with digs at Baskin Robbins and a scene where Siri DJs a tiny fight scene. The movie almost avoids references to its popular older sibling “The Avengers,” except for a scene when Scott has to steal a piece of equipment from one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s bases — and one of Marvel’s famous end-credits scenes. “Ant-Man” does what no other stand-alone Marvel project has been able to do: explain why The Avengers can’t solve [insert standalone film hero here]’s problem. This is mostly because Hank is banned from S.H.I.E.L.D., so the film disregards the organization.

Overall, “Ant-Man” is an underbug movie and one of Marvel’s most layered projects. Only a few sequences would make attentive viewers scratch their heads, like how Hank enlarges a deadly key-chain without the use of the suit. “Ant-Man” finishes off with an ending that strangely resembles an acid trip, especially when watched in 3-D.

Sure — he’s a guy who shrinks. But honestly, it could have been so much worse.

If you can handle a shrinking superhero and are fixing for a good heist movie, then “Ant-Man” is the flick for you.

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‘Ant-Man’ squishes its way into “good movie” status