Our Favourite Films: Ant-Man

ant-man indexIs Luis the non-singing version of Olaf?

I think what’s different between this Marvel protagonist is that when he’s given a chance to do what’s right, he does. But he doesn’t get showered with praise afforded to other whistle-blowers. So he finds himself walking the path similar to what the antagonist in ‘Big Hero 6’ devolves into: be judge and jury. He doesn’t get picked up to working for law enforcement like Frank Abagnale (the guy Leonardo DiCaprio played in 2002’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’) or as a journalist like Kevin Poulsen who also served time in jail. This all seems to be a recipe for making something similar to ‘Inception’ or something even more serious (since Christopher Nolan’s film has still a bit of comedy in it) to join in the previous releases within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The Setup: Fresh out from serving his prison sentence in San Quentin, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has to rebuild his life so he can arrange for visits with his daughter. He finds employment in an ice cream parlour after accepting the lack of job prospects for someone with his background. However, he is eventually fired when they find out that he didn’t reveal his time in prison in his application. Former cell-mate Luis (Michael Peña) not only picks him up during his release, he also gives him a place to stay. Throw in a job offer that uses Scott’s ‘particular skills’, but the Electrical Engineering post graduate declines until he loses all his prospects. We are also introduced to Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (Tip Harris) as part of Scott’s eventual ‘crew’ who have their own histories with the law.

The Inciting Incident: Scott gets caught returning the suit he stole. It was only until looking through the cast list that I made the connection that Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is about 60 here (I keep forgetting that it has been decades since Steve met her in 1943). We get a number of reminders that Hank isn’t crazy about working with Tony’s father, Howard Stark (John Slattery), or allowing him to use any of his tech. So when Hank finds out from his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), one of the board members of the company he was ousted from, that Darren is looking to sell the shrinking suit tech to the highest bidder (which would likely be Hydra). He then passes on the word to Scott through Luis’ ‘Tip Line’, then gives the single father a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his kid. Since exposure to Pym Particles (the stuff that shrinks both organic and inorganic matter) will mess with your brain chemistry (unless wearing a specially designed helmet), we can assume that Darren’s far from being redeemed.

The benefit of having seen the second instalment as well as listening to the audio commentary (it was a bummer that Disney+ didn’t include the first), it’s now easier to see the Hope/Scott dynamic as a daughter annoyed that she’s being replaced by a stranger. What’s more annoying is that the more experienced fighter has to waste (Scott would probably use the term ‘invest’) time in passing on her abilities when they (Hank and her) would be able to get the whole thing done and dusted the same week Scott starts his training. It’s easy to forget that, because Scott is the one wearing the suit, Hope is the one who is significantly stronger of the pair.

I don’t think I noticed it the last time I watched this, but Michael Peña smiles a lot. Not many actors can pull that kind of tone off. Just like how the comedy of the shot going from macro to micro during the climax works in execution but probably did not sound as exciting on paper. Fortunately, even the score lends to the whole ‘cheeky-vibe’ of the film. I’m convinced that the track playing during the Marvel logo animation is for Luis’ and just made the experience quite memorable (I was already smiling because it was so unexpected to have something so playful superimposed to what is usually a ‘serious section’)

As for the effects, I was reminded of both how the quantum realm looks like when I rewatched ‘Big Hero 6’, it seems like Hiro and Baymax ended up there after going through that one sided portal. Not sure if one was influenced by the other. Or it was a nod to both, since Stan Lee makes an unexpected appearance in a Disney title (which now makes sense because ‘Big Hero 6’ is a Marvel comic). The growing and shrinking of living things (and objects) sometimes comes off as cartoonish, but it just fits with the while ‘silly smile’ tone of everything.

Comedic Moments:

  • Luis is excited about wearing a uniform
  • Scott impresses when he uses her ‘sleeper hold’ on Falcon
  • Come on Hank! Wombats (in general) are cuddly and cute!

Looking at performances, there were moments when Evangeline Lilly came across (like 59:49) a bit melodramatic (though it might be as a result of her time on ‘Lost’) but because everything had been structured well, it’s something that doesn’t affect my stance about the film (not to mention her being able to stand toe to toe with both Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas): I still consider it a masterpiece. Having already watched ‘Ant-Man And The Wasp‘ and revisiting its predecessor, the first instalment still holds up well (so I would imagine how awesome it would be if you’re watching both for the first time —- according to release dates…I hope). I specifically noticed Michael Douglas with his blocking, and wonder about the amount of time needed for both the rehearsal and him remembering all his lines.

Establishing Scott as this guy with a lot of patience was also essential, and we get an early scene of a customer not understanding usually that the menu really reflects what a store sells. It would have been great to have him tell the guy that burgers cost $500 dollars and would take about three hours because of the amount of work he needs to do. Of course that isn’t possible, since Scott is wanting to keep his job. I also thought it was interesting that some see that Hope is the emotional centre rather than Scott. Rather than argue about the reasons the Scott has more links (like friends) and things to get over (like finding a reliable income stream), I’m just glad that other viewers are able to appreciate the film in their own way (isn’t that the goal of any form of art?).

Probably the biggest reason why my favourite Iron Man film is the third one: it is the one which we can see it’s ‘heart’ clearer than the first two. Though Tony Stark doesn’t run out of money (as mentioned in one of the MCU film commentaries), we get an indication that he is still human and susceptible to mental illness (PTSD). Scott doesn’t get a magic wand waved over his life that gets him enough money to have his own house so he could have more time with his daughter. That alone makes him the most human among all the other characters (who are headlining their own films — I mean…when Steve Rogers is thawed from the ice, he doesn’t really find himself needing to find a way to make rent or pay for utilities).

Though we don’t get to see too much of Hope’s inner life, I like that we get hints that the reason she eventually (and very reluctantly) warms up to Scott as a teammate is that he is not living for himself, but for his daughter. Plus, he’s respectful. He doesn’t leer at women, unlike Tony Stark (the one who hasn’t yet committed to Pepper Potts) who just jumps from non-relationship to non-relationship. It seems like Hope has focused on her work. Which is okay, and it does explain why there isn’t any sort of discussion about her being in a relationship (whether now or before). Of course this isn’t a Romantic Comedy, yet I could imagine Nancy Meyers wanting to write a film for them after watching their scenes together. Their on-screen chemistry is strong enough (who am I kidding? It’s off the charts!) to make viewers easily imagine one that went on that wasn’t put to paper. A Science Fiction Romantic Comedy. That’ll be interesting to pull off.

Of course once it has been unleashed, there is no escaping topics relating to #MeToo. I found it interesting that Luis shows the world a model of the kind of steps men could take to foster an environment that reduces the chances that women get harassed. First he is so far away from Hope when he makes the comment, and second, he makes an effort to tweak it in a more respectful manner. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. That interaction also makes me wonder if he got lectured (Scott is the likely person to give it…but Hope could possibly have given him her view after he asked) on how to be respectful of women, because by the time we get to the next one, his comments are relevant to the task at hand and her capabilities in hand-to-hand combat.

If you enjoy family-friendly cheekiness, fresh takes on stories, and a balance between action/laughs, this is another easy one to add to your library. It rivals the best Pixar has to offer. That’s saying a lot because Animation has little constraints (aside from the time needed to make a film). It’ll also be great as a conversation starter with your particularly headstrong kid (who is happy to sit through films with her parents).

Leigh Lim.
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