Review – Don’t Invite This Guy to Your Picnic (“Ant-Man”)

Yes, boys and girls, here’s another Marvel comic book-to-screen adaptation in the looooong line of these to come. Going back as far as 1962, Marvel super-creator and father-figure Stan Lee created Ant-Man and his power over the little critters. So sit back, relax, and try to keep from itching as you watch this movie.

It’s 1989 and Dr. Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man (Michael Douglas–shown as a young man with CG wizardry) created “Pym particles”, the atom-reducing stuff that makes his one-of-a-kind Ant-Man suit work. But he quits his years of service to S.H.I.E.L.D. when his suit is going to be used for military purposes. Fast forwarding to today, we are introduced to cat burglar and electronics whiz, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Newly released from prison, Scott can’t find a job and is forbade by Maggie, his ex-wife (Judy Greer) in seeing his adorable little daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Maggie’s new hubby, police officer Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), isn’t too crazy about him either.

Meanwhile, there’s a coup going on at Pym Tech Corp, unbeknownst to Hank. It seems his protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is obsessed with finding out Pym’s secret about shrinking atoms and has gone a little nuts about it. He’s buying out the company and inventing his own improved suit, the Yellow Jacket. With this shrinking militarized suit, he plans to flood the market, but problem is, he hasn’t quite cracked the formula. Hank is desperate to destroy all of Cross’ research, but needs an ally to don his old Ant-Man suit. That’s where Scott comes in!

The whole idea is lunacy, according to Hank’s feisty and head-strong daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). She harbors deep resentment towards dear old dad for their mother’s death, and is none too keen on letting this ex-con use the super-suit. But, through Scott’s wacky sense of humor, training montages with ants and how to communicate with them, and getting the crap beaten out of him by her, she eventually succumbs to his Dudley-Do-Right attitude.

After a training exercise in stealing some Stark tech at the Avengers headquarters and a cutesie fight with Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the plan is to get the Yellow Jacket tech suit and destroy all the research at Pym Tech. Using Scott’s goofy buddies and ex-con’s, Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (Tip Harris), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) as undercover help, (not to mention his hoard of ant pals) the plan goes off without a hitch… almost.

Cross suspects a double-cross and puts on the Yellow Jacket suit, setting up the movie’s showdown of Scott vs Cross in their shrinking suits and the climatic chase/fight scene. This all done peppered with a great deal of humor and unexpected surprises. In the end, Ant-Man is accepted into the Pym family AND a candidate to join the Avengers team. Nice!

With four (FOUR!) writers (Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd), this comedic superhero movie isn’t like its predecessors with dark overtones and heavy themes. The plot is simple, safe, and doesn’t try to get complicated like Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. What makes this movie work is its simplicity; the whole superhero story coupled with Rudd’s humor, Douglas’ fatherly figure-head, the dastardly villain Stoll, and the Greek chorus of Pena, Harris, and Dasmalchian, who are like a Marx Brothers trio. All this comedy thanks to director Peyton Reed, who gave us Bring It On and Down With Love, instills plenty of action along with some great visual CG effects.

Major kudos to Michael Douglas, looking terrific and giving this movie its panache. You believe that he WAS the Ant-Man in another life and takes his role seriously when it could have slipped into camp. Lilly, with a ridiculous Dutch boy haircut, is all piss ‘n’ vinegar until she softens, showing a nice side to her. Wait until after the credits to see a cool brush stroke that is aimed directly at her. Stoll, chrome-dome and all, is just oozing with ‘mad-scientist’ creepiness, and then there’s Rudd with his charm, charisma, and cracking-wise in this role; a natural superhero if ever was born one.

And yes, have no fear, Stan Lee makes his usual cameo appearance.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Based on the novel by Richard Matheson, who also wrote many Twilight Zone episodes, this classic science fiction novella is generally regarded as one of the highest revered black and white films of the 1950’s. Told as a real tale and not camp or comedic like it’s awful 1991 remake, The Incredible Shrinking Woman with Lily Tomlin, this is one fine motion picture.

Businessman Scott Carey (Grant Williams) while on a boating vacation with his wife, Louise (Randy Stuart) is subjecting to a brief, but unexpected strange cloud that passes over their craft and Scott only. The two are puzzled by the phenomenon that disappears as quickly as it appeared. However, six months later, Scott, (normally 6’1 and 190lbs) notices his clothes are too big. Way too big. As this weird trend continues, he believes he is shrinking and sees his doctor, Dr. Bramson (William Schallert) who gives him a clean bill of health.

As time goes by, Louise dismisses his fears as silly, but Scott continues to lose height as well as weight. But then, his wedding ring falls off and Louise has to stand on her tiptoes to kiss him! As the months decline, so does Scott’s height. He goes to clinic after clinic where he’s probed, x-rayed, and subjected to every imaginable test they’ve got until they discover… they have no idea what’s wrong with him OR how to stop it! Uh-oh!

Scott soon become a media sensation, making him a national curiosity. He can’t drive a car any longer, he’s looked at like a freak (even by his wife), he lashes out at everyone except  a carnival midget named Clarice (April Kent), who is his same size. Shrinking fast, Scott lives in a dollhouse and it attacked one day by the family cat who, thanks to some bloody clothing left behind, appears as if Scott was eaten. Louise thinks this and decides it’s time to sell the house and leave.

Meanwhile, Scott (the size of an insect) falls into the basement and battles a giant spider for a crumb of bread. He defeats the arachnid, but continues to slip away into nothingness as he contemplates his place in the universe. Wow.

With a tight, effective script by Matheson himself, this atmospheric and moody pic was directed with great care by Jack Arnold who, oddly enough, went on to direct such goofy TV series as The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and Wonder Woman. Go figure. Matheson actually wrote a sequel to this story with a happy ending called The Fantastic Little Girl (aka  The Fantastic Shrinking Girl) where Scott is found in the microscopic world and begins to grow again.

The acting is above par here with Williams and Stuart playing this very real and very scary. The glorious black and white cinematography by Ellis Carter is crisp and clean, while the SPFX (for the 50’s) still looks good today, despite NO CGI or green screen.