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Front Page - Friday, July 24, 2015

The Critic's Corner

‘Ant-Man’ packs a lot of fun into a small package

“Ant-Man” is a surprise, given that Marvel Studios has been on a do-or-die mission to go bigger and better with each film. It snaps neatly into place in the larger picture, but if the Marvel cinematic universe were a puzzle, and each movie within it a single piece, “Ant-Man” would be one of the small pieces you’d find while rummaging in the box for something else.

Small, however, does not mean insignificant. Rather, “Ant-Man” has enough action and humor to offer a good time at the movies – if you can set aside your expectations of what a Marvel movie should be.

I didn’t even know what a movie titled “Ant-Man” should be. Would it feature a man who turned into a giant ant? The Marvel universe thrives on goofy – try telling the back-story of any Avenger except Iron Man with a straight face – but that seemed a bit much. Actually, it’s about a man who wears a suit that shrinks him to the size of an ant and gives him the strength to do superhuman feats. I guess “Tiny Man” would have been too emasculating for male readers, so the creators of the comic book on which the movie is based risked sounding goofy.

The story follows Scott Lang, a super nice and very intelligent guy who has a knack for breaking into places and stealing stuff, but who gets caught and lands in jail. The movie opens with him getting out and meeting up with a buddy, who puts him up and promptly begins pitching their next heist. No thanks, Lang says; he wants to go legit. There’s just one problem: he can’t find a job he can keep, and his ex-wife won’t let him see his daughter unless he pays child support.

Yup, “Ant-Man” plays the child support card, so before you know it, Lang is back at it. However, the target of his burgling is no ordinary safe; it belongs to Hank Pym, a scientist who created a particle that reduces the space between atoms, enabling the shrinking process. Pym also created the suit the particle powers, but mothballed it when he realized it could be used for evil. Pym, wonderfully played by Michael Douglas, engineered the heist to get Lang to try on the suit. Eventually, he convinces Lang to use it to stop his one-time protégé, Darren Cross, from militarizing a similar version of the technology.

That’s the set-up, minus the family drama introduced by the presence of Pym’s adult daughter, Evangeline Lilly. While the plot is old hat for a Marvel film (an ordinary guy acquires superhuman powers and must retrieve something before the villain uses it to destroy the world), it moves along at a brisk pace, which keeps “Ant-Man” from becoming boring, and kept me from identifying plot holes or gaps in logic.

If there are any, I didn’t notice; I just sat back and had fun. The visuals are very well done, especially the shrinking process, and are the best argument for buying an IMAX 3D ticket this summer. The casting of Paul Rudd was a stroke of brilliance that made Lang/Ant-Man instantly likeable. Casting Rudd is like using short hand to develop a character. (I still watch “I Love You, Man” about once a year. Slappa da bass!) And, as I’ve already mentioned, the movie contains a lot of good-natured humor. I laughed the hardest at the giant Thomas the Tank Engine gag.

My only problem with “Ant-Man” is that it tries too hard to be energetic and funny. You can almost hear the gears working behind the scenes to keep things snappy. Also, while I didn’t mind the drama involving Pym and his daughter – it gives the movie more heart – those scenes do tend to be a little overwrought.

“Ant-Man” isn’t a great film, but it is a good one. It’s also entertaining. Although Marvel is clearly setting up the character to have a role in future films, it’s nice to see them taking a break from universe building to focus on the origin of a single character. I was able to relax and enjoy myself in a way I haven’t done at a Marvel movie since “Iron Man.”

Sometimes, smaller is better. Just don’t tell that to the comic’s male readers.

Three stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and language.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.