Sunday, July 19, 2015


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Warning:  This is about twice as long as my usual articles, but I don't want to break it up.  There are a couple things that I didn't talk about in here, though, which will make their way into other articles in the next couple weeks.

If you couldn’t tell from my non-spoiler review of Ant-Man, I absolutely loved this movie.  I thought it had everything it needed to have, the pacing and build were excellent, the payoff at the end was spectacular, and all the characters were really good.  I have a couple of quibbles, but nothing major.  But let’s get into the review.

The movie opens with a flashback scene in 1989 of a younger Hank Pym (still played by Michael Douglas) yelling at Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, and Mitchell Carson (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Head of Defense)—mostly at Howard—at the Triskelion for trying to reproduce his formula.  Carson makes a disparaging comment about Hank being unable to save his wife, and Hank immediately grabs him and slams his head into the table (something of which Peggy and Howard both kind of implicitly approve).  Hank then resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Howard accepts his resignation.  Carson wants to stop him, but Howard warns him not to make Hank any angrier than he already is.  I like how this introduction ties Ant-Man into the MCU’s history and very deftly explains where Ant-Man has been for the last 25 years.  The interactions between Howard and Peggy are also pretty fun:  you can tell that they both respect Hank, and that Peggy was actually surprised to learn of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attempts to recreate the Pym Particle formula.  I really like how Marvel is using Peggy Carter and Howard Stark to tie the MCU’s history together.

The next scene introduces the main protagonist, Scott Lang, as he is being released from prison.  They squeeze a lot of exposition into these few scenes:  Scott is just getting out of prison, he and Luis were cellmates, he has a Masters in electrical engineering, and he has a daughter.  Scott manages to find a job…but it’s at Baskin Robbins, and his manager discovers that he’s an ex-con (“Baskin Robbins always finds out!”).  I thought the manager was annoying as all get-out (like the boss in Office Space), but it worked with the scene’s comedy.  I think anyone who’s worked in customer service can relate to those scenes!

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The movie focuses a lot on Scott, his motivations, and his attempt at redemption.  He wants to be a good father for his daughter Cassie, but he is now saddled with a criminal record and can’t find an honest job.  When he goes to visit Cassie at her birthday party, his ex-wife Maggie’s fiancé, Paxton (a police officer) kicks him out.  Maggie and Paxton essentially tell him that he can’t see Cassie unless he starts paying child support—something he can’t do without a job.  It seems that no one is willing to give him a second chance.  No one, that is, except for Hank Pym, who arranges (in a somewhat contrived Oceans 11-style way) for Scott to steal his Ant-Man suit.  Scott is intrigued by it, puts it on, and has his first (terrifying) experience of being tiny.  He is very much uninterested in whatever game Hank is playing, but doesn’t have a choice when the police arrest him after he returns the suit.  Scott finally meets Hank, who wants him to use the Ant-Man suit to carry out a mission for them, and Hank’s daughter Hope, who resents Hank’s decision to bring in an outsider instead of allowing her to use the suit.

Of course, we need to talk about the villain and his plan, which is the whole reason for Hank going to Scott in the first place.  Some of the reviews I’ve seen so far have called Darren Cross a boring and underdeveloped villain along the lines of such Marvel “greats” as Obadiah Stane, Justin Hammer, Malekith, and Ronan.  And I can see their point:  on the surface Darren Cross is a completely bat-shit crazy businessman trying to make a quick buck.  However, that’s not the full story.  My impression of Darren Cross is that his story is much closer to that of Loki than Obadiah Stane.  The Darren Cross we meet in the movie was Hank Pym’s protégé for years.  He wanted Hank to trust him and to share his secrets (including the Ant-Man) with him.  But Hank rejected him, hid the Pym Particle from him, and refused to let him in.  That all happened a few years in the past, and in the present it is clear that Darren’s resentment for Hank has only grown.  He conspired with Hope (who resented Hank because he shut her out after Janet’s “death”) to have Hank kicked out of the company.  And yet, he still wants Hank’s approval.  At the beginning of the movie I think that he was hoping that Hank would be impressed by his ability to replicate the Pym Particle to shrink inanimate objects.  He was hoping that Hank would give him the approval he craved when he found out that Darren was going to make the company insanely lucrative.  However, Hank did not give him any approval and instead disapproved of everything he was doing.  And consequently, Darren is rebelling against “dad” by going against everything Hank believes in.  If Hank doesn’t want anyone else to have the Pym Particle technology, then Darren is going to sell the Yellowjacket suit to Hydra.

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At the end of the day, Darren wanted approval from Hank, his surrogate father.  And because he did not receive it, he responded by going as far in the opposite direction as possible.

Darren didn’t get a ton of time to develop his character, but his relationship with the Pyms is clear from all of his scenes with Hope and Hank.  Whenever he’s talking to Hope, it sounds like he thinks of her as a friend, co-conspirator, and perhaps even a sister because she also has such resentment against Hank.  When he’s in the same room as Hank, half the time he is looking for Hank’s approval, and the other half he has nothing but barely-restrained resentment toward him.  Based on all of this, Darren’s behavior toward Scott (especially at the end) makes far more sense:  Scott has a relationship with Hank which Darren always wanted but never got.

Essentially, Darren Cross’s story is like Loki’s in Thor: The Dark World:  he didn’t get daddy’s approval, so now he’s going to make daddy’s life a living hell.

Of course, that’s a lot more focus on the villain than the movie itself gives; most of Ant-Man is focused on introducing Scott Lang and building him up as the Ant-Man and a potential future Avenger.  Hank and Hope devote a lot of time to teaching Scott how to communicate with the ants, how to control his size changes, and even how to fight.  The culmination of this training comes when Scott is sent to infiltrate one of Howard Stark’s old warehouses in upstate New York to get a piece of tech that they will need for the real heist.  And the old warehouse in upstate New York is actually the New Avengers facility!  Scott trips a sensor, and Sam Wilson shows up to investigate.  Scott tries to talk his way out of the situation, but Sam tries to take him in and Scott fights him.  I really enjoyed the scenes with Sam:  he’s not just a throwaway Avenger cameo; he’s actually worked into the plot in an interesting way.  Plus we get to see just how well Scott can control the suit—so well that he can take on and defeat an Avenger by himself… to the Falcon’s chagrin.

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Scott and Hope also have a lot of scenes together, including one of my absolute favorite scenes of the movie.  Hope’s entire story in the movie is one of trying to reconcile with her father for the greater good, but continually feeling pushed away.  She is upset that Hank refuses to let her put on the Ant-Man suit, steal the Yellowjacket suit, and destroy all of Cross’s research herself.  She believes that he does not trust her enough to let her do it.  But this is where Scott—the object of her ire against Hank—comes in.  When everything finally gets to Hope while they are working on controlling the ants, she leaves and goes to sit in her car, and Scott follows her.  She starts talking about how Hank doesn’t trust her and doesn’t care about her enough to let her wear the Ant-Man suit.  However, Scott—a father himself—understands exactly why Hank refuses to let Hope wear the suit:  he loves her too much to risk putting her in danger or losing her.  He brought in Scott for one reason:  Scott is expendable.  Hank “would rather lose this fight than lose [Hope].”  When the two of them go back inside, Hank finally tells Hope the truth about her mother’s death, and the two of them reconcile.  However, I think the car scene is the real turning point for Hope’s character, because it is when she finally decides for herself to give Hank a second chance and finally sees things from his perspective.

The heist and subsequent fight between Yellowjacket and Ant-Man are both really good.  The stakes are sufficiently high that every little problem that comes up looks like it could mess everything up.  Because we saw Scott learning to harness the Ant-Man powers (and failing repeatedly), the payoff of seeing him use everything he’d learned in the heist was that much better.  And even when it looked like they would succeed, Darren still managed to one-up them by anticipating their use of the Ant-Man suit to infiltrate the building.  In fact, he even guessed that Scott Lang was the new Ant-Man, which seemed awfully contrived until he went through his reasoning:  Scott’s story of losing a daughter while fighting “the man” is close to Hank’s own story, and Scott disappeared from police custody by vanishing into thin air.  I suppose it’s at least enough to make one suspicious.

At the end of the day, the Hydra representative escaped from Pym Tech with a vial of Pym Particles, Hank got shot, Darren escaped with the Yellowjacket suit, and Scott went after him to get the suit back.  Unfortunately, in the chase Darren starts shooting at Scott and manages to shoot his ant, “Antony,” out from under him.  It’s a moment that could have been really cheesy, but I thought it worked really well because they built up the relationship between Scott and “Antony” so well.  You start to care about “Antony” in the same way you care about a pet.  But at the same time I didn’t think there was anything overtly foreshadowing that “Antony” was going to be killed.  And I thought the death itself took just enough time to be impactful without getting dragged out so long as to become overblown.

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As a side note, Hank and Hope’s escape from Pym Tech was pretty funny.  Hank pulled out his keychain and revealed that the little Soviet tank attached to it was an actual Soviet tank.  For the record, I figured that out the first time I saw the tank—I assumed it was a souvenir from one of Hank’s S.H.I.E.L.D. missions against the U.S.S.R.—but I wasn’t expecting it to still be fully-functional!  And yet in retrospect it makes perfect sense:  why wouldn’t the retired Ant-Man carry around a mini tank for emergencies?!

Scott and Darren of course fight their way all around San Francisco.  I liked how well the fight was shot:  it was simultaneously epic and comedic.  They are fighting in a briefcase and it looks insanely epic… and then it cuts to an outside view of a briefcase falling from the sky and landing in a backyard pool.  They are having an epic battle in a backyard… and then Scott uses a ping-pong paddle to knock Darren into a bug zapper!  They are fighting in Cassie’s room at tiny size and it’s an epic scene of Scott throwing things at Darren and Darren disintegrating them… and then the train runs off the tracks when it hits Darren.  I like just how much they play with the comic aspect of two tiny people fighting each other—they’re not taking it too seriously!

And then Darren is about to kill Cassie to get back at Scott, along with Paxton, who is trying to protect Cassie.  Scott realizes he has to shrink between the molecules of the titanium protecting the Yellowjacket suit’s inner circuitry—exactly what Janet did in 1987 when she disappeared.  Scott does it without hesitating, defeats Darren (who loses an arm in true Marvel/Star Wars fashion), but continues to shrink until he enters the “quantum realm.”  It looks like he won’t be able to get back, but he somehow does by using an “expanding disc” (one of Pym’s inventions) to replace the regulator on his belt.  I have no idea how the expanding disc works there—and it wasn’t exactly explained—but it somehow worked and caused him to grow back to normal size.  That may have been the only thing in the movie that I wasn’t really sold on… and considering that it’s about a guy who shrinks and talks to ants, that’s pretty impressive!

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The final scenes of the movie are simultaneously touching and awesome for how they set up future developments.  Scott tells Hope and Hank about his experience in the quantum realm, and Hank finally has some hope of seeing Janet again… but before he even gets a chance at that he catches Hope and Scott sharing a quick kiss in the hallway.  I appreciated how they handled the romantic element in this movie.  The first time seeing it I thought it was almost an afterthought, but it was actually teased quite well throughout the movie.  They developed Scott and Hope’s relationship in such a way that it was never obvious and never distracted from the rest of the plot.  I think there are enough hints in the rest of the movie—they have several scenes together where we see some chemistry developing—that this isn’t completely surprising to catch them kissing, though it is still slightly so.  Next, Scott goes over to Maggie and Paxton’s house for dinner, and we see that even Scott and Paxton’s relationship is better after everything that’s happened.  Finally, Scott talks to his crew and learns that Sam has been trying to find him ever since they had their encounter at the New Avengers facility.  Consider Scott’s part in Captain America: Civil War officially set up!

The mid- and end-credits scenes are both really cool and fun, but for different reasons.  The mid-credits scene gives us the final payoff for the development in Hope and Hank’s relationship over the course of the movie.  Hank finally shows Hope a hidden room in his basement which houses an advanced prototype Wasp suit which he and Janet had been working on before she went missing.  He says he realizes that it is time for her to have it as she grins in excitement.  This is really the clearest indication of how far their relationship has come:  Hank is finally ready to stop trying to protect Hope from the power of the Pym Particle and let her share it.  And because she was able to accept and work with the “new guy” (Scott), the payoff of getting her own suit at the end is that much better.

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The end-credits scene left me with a lot of questions.  Basically, Cap and Sam have found Bucky and are talking about what to do now.  For some reason (something that happened a week prior) they cannot go to Tony Stark for help (the “Accords”?).  However, Sam says that he “know[s] a guy.”  We can’t put too much together from all of this relative to the chronology of Ant-Man with regard to Civil War, and we can’t even make a lot of determinations about what’s going on.  I saw one review which argued that this takes place before the last scene of the movie (Sam looking for Scott), and that this places Ant-Man as happening during Civil War.  However, that doesn’t have to be the case:  Sam could have started looking for Scott as soon as he collected himself and got his suit fixed, and not have told Cap about Ant-Man until much later.  It wouldn’t surprise me if this end-credits scene takes place during or immediately prior to Civil War, but it could as easily happen before it.

Overall, Ant-Man is a very enjoyable movie.  It has just as much heart as Guardians of the Galaxy and even more humor.  Paul Rudd absolutely kills it as Scott Lang, and Michael Douglas plays a very dignified Hank Pym.  Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne is a strong female character along the lines of Black Widow and Gamora, one who is even more capable than her male counterpart.  She is definitely deserving of suiting up with the Avengers in the near future.  Corey Stoll does not get a lot of screen time, but gives a surprisingly nuanced performance as Darren Cross, who thus far looks to be the most underrated Marvel villain yet—and the best since Loki’s last movie!

If you haven’t yet, I very highly recommend that you go and see Ant-Man, though I’m not sure if 3D is absolutely necessary.  This is easily the most stand-alone Marvel movie since Guardians, and might be their best origin story since Iron Man.  Pay special attention to all of the scenes with Darren Cross; you’ll pick up a lot of subtleties about his character from them.  I can’t wait to see Scott Lang suit up next in Captain America: Civil War and then for him to return for his next solo movie!

What did you think of Ant-Man?  Do you agree with my assessment of Darren Cross?  When do you think we will first see Hope Van Dyne as the Wasp?  Remember, Kevin Feige has confirmed that it will happen sometime in Phase 3.  Let me know in the comments!

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  1. How much do you think it will earn?

    1. Thus far it is up to $112 million + worldwide. It had a budget of $130 million, so if the 50% figure is accurate (50% of box office sales go to the studio), then it would need to make $260 million to make back its budget. I read somewhere that it still hasn't opened in a couple of markets, so there will probably be a lot more foreign revenue coming in soon. Also, considering the high praise it's been getting from critics and audiences, it will probably have a lot of staying power. So I would guess around $150 domestic (just under triple what its made so far in America) along with $250 international, putting it at $400 million. That would fall right between Thor and the first Cap movie, both of which made slightly more than Ant-Man on their opening weekend.