Review: “Ant-Man”

Marvel's Ant-Man..Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2014

In a world of billionaires flying in weaponized suits and green monsters pummeling puny gods, it’s nice to know that heroes can also come in smaller packages.

Rounding out Marvel’s Phase 2 (which began with 2013’s “Iron Man 3”), “Ant-Man” brings the ever-expanding superhero genre back down to the basics. With ongoing cinematic universes in both Marvel and DC, origin stories are somewhat viewed in the same way a child today may look at a Game Boy from ’89: it’s kinda fun, but you know it could be a lot cooler.

After recently paroled Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) breaks into the home of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and takes a strange looking suit, he discovers he has the ability to shrink down to the size of an ant at the turn of a switch. Teaming up with Pym and Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Scott agrees to help them steal some of Hank’s old research that is about to be put into the wrong hands.

As an origin tale, the story hits many of the beats audiences have come to expect but the tone of the film is what it makes it unique. Combining the wittiness and technology of “Iron Man” with the plot of an average heist film, “Ant-Man” entertains without the need for giant battle sequences and an alien threat.

The threat, however, does come from the same boring assembly line that produced every other Marvel villain who isn’t Loki (a petulant child, but the best Marvel’s written so far). Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is the man who took over Pym’s company and wants to sell his Ant-Man technology to the highest bidder, no matter what that may mean for the rest of the world. Just cut and paste any of Iron Man’s villains from his solo films and replace robotic suits with a shrinking one. It’s the same idea.

Paul Rudd does well as the titular hero. His character seems unique from the rest of the Avengers lineup while also fitting into the universe. Though Rudd’s signature charm is on full display here, it’s Michael Pena’s character, Luis, who really steals the show. A fellow criminal, Luis is Lang’s right hand man and the film’s biggest source of comedy.

The main plot of Lang becoming the Ant-Man is fun to watch, but much of the excitement around the film has more to do with the larger Marvel cinematic universe as it continues to expand. Without spoiling anything, there are plugs for Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and other Marvel storylines throughout the film which remind us of what is to come.

As a down-to-earth superhero movie, “Ant-Man” works more often than not. It’s fun to watch, has decent characters, and provides just enough action to satisfy those who need it.

Grade: B-

Happy viewing.

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Review: “Haywire” (2012)

It’s January and that can only mean one thing for theatres nationwide: time for all the campy action and demon possession movies to come out and play.

Around this time of year, I generally avoid the theatre unless an Oscar hopeful is just making it around to my city. No sense in wasting good money on movies that even their respective studios have little faith in. (That’s what Netflix is for.)

However, with “Haywire,” I had read online that it was much better than it looked and, considering the supporting cast (Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender), I was intrigued.

The film stars retired MMA fighter Gina Carano in her first big movie (she’s had cameos in a straight-to-DVD movie or two). She plays ex-Marine and current gun for hire Mallory Kane, a skilled fighter and expert field operative. After taking a mission in Ireland, she finds herself set up for murder and hunted by her employer (Ewan McGregor).

Of course, this leads to Mallory tracking everyone down and finding out how many vases she can break over each man’s head, etc.It’s not that original of a concept.

Given that we’ve all seen the “scorned spy out for revenge” story countless times, what does “Haywire” bring to the table that makes it different? In a word: style.

Director Steven Soderbergh (the “Ocean’s Eleven” series) is shooting for a very B-movie vibe to his film. The music is low key. Scenes that are heavy with dialogue take longer than they feel necessary. The film is a thriller for sure, but it’s not in any hurry to get to the thrills.

While Carano may not be the best actress, it’s hard to criticize her too much in a genre defined by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. That being said, acting lessons should be sought after. Her delivery is flat and I can’t say I would have been upset in the least bit if Michael Fassbender had killed her off 40 minutes in (which is also a script problem).

But with bad actors in action films, there is usually a pay-off. For Gina Carano, it is her MMA-infused fighting style. Soderbergh sets action scenes against a blank wall or some other still environment and lets Carano go to work. The contrast pays off nicely in several scenes and these are arguably the best stuff the movie has to offer.

To save Carano from looking too bad, the producers hired a slew of veteran actors (listed above) to carry scenes which featured more than a few lines of dialogue. Of these actors, Douglas and Fassbender probably do the best with their material.

Some interesting camera work, good fight scenes and talented supporting cast try to make this film better than your average January disappointment, but I wouldn’t suggest “Haywire” to anyone looking for more than just a B-movie action flick. Hey, in a few months it could make a good rental.

Grade: C+

Happy viewing.