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'Ant-Man' nicely fits in the massive Marvel Universe

“Ant-Man” (2015) – About eight years ago, I heard director Christopher Nolan tapped Heath Ledger to play The Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008) and thought, ‘Well, that doesn’t make any sense. How in the world will Ledger pull off The Joker?’

Obviously, my initial impression of Nolan’s choice was clearly wrong, as Ledger delivered a villainous performance for the ages. Ledger rightfully won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar and will forever be linked to this most iconic performance.

Well, when “The Marvel Universe” selected Paul Rudd to play the lead in “Ant-Man” – a superhero who can shrink to the size of an ant - I experienced a similar Ledger-like déjà vu. It seemed like a very odd choice.

Rudd, a film comedian by trade, is traditionally known for playing sensitive men.

A typical Rudd-character talks through relationship entanglements rather than letting his fists do the talking when tangling with various bad guys. On the other hand, after experiencing Marvel’s latest cinematic creation, Rudd nicely fits in director/co-writer Peyton Reed’s light, entertaining and comedic action picture.

Now, at the movie’s core, “Ant-Man” is a heist film, and Rudd plays Scott Lang, a mechanical engineer who found himself on the wrong side of the law, but attempts – with little success - to make amends.

Lang is a modern-day Robin Hood of sorts, but, without a strong support system, he feels the overwhelming weight of a modern-day world economically crushing him.

Enter Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).

Dr. Pym, an off-the-charts brilliant scientist, discovers his younger protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), may have finally cracked the code to his famous Pym Particle.

Pym knows Cross will weaponize this technology, so he recruits Lang to break in to his old company and steal Cross’s discovery. With Pym’s help, Lang will attempt to do this as the Ant-Man. Surely, this movie could have worked with a darker vision, but Reed’s script plays up the camp.

Kurt (Michael Pena) is Lang’s best friend, and this quick-witted, street-wise buddy keeps the jokes flying across the screen.

Kurt’s bouncy persona feels a bit much at the beginning, but once the picture settles into its generally humorous tones, I adjusted my perspective and played along.

On the other hand, Lang does not want to play along with his struggles, as he desperately needs a financial bridge to see his estranged daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston). She looks up to Lang like a superhero, and it is up to Lang to step through that door and be one.

We have seen these type of father/daughter connections and misconnections in cinema plenty of times, but Rudd and Forston have good chemistry, and these sequences work. The interplay with Pym, Lang and Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) also works very well.

Douglas is so good at playing at emotionally strong men with undertones of gravitas. Pym, an aging man in his 60s with his best physical days behind him, still commands a room and deserves massive amounts of respect, and opposite Lang’s amateurish sarcasm, their exchanges are some of the most engaging moments in the movie.

Lilly holds similar space, but Hope holds back her smoldering frustration with Lang’s antics like a caged jaguar fixating on its prey which sits “safely” some distance away. Many of these Lang-to-Ant-Man training scenes sometimes give off a 80s-montage vibe, but with the overall breezy narrative, they feel right.

I haven’t even discussed the Ant-Man special effects. Lang shrinks to a fraction of an inch, and these moments fascinate. They generate several mouth-agaping and tense moments as well as some genuine funny ones.

Although “Ant-Man” will not win a Best Picture Oscar (or a Best Actor Oscar), it certainly is a summer pleasure, and not unlike Paul Rudd’s casting, it nicely fits in the overall Marvel Universe. (3/4 stars)

Image credits: Walt Disney Studios, Marvel Studios

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