A Perfect Paul Rudd, Michael Peña Bring Often-Overlooked Humor to ‘Ant-Man’

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CHICAGO – In 1989, Rick Moranis played a scientist father in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” who accidentally shrinks kids to the size of insects. But dating back to a first appearance in 1962, Marvel Comics first published the Ant-Man character. His persona was the superhero alias of the scientist Hank Pym after inventing a substance that allowed him to shrink himself.

Marvel has come a long way since publishing “Tales to Astonish #27” in 1962 and, thankfully, Paul Rudd was born seven years later in 1969. Without his low-key, sardonic sense of humor, sarcastic wit and deadpan delivery, “Ant-Man” would have been yet another mediocre way to spend a lot of money making a movie. Instead, the film is a charming, action-packed and actually funny summer blockbuster than parents can marvel at with their kids. The light-hearted, “PG-13” film is one of the most kid-friendly Marvel films in quite some time.

While Marvel films and superhero movies in general are always peppered with a few comedic one-liners so they can say they have some humor, comedy is more at the heart of “Ant-Man” than most films like it. It’s still billed as an action/sci-fi like most of these films, but it’s just as much a comedy, too.

Paul Rudd in Ant-Man
Paul Rudd as Ant-Man in “Ant-Man”.
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios

Much of the humor comes from Paul Rudd’s leading role as Scott Lang and Ant-Man, but a supporting star that brings the balance is Chicago’s own Michael Peña as Luis. He plays a small-time crook who has a hilarious knack for telling stories. In a few scenes, the film uses Peña’s voice over other actors mouthing his words. It’s the funniest way I’ve seen a film tell a “he said, she said” story in quite some time.

Staying true to showing cohesiveness within the Marvel universe, “Ant-Man” weaves in “The Avengers” in an entertaining way through an Ant-Man fight with Anthony Mackie as Falcon. While Falcon proves a worthy adversary to Ant-Man, the inclusion of Falcon instead of, for example, Tony Stark as Iron Man feels a bit like the film could only afford the cheaper Anthony Mackie versus a more expensive Robert Downey Jr.

Falcon does seem out of place, too. His inclusion appears to be written in so the film can say it appropriately tied in “The Avengers”. Ant-Man’s mission to Tony Stark’s not-defunct facility, which Ant-Man’s team thought would be vacant, was quite convenient to get a piece of technology that he didn’t really need to further the story.

Corey Stoll as Yellowjacket in Ant-Man
Corey Stoll as Yellowjacket in “Ant-Man”.
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios

In addition to its humor, the film summons inspiration not only from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” but also sci-fi masters like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with Ant-Man’s danger of shrinking even smaller than an ant to a subatomic size where he’ll theoretically get lost between space and time.

Ant-Man wears Dr. Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) shrinking suit to command a herd of loyal ants to do his bidding. As a thief and then an ex-con who’s trying to “get out” and save his relationship with his daughter, I can buy Scott Lang’s transformation into Ant-Man thanks to Dr. Pym’s careful selection of him. The film doesn’t waste Pym’s time, though, to recruit any other candidates for Ant-Man.

Despite that being quite unrealistic, none of them would have fit into this role quite as perfectly as Paul Rudd. Rudd, who describes himself as a mega fan of the TV series “Lost” with Evangeline Lilly, got to team up with her again in “Ant-Man”. She plays Pym’s cold-hearted, short-haired daughter. While they literally have absolutely zero chemistry and all of it is entirely artificial and forced, she fills a void the film needs in its leading lady role.

Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I. in Ant-Man
Michael Peña (left), David Dastmalchian (center) and T.I. in “Ant-Man”.
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios

Nonetheless, Lilly’s forgettable, stone-cold performance as Hope van Dyne is the most unspectacular part of the film. Following in the footsteps of her late mother, Janet van Dyne (played by Hayley Lovitt), Lilly’s later role as The Wasp could be much more interesting. Think of her as the Ant-Woman, essentially. Frankly, her mom’s character is much more interesting even with her hardly being in the film.

For those of us who haven’t read the comics from which these stories originate, I always feel it’s critical for blockbuster superhero films to tell the back story. Sometimes we get a little bit of it and sometimes we don’t get any at all. In “Ant-Man,” the film only decently explains the past – mostly with Dr. Pym’s revelation to his daughter about what really happened to her mom.

I wish there had been more, though, to explain what Pym himself has been doing all these years, why he made such a poor selection in entrusting his company to Corey Stoll as Darren Cross (and later the Ant-Man rival Yellowjacket) and, most glaringly, more about his relationship with his late wife.

“Ant-Man” stars Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Michael Peña, T.I., David Dastmalchian and John Slattery from director Peyton Reed and writers Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. The film, which has a running time of 117 and opened on July 17, 2015, is rated “PG-13” for sci-fi action violence.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman


© 2015 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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