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The Joker Coming October.

Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Ant-Man, Review: Up the ANTe

Ant-Man, Review: Up the ANTe

When a comic-book super-hero film engages you on two fronts, exhilarating effects and hearty humour, the audience is in for a good time. It is debatable whether going the whole hog on either front, at the cost of the other, would have served the plot better, but Ant-Man has turned out to be refreshing and innovative viewing.

In 1989, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D., after discovering that the organisation tried to send him off to Russia in order to attempt replicating his Ant-Man shrinking technology in his absence. (Keep wondering how Michael Douglas is made to look 25 years younger, in this flashback, convincingly). Believing the technology is too dangerous to be marketed, Pym vows to hide it as long as he lives. In the present day, Pym's estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), and former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), have forced him out of his own company by voting him out of the board. Cross begins perfecting a weapon-laden shrinking suit of his own, the Yellowjacket, which horrifies Pym, and he wonders how to counter this development. (Don’t ask why the megalomaniac Cross lets Pym go his own way, and does not eliminate him, convinced that he is harmless)!

Upon his release from prison, well-meaning thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a Masters degree-holder in Electronic Engineering, moves in with his old cell-mate, Luis (Michael Peña). Lang's ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer)—who has moved in with her fiancé, policeman Paxton (Bobby Cannavale)—agrees to let Lang see his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) if he provides child support. Unable to hold a job due to his criminal record, Lang agrees to join Luis' gang and commit a burglary. Lang breaks into a house and cracks its safe, but only finds what he believes to be an old motorcycle suit, which he takes home. After trying the suit on, Lang accidentally shrinks himself to the size of an insect. Terrified by the experience, he returns the suit to the house, but is arrested on the way out. (Don’t ask why there have to be two buttons, one on each side, to switch on the process)!

Pym, the home-owner, visits Lang in jail, pretending to be his lawyer, and smuggles the suit into his cell, to help him break out as an ant. All this is part of Pym’s plan to abort Cross’s greedy designs and destroy the very facility he set-up himself, which is now being used by Cross to sell the technology to a rogue military outfit, Hydra. Pym and Hope convince Lang to become Ant-Man, and his first assignment is to break into a facility that stores a dangerous chemical. To their utter horror, Pym and Lang find out too late that this facility is guarded by Falcon, aka Sam Wilson, part of The Avengers.

It has taken nine years for the project to crawl on to the screen. Originally, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) had pitched to direct and co-write, with Joe Cornish. In May 2014, Wright left the project over creative differences, though he still receives screenplay and story credits, with Cornish. Peyton Reed stepped in as director, while Adam McKay was hired to contribute to the script, along with Paul Rudd himself. Add the three comic creators (the ubiquitous Marvel team of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber) and you have a massive nine names in the writing department. Yet, one gets the instinctive feeling that the strong doses of humour might be the handiwork of Reed and Rudd.

Comic books can turn any animal, bird, aquatic being or worm into a lovable, cute huggable toy. Ant-Man stops short of doing that, concentrating instead on the utilitarian qualities of the insect/bug, highlighting team-work and commitment as qualities that are tapped. Thus, you have ants serving and helicopters, forming bridges and generating electricity, among other utilitarian functions. They never made into characters or given dubbed voices, which is what makes them acceptable as they are.

Peyton Reed (Down with Love, Bring It On, Yes Man) takes a few bold steps and ups the ante, eschewing stereo-type taking common to the genre of super-heroes, including insider jokes and situational and self-deprecating humour, as against contrived or slap-stick humour. The sugar cubes scene is a good example. In one scene, where Hope asks her father why does he not allow her to don the ant-suit, Lang quips, “Because I am expendable, you are not.” (Hope’s mother had died in the line of duty, and Pym does want to lose his daughter too). Only a handful of peple die in the film, and there is never any threat of to the existence of the world or the universe. Reed does not, however, step outside the milieu or the ambience, of the premise and the genre, even for a second. Take the stock posture of the lead actor, on his haunches, one hand on the ground, in a landing pose. Do you remember any other way a comic-book super-hero is 'posturised'? And can we blame the suits alone for the similarity to Spiderman? Spiderman oozes glue, but wonder what helps Ant-Man retain balance atop the massive (by his shrunk standard) helicopter ants, in 'high-speed' flights. 

In one extended scene near the climax, Thomas, The Tank Engine is seen shifting his eyes left to right time and again, but it never really gets into the action. Reed says this was because the use of Thomas in the film was allowed by its copyright holders subject to a pre-condition—that Thomas, a child icon, would not be shown harming anybody. It does, however, raise a few genuine smiles.

Clueless, Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Admission star, Paul Rudd lost a lot of weight for the part, as required. While not in the ant-suit, he delivers some dead-pan one-liners, which he probably wrote himself, and makes a loving Dad. Recently seen in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, Behind the Candelabra, and Last Vegas, 71 year-old Michael Douglas survived an episode of STD-caused stage four oral cancer, which has not affected his trade-mark, sharp, monotone accent. He is unduly poker-faced, considering what Pym is going through in the film. 36 year-old Canadian actress

Evangeline Lilly (who has come a long way since being seen in The Long Weekend as the Dead Body, with recent films like The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug) has to don the most done-to-death wig. Acting-wise, she is unable to express the requisite layers of emotions very convincingly. Never mind! A little Wasp tells me that all is set to bring her in as super-heroine, in the inevitable sequel(s). Judy Greer manages to convince us of her ambivalent attitude, being engaged to a police officer and estranged from a burglar who loves their daughter madly.

Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris, Glass Chin; cast by Wright in this film) cannot escape comparison to bald, cult villain of a bygone era, Telly Savalas (Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in the Bond caper, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).  Exhibiting disarming candour, he admits, “I’m big and bald and deep-voiced and all that sh...”), who left the project in May 2014 and was replaced by Peyton Reed, after disputes with Marvel. It was a paradigm shift for the highly talented Bobby Cannavale in following up Danny Collins with Spy. He manages to pull-off the good cop act with some conviction here. Yet, one cannot help feel he is falling into the type-casting trap. David Dastmalchian and Michael Peña play Kurt and Luis, the latter commanding attention with some good lines and smart moves. Abby Ryder Fortson makes as a cute a ‘Dad-missing’ kid as any. Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Notorious, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Fifth Estate) as Falcon, what else?, puts up a brave fight against the thieving Ant-Man, and steals the scene in the process.

Please leave the theatre only after the last frame is projected, at the very end of the never-ending credit tiles, even if you have ants in your pants.

Wait a minute! Did I just read the name Adam and the Ants (British band active during 1977-82) in the soundtrack credits? Now, should I be surprised or should I just chuckle? 

Rating: ***1/2

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWdKf3MneyI

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#According to National Geographic, “More than 10,000 known ant species occur around the world. Carpenter ants nest in wood and can be destructive to buildings. Army ants defy the norm and do not have permanent homes, instead, seek out food for their enormous colonies during periods of migration. Ant communities are headed by a queen or queens, whose function in life is to lay thousands of eggs that will ensure the survival of the colony. Workers (the ants typically seen by humans) are wingless females that never reproduce, but instead forage for food, care for the queen's offspring, work on the nest, protect the community, and perform many other duties. Ants communicate and co-operate by using chemicals that can alert others to danger or lead them to a promising food source. One Amazon species co-operatively builds extensive traps from plant fibre. These traps have many holes and, when an insect steps on one, hundreds of ants inside use the openings to seize it with their jaws. Another species, the yellow crazy ant (Yellowjacket?), is capable of forming so-called super-colonies that house multiple queens.”

#Descriptions of various ant species are offered in the film too, though it is hardly likely that anybody will remember the rapid-fire profiling. In India, we have been exposed to many of these traits, the worst being the ant-bite, probably the most painful among the three common bites one might experience--mosquitoes and bed-bugs being the other two.

Two popular Urdu/Hindi proverbs related to ants, commonly used in films, are:

‘Choontee key bhee par nikal aaye!’ (This ant has grown wings!, suggesting that a weakling has suddenly decided to take on a stronger adversary)

‘Choontee kee tarah masal doonga!’ (I will crush you like an ant!, used mainly in films, by villains, to intimidate heroes).

Of course, the literary level of the dialogue in current films beng largely colloquial and slang dominated, such metaphors are considered clichés, and passé.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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