Pop reviews: Ant-Man; The Martian

What I'm watching, hearing, reading, etc.

Ant-man is the most light-hearted and, literally, ground-level Marvel movie to date. No mystical throwing hammers or high-flying armored suits here - just a guy who shrinks.

Starring Paul Rudd as convicted thief and electronics whiz Scott Lang, this is essentially a caper film. Original Ant-Man (we see him in flashbacks) Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) wants to steal back his shrinking formula, which has fallen into the hands of an evil rival. So he hires Scott to steal it back.

Cue lots of planning and training scenes, with Scott learning how to use Pym's shrinking suit and use other tech to communicate with ants. The effects here are remarkable, as we're transported with Scott into a world where everything small is huge, and all sort of things that we normally don't worry about -- shower drains and toy trains, for example -- become a threat.

Michael Pena is a fun as Scott's prison pal, Luiz, and the plot is played mainly for laughs, though there is plenty of action and some heart-warming scenes between Lang and his young daughter.

Evangeline Lilly doesn't have much to do as Pym's daughter, Hope, but it's no spoiler at this point to note Marvel has more in store for her down the road.

The movie makes hash of Marvel Comics continuity, but slots in well with the chronology established in the other films. Hayley Atwell and John Slattery appear early on as Peggy Carter and the older Howard Stark in a scene set in 1989.

The Martian is a hit sci-fi novel (and soon-to-be-film) penned by admitted space nerd Andy Weir. Set at some point in the fairly near future, the book tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney who gets stranded on the Red Planet during a massive sandstorm. His crew evacuates, thinking him dead.

Much of the rest of the book focuses on Watney's survival, told in remarkable detail and as realistically as possible. Weir has done all his homework and more, thinking through each scenario and researching "what would a guy do in this situation?" Most of us would die. But not Mark. He figures out how to grow food - he's been left with only a limited supply - and sets up camp for the long haul. Even if he couldn't communicate with Earth, which he can't, it would take years for NASA to send help.

It's a captivating read that puts you in the survivor's shoes. Watney is great company, too, with a bleak-but-optimistic sense of humor that makes him seem very real. Matt Damon is playing him in the movie version, out this fall.

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