Before this movie came out, Ant-Man seemed like a character that Marvel would struggle to bring to the MCU. In hindsight, that seems like is ridiculous statement. Now, the character seems like a perfect fit for the shared universe where nothing is outside of the realm of possibility.
But back in 2015, there were a lot of concerns surrounding it and whether Marvel Studios could realise what is inherently one of their more goofy premises when it comes to turning one of their characters into a “serious” live action movie… this being something people thought in a post Rocket Raccoon and Groot world.
Even I seemed to have some level of apprehension on a subconscious level, it took me much longer to actually get around to this one as a part of this rewatch series I’m doing. Maybe it was burnout, maybe it was the knowledge of the development hell the movie went through and my sparse memory of not really seeing the movie properly since the cinema.
Upon going back though, I am surprised at how unique, charming and really well executed Ant-Man ended up being, despite mountains of development hell behind it.
The most Unique origin story
Ant-Man is an origin story. A simple statement that becomes more sigh-worthy the deeper we get into the MCU. Origins are an unfortunate necessity of the genre, what with the introducing of all these new characters. But having seen them so many times, it’s increasingly difficult for them to make a movie that doesn’t feel very similar in the broad strokes.
Choosing to skim over the MCU’s Spider-Man origin was a huge relief for me personally. I don’t think anyone with a passing interest in these movie doesn’t know Spider-Man’s origin. Marvel have gotten good and knowing when they don’t need to show something. Ant-Man on the other hand it ground yet to be trodden, and thus needed to be done.
This movie, however, isn’t an origin for Ant-Man. No, it’s the origin of Scott Lang and his taking on the mantle of what is the first “legacy character” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a concept I generally associate with DC comics more than Marvel. With all of their Robins, Green Lanterns, Flashs, Blue Beatles and even Batmans. But the concept does exists in Marvel comics too.
And with Endgame now over, it seems like something that audiences are going to have to get used to going forward; Sam becoming the new Captain America and Jane Foster becoming the new Thor in that upcoming movie. But I’m getting very ahead of myself there.
At the beginning of this movie, Hank Pym is a retired Ant-Man. He spent the 80s covertly acting as a super powered agent of Shield before retiring and trying to bury the legacy of Ant-Man as best he could. Nothing that “big” stays buried forever though, and when his psychotic protege gets close to uncovering the secret, Hank takes action.
Taking a step back really works in its favour
The past few movies in the MCU, the stakes have been pretty high. There have been multiple planet wide extinction events prevented in the past two movies alone. Ant-Man brings things down to Earth a little by telling a more personal story. Which is by far, the strongest aspect of the movie.
By all accounts, the MCU is packed with great actors all fantastically cast in the parts they’ve been playing. And as a result, there have been some amazing moments of character building and development throughout the series. The characters in Ant-Man seem to double down on telling a slightly more down to Earth story, one that is primarily about its characters.
I know I said pretty much the same thing about Guardians of the Galaxy. But while that was a movie about a family of misfits finding each other, Ant-Man is about a single guy looking for redemption. While an ex-con, Scott Lang is a white collar a criminal as you can get. Despite being a “cat burglar”, his only past crime seems to be a Robin Hood-esque act of wealth redistribution.
And as a result of this, he finds himself out of prison and unable to get back on his feet, leaving a return to crime as his only recourse. I feel like there’s a message in here about rehabilitation and the U.S. prison system, but like most messages in a MCU movie, it only skims the very top surface layer of the issue.
Another Doofus Main Character
Paul Rudd as about as endearing a lead as they could have asked for. Unlike every other lead up until now, he is neither hyper competent nor hyper intelligent. He’s a charming dope who gets dragged throughout the vast majority of the movie by Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne. There are shades of Peter Quill in the cast of this movie, but with one major difference; Scott’s daughter Cassie.
The relationship between Scott and Cassie is adorable. There are fewer compelling motivations in the MCU for me personally, mainly because, while Scott might be a bumbling screwup in most aspects of his life. Being Cassie’s father is the one thing he excels at. And yet it’s something his ex-wife and her new husband refuse to let him do.
Thus Scott finds himself thrust into a choice between returning to crime to pay his child support, or being the fall guy for Hank Pym and his mission of industrial sabotage that he finds himself smack bang in the middle of.
The trio of Scott, Hank and Hope are great throughout the movie. Michael Douglas is a fantastic curmudgeonly asshole, whose superiority complex and wicked temper would have been ill-fitted for a lead role, but make a great supporting mentor character in this movie.
And then there’s Evangeline Lilly; who really should be the main character of the movie. She’s the more traditional hero trope, hyper competent, smart, attractive and a badass. Yet she’s forced to spend the entire movie playing second fiddle to a dope like Scott. The relationships that grow and develop between these three characters throughout the movie are what really drive it forward, seeing totally different emotions develop between each of them as their plans unfold and then go awry.
And then there’s everyone else
I’ve spoken about the core cast, but there’s so much more to Ant-Man’s characters. Those three are surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast, including Bobby Cannavale, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña. Peña’s breathless enthusiasm, along the constant surprising revelations about his character make him stand out as maybe the comedic high note of the movie. And in a movie which is consistently funny, that takes some doing.
But I suppose I need to talk about the villain of the movie. In my memory of seeing this movie for the first time, Corey Stoll was a weak and forgettable villain. Upon rewatching it, I cannot help but think that his character is a huge missed opportunity. Stoll himself is fantastic in the role of Darren Cross.
He’s charismatic as hell, charming and seems to be having a great time in the role. He makes the absolute best of what he’s given in the movie. It’s just a shame the character is so shallowly written and left so wanting when it comes to his motivations and backstory.
He’s just psychotic for the sake of being psychotic. And while there are a few lines spattered here and there to blame his exposure to the shrinking particles being the reason behind his madness, it feels like a half hearted justification for making a normal guy into a dangerously insane businessman.
And I never got to talk about the action
Ant-Man is a much, much stronger movie upon revisiting than I remember. I feel like some of my enthusiasm for the movie had been dulled somewhat by my lukewarm feelings on its sequel. But this first movie combines a very unique premise and series of action sequences and combines them expertly with some great comedy and even better character work.
Had the villain been a little more fleshed out and developed, I’d have no question calling this one of my franchise movies in the entire franchise. It’s a great “back to basics” style of movie which also introduces a ton of new lore to the MCU and some of the weirdest and hilarious action sequences I’ve seen in the franchise.
Ant-Man was great to revisit, and has one of the strongest ensemble casts of any of the movies thus far outside of the team-up movies. Maybe I’ll feel better about Ant-Man & the Wasp when I get there, but somehow I can’t see it reaching the “heights” that this one does.