Ant-Man has just been released to the public and so far, people seem to be enjoying the latest venture from Marvel Studios. I’ve already done a spoiler-free review of the movie, but now that the movie is out, it’s time to get more in-depth with it. Marvel has once again taken a property that some were unsure would work in cinemas and turned it into another success story.
What’s interesting about Ant-Man is how it scales things down…. and I’m not just talking about the fact the hero can shrink to the size of an ant either. More so than with Phase One, Phase Two has been getting bigger in terms of the overall plot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Everything is leading towards the Infinity War movies with the appearance of more infinity stones and the formation of an all-new Avengers team. While firmly rooted in the MCU and setting up the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man brings things back down to earth with an origin story that is, for the most part, self-contained.
For audiences expecting a story as grandiose as those of Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, or Age of Ultron, this film may come as a shock, or even a disappointment, since it is more about the personal struggle than anything earth or universe shattering. However, a hero like Ant-Man needed to be presented in the most grounded way possible and having him star in a heist movie was the best way to get people on board with this character.
And that is what Marvel does so deftly. Let’s be honest, names like “Superman”, “Batman”, “Spider-Man,” and “Captain America” all sound silly (objectively speaking), but they are widely accepted because people are familiar with them. “Ant-Man” may sound ridiculous on the face of it, but people will take him seriously by the end of the film even though the movie is admittedly very funny at points.
The thing that ultimately helps to keep this film from becoming a cheesy Syfy Saturday night movie are the characters. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) obviously gets the most attention due to him being the titular Ant-Man, but the rest of the supporting cast do a magnificent job of being as important to the film. Particularly, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) who are the other heroes of the film.
Not to besmirch the character, but Hank Pym, while great in this movie thanks to Michael Douglas’ strong performance, was always a rather boring character. The only two accomplishments he’s known for in the comics are creating Ultron and beating his wife. Having Pym in a diminished but still important role helped to give audiences just enough of the character to make them care about him, but not enough to let them see he is a rather standard-type of hero.
That isn’t to say that Pym doesn’t get good character development however. From the outset, the movie lets us know the type of person he is. In a sequence during the beginning of the film, we see Pym (looking like Wall Street-era Michael Douglas) arguing with Howard Stark over the use of Pym Particles, the substance that makes it possible to shrink and grow objects and lifeforms. Pym fears it getting into the wrong hands, particularly those of Stark who is a known weapons manufacturer. This sequence was also nice because it had Agent Peggy Carter in it who, even in 1989, looked just as beautiful as ever.
The main plot of the movie involves Pym hiring Scott Lang to steel the Pym Particles and YellowJacket suit from his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). While his official motivation for attempting to thwart Cross is to save lives, there is something deeper at play here. During his time as Ant-Man in the 1980s, Pym worked alongside his wife, Janet van Dyne who was known as “The Wasp.” He lost her when Janet shrunk to subatomic size in order to destroy an ICBM which would have ignited a third world war. The pain of losing his wife in such a manner has made Pym determined to prevent others from using his invention.
This loss is what drives a lot of what we see between Hope and Hank as the two have a very cold and distant father-daughter relationship. Bringing Scott into the plan especially displeases Hope since she is actually more qualified than Lang to pull off the heist. She works closely Cross, she has excellent physical training, and is extremely adept at controlling the ants. However, due to the loss of his wife, Pym is reluctant to have Hope don the Ant-Man suit. The arguments between Hope and Hank make up for a fair amount of the drama seen in the film. These usually involve Scott being put in an awkward position since he is usually in the room during these arguments.
The dynamic between Hope and Hank is counterbalanced by the relationship shared between Scott and his daughter Cassie. Cassie idolizes her father and sees him as a great hero. This is interesting due to the fact that Casssie knows that Scott is a thief, or “burglar” as he likes to refer to himself. Even though she knows her father does bad things, she loves him dearly and the love his daughter has for him is Scott’s main motivation to do right by her and become the hero she sees him as. This also spurs Pym to help Lang out because he sees Scott’s relationship with his daughter as something he himself lost with Hope who also used to idolize him prior to Janet (presumably) dying.
What could have made this movie fall apart was if the shrinking/growing sequences and of course, the whole talking to ants thing, didn’t work but that isn’t the case here. What I appreciated is that in both cases, Scott uses his determination to be with his daughter and his love for her to help him focus on how to use his abilities. At first, he is unable to control the ants using the sonic device in his suit, but once Hope tells him to focus on his daughter, he is able to make the critters pick up coins and spin them. There is also a sequence late in the movie where Scott is almost lost in the subatomic world and he uses his daughter’s voice to bring himself back to our world. Having Cassie be Scott’s anchor was a wise decision on the filmmaker’s part and makes us more sympathetic to Lang.
As I said in my previous review, the sequences where Scott is the size of an ant are terrific. They definitely reminded me of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids but done in a more effective way thanks to modern special effects. As the movie progresses, the situations Scott finds himself in become more outlandish but the movie always pulls back to let you know that this is all happening on a tiny scale. The best example of this of course is during the movie’s final battle between YellowJacket and Ant-Man where the two shrink and grow repeatedly and use innocuous things like toy trains in life or death battles. If this movie doesn’t get acknowledgement for its special effects I’ll be very surprised. This is ground breaking stuff which will no doubt inspire other movies going forward.
There is a sequence during the second act where Scott is training with ants and learning how to manipulate his size at will which is mostly played for laughs. This is fine since Marvel still has to sell you on the idea of a diminutive superhero. After that however, the movie demonstrates what this power can really do when Scott Lang takes on Falcon, one of the newest members of the Avengers. Here, we see how much of an advantage shrinking and growing can give Scott during battles since Falcon has no idea how to fight back. It’s a wonderfully choreographed sequence and easily one of the most unique superhero fights seen on cinema. It was a bit goofy at points, but it mostly worked at establishing Scott as a mini-powerhouse. It also brought him to the attention of Falcon… but we’ll get to that later on.
Despite the superheroic tropes, this is first and foremost a heist movie and I think that it was wise for Marvel to go down this route. Though we see that Ant-Man can hold his own against another person with superpowers, he is still a guy who shrinks. This ability naturally lends itself to being useful for infiltration and espionage. Using the heist genre as a vehicle for audiences to get to know Ant-Man and accept his abilities works better than having him be a traditional type of hero.
This approach also helps broaden the types of movies Marvel produces. While they may be making movies about superheroes, that doesn’t mean they all have to belong to the superhero genre. As it stands, only the Avengers movies can actually be considered superhero films. Iron Man movies are Sci-fi, Guardians is Space Opera, Thor is Fantasy, and Captain America has both a war movie and a political thriller. Having a movie in the heist genre just makes sense in this context and again, Marvel pulls it off excellently while still maintaining this as a “Marvel” movie.
One of the main things Marvel movies are known for is their penchant for comedy and Ant-Man has the most comedy seen in a MCU film since Guardians of the Galaxy. This makes sense given the character of Scott Lang and that he is being played by Paul Rudd. Most of the comedy however comes from Lang’s heist crew who are somehow competent at what they do despite being a bunch of goof-balls. However, this approach to making the crew so comical also helps endear them to the audience and add some levity when things get too serious.
As great as the movie is, I had a big problem with Darren Cross. He almost gets to the point where he can be considered a decent villain but never quite makes it. He becomes the equivalent of a mustache twirler with how evil he comes off. The movie tries to tell you that being exposed to Pym Particles is what has driven him insane but then we’re also told (by Pym) that Darren shared too many of his own bad qualities. Cross’ motivation seems to be to make Pym proud of him since he saw him as a surrogate father but, again, this isn’t conveyed correctly in the film. Marvel Studios movies in general have a problem with substandard villains (Loki not included) but Cross is by far the least impressive one. We see him get killed in the movie and I hope he stays dead since I doubt another appearance by him would make for anything worthwhile.
Now it’s time to talk about the two post-credit sequences which Marvel films have become famous for. Age of Ultron only featured one post-credit sequence, so it was nice to get back to having two once again.
The first one has Hank Pym revealing to Hope that he and Janet had been working on a prototype Wasp suit and that he wants her to use it. This obviously sets up Wasp to appear in future Marvel movies but also expands the number of female superheroes in the MCU. As of now, the only one is Black Widow so it’ll be nice to see another female ass-kicker in these films. We’ll no doubt see her in action during Civil War which we already know will feature Ant-Man.
Speaking about Civil War, the final sequence is all about setting that up. We see Falcon and Captain America standing over Bucky Barnes a.k.a. The Winter Soldier in an undisclosed area. Falcon was on the hunt for Bucky since the end of Winter Soldier and has finally found him. However, the two men don’t want to let Tony Stark know about this. This is most likely due to the fact that Bucky was responsible for bringing down S.H.I.E.L.D. Cap wants to keep the amount of people who know about this to a minimum so he suggests they bring in one more person to which Falcon replies “I know a guy.” This guy obviously being Ant-Man.
This sequence is a bit confusing as far the timeline goes. It’s entirely possible that this may take place just as the Civil War has divided the superhero community. There is a line about “the accords” which is vague in and of itself. I should also note that the aspect ratio for this sequence was 2:33, as opposed to the 16:9 of the rest of Ant-Man which may mean it was taken directly from Civil War. This short sequence is one that begs to be rewatched as it may contain even more clues as to what to expect in the next Marvel movie.
I can’t end this review off without talking about a throwaway line spoken by one of the characters towards the end of the movie. During a sequence where Falcon is looking for Ant-Man, the reporter he is speaking with says: “Who are you looking for? There’s a guy that jumps, a guy that swings, and a guy who crawls up walls.” ‘A guy who crawls up walls’, eh? That of course is none other than Spider-Man, who, thanks to Sony and Marvel partnering up, is now a part of the MCU. We obviously don’t get much more than that line, but it gets us excited nonetheless because we know that the wait to see everyone’s favorite wall-crawler isn’t going to be much longer.
This review was done after seeing the film for the second time and I can say that as much as I liked it on my initial viewing, I loved it even more during the repeat viewing. It’s scary how Marvel just continues to produce hit after hit, especially with characters who were never big (no pun intended) to begin with. While Ant-Man isn’t full of the spectacle and meticulous world building we’ve come to expect from Marvel’s most recent movies, it is still one of the best superhero movies of the year and of the last decade. This is definitely a must watch film for anyone who loves comic book movies or for those who love having a good time at their local cinema.