After the massive scale and scope of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Studios decided to end Phase 2 of the MCU with something much smaller, in the literal sense. Ant-Man is a smaller story with lower stakes than any previous entry in the MCU, it was a nice way to wind down Marvel’s second act, and a way for them to get back to basics.
A film adaptation of Ant-Man had been in development hell for years, even before the first Iron Man film. Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, to name a couple) was attached to write and direct, and his incredibly unique and recognizable style can still be found sprinkled throughout the finished product. If I had to guess one part of the film that was originally done by Wright, I would say it’s Michael Peña’s Luis and his fast-talking way of telling stories. Wright’s signature editing is all over that section of the movie.
After years of making no headway on an Ant-Man film, Edgar Wright left the project, butting heads with Marvel execs one too many times. Wright wanted Ant-Man to be able to stand on its own a bit more, without too many ties to the rest of the shared universe, but Marvel disagreed. You can bet that the scene with Falcon was something Wright was not fond of. Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) was brought in as a replacement, and while it seemed for awhile that the entire thing might end up a mess, Reed managed to pull it all together into a light-hearted heist film.
Ant-Man is about two fathers trying to become worthy in their daughter’s eyes. Scott Lang is an ex-convict who wants to be the hero his daughter already thinks he is. Scott is separated from his wife, and his daughter, Cassie, lives with her and her new husband. Scott is also unable to hang on to a regular job. Paul Rudd is an example of phenomenal casting. Being one of the greatest comedic actors of all time, Rudd elevates whatever he’s in, bringing a goofy lovability to Scott without ever sacrificing the determination and intelligence of the character.
Scott is given a second chance by Hank Pym, the first Ant-Man. He mentors and trains Scott to become the new Ant-Man, in order to “break into a place and steal some shit.” The shit in question is the Yellowjacket, a suit that rivals the capabilities of the Ant-Man technology. It belongs to Darren Cross, Hank’s former mentee. Hank wants to win back the love of his daughter Hope, who he neglected after the loss of her mother.
This parental motif is a sweet sentiment to have in a film like this, a first for the MCU, and it’s what gives the film its heart amongst the wacky comedy and shrinking hijinks. It boasts a stellar cast, but most of them aren’t used to their full extent. Michael Douglas is a legendary actor but is stuck delivering exposition for the most part, and Evangeline Lilly is reduced to merely standing by as others do important things or training Scott. At the very least, her character being sidelined factors into the plot, and the sequel seems to be giving both actors more to work with. Judy Greer, an extremely talented actress, is type-cast, once again, as simply a mother / wife, wasting her talents completely.
Ant-Man also struggles to decide upon what kind of person they want Scott Lang to be. The only crime we know that he’s committed is the one that sent him to prison, and it was a Robin Hood type of act. Yet his ex-wife and her husband treat Scott like he’s a constant thief, who can’t help but commit crimes over and over. The film seems to want it both ways, for Scott to be a constant criminal but also only commits crimes in the name of justice. This could certainly be possible but it doesn’t explain the attitudes of his friends and family towards him, surely they would be more understanding. It may have been easier and more interesting to make Scott a petty thief, who commits small, non-violent crimes to help himself and others (and he could still think what he’s doing is right), and doesn’t understand that he’s still hurting those he steals from. Either way, the film doesn’t commit to one or the other, and Scott’s arc becomes a bit muddled because of it.
Darren Cross isn’t a particularly memorable Marvel villain, but Corey Stoll’s performance is a delight, and he gives all that he can with what he has. Cross being a jaded, former student of Hank’s makes the conflict personal. Cross always wanted Hank to share the Ant-Man technology with him, but Hank wouldn’t allow it, outright denying its existence, calling it a tall tale. You can imagine Cross’ rage and sense of betrayal when Hank then goes on to give the Ant-Man suit to Scott Lang, a random ex-con with no former relationship to Hank. “You insult me, Scott. Your very existence insults me!”
Cross has apparently become more and more mentally unstable due to exposure to Pym particles, which power the suits. This idea is the most vague and unnecessary part of the film. We don’t know who Cross was before the events of the film, so we don’t know how the particles have changed his state of mind. Was Hank’s refusal to share Ant-Man with Cross out of a parental sense of protection, like with Hope, or was Cross already someone he couldn’t trust with the technology? We’re not told. How and why do the particles affect the brain? Hank says that continuously wearing the suit took a toll on him and he can no longer do it, but we have no idea what that toll was. Hank seems to be perfectly fine and mentally stable. None of it is explained, and it doesn’t add anything to the film, making the whole concept pointless by the end.
Ant-Man has problems, but still delivers a nice breather for the MCU. The world isn’t ending, there are no gods or aliens or Infinity Stones, the heist angle is different, and Ant-Man relies more on sneaking around and outsmarting his enemies rather than running in guns blazing. Scott is able to show Cassie that he’s a literal hero (the ending fight takes place in her bedroom), and the shrunk-down fights across toy train tracks and inside of briefcases are creative and unlike any other action sequences in any superhero film. Ant-Man is also very, very funny, and although the MCU is full of humor in all of their films, Ant-Man was the first to begin leaning into full-blown comedy territory. It also serves as the first solo film to be introduced to the universe since Captain America: The First Avenger, and Scott Lang would prove popular enough to join the Avengers in Cap’s next film, Civil War.
Connections to the MCU: Hank Pym used to be a part of S.H.I.E.L.D., and we get to see Peggy Carter and Howard Stark at the start of the film. Cross attempts to sell the Yellowjacket suit to Hydra, Scott has a bad run-in with one of the new Avengers, and this is the first film to address the issue of “Why can’t we just call The Avengers?”