– Spoiler Review –
Marvel’s smallest hero comes to the biggest screens in Ant-Man, the origin story of Scott Lang’s character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and also the final Phase 2 film. Taking advantage of its difference in tone and scale from previous MCU films, Ant-Man is an enjoyable stand-alone film supported by great performances with humor peppered throughout, but it has issues with a rather stereotypical villain and by-the-numbers origin story (while sneaking in some concepts which may play much bigger roles in the MCU to come); Overall, it’s definitely another solid notch in Marvel’s belt.
The film starts with a pretty cool flashback
all the way back(*) to 1989, where Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, digitally looking like his younger self) has a confrontation with the SHIELD brain-trust of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Howard Stark (John Slattery), and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan). Hank’s fight with them causes him to withdraw himself from SHIELD and hide his Pym Particle technology from everyone in fear it’ll do more harm than good. However, the true inciting incident for hiding the particle ends up being much more personal and is the cause of many of the circumstances we see in the film. In the present, we join Scott (Paul Rudd) getting out of prison, where he was in for burgling a giant company to help the people it screwed over, and now he’s trying to stay legit so he can be a part of his young daughter’s life again. However, Hank needs a man of Scott’s skills and sets him on a course of righteous crime again, but this time with an amazing suit and the ultimate goal to secure a safer world for both of the children in their lives.
The relationship a father has with their children, specifically daughters, is an important and well written aspect of Ant-Man and the emotional through-line for most of its characters. Evangeline Lilly plays Hope Van Dyne, Hank’s daughter, who is an extremely capable woman working both under Hank’s protege and for Hank himself to watch over the company he left behind when he ‘retired.’ It’s been awhile since I’ve really seen Lilly in anything after LOST, but she does a splendid job with the hard to read, guarded character and has some real chemistry with Michael Douglas (who knocks this performance, as one would expect him to, out of the park) to really help sell their fractured father/daughter relationship. See, the relationship between Hope and Hank is rather torn, as Hank seeking out Scott is almost like a slap in the face to Hope as she’s been training for and working towards putting on the Ant-Man suit her whole life. Seeing as his wife was lost to the technology, it’s easy to understand why he would guard her from it and how that choice could push them away from one another. Their relationship is part of the deeper, less humorous moments of the film and they feel emotionally stronger because of it. They are also strong thanks to Hope, as she is a character I really wish to see again in the MCU since she represents one of the better female portrayals in Marvel and has tons of story potential moving forward (more on that in a bit).
On the other hand, Scott’s young daughter Cassie (played adorably by Abby Ryder Fortson) loves him explicitly, though he’s just not able to see her often due to some slightly reasonable conditions like his ex Maggie (Judy Greer) wanting child support and a police officer step-dad Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). It pulls at the cute heartstrings rather than the deeper ones of Hope and Hank, but it makes Scott an instantly more likable character on top of Paul Rudd’s affable performance. Rudd’s usual everyday man appeal is in full swing here and the movie plays to his strengths in all the best ways, including humor.
Not every joke hits, but when they do, it’s always good for a whole lot of chuckles. Some of the best humor comes from the movie playing with perspective, enlarging things you wouldn’t expect or making everyday/smaller objects seemingly more deadly when Scott is smaller. An example would be during a training montage, Scott is learning about the different types of ants and working on controlling them out in the backyard of Hank’s home. One group swarms him and he freaks out, creating a giant hole in the ground when he grows larger again. There’s also tons of humor from our characters and their interactions with one another, but Luis’ (Michael Peña) stories of how he heard things through the grapevine have to be my absolute favorite from the film (and he steals every scene he’s in). Ant-Man‘s not as hilarious as say Guardians of the Galaxy was, but the humor is definitely here.
That all being said, where the movie stumbles is with its villain and somewhat by-the-books origin story for Scott Lang’s iteration of the Ant-Man. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is a bare bones villain in the motivation department and feels pretty uninteresting throughout. It’s also very easy to cheer against Cross because Lang (and Hank) is fighting for his daughter and trying to do right by her while Cross is basically just a slightly psycho dick who kills baby sheep to get what he wants. There’s no real explanation on how he got to be that way and his desire to have Hank be a father figure instead of pulling away wasn’t that strongly shown in the film. Corey Stoll isn’t an actor I’m very familiar with, but he plays the crazy of Darren decently enough at least.
And as I said, with Ant-Man being an origin story, they seemingly decided to go by-the-books and cover all the usual basics you’d expect when introducing a new superhero: down on his luck criminal given a second chance from mysterious outsider, check; initial rejection of offer, check; training montage and over-coming some obstacles, check. The film doesn’t go out of its way to hide it either and as formulaic as the movie can feel at times, it has enough sparks of originality and tons of fun with its premise of a man shrinking and interacting with ants that you’ll want to look past the issue rather than focus on it.
I’ll be discussing the ending, Hope’s mom, and the two (!) credit sequences below, all with full spoilers, so scroll down to “END SPOILERS” if you don’t want to read about that stuff just yet!
In the film’s climatic battle (yes, the whole fighting on the toy train sequence is even better than you’d expect) Scott ends up going “subatomic” after messing with his regulator so he could pass through solid matter and destroy Yellowjacket’s suit from the inside. It’s a really trippy sequence, full of unique and intriguing visuals, and once Scott escapes you kind of wonder what you just experienced. This is the MCU’s Microverse, which is so far being called the Quantum Realm, and there’s no doubt it’ll play a part in the MCU going forward. It’s pretty genius to use their smallest hero to introduce an even smaller thing, though it could become a large concept as Infinity War looms.
Speaking of the Quantum Realm, Hank reveals his wife Janet van Dyne was the first to go “subatomic” and he hasn’t seen her since. This death is what prompts Hank to protect his daughter from picking up the suit and to hide the Pym particle so no one else could ever be lost. With Janet being the original Wasp, and in the comics a founding member of the Avengers, it’s interesting to note both times we see Janet in film, her face is either blocked by her version of the Wasp suit or her head is tilted down with a large hat covering it in a picture. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to speculate this points to them leaving her role up to be cast for a future appearance, as she could find herself getting out of the Quantum Realm finally, or have already gotten out but in a much stranger place in the universe we have yet to see.
But in the more immediate future, one of the two credit sequences have Hank revealing to Hope that he’s been working on the Wasp suit and now he wants her to help him finish it so she can wear it. Hope could get a spin-off film of her own or at least be up for more appearances in the upcoming Phase 3 films, and either would be fine by me. The end credit sequence is actually quite the spoiler for Captain America: Civil War, as the scene shown was shot for that film. In it, the Captain and Falcon have found Bucky Barnes(!), whose arm is trapped in a vice. Falcon suggests they call Tony (Stark), but Cap doesn’t like the idea because he obviously doesn’t trust him at this point. Falcon then mentions he knows a guy, followed by a “Ant-Man will return” card on the screen. While we already knew Ant-Man would appear in Civil War, the fact that they’re willing to show the Bucky scene probably means there will be a lot of bigger things happening in the film.
Here are a few other things:
- (*): I was born in 1989, so seeing them use that year for a flashback certainly makes me feel old.
- Probably the best surprise has to do with a keychain. You’ll know it when you see it.
- Supposedly the art gallery Luis is in at the end is the one in Daredevil, Marvel’s Netflix series.
- I didn’t catch it right away and my friend had to point it out to me, but there’s a quick reference to Spider-Man at the end (which was unintentional, as per io9’s article linked below).
- The stop at the new Avengers’ base, and Ant-Man’s battle with Falcon, was a really cool way to put him in the larger picture of the MCU.
- For the few I mentioned above, there was a lot of other easter eggs hidden in the film (spoilerphobes beware). Better yet, io9’s breakdown of the big spoilers has comments from the director and even the Marvel head himself, Kevin Feige, including how Ant-Man changed things for Age of Ultron and how Civil War will expand on some additions to Ant-Man.
- The visuals were strong with the film, as they brought the sense of scale to life and made it all feel and look believable and possibly plausible. The shrinking of or enlarging of everyday objects was a true visual delight.
- I thought about Honey, I Shrunk the Kids a few times while watching the movie and if you’ve seen that then I know you probably did too.
Ant-Man might not be as memorable as Guardians of the Galaxy or as big as the first Avengers (though it’s certainly better than the second), but what it lacks in those departments it makes up for with heart and a real sense of fun messing around with its main character’s ability to shrink and control ants.
+ Engaging performances from cast (especially Douglas)
+ Has fun with its concepts
+ Lots of little easter eggs
– Vanilla villain
– Formulaic origin story