This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This article contains spoilers for Ant-Man and the wider MCU.
While the Avengers were busy “dropping cities out of the sky,” a new hero was waiting in the wings for his moment in the spotlight. Coming hot on the heels of Age Of Ultron, the MCU’s 12th chapter saw the flourishing shared universe going – to some extent – back to basics.
Rather than trying to compete with the overstuffed ensemble spectacle of its predecessor, Ant-Man offered a (mostly) standalone palette-cleanser to finish off Phase Two – and finally gave one of Marvel’s key comic heroes his big-screen debut.
Of course, whenever Ant-Man is discussed, there’s always the Edgar Wright-shaped elephant in the room. It’s common knowledge that the fan-favorite Shaun Of The Dead director had been developing the project for almost a decade before parting ways with Marvel over “differences in their vision,” and his last-minute departure cast a large shadow over the film’s production.
But Ant-Man deserves more than just being viewed as the Wright-directed Marvel movie that never was. Incoming director Peyton Reed worked hard to shift the conversation away from behind-the-scenes shenanigans (and what might have been) and plough his own furrow, delivering a film that’s a worthy, if not top-tier, MCU offering (you can read our full review here).
In fact, Ant-Man has more in common with the stripped-back Phase One films than the second cycle’s scaled-up installments. It’s an origin story that deftly weaves in a couple of wider-universe elements to firmly place it in the MCU, but that definitely feels like its own thing. It moves at a good pace, too – there’s little in the way of excess baggage, and it’s one of the only Marvel movies to clock in at under two hours.
The film might not shout as loudly as others, but the fact that it’s seen as one of the more low-key MCU entries probably has more to do with the high bar Marvel has set. A light-footed heist movie centered on a shrinkable hero who can “speak” to ants, featuring big-name talent and some innovative, macro-style visual effects, Ant-Man is just as ambitious in its own way as many of its stablemates.
Judged within the context of the MCU – sandwiched as it is between Ultron and Captain America: Civil War (aka Avengers 2.5) – Ant-Man‘s relatively low-key nature is almost part of its charm. At its core, much like Iron Man, it’s a fairly simple redemption story: down-on-his-luck ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is recruited by retired superhero Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to assume the mantle of Ant-Man and steal a copycat “Yellowjacket” super-suit from Pym’s former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll doing what he can with a fairly generic villain role).
The film might not have as much impact as some of its bigger cousins, but there’s plenty to set Ant-Man apart from the crowd. The heist-movie construct (complete with classic tropes and montages aplenty) sees Marvel treading new genre ground, while the aforementioned VFX – which makes towering hazards out of the most mundane, everyday objects – imbue the action sequences especially with a distinct visual flair.
Talking of CG innovation, this film also marks a leap forward in the de-aging technology that Marvel would later adopt throughout Phase Three – an ’80s-set prologue shows off an astonishingly younger-looking Douglas, proving that future stories could feasibly flit back and forth through the MCU timeline without having to recast series favourites (paving the way for a young Nick Fury in Captain Marvel).
Unlike many of its forerunners, this is also a story about family – specifically fathers and their daughters – that carries an enormous amount of warmth. The main trio all make for likeable leads (especially old pro Douglas, whose cranky, sardonic Pym elicits some of the biggest laughs and sells some of the film’s biggest emotional beats). But it’s Abby Ryder Fortson as Scott’s young daughter Cassie – a quick-witted chip off the old block – who really gives the film its heart and provides a compelling impetus for Rudd’s hero’s journey (“Just be the hero she already thinks you are…”).
As Pym says, “It’s not about saving our world, it’s about saving theirs…” Ant-Man might be smaller in scale than other MCU entries but, in many ways, the stakes are just as high.
Standout scene: The Ant-Man vs Falcon fight is a franchise-nodding treat (Anthony Mackie puts in a brief but enthusiastic appearance as the recently anointed Avenger) that sets up Rudd’s hero as a worthy future addition to the super-team. But the standout has to be the climactic face-off, which sees a miniature Ant-Man and Yellowjacket fighting it out on a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. It’s a perfectly pitched finale; the dramatic battle on the tracks punctured by comedy zoom-outs to a regular-sized perspective. Coming after Ultron’s gargantuan Battle of Sokovia, having a super-powered dust-up set in a child’s bedroom is a bit of genius and, with Cassie looking on, it really drives home the stakes – Rudd’s Lang is father first, superhero second.
Best quip: We’d plump for either of the film’s two hilariously long-winded explanations delivered by Scott’s turbo-talking buddy, Luis (Michael Peña) but, frankly, we don’t have room here. So we’ll go for Hank Pym’s’ deadpan mission statement: “I want you to break into a place and steal some shit.”
First appearances: This is obviously the first outing for some of the MCU’s key figures – Scott Lang, Hank Pym, and future Wasp Hope van Dyne – as well as their supporting characters. We also get a brief, in-costume introduction to Hank’s wife, Hope’s mom and original Wasp Janet van Dyne in a poignant flashback – she’s masked here, but will be played as Michelle Pfeiffer in sequel Ant-Man And The Wasp.
So long, farewell: Are we going to miss Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross/Yellowjacket? Well, he doesn’t exactly make a huge impression, so no, probably not. Instead, let’s take a moment to remember formic hero Anthony, Lang’s flying-ant sidekick who’s shot down in his prime during the movie’s climax. Rest in peace, little dude.
It’s all connected: Ant-Man doesn’t get too bogged down in references, but it still manages to flesh out the Marvel Cinematic Universe a bit more…
• The opening prologue is set in 1989 at the under-construction Triskelion – the SHIELD base that was destroyed during the climax of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It features a younger Pym fiercely protecting his “Pym Particle” from getting into the hands of SHIELD, specifically head of defence Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan). It’s a good job, too – Carson is later revealed to be in cahoots with HYDRA. Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) seems to have a calming presence on Pym, while the scene also reveals a fractious rivalry with Howard Stark (John Slattery).
• On that, it seems Pym has long-running beef with the Starks. “I spent half my life trying to keep this tech out of the hands of a Starr. I’m sure as hell not going to hand deliver it to one now,” he tells Lang when he suggests calling the Avengers. “This is not some cute technology like the Iron Man suit – this could change the texture of reality.”
• This is the first mention and appearance of the trippy Quantum Realm – which Scott finally enters in order to destroy Yellowjacket. The MCU’s version of the comics’ Microverse, it becomes more important in the film’s sequel, where we find out original Wasp Janet is still alive, and also looks set to play a big part in the plot of the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.
• Ant-Man’s skirmish with Falcon takes place at the Avengers’ new headquarters in upstate New York – a former Stark Industries warehouse – revealed at the end of Age Of Ultron. “It’s really important that Cap never finds out about this,” Falcon says of his defeat, although he’s obviously impressed enough to recommend Lang for Cap’s team in Civil War.
• We seemingly get the first mention of the MCU’s Spider-Man in Luis’ final bout of verbal diarrhea: “We got everything these days – we got a guy who jumps, we got a guy who swings, we got a guy who crawls up the walls…”
Credit check: Two stings here… The mid-credits scene sees Pym revealing an “advanced prototype” Wasp suit to Hope, setting her up as a future hero in her own right (“It’s about damn time,” she says with a smile). The end credits sequence is lifted straight from this film’s follow-up, Captain America: Civil War, which sees Cap and Falcon discussing what to do about the recently captured Bucky. “We’re on our own,” says Cap. “Maybe not,” Sam Wilson replies, “I know a guy…”
What are your thoughts on Ant-Man? Have we missed your favourite moment or reference? Let us know in the comments below…