Overall Score - 93%
Ant-Man mixes the technology of Iron Man, the character of Thor, the action of Captain America, the humor of Guardians of the Galaxy, and certain something that's really special and totally unique to this film. It may not have the high stakes of The Avengers or even of a film like Thor: The Dark World, but Ant-Man is certainly an entertaining, funny, and refreshingly intimate cinematic experiment that Disney and Marvel Studios can be proud to welcome to the Avengers family.
It’s no secret that I have major respect and admiration for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I’ve never touched a comic book in my life, but the characters brought to life from the pages of Marvel comics have been engaging, three-dimensional, entertaining, and at times completely charming. Yes, I’m saying that there’s quality writing in films like Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, The Avengers, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
However, the most important goal of a Marvel movie is to appeal to both avid comic fans as well as the casual movie-goer who enjoys movies while having minimal comic knowledge. There’s high-quality writing much of the time, but the movies should also entertain and captivate, which they tend to do. Sure, there have been some fumbles—depending on who you ask the Hulk movies are noncanonical to the MCU and Iron Man 3 was a let-down in many respects—but for the most part you can rely on each installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be even better than the one before it.
Ant-Man is a very well-known Marvel hero… if you’re a fan of the comics. To those who enjoy Marvel movies but have limited knowledge of the source material, you probably wondered, like I did…
Who the hell is Ant-Man?
According to my research, Ant-Man should have been an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Day One. Ant-Man was originally the superhero mantle of Hank Pym, which is the name most comics fans associated with the character. After discovering a mysterious particle (the Pym Particle) that has the power to change objects and even people in size, Pym harnessed his discovery by creating a suit that allowed him to shrink to the size of an insect in order to solve mysteries and defeat neighborhood threats.
In the comics, it was Ant-Man—not Captain American—who was technically the first Avenger, alongside his wife and sidekick Janet van Dyne (the Wasp). Moreover, it was Ant-Man that inadvertently created the supervillian robot Ultron, not Tony Stark/Iron Man. If you’re a comics fan, you’ve probably been wondering where Ant-Man was since back in 2008 when Iron Man was released and dropped countless hints that there was more than just Tony Stark’s high-tech suits of armor in this cinematic universe.
Unfortunately, the casual movie-goer and people whose knowledge of comics is limited only to those most well-known characters—Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, etc.—would have had no idea that Ant-Man was being written out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in favor of those more popular character. It would seem that, much like Spider-Man, Ant-Man was more of a neighborhood hero rather than a savior of the entire world. Whereas the Avengers have stopped global threats, heroes like Spider-Man and Ant-Man mostly just save their hometowns from villains who are causing a big ruckus. As such, I’m assuming that Marvel’s strategy was to tell this grand comic book story using characters that would probably be more familiar to a wider audience than someone more obscure like Ant-Man.
If you want more details, check out this concise character background of Hank Pym as Ant-Man. If that tickles your pickle, you might also read this one, which suggests that Hank Pym carried too much baggage to be the cinematic version of Ant-Man and could’ve been why Marvel Studios chose Scott Lang instead.
More Obscure Marvel Heroes
By the time The Avengers brought Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a close, Kevin Feige—the man who controls the direction of the MCU and usually serves as executive producer of each MCU installment to ensure that each movie fits together like a puzzle piece and is consistent with his overall vision—was ready to throw a little caution to the wind by gambling on audiences enjoying more obscure Marvel characters. As far back as 2009, Feige discussed the possibility of a film featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, a team of much more obscure and unknown characters that included an living tree called Groot and a talking raccoon named Rocket. It wasn’t until 2012 that the film was in active development with its release in 2014.
Guardians of the Galaxy was an unexpected smash hit. Taking place in space and featuring some of the most far-fetched imagery of any MCU film, Guardians had almost $775 million in box office returns, which is more than Iron Man ($585.2 million), Iron Man 2 ($623.9 million), Thor ($449.3 million), Captain America: The First Avenger ($370.6 million), Thor: The Dark World ($644.8 million), Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($714.8 million), and Ant-Man‘s $296 million in global box office takes so far. In short, the only MCU installments that performed better than Guardians of the Galaxy were the ones that have broken a billion-dollar mark: The Avengers with a whopping $1.519 billion, Iron Man 3 with $1.215 billion, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron with $1.398 billion in global returns.
With the success of Guardians, Feige gave the thumbs-up to other more obscure Marvel heroes being translated to film, following Guardians of the Galaxy with Ant-Man, then Doctor Strange in November 2016, and Black Panther and Captain Marvel in July and November 2018, respectively.
The film begins with a brief flashback to 1989. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) enters the Triskelion—headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was still standing since the events shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier had not yet taken place—and accuses Howard Stark (John Slattery) of trying to steal or forge his research concerning the mysterious Pym Particle. We also see Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) present to witness the exchange, which leads to Pym resigning from Stark Industries. Mitchell Carlson (Martin Donovan)—an influential S.H.I.E.L.D. executive who we known to be secretly working for Hydra since the evil organization has long since infiltrated the organization—is taken with Pym’s discovery and technology and wants desperately to militarize it. However, Pym gives his resignation, vowing to keep the Pym Particle safe from the likes of Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the present, Hank Pym has been excised from his own company and is invited to attend a demonstration by his assumed-to-be estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Pym’s former assistant and protégé, the demented Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Having dug into Pym’s old research and found residual evidence for the power that Hank Pym has been keeping a secret, Cross has been working to replicate Pym’s research by developing his own version of the Pym Particle and weaponizing it in the form of the Yellowjacket, an offensive suit that grants its wearer the ability to shrink in size while maintaining full-size strength and utilizing the destructive lasers and the ability to fly. Seeing a video demonstration of the suit in action—we soon learn that the formula Cross has developed is still unable to shrink living organisms—has Pym very, very concerned.
Meanwhile, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd)—a well-intentioned thief with a masters degree in electrical engineering—is released from San Quentin State Prison after a heist gone awry. He’s picked up by his pal Luis (Michael Peña), who personifies the film’s comedic relief. Luis tells Scott that he’s got information about some pretty lucrative heists, but Scott dismisses him; he just got out of prison and plans to fly on the straight-and-narrow.
We next see Scott as a Baskin-Robbins cashier, but when the manager finds out Scott’s real name and his criminal background, he expresses both admiration for Scott’s criminal talents and straightforwardly tells Scott that he cannot continue working at Baskin-Robbins. After being ejected from his daughter’s birthday party by his wife’s new boyfriend and competing father figure Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), Scott decides he needs a faster way to make money and decides to accept Luis’ offer.
After a hilarious scene in which Luis explains how he found out about the large safe he wants the group to work together to rob, Scott easy overcomes the home’s security protocols and breaks into the safe to discover the Ant-Man costume instead of the valuables he expected. He takes the suit anyway.
At home, he puts the bizarre suit on and after pushing the buttons built into the gloves on the suit, he shrinks to the size of an ant in the bathtub. As he looks around from this new perspective, he hears Hank Pym speaking to him through the helmet’s built-in transmitter. Pym tells Scott that this is essentially a test, wanting to see him think on his toes in a very unfamiliar situation. After a brief adventure at this small scale, Scott returns himself to normal size and returns the suit to Pym’s vault where’s he’s quickly arrested.
In jail, Pym visits Scott under the guise of being his attorney and tells him he can rot in jail or await further instruction. Moments later, Scott sees ants dragging the shrunken suit toward him, which grows to full-size. Scott puts the suit on and escapes.
When Scott makes it to Pym’s home, Pym explains that he needs Scott to don the Ant-Man mantle. We learn that Hope, who’s not actually estranged, is part of this plan to have Scott break into Cross’ facility and steal the formula and research he’s using to replicate the Pym Particle. There’s a squabble between Hope and Hank where Hope says that Scott is unnecessary and ill-equipped for this mission, that she has experience with Pym’s technology and already has Cross’ trust. However, we learn that long-term use of this technology can have a negative impact on the user’s brain chemistry with a number of possible consequences; in Cross’ case, it’s sociopathic tendencies, but Pym doesn’t explain how he’s specifically been affected.
Between Hank’s tutelage and Hope’s training, they prepare Scott to infiltrate Cross Technologies. With the help of Luis, Dave (T.I.), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), the team infiltrate Cross’ facility and almost succeed. However, Cross anticipated the attack, thwarting them at the last minute.
At this point, the film begins it’s big climax, snippets of which can be seen in the trailer. Cross—who perfects his formula and is able to complete the Yellowjacket suit—puts his offensive, weaponized Yellowjacket suit on himself and fights Scott as Ant-Man. By the end of the film, only one shrinking man is left standing and there are some pretty major implications for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thoughts and Impressions of Ant-Man
Despite my enjoyment of many Marvel movies prior to this one, my expectations for Ant-Man were somewhat low. Like most others, I really loved Guardians of the Galaxy, but the premise of the Ant-Man character—merely being able to shrink himself to the size of an ant—wasn’t very exciting to me. In fact, this weak concept is why I’m not really a fan of Falcon played by Anthony Mackie; sure, he has a cool suit with mechanical wings that allows him to fly, but who would he be without the suit?
Just judging by the concept of Ant-Man, I understood why its journey to the box office was so complicated. Conceptually, Ant-Man is a weaker character than many other heroes we seen in the MCU, which means that such a character has to be done in a very specific way in order to not be a disaster. From what I’m to understand, Ant-Man was in development long before Guardians and would’ve been released first, but Feige and other executives didn’t want to release a cinematic adaptation of this character unless the film’s script hit the Goldilocks Zone of “just right.”
Ant-Man co-creator Stan Lee had pitched this movie back in the 80s, but Disney was developing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and the concepts were deemed too similar. Then in 2000, Howard Stern actually tried to buy the rights to Ant-Man in order to adapt the character to film.
In 2006, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) wrote a treatment that was received very well by Feige and the Marvel executives, resulting in him being hired to direct his screenplay as what was intended to be one of Marvel’s very first films. Wright even appeared at the 2006 Comic-Con for an Ant-Man panel, showing just how close the film came to being made back then. It was Wright’s idea to show Hank Pym briefly as the original Ant-Man, then bring the film to the present by showing how thief and electronics expert Scott Lang found the suit, met Pym, and the two became a Machiavellian team, which are plot elements that the actual film retained.
However, since Ant-Man wasn’t one of Marvel’s most well-known names, Ant-Man wasn’t seen as a priority. Instead, Feige said that the film would get made when the script was right. By Comic-Con 2010, Wright had ran into a problem; his Ant-Man script conflicted with the existing MCU chronology that was leading up to the first team-up of the major characters in 2012’s The Avengers. After several revisions of the script, Wright shot some test footage in order to figure out how to portray Ant-Man’s shrinking abilities and to determine the tone for the film, airing the footage at the 2012 Comic-Con with Feige confirming that the film was close to being ready for production. By October 2012, Ant-Man was slated for November 2015 release, but was eventually moved up to July 2015 with so many other Marvel films added to the lineup.
By the time production began, it was no longer Edgar Wright who was directing, but Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) and the screenplay had been revised by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers) and Paul Rudd although Wright and his partner Joe Cornish retained dominant credits.
Having seen the movie, I can honestly say this is one of the most enjoyable MCU films I’ve seen, but it’s also very, very different from virtually every other Marvel film. For one thing, the tone is a lot different; Ant-Man doesn’t have the high stakes of The Avengers or even of a film like Thor. Much like Spider-Man, Ant-Man’s nemeses are more so a scourge to the community rather than the world. While this would normally result in much lower stakes, I feel like the scale of the movie made up for it. Literally. There was a hint of an omnipresent, global catastrophe—if Cross’ Yellowjacket suits were distributed to an entire army like he had intended, for instance—but for the most part, Cross as the Yellowjacket was only a threat to Scott Lang and the rest of his crew, not the whole world. However, at the size of an ant a single room is the size of a small country.
Expectedly, the best scenes of the film were those in which Scott Lang, as Ant-Man, was shrunk to the size of an ant. These were some of the most creative, entertaining, not to mention immersive scenes in any film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Though movies in which characters have been shrunk are in no short supply, Ant-Man spends a lot of time in making sure that the experience is as authentic as possible. I’m reminded of a scene where Ant-Man and Yellowjacket are dueling in a suitcase that’s in freefall after falling out of a helicopter; as they’re being thrown around inside the suitcase, one of them hits the face of an iPhone and activates the music player, which very comically becomes the scene’s background music. In another scene that shows Scott shrinking to ant size for the first time, he falls and, because the Pym Particle allows him to retain his full-size strength even while being the size of an insect, crashes through the floor and into the apartment below where a group of people are dancing and partying; Scott must dodge dozens of dancing feet while trying to avoid being trampled. Even the scene in which he interacts with ants—which, admittedly, was something I was really, really nervous and skeptical about—are completely entertaining and totally work. By the end of the film, I had become quite fond of Scott’s endearing ant companions and helpers, which took me totally by surprise.
There was a ton of humor in Ant-Man, which I’d say is probably the funniest Marvel film to date. I can’t say why they chose to make Pym’s successor Scott Lang the Ant-Man instead of Hank Pym himself, but having seen the movie I really feel like it worked. Instead of watching someone figure out how to be the Ant-Man from the ground up, you have the original Ant-Man—a hero that existed completely under the radar of the entire world in an age when all the MCU films show news footage that proves worldwide acknowledgement of the existence of the Avengers—passed his mantle to a new Ant-Man and coaching him in this character’s very distinct abilities. As such, the dynamic between Scott and Hank, Hank and Hope, and Scott and Hope, as well as with secondary characters like Luis, provided a ton of humor to the movie. In fact, Michael Peña’s Luis was definitely a show-stealer and will likely be a crowd favorite; I’d be surprised if he didn’t appear in an upcoming Ant-Man 2 or other MCU films featuring Ant-Man characters.
One of the most admirable qualities of Ant-Man is that it can appeal to the skeptics and even convert the naysayers. My boyfriend has liked the X-Men movies, but he couldn’t be less interested in the MCU films with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. I essentially dropped Ant-Man on him like a surprise bomb, and he told me afterward that although he was semi-dreading Ant-Man, he ended up really, really enjoying it. Both he and I were skeptical of the concept of a hero whose power is to shrink to the size of an insect and to control ants, but the movie really made the concept work. The smaller scale of the film somehow made it more personal and intimate. Watching Ant-Man really feels like getting to know new characters that are well-founded, three-dimensional, and have purpose and development. I had low expectations for Ant-Man and was really, truly blown away. It’s when I’m so thoroughly shocked by how good a MCU film is that makes me love this franchise even more.
I can’t give Ant-Man enough of a glowing review. Hats off to Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, and Michael Peña for giving us a film that’s truly a unique offering from Marvel Studios. Moreover, the film’s ending and post-credit sequences—it actually has two—all but promise additional installments in the Ant-Man franchise. Without giving too much aware, it would appear that Ant-Man will have an important part in next year’s Captain America: Civil War while we will likely be seeing a new Wasp and possible even the old Wasp again. Ant-Man has a hint of Iron Man technology, the character and heart of Thor, the action of Captain America, and something else that’s intimate and totally unique to this film. It might not be the highest grossing MCU film or the best rated, but Ant-Man is a fun, entertaining, funny film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe should be proud to welcome to the family.
Did you catch Marvel’s Ant-Man? What did you think? Did the risk pay off? Or was Ant-Man a miss? Comment below.