Once again Hollywood and the fandom became puzzled over the creative decisions at Marvel Studios. Ant-Man? Of all the possible superheroes they could’ve brought to the big-screen they decided to pick their smallest. How could this possibly work? Heck, even I thought is was a fucking ridiculous concept to adapt. But thank God (as per usual) we were all proven wrong.
I guess you could say that Ant-Man is both a strange choice of film to succeed Avengers: Age of Ultron and to send-off Phase Two. It was clear from the get-go that this film would be a lot smaller than the rest of the instalments we’d seen thus far (and that’s not just a wise-crack joke about Ant-Man being small). Ant-Man was to be another introduction narrative (similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, which also brought in new characters separate to the already existing continuity). This time round, however, things would be more grounded and try to fit into established events, whilst still trying to be its own stand-alone flick.
Some people actually complained that this film felt too similar to Iron Man, right down to the way it structures its hero’s origins (although not literally of course). What they meant by this was the simplistic nature of Ant-Man’s first outing. It isn’t anything bold and feels very low-key, which stands at odds with all the other characters and how far the Marvel Cinematic Universe had come. To have such a basic narrative this far into the game seemed quite redundant (almost like Ant-Man is late for the party and didn’t realise that the costume arrangement had been altered since given the invitation).
But I look past this statement for the one simple reason: “I don’t give a shit!” In fact, the smaller scaled structure fits in rather well with what Ant-Man is trying to accomplish (almost having a little pun at the fact that the film is about Ant-Man). But at the end of the day this narrative didn’t have to be Avengers level of excitement, to which Ant-Man drops an entire city to announce his arrival. And I’ll be honest, after the convoluted mess that Avengers: Age of Ultron brought to my doorstep I was happy to see Ant-Man bumbling to my door with a very simple, but fun, tale that would just entertain me.
And to give Ant-Man even more credit, it has a lot of heart (which is more than I can say about Avengers: Age of Ultron). The film spends less time gallivanting after explosions, and massive action set-pieces, and instead strives to be a carefully constructed character driven story. Heck, for the most part Ant-Man spends its time having its characters standing around talking. Sounds boring (I know) but these conversations are completely engaging because of how much passion went into the script, developing these characters into three-dimensional beings that you really care for.
Take Scott Lang (our protagonist) for example. The man is clearly a criminal. This is already a fascinating start to the set-up because we haven’t seen one of our shining heroes start off on the wrong side of the law. Granted, Scott isn’t a master-criminal, but rather a cat-burglar who got caught on a job trying to make a point to some rich arsehole. So you can see from his intent that he’s not a bad person, but rather someone trying to make a difference (just not in the best possible way). But his skills as a thief are used to great care throughout the narrative in exploring why he’s the perfect match as Ant-Man.
Another great addition to his character is his determination to see his daughter, Cassie, whom he has missed three years of her life whilst rotting away in prison. This sentence has made him reflect upon his choices in life, and where his priorities lay. But, things are made more complicated by his ex-wife now dating a police officer, and the pair of them wanting him to straighten-up before he’s allowed to see Cassie properly. And things aren’t easy for him due to having a criminal record. So it looks like he’s resorting back to a life of crime in order to set himself up for his new life of parenthood.
And this is where his friends come in. They are certainly the strangest additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly Luis (Scott’s best friend and former cell-mate). Luis is always so bouncy, easily distracted when he gets over-excited, and despite not being the most intelligent of people, always finds a way to help out his friend (even resorting to taking out a few guards when helping Scott out at the end of the film). Also, his greatest contribution to the film is his outrageous exposition scenes where he acts-out each character within his long, overcomplicated, passed-messages in order to get across to Scott the small detail he actually requires.
We also have Hank Pym, who becomes something of a mentor figure to Scott on his journey of discovery. Hank craftily engineers a heist in order to test Scott’s capabilities, resulting in Scott stealing the Ant-Man suit from his house. Scott curiously then tries the suit on and goes on a massive journey as he shrinks into a bath-tub, falls through the floor into a room full of people partying, to then fall through the floor again and wind up being sucked into a hoover, before being flung out the window and landing on someone’s car. But the way this sequence is shot, edited, and applied with CGI is incredible, displaying a whole new dimension to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Hank then enlists Scott’s help due to his growing concerns with his old prodigy, Darren Cross, whom grew more and more uncontrollable as his craving for more knowledge pushed him over the edge, thus making him turn the Board (and Hank’s daughter Hope van Dyne) against his mentor after Hank refused to share all of his secrets. Darren now desperately tries recreating the Ant-Man suite, now calling it the Yellowjacket. Darren’s ambitions, and unhinged nature, are a growing concern and Hank wants to be put an end to it before his prodigy tears the world apart.
Complications arise over Lang’s involvement as Hope believes that she should be the one who wears the Ant-Man suite and takes down Darren, both on her experience and knowledge. Hank simply refuses to let her in, keeping her on the side-lines as an advisor on the operation of infiltrating Pym Technologies and stealing the Yellowjacket. You have these awkward moments where you see the two characters fighting (clearly affecting each other on a personal, and emotional, level) whilst poor Scott is caught in the middle, even at certain moments wondering why he was chosen.
It all becomes clear as the narrative progresses, making Hank’s decisions completely justifiable and honest to his caring character (despite his stern exterior). Scott is incredibly talented at infiltration (particularly disabling high-tech security systems) and at the same time shares Hank’s desire to want his daughter to look-up to him as a hero. It’s a really well-crafted entanglement of the main characters sharing experiences and motivations. Hank wants to help Scott get his daughter back because he doesn’t want him to share the same fate as him, whilst Scott also wants the same in return, ultimately helping Hank and Hope rekindle their long lost relationship.
Things become really tragic upon Hank admitting the truth to his reasoning behind Hope’s involvement. He simply wants to keep her safe on the account of what happened to her mother, Janet van Dyne. It turned out that whilst Hank was the Ant-Man, Janet became his side-kick (of sorts) in the form of The Wasp, but sadly passed away in the line of duty, sacrificing herself to prevent a missile reaching the US (and in the process going subatomic, disappearing into a quantum realm).
This becomes a really important moment in the film as for the first time Hank and Hope have an understanding, finally able to come together after so many years of Hope misunderstanding her father’s methods and growing further and further apart from him.
But, Scott manages to screw it up with poor comedic timing. And this is what Ant-Man does well at, it’s comedy. Sure, it’s a serious film. I mean, fuck, Darren is a fucking nut-job every time he’s onscreen. If he isn’t giving you a face of pure intimidation, then he’s turning people who disagree with him into goo, or taking his cruelty one step too fucking far through testing his shrinking formula on poor defenceless lambs (that’s how you know this guy is truly fucking evil!)
But for the rest of the narrative Ant-Man tries to be light-hearted, and fun, making you laugh as well as feel an emotional response because the characters are written so well, with their chemistry with one another being some of the strongest seen within the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s just a shame that (once again) the villain is very one-dimensional. Darren isn’t the worst, nor will he ever be the best, but it’s getting rather annoying now that Marvel Studios can’t find the time to give us more great villains (instead of these throwaway characters that are only there to serve a single purpose, i.e. be an obstacle for the hero). But for what we got Darren was entertaining enough, displaying a really ruthless nature in his determination to become the world’s most powerful dealer in the line of science.
Then (randomly) he starts going fucking nuts and tries shooting up the place. Apparently this is down to his exposure to the Yellowjacket (to which Hank hinted at earlier on in the film due to his suit not being equipped to protect the mind from the shrinking process) but we never saw him use the suit at that point, so, who the fuck knows? Maybe he’s just mad because he’s mad?
What adds to Ant-Man is it’s unique approach of being an entertaining heist movie, with the majority of the narrative building-up to the grand-event, which is paid-off even further with the funniest (and most spectacular) battle between hero and villain. The way that they make a mundane backdrop (such as a helicopter, the suburbs, and a child’s bedroom) into a really inventive battleground has to be commended. In this fight sequence you have Ant-Man and Yellowjacket switching between sizes, moving through the various environments and their parameters, whilst interacting with everyday objects to use as tools to aid in their fight. It’s just amazingly structured and the special effects are outstanding. Plus, it’s really fun to watch.
I think what you have to remember about Ant-Man is it is a bit of harmless fun. Yes, it has its clear serious moments, the goal is important, and Darren Cross is a nasty piece of work who needs to fucking die, but beyond that Ant-Man tries to strip things back to its basics and leave its audience settled as they laugh, sometimes cry, but most importantly, feel enjoyment.
That’s clearly something that Avengers: Age of Ultron completely lacked because it was just trying too hard with deep messages but barely any of them worked because of the poor structure, and the fact that the sequel didn’t really try to do anything more thrilling and explosive than the first (instead ended up re-treading a lot of the same shit, with most of the new stuff being set-ups for future instalments, making the overall product feel like a wasted opportunity that lacked any real ambition or identity).
The bottom-line is: Ant-Man is clearly the superior film because it does it’s job properly (and in style). Sure it might be simplistic, not as thrilling, and certainly not as explosive as previous instalments, but none of that matters because Ant-Man holds a lot of heart through its comedy and well-crafted characters. Plus, it holds a lot of pay-off, with Scott finally redeeming himself (thus proving himself as Ant-Man [becoming a true hero in the process] and being able to see Cassie) and Hank finally brings himself to allow Hope to follow in her mother’s footsteps, presenting her (in the post-credit scene) her very own Wasp suit.
Roll on Ant-Man and the Wasp and any other appearances Ant-Man has to offer!