Marvel’s Ant-Man is something of a peculiarity. While the other Marvel Cinematic Universe instalments may have centred around their title characters and their stories, we were similar as far as the narrative beats went. It may have something to do with the obligatory origin story, but they all wore the fitted genre of superhero snuggly enough. That is until 2014 when Marvel released both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. While Guardians could play fast and loose in its sci-fi spaceship – free from setting up a lone superhero – Captain America stretched to espionage thriller. Following on from their success Ant-Man confidently owns its peculiarity and leans heavily on the tropes of a crime-caper. Who’s never wanted to see a metahuman heist?
While the likes of Tony Stark, Peter Quill and even Thor tread the fine line of charismatic douchery to give them something to rise from, they eventually display the self-sacrifice that comes with altruism. After all, ever since the comics, the hallmark of a Marvel character is their flaws just like you and me. Then there’s Captain America, in his own league, the measure all characters are to be compared. Enter Ant-Man, or rather Scott Lang. As far as heroic title characters go, he’s probably the most identifiable. Sure, you may not have been to prison, but it’s closer to an every-man comparison than billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Like us, Scott has made mistakes, paid for them and forever trying to break even. It’s a refreshing change from stoic thunder god or infallible father-figure, to which everything comes that little bit easier. How many people in the MCU thus far saved the world and struggled to make alimony payments?
Thankfully, director Peyton Reed is careful to use Lang’s misadventures to flesh him out and not handcuff him emotionally. While the effort is made to bring us something a little different, both in terms of character and tone, there’s a lot of care to remind us we’re still in the MCU. Not only will the opening shot of a half-constructed Triskellion keep the Cap fans happy, but the following exchange involving Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and Hank Pym provides a gratifying insight to the inner workings of early SHIELD. Later, not only does Hank Pym disparage the Iron Man Armour, but the New Avengers Facility set up in Avengers: Age of Ultron sets the stage for the final act. It’s dutiful recognition to the sandbox Ant-Man plays in, but not one it relies on to provide superhero legitimacy.
Despite references, viewing Ant-Man as a standalone movie, rather than a chapter of the MCU, proves more rewarding. The building blocks of Lang’s journey from zero to hero is cemented with sympathy. Hank Pym has been watching Lang for a long time and when he mentions that Lang turns to crime whenever things get tough may force a defensive rise out of the more invested audience member. Hank may be right, but who wouldn’t want to use their gifts to make their situation better? Sounds like other heroes we know!
Without all the bells and whistles that come with bring a Marvel hero, Ant-Man is a pretty successful heist movie. The first caper, to unwittingly steal the Ant-Man suit, not only the establishes Scott as a science-bro, but also sets the foundation for the escalating heists that take place. By the time the final heist on Pym Technologies happen, the wizened sage has passed on his knowledge to Scott and also his failings. The surprisingly heart-breaking scene when Hank explains his wife’s demise to his daughter, Hope, blindsides you. In amongst the tomfoolery of Scott’s gang and a training montage, this emotional beat packs quite the punch without putting the movie’s tone off-kilter and yet still wraps up the character arcs to free them for the final act. Speaking of which; when the team break into Pym Technologies to stop the bad guy selling the Yellow Jacket to Hydra, the film has built up so much joyous good will, they could of marched in through the front door. Instead it stretches your suspension of disbelief to the point of accepting frying servers with an army of wild ants. There’s more moments to point a questionable finger at, but you’ll just be having too much fun.
4* – Big Trouble in Little ‘Frisco