Coming in-between Avengers: Age of Ulton and Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man could have been a massive failure at the box office. Marvel pedigree aside, it seemed to lack any originality in its concept: unorthodox hero (Marvel’s got that in spades), a comic-book comedy (Guardians of the Galaxy already did that, and brilliantly), tons of promotion and hype could not produce anything that would give it a signature worth seeing. However, being a fan of Marvel, it becomes obvious that I would see it, and apparently a lot of other people share that attitude.
Somewhere lost in all the fuss within my head, though, was the fundamental question I ask of every movie: is it entertaining? Does it push the right buttons? Does it work? Does it work in line with the franchise, if it’s a franchise film? In all cases, Ant-Man delivers.
For one thing, between two massive and epic films which boast massive casts, and in all likelihood, massive action in both films, Ant-Man is a step back, a relaxing breath. It has a relatively small cast, with Paul Rudd anchoring the film quite aptly; he’s not as charismatic as Robert Downey, Jr. or Chris Pratt, but he doesn’t need to be. He needs to be the funny man or the punchline, in some cases both at the same time, but it works because he’s Paul Freakin’ Rudd, and that is what he does best. The surrounding cast (Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, and of course Michael Douglas) all play off and against him, rather than each other (with a few exceptions), and unlike Age of Ulton, where it seemed like every character needed interaction with every other one, and that the film suffered from its failure to do so, this film thrives on the bubbles separating characters. Scott Lang’s family never meet the Pym family or his gang, and his gang never really meets the bad guys. It all works.
Now, being a Marvel film, they throw in a few Easter eggs for the die-hard fans, and given that I don’t watch Agents of SHIELD or Daredevil, I may have missed some, but the ones I saw were brilliant. We see the continued fallout from Hydra’s exposure and being driven underground, which also sets up Civil War next year. The obvious nod to MCU at large is the presence of Falcon, who links past adventures into Ant-Man, and beyond. However, you don’t need an explanation for anything; it all works within the narrative.
Ant-Man is successful, from a franchise perspective, because it adds more than it takes. In addition to many charming characters, heroes and sidekicks alike, it also gives us a glimpse of a fully functioning SHIELD in the late 1980s, where we see a hint of the corruption of Hydra, but mostly the good-hearted desire to serve the world, from two of its three founders no less. Hank Pym’s antagonism towards Howard Stark, later transferred to Tony Stark, fascinated me; Howard Stark has always seemed to be the decent one, albeit not the greatest father, but more straight-laced, humanitarian, and a better all-around guy. The fact that Pym has an issue with him and Stark Industries implies to me that Pym’s issues with SHIELD run deeper than his wife’s death and a desire to keep technology out of the wrong hands, and I hope that’s something they develop later on.
Also of interest is that Hydra’s resurgence, fresh off of the destruction of its last known base and death of its commander, is a subtle nod to its slogan, “take off one head and two shall take its place.” However, I do feel that the endless concentration on shrinking technology could have been the genesis for a greater philosophical discussion in Ant-Man; Pym and Lang have plenty of chats about the suit and power, but Pym taking the time to explain about his distrust of SHIELD and the Avengers could have been a nice step towards bringing up the Superhuman Registration Act, a key point in Civil War. The only major fault of Ant-Man from a franchise POV is that it doesn’t set up Civil War as well as it could. That being said, I’m nit-picking; I really liked this movie.
Perhaps what I liked most is that in the wake of Age of Ultron, and ahead of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, DC’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice AND Suicide Squad, all films with big casts, Marvel seemed to realize the desire of some, and even the necessity, of a small, dare I say cute, superhero comedy; while there are world-size stakes in the film, the humor, blended with the film’s humanity, ensures that Marvel does not sink into a blockbuster mindset. Considering that James Gunn, currently developing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, has stated a similar desire to retain a small cast and keep things intimate, I get the sense that Marvel is not letting their cinematic universe devolve into a “too cool for the room” type mentality.
I’m not going to lie: if you are not into the concept, you may not like the film, but I doubt it. The film is more about the people than the effects; as with all great action, there is a human element driving it; characters are fighting for something substantial, something that brings happiness and joy to their lives, and we can all understand that. It’s why the film works, and why you should think about seeing it.