Age of Ultron, released just two months ago, seemed like the perfect way to wrap up Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But then you remember, “oh yeah, there’s still one more film in this phase.” Ant-Man may seem like a strange choice to wrap up the second portion of MCU movies, and the mere creation of the film had people scratching their heads and wondering if it was even worth the price of admission. It is. And if you’ve discounted Ant-Man as a quick cash-grab or a useless MCU entry, you’re missing out.
Ant-Man begins in 1989, where a young(ish) Hank Pym discusses the security risks of his scientific discovery, the Pym Particle, with Howard Stark and Peggy Carter. The Pym Particle is a piece of tech that minimizes the space between atoms in an object, allowing that object to shrink down to a miniature version of itself. And, when a person is shrunk down, their strength grows in proportion to their loss of size. Pym expresses his concerns that in the wrong hands, the Particle could become a deadly catalyst for evil.
Fast-forward 25 years to the present day, and Pym’s Particle has nearly been reproduced by Darren Cross, Pym’s successor at the aptly named Pym Technologies. Cross plans to sell the tech, which he calls the Yellowjacket, to the highest bidder, namely a group of HYDRA operatives. Pym, and Pym’s daughter, Hope, plan to sabotage Cross’s plans.
Enter Scott Lang, a legendary burglar/Robin Hood figure who is trying to get his life back together after spending time in prison. His primary concern is the health and happiness of his daughter, Cassie, Pym promises to assist Lang in putting his life in order and in becoming the hero that Cassie deserves as a father, if Lang will help with their little Yellowjacket issue.
The plot is fairly simple, but there is beauty in simplicity. Ant-Man doesn’t need a bad guy trying to take over or destroy the world. Ant-Man doesn’t need a villain who puts billions of lives at stake. The threat is real and potentially damaging, but is, in the end, is just like the hero thwarting it -- small. But that’s what makes this movie great. Realizing the absurdity of Ant-Man as a main character, the film wisely steps to the side and doesn’t even try to compete with its grand MCU brethren. But in avoiding the hype of the more famous superhero films, Ant-Man strangely becomes not only a refreshing introduction to a new character, but also provides a much needed break from all the world-ending destruction and violence found in the rest of Phase 2. It may well be the best film in this phase, and perhaps even the best MCU movie to date.
At its core, Ant-Man is more of a sci-fi heist film than a superhero film. And, at the heart of film is an endearing group of characters brought to life, in all cases, by masterful performances. Paul Rudd’s portrayal of Hank Pym/Ant-Man is exactly what you’d expect it to be. He’s funny, charming, witty, and loveable. Opposite Rudd is Corey Stoll as Darren Cross, the villain. While he may have a little Obadiah Stane envy, especially with that shaved head, Cross is an interesting bad guy, in that he doesn’t want to take over the world. He just wants to see the fruits of his scientific research brought to life, and to make a mad profit off of it. But the great characters don’t end there. Michael Douglas is Hank Pym, and plays the wise, fatherly figure to perfection, and Evangeline Lilly plays his daughter, Hope. Hank and Hope have a strained relationship which is a large focus of the film, and both actors make their family conflicts feel real and genuine. The last actor really worth mentioning is Michael Peña, who plays Luis, Scott’s friend and criminal sidekick. While Rudd is known for his charming comedies, Peña is mostly seen in realistic action films. But somehow, Peña outshines even Rudd in the comedy department.
The only Avenger to actually be seen in the movie is the Falcon, but there are plenty of references to other characters in the MCU throughout the film. There is even a quick line about Spider-Man, which marks his first “appearance” in the MCU. The movie is also tied into the rest of the MCU through its post-credits scene, which features Falcon again, but also Captain America, and Bucky Barnes. There is also a mid-credits scene that promises a future role for Evangeline Lilly as The Wasp, Ant-Man’s female sidekick. But the whole point of Ant-Man seems to be about creating a film that takes place in a world where the Avengers exist while focusing on the life and adventure of a small time hero. In that sense, Ant-Man could even be compared to Netflix’s Daredevil. Both Ant-Man and Daredevil are about two regular guys, just trying to live their lives and do the right thing.
So, if I could summarize Ant-Man in a single word, it would be this: Stunning. I expected very little from this movie, and was blown away by it. The special effects were great, and the experience of seeing the world around you from such a small perspective was interesting and surreal. The emotions captured by the characters are incredible, and you care about each and every one of them, even Ant-Man’s flying ant-steed, Antony. And by going small, Ant-Man ends up delivering giant thrills and a grand spectacle. Are there some weaknesses in the plot? For sure, but not enough to derail the movie. Is it ridiculous? Absolutely. But the movie embraces its preposterousness as something positive, and shows us that a hero the size of an ant can deliver a better movie-watching experience than the combined efforts of gods, aliens, and artificially intelligent robots. So forget about going big or going home. Go small, and go to town.