Ant-Man really wasn't on the top of my lists of films to watch this year, but I planned to anyway because it was Marvel. I knew that the character was better than the name suggested and I knew how good MCU films are, but it just didn't interest me that much. How wrong was I proven when I saw it. I'm not going to spoil anything too much here, but instead focus on the story, the acting, and how it is so relevant to both fans and the MCU.
This was a classic heist film, filled with costumed characters. It's a strength of the MCU: they can take numerous genres of film, and slap superheroes into it, and make an incredible, unique movie. You have The First Avenger as a history/war film, Guardians of the Galaxy as a space opera, and finally this as a heist. However, this was also an origins film, and we see Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) go from convict, to thief, to reluctant hero, to a man who embraces his powers and saves the world. There's an excellent mix of story, humor, action, and all that sciency stuff that we forgot to pay attention to in school.
In some regards I was reminded of Iron Man, with the industrial take-over by Darren Cross (a very Stane-like villain, but I'll get to that later), and an unlikely hero being the good guy he needs to be. However, this was no Tony Stark rip-off. Again, I'll touch on this later, but the characters, and the whole feel of the film was unlike any other MCU film out there. It was lighter, but at the same time more stable, more grounded. Even the shrinking tech and ant-communication was sensible. It also never really dragged, though they didn't pack it full of action. Honestly, the pace was a much needed change from some other MCU films. *cough* Age of Ultron *cough* The story was not too trope-filled or boring, but not on the level of something like Dark Knight.
One name: Michael Douglas. That man can out-act any person in the room, and he was an absolute boss as Hank Pym. His subtle expressions and inflections made the character that much more perfect. He played a cantankerous, crazy, loving man in one of the best performances I've seen in the MCU yet.
Next up we have our main character: Scott Lang. Paul Rudd is known for his comedies, and some people had said that it was odd seeing him in a serious role. However, I'd never seen Rudd in anything before, so I was fresh going in. He, like his character's mentor, blew it out of the park, with the perfect combination of humorous timing, seriousness, and loveable jerkiness.
I never liked Evangeline Lily in The Hobbit trilogy, though that was more her character than her acting ability. Hope van Dyne, however, is such an awesome character! And again, we see a great mix of lady-likeness and competent heroism in the same role.
Michael Peña probably stole the show as the fast-mouthed, semi-loco buddy of Lang's, Luis. Everything that came out of his mouth was just funny, but he didn't ever get annoying. While I liked other characters better, Michael really did shine in every scene he was in.
As far as every other actor or actress was concerned, I feel like each did a solid job in their respective roles. Nothing Oscar-worthy, but I never felt like there was a weak link to the acting squad.
Here's where Ant-Man really shines. The characters are more real, more relatable than the other characters of the MCU. Scott especially was a character that fans can get on-board with. He was just a normal dude who was placed in extraordinary circumstances. Moviepilot creator Reid Jones said it best in a conversation we had:
Scott wasn't some genius, some God, some millionaire, or a moral Jesus. He was a divorced misunderstood convict. The female lead wasn't some damsel in distress or sappy romantic side plot goal...The one with the suit dislikes other superheroes and doesn't want association with them. He doesn't have an indestructible shield, or indestructible body, or unstoppable hammer or wicked-strong suit: he has ants as transportation/weapons and size-changing ability.
In short, Scott Lang, the Ant-Man, is human. Hope isn't a minor plot point. Hank Pym isn't some amazing legend. Lang hangs out with ex-convicts. These are some of the most real, normal characters that the MCU has offered us. No demi-gods, no human/alien hybrids surfing the cosmic waves, no playboy billionaires dashing about in suits of iron. Just a guy who wants to do right. He's the most human of them all, and besides making the film fresh, it means that Lang will play a huge role in future events in the MCU.
Why is this film relevant? I'll tell you. For fans, it's a great origins film, and quite honestly one of the best stand-alone Marvel films out there. It's a fun, exciting film that keeps the action and story-telling well balanced. There's humor, there's sadness, and there's the best portrayal of humanity in a superhero film I've seen. So, it's fun to watch. You walk out laughing, and honestly feeling better for having watched it. For the universe, we have a character (maybe two, who knows? Oh wait, I do...) who is completely established. Ant-Man is ready to enter the realm of the Avengers. As far as tie-ins go, we got to see a pretty epic fight between an Avenger and the Ant, and we saw that HYDRA is still kicking pretty hard, though they weren't a huge part of the story. I won't spoil the post-credits scene, but it also nicely leads into the next film, Captain America: Civil War.
In conclusion, this fits very comfortably into my top three Marvel films list, joining Thor and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was fun, fresh, and really made me a fan of Ant-Man. He's cool, guys! I promise! About the only issue I had with the film was the villain. Cross wasn't bad, but he reminded me too much of Obadiah Stane, only not as well acted or treacherous. Besides that, it was one of the best stand-alone or origin films in the MCU. It certainly didn't match the scale of the Avengers films, or Cap 2, but, sometimes we need a more human superhero film.