Written by David Holland
I thought that each Marvel Phase ended with an Avengers movie. That’s how Phase 1 worked, after all. But it turns out that “Ultron” was not the end of Phase 2 – that honor belongs to Ant-Man. To be fair, I don’t think I was the only one who was a little bit skeptical of Ant-Man. A guy whose superpower is… getting smaller? That seems underwhelming. Also, Paul Rudd as an action hero? I think my skepticism was at least warranted. And I wasn’t alone. Apparently, when Paul Rudd told his nine-year-old son that he was going to play Ant-Man, his son replied “I can’t wait to see how stupid that is.” And yet Ant-Man goes on to play a pivotal role in the Civil War and Endgame. Not too shabby.
Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) proposed an action/adventure/comedy version of Ant-Man to Marvel in 2003. For those keeping score at home, that’s five years BEFORE “Iron Man” officially kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After the success of “Iron Man”, Disney bought Marvel and when the MCU became a thing, Wright asked Marvel to leave Ant-Man out of it, as he wanted his movie to stand alone. That’s why Ant-Man, one of the original Avengers in the comics, remained absent. In 2014, frustrated by the studio’s refusal to keep Ant-Man out of the MCU and other “creative differences”, Wright left the project and Peyton Reed took over, but kept the same release date. That means much of Wright’s original script and cast stayed the same. And speaking of the cast, Paul Rudd as a superhero? I was skeptical, but I was also wrong. Rudd is an awesome choice for Ant-Man given the tongue-in-cheek nature of the movie. And he’s supported by none other than Evangeline Lily and the American President.
How Does it Hold Up?
Not everyone loves the humorous take on superhero movies that have become common in the MCU. I understand that, even if I disagree with it. Those people will not like Ant-Man. Even if Edgar Wright left the project, his fingerprints are all over it, just short of putting Simon Pegg in the lead role. I don’t think “Ant-Man” works if it takes itself too seriously. After all, it’s a guy flying around on a carpenter ant. If you’re okay with action-comedy, Ant-Man will be right up your alley.
There’s one important flaw in Ant-Man. It’s nowhere near enough to ruin it, and it’s not unique to this movie, but it’s definitely annoying. When Hank Pym first recruits Scott Lang, Pym’s daughter Hope is present, and she is very opposed to Lang’s involvement in the plan to steal the Yellow Jacket suit and destroy all data related to it. We quickly learn a few things about Hope: she is trained in martial arts, she understands the science behind the Pym particle and the suit, she is already deep inside Darren Cross’s operation. But she is relegated to a support role in this movie so that she can train the hero. Again, Ant-Man is not the only movie to fall victim to this: Hermione does all the heavy lifting for seven books, Wyldstyle is the competent hero of The Lego Movie, Trinity does everything Neo does in The Matrix except without demi-god powers. In Ant-Man this is handwaved away when because Hank doesn’t want to lose Hope, but she becomes the Wasp in the sequel so that argument doesn’t really hold up. Here’s an idea: if your movie requires a training montage in which a woman has to teach the male hero how to do everything, just rewrite your script to make her the hero.
Theme: Second Chances
Scott is a former convict looking to turn his life around, Hank is a washed out scientist who has been boxed out of his own company, and Hope is hoping (pun intended) to resurrect her relationship with her father. The second chances in this movie abound. Scott Lang underscores how difficult it is to build a normal life once you have a record, and it’s played for laughs when he is fired from Baskin Robbins but it does highlight a very real problem. The path to his second chance comes through Hank, and only if he agrees to break the law again. In the end, the only main character not looking for redemption turns out to be Darren Cross, and his single-minded obsession is portrayed as his fundamental flaw.
That’s it for Phase 2! Next week we kick off Phase 3 with the Civil War, which unexpectedly got its set up in this very movie.