Story Profilers

Ant-Man: Marvel’s Overlooked Hero

Title: Ant-Man
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Marvel Cinematic Universe with Ants, Comedy with Ants, Drama with Ant(ony), Father-Daughter Bonding Time with Ants, Ants
Director: Peyton Reed
Personal Rating: 8.75/10

With $58 million coming in from Ant-Man‘s opening weekend, when hopeful projections anticipated a $60-65 million opening, this fun-sized superhero is now the proud owner of the second lowest box office opening of any Marvel movie, beat out only by The Incredible Hulk. That being said, it was still top of the box office, beating out animated flick Minions by a fair margin, and is getting a generally good reaction from critics and general audiences alike. Presumably, the movie will pick up even more box office steam as word gets out and people realize that controlling ants and the ability to become a human bullet aren’t quite as goofy superhero shticks as they at first seem.

For me, Ant-Man is tied (or close to it) with Guardians of the Galaxy as my favorite Marvel movie to date. Apparently I have a thing for superhero comedies with a lot of heart. I was also one of the very few in my circle of acquaintances who thought beforehand that the movie was going to be a lot of fun (Note: I’ve appreciated Ant-Man as a hero since discovering the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon on Netflix, so I had some bias). However, even I was surprised at the union between humor, action, and character drama. Ant-Man’s refreshing self-awareness only makes it better.

While Ant-Man performs the requisite superheroic antics – fighting bad guys, scuffling with the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), infiltrating fortified buildings, etc – he does so with a nice sense of humor and an almost self-deprecating awareness of how ridiculous calling yourself “the Ant-Man” can sound. Meanwhile, major fight scenes, happening on an ant-sized scale, are a humorous mix of dramatic action and playful nods to the fact that the combatants are the size of ants. Add to this the fact that the film plays around with some long-standing cliches of the superhero genre, most notably by largely ignoring a romantic subplot and by twisting the “dramatic sacrifice to give the hero something to fight for” trope, and the audience is gifted with a Marvel movie that feels unlike the majority of the MCU. Considering the film’s plot has nothing to do with the overarching MCU Infinity Gems storyline, Ant-Man is free to be a standalone interlude between the weightier Age of Ultron and the upcoming Civil War, a bit of comic relief before they rip everything apart.

Ant-Man‘s emotional weight is centered on the two father-daughter relationships powering the core plot: Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) attempt to reconnect with and make amends to his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), and Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) struggle to pull his life back together so he can spend time with his adorable young daughter Cassie (Abby Fortson). Hank’s and Scott’s pursuit of redemption is arguably the main story of the film, before even the effort to stop resident villain Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from selling Pym’s shrinking tech to the highest bidder. Sure the showdown between Ant-Man Scott and Yellowjacket Cross is a climactic battle, but the real success of the film, and the major payoff, is seeing Scott re-integrated into Cassie’s life and the assurance that Hank and Hope are getting a second chance at being family; they’ve been given a new set of wings, if you will (this is a bad pun, and I am not sorry).

By focusing on the tense dynamic between Hank and Hope, the writers were able to demonstrate their self-awareness once again and point out the oft-discussed gender disparity in the MCU. Hope is a highly intelligent trained fighter and one of Cross’ closest confidantes, a perfect spy and candidate for wearing the Ant-Man suit. In fact, if she had been given the suit when she wanted it, the shrink tech and data would have been recovered from Cross well before it ever went on the market. The film repeatedly reminds the audience of this fact. Hope says it; Scott Lang himself points out that she’s better. The writers know the situation is ridiculous, which makes the mid-credits stinger especially delightful and brings home the idea that this movie is more about redemption than saving the world. Hank sees Scott as a way to atone for his own mistakes while simultaneously protecting his daughter. Watching her train Scott allows him to realize she doesn’t need his protection; she needs his respect. Cue character growth all around.

Ant-Man is, first and foremost, a comedy. Michael Peña deserves special mention for his standout role as Luis, one of Scott’s criminal buddies (he stole TWO smoothie machines!) who manages to walk away with every scene he’s in without anybody caring. This film had cameos from Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, among others. I expect Luis to casually cameo in the background of future installments, or as a bizarre informant for his hero friends. But beyond the comedy and the action, Ant-Man is a heartfelt story about family. Our heroes turn in stellar performances as they try to work out their family dramas. Watching Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly butt heads is like being an observer at a Christmas dinner gone awry, while Paul Rudd’s slight shifts in tone and emotion as he interacts with his own family range from heartwarming to heart-wrenching. By comparison, Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross is a laughably cliche villainous villain, complete with needless cruelty to lambs and just shy of a maniacal laugh, but for me, this was just another thing to adore about the movie. Why would I need a deeply complex villain when I could have families rebuilding themselves?

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