While the last origin movie in the MCU was technically Guardians of the Galaxy, it was so materially unconventional it seems unfair to call that an origin story. That would make the last origin movie in the series Captain America: The First Avenger, way back in the first phase of the MCU. Just like every other aspect of a film franchise, the existence of The Avengers makes it difficult to do a simple origin story. This story needs to be anchored in the existing world, and the character needs a solid reason for not being present up till this moment.
In Ant Man, this is accomplished through figure of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man as played by Michael Douglas. He invented the Pym Particle, some logically inconsistent technology, and used that to become Ant-Man for SHIELD when we was younger, a hero that can become the size of an ant. Now, he is a paranoid old kook, shrinking into secrecy due to a history of being wronged by SHIELD and Howard Stark. He retreated into a small life that includes only himself and his company, which he has been ousted from. He has a strained relationship with his daughter, much like the younger man he recruits to be the new Ant-Man. The man he recruits is Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, a divorced ex-con thief who is struggling to get back on his feet and have a relationship with his daughter. This movie quickly delves into the heist genre, as Scott makes it clear from the beginning that he chooses to shrink from violence. This is a pretty big change from most superhero movies that have the heroes relying on their might to succeed. While there is a bigger sense of humor in this movie, perhaps growing from the fact that Adam McKay and Paul Rudd rewrote the script after the departure of Edgar Wright, there aren’t quite as many laughs as Guardians or Avengers. This is a very small movie, scaling down from the scope of the MCU to be perhaps the most self contained. There are references made to the Avengers and the events in Sokovia, and SHIELD and Stark play a role in the foundation, but the story operates in a pretty compact space. The small stakes are a little artificially enlargened by declaring the technology behind the Ant-Man suit a danger to the world if it got out, but compared to what we have already seen in the MCU, this movie operates under a microscope.
Ant-Man doesn’t do much to expand the MCU beyond the introduction of the Quantum Realm, a plane of existence below the atomic level and hasn’t yet come into play. The goofiness of the premise defines the light tone of this movie, from the gleeful sociopathy of the villain to the silliness of the ants-as-allies concept. Paul Rudd’s specific comedic style plays perfectly in this movie, and rightfully so since he was involved in the writing. This movie is as full of quirks as Guardians and illustrates the Marvel Identity I previously discussed, but with a unique visual style that really brings to life the experience of being tiny. Multiple viewings helped me to understand that this is supposed to be a small story and allowed me to enjoy it for what it is: a Marvel movie colored with the shades of a heist movie. The biggest problem with this movie is the logic behind the Pym particle being massively inconsistent, but the movie compensates for that with superficial explanations. As long as you don’t make it a big deal, it all makes enough sense to follow the story. And the story is the pleasing part here, it is the engine that drives the likeability of these characters and the movie’s unique humor.
I don’t understand the studio’s choice to make this the last movie of Phase 2 instead of Age of Ultron. This is an odd low point in the MCU’s trajectory, not because it misses its mark, but because of its small ambitions. It’s a grounded story that would fit snugly in the beginnings of the MCU, exceptional only because its introduction of the Quantum Realm, and successful only by virtue of its sizable charm. Ant-Man is fun, funny, and interesting, but it might have been a better fit when the stories were smaller, instead of being a contrast of the epic scale of the MCU. 3/5
Coming up next: Captain America: Civil War (2016)