After all the mass destruction that the Avengers unleashed in Age of Ultron, a break was welcome. More so considering the next movie would reunite the Avengers once again. As an audience, it could’ve bordered on fatigue seeing these superpowered beings and skilled assassins come together after merely a year. As trade pundits would inform you, frequent reunions serve to dampen audience interest in crossovers and which then dilutes their impact. Fortunately, Marvel was all the more wiser and chose instead to follow up an event with global consequences by a comparatively small-scale one; a movie that localized its conflict instead of featuring another save-the-end-of-the-world scenario. Enter Ant-Man.
Some would argue that the development story of Ant-Man and the struggles its production went through make for a more fascinating tale than the movie itself. Conceived as the branchild of Edgar Wright, Ant-Man was designed to be a superhero movie sitting in the heist film genre, with elements of Wright’s trademark witty, sharp humor and comedy interspersed with big action set pieces. Wright developed and shaped the movie’s DNA including its tone, the general temperament and the basic plot outline. It took so long though that by the time Wright was set to begin principal photography, the MCU had evolved considerably from the time Wright began writing, which was a pre Iron Man world in 2006. Seeking to incorporate changes to maintain coherence and continuity with the MCU among other things is what led to Wright’s frustration and eventual departure from the project, bringing Peyton Reed into the fold.
Reed’s arrival didn’t change the central narrative that much. It was still very much a movie about scientist Hank Pym trying to prevent misuse of his Pym Particle shrinking tech by rival / mentee Darren Cross by having Scott Lang don the tech to conduct an elaborate heist, destroying enemy secrets in the process. Reed did expand upon Evangeline Lily’s role as Hank’s daughter Hope Van Dyne. Wright’s departure also brought Paul Rudd into the writing fold and together with Reed, the duo hammered down the dialogue and characterizations, often consulting with the actors cast to develop their unique quirky personalities. I suspect some of this led to what we eventually see of Lang’s crew in T. J. Tip Harris’ Dave, David Dastmalchian’s Kurt and Michael Pena’s Luis, who all deliver standout performances that stick with you longer than the main characters do.
Ant-Man made extensive use of macrophotography as opposed to constructing its miniaturized environments using CGI. The result is a much more realistic view of the world as seen from Scott Lang’s perspective and something that’s easily evident in his first shrinking sequence. The shrinking itself replicates a comic book effect frequently seen in Ant-Man books where the character’s outline at different sizes is visible as he leaves a trail of his different proportions behind. There’s also some psychedelic visuals that the filmmakers embrace in their trippy trip to the Quantum Realm towards the movie’s end. On the whole, it looks visually fantastic which is doubly impressive given the crew lost 10 weeks of post-production time when Wright left the project.
In terms of its own uniqueness, Ant-Man does bring something new not just to the Marvel pantheon of films but the superhero genre as a whole. It’s probably the first superhero film that features two people sharing the mantle of the titular hero. In the film, Hank Pym, a former Ant-Man, mentors Scott Lang into becoming the new Ant-Man. This passing of torch from mentor to mentee is something that’s only hinted at in such films, as was the case in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. But never has an entire movie been dedicated to featuring both the characters embracing the role so prominently (feel free to correct me in the comments below).
Ant-Man is perhaps the single-most important movie in the context of the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. It’s hard to talk about this without giving anything away but suffice to say, if you’ve seen the trailers, read the breakdowns and been enamored by those white suits, you’ll already have an inkling of the importance of Ant-Man in the grand scheme of things. The Quantum Realm briefly seen at the end of the movie and revisited in more detail in Ant-Man and the Wasp ties directly into the plot of Endgame in a way we will realize fully once we’ve watched the movie. But to think a plot thread introduced in 2015 could be vital to one of the most important movies of 2019 is saying something about the planning that goes on behind the scenes in the studio.
That planning sometimes can, and does interfere with the movie and it sort of shows in the narrative deficiencies of Ant-Man. Characters often act the way they do for plot contrivances, as is the case when Pym readily doles out his life’s work that he’s worked so hard to keep hidden to a petty “good-hearted” thief who spent the last few years in jail. His reasoning, of not wanting to put his daughter in harm’s way, is again done with by the time we see the Wasp suit teased in a mid-credits stinger. Darren Cross, while portrayed with suitable depth by Corey Stoll in the limited scenes he gets, still appears as a villain for the sake of being a villain. And the plot has overtures to superhero movie plots likes Iron Man that were considered tempates by the time.
Regardless, Ant-Man was a success albeit on a small scale. It made $519 million worldwide which is great for what was expected of it (which was to fail miserably) but in essence, pales compared to the $409 million that an Avengers movie made for the same studio 2-3 months back. It’s also possible a lot of the money was made by backriding on the recent release of Age of Ultron which was still relatively fresh in moviegoers’ memory. But like I said, the importance of Ant-Man and Scott Lang in the grander scheme of things cannot be understated and will become a lot clearer once Endgame releases. To that end, it’s of paramount importance that this movie be seen on the Road to Avengers Endgame.