Getting MCU fatigue yet? I have a feeling that Marvel was asking themselves the same thing when they made Ant-Man in 2015. Up until this point, with the exception of The Guardians of the Galaxy, these films had been so dramatic with very little levity in them. Sure, there was the occasional twist of Joss Whedon humor thrown in here and there, but for the most part they were played pretty seriously. This is strange when you consider that in the penultimate Avengers film, half of the living beings in the universe are wiped out by Thanos. Is that a spoiler alert? I do not know, particularly considering how being “dusted” became meme worthy in recent years. Then again, there is nothing goofy, really, about Ant-Man. What made it funny in a good way was mostly derived from choosing Paul Rudd to play Scott Lang/Ant-Man. When I first saw that comedy star Paul Rudd was going to playing the title character, I was a little confused. I will chalk this up as being used to serious people filling serious roles in serious superhero movies. Yet his wide-eyed pluckiness was the perfect way of bringing the audience into the world of this incredible shrinking crime fighter.
Lang starts out Ant-Man in prison, and indeed his criminal past would seemingly make him unfit to later don the specialized suit that makes him a superhero. He was also divorced, though remains devoted to his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), and his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) is soft on him too despite moving on. When Lang gets out of prison, he connects with his former cellmate Luis (Michael Peña) who has a special job in mind involving breaking into a home believed to hold a fortune. Luis hears of this through a hilarious montage where word of mouth goes from person-to-person, each one being narrated by Luis’ enthusiastic tones. Lang reluctantly agrees to the break-in, not wanting to go back to prison. The home, however, belongs to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the brilliant scientist and first person to hold the moniker of Ant-Man. Having followed Lang’s altruistic criminal record (yes, that can be a thing), Pym arranges the burglary as a test. He needs somebody younger and sprier to take on the suit because a former pupil of his, Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll), has less than charitable designs on Pym’s technology. Thus Pym needs Lang to pull off a heist to steal his ideas back. After a period where Lang learns the intricacies of operating the suit, including talking to insects (and naming them using various ant puns because who does not like a good ant pun), Lang is finally ready to make his move. In the meantime, though, Cross has more or less perfected Pym’s technology, and thus has his own suit ready to go head-to-head with Lang. Unfortunately for Lang, their fight spills over into Cassie’s bedroom, though it does give the audience the magic of seeing miniature people attempt to beat up each other with toys. In the end, Cross is defeated by having his suit tampered with so that he keeps shrinking forever. Why is that not a problem later in the MCU? I could not tell you. But for the purposes of this film, we know that such an outcome is bad.
Thus, Ant-Man is basically a redemption story. Who Lang reminds me of is the woman about to be stoned for adultery in John’s Gospel. In the film, nearly everyone writes off Lang as simply an ex-convict. He cannot find a legitimate job after getting out of jail. His ex-wife’s husband, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) who is a cop, cannot get past Lang’s criminal record. And though Pym handpicks Lang for the task of keeping the shrinking technology safe, the scientist continues to have trouble fully trusting the younger man. In John, when everyone is gathered to cast their stones at the woman, Jesus steps before the crowd to remind them that, in many respects, they are all like her and therefore could be put to death for their own crimes. Jesus’ act shows us that no matter what we do, we are all worthy of redemption and forgiveness. Of course, to make good on this Divine gift, we do not all have to perform heroic deeds as does Lang. And while not all of us will end up in prison for the things we have done, or lose families, it is nice to know that there is always a way forward.
I would be remiss, though, if I did not mention one small criticism of Ant-Man, though this has nothing to do with the content of the film to any great degree. It is simply that as good as it is, I feel it could have reached another level of greatness had they let Edgar Wright direct it. He wrote it, and was given an Executive Producer credit as well. When you watch it, and if you are familiar with his films, there is a bit of his flavor left in it too. But then they wanted to do a draft of the script without him, and that is just not his process for doing films. So he backed out. Admittedly, we will never know if it could have been even better with Wright at the helm. It is just that he is my guy.
If you have not seen Ant-Man, do so. I have no reservations recommending it to any age group, and I find the PG-13 rating a little puzzling. I do not recall any swear words. Maybe it is because an animal dies somewhat horrifically on screen? Either way, it is a fun breather from the universe harrowing films that surround it in the MCU.