‘Ant-Man’ Returns the Heart to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

12 Days into our MCU rewatch, and Phase Two comes to a close with the necessary tonal shift of Ant-Man.

Ant Man Paul Rudd

“Baskin-Robbins always finds out.” Not only does America’s largest chain of customizable ice cream shops keep tabs on its employees’ criminal history, but Baskin-Robbins is also in the business of defining the morality of our heroes. While ex-con turned retail-warrior Scott Lang attempts to circumvent the axiom of “the customer is always right,” he’s pulled into the back office to face the judgment of the manager on duty. Dale, perfectly cast with Adult Swim’s Resident Expert Gregg Turkington, gives Lang the 4-1-1. You lied on your application, you’re a jailbird, and you’re fired. Be sure to help yourself to a Mango Fruit Blast on your way out.

Scott Lang isn’t an evil dude. He’s a criminal with a heart of gold. We know this because Paul Rudd plays him and Dale explained away his unlawful act before the heave-ho. “It wasn’t a violent crime; it was a cool crime.” Lang was an electrical engineer who discovered that his company was deceiving customers and he hacked their system to redistribute the theft back into the right hands. Listen to Baskin-Robbins; Lang stuck it to a bunch of billionaire fat-cats and was slapped for it. We should cheer him.

With Ant-Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes a detour through Elmore Leonard’s criminal principals and delivers a welcome relief to the audience before they dive back into the dour drama of Captain America: Civil War. Having just survived epic catastrophe at the hands of Tony Stark’s robot baby, we needed a good dose of joy. Peyton Reed, picking up the baton from Edgar Wright, offers a tremendous tonal shift with this superhero caper. When you’re watching these films back to back to back, Ant-Man truly feels like an escape from the heavy push towards Infinity War.

Ant Man And Ant

Shane Black brought his unique brand of flair to Iron Man 3, James Gunn contributed a whole heap of oddity in Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Russo Brothers injected cinematic reverence on top of conspiratorial dread with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Peyton Reed and Ant-Man close out Marvel’s Phase Two with a reminder of what got all us fanatics giddy in the first place. Like Tony Stark before his ego resulted in meteorites dropping from the sky, Scott Lang is a scalawag hero. He’s a punk, he’s a scamp, and he can’t help himself.

Scott Lang also happens to be the quintessential 21st Century Avenger. He’s a smart guy, but he’ll never be the smartest guy. Heart is his defining factor. Lang must ride the straight and narrow for the sake of his daughter. His only goal is to be the person she already thinks him to be. A crushingly difficult task when doors are constantly slamming in his face. He would do pretty much anything to earn her love.

That’s what captures the eye of Hank Pym, the real genius of the story. For the same reasons Lang caught the admiration of Dale, Pym manipulates the sadsack ex-con into stealing the Ant-Man suit from his old man millionaire vault. Pym needs an expendable fall guy to don the persona he once rocked in The Cold War so that his revolutionary particle doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. A.k.a. Darren Cross, one-time sycophantic admirer, transformed into crybaby science-terrorist.

Ant Man Hank Pym

I have missed this Michael Douglas. Not to say that he ever went away, he’s been routinely cranking out films nearly every year since he stepped off The Streets of San Francisco. Hank Pym, however, is the Michael Douglas who terrorized the streets of Tokyo in Black Rain. Hank Pym is the Michael Douglas who bullied his way into the bedroom of Basic Instinct. Hank Pym is the Michael Douglas who fought a haze of weed smoke to educate poor Tobey Maguire in Wonder Boys.

Pym is another MCU know-it-all. He’s as guilty of creating his problems as solving them. Marvel smarty-pants are doomed to this hero’s journey. Rather than revealing their emotions to their family and loved ones, Marvel good guys desperately hunt for workarounds to save the day. It always fails. Eventually, they must disclose their feelings if they want to get anything done.

Contextually, I understand why Pym’s daughter is kept to the sidelines. He loves her too much. He’s already lost his wife to his mad science, and he can’t bear to see his Hope fall victim to the same outcome. Admirable, blah, blah, blah.

Ant Man Lilly

Twelve films into the MCU, we needed The Wasp. Black Widow cannot balance out the sausage fest on her own. Also, in the few training montages, she’s allowed, it’s clear that Evangeline Lilly is a major league ass-kicker. Her Martin to Rudd’s Lewis adds 80% of the charm to Ant-Man. Now and then Paul Rudd needs the jokes slapped out of him. The Wasp is there to remind him of the stakes in their little adventure. She’s there to keep him focused on maintaining his relationship with his daughter, and not wasting their love away as her Dad did with her.

As the climax resolves domestic squabbles the Ant-Man and The Wasp sequel is primed to deliver the Remington Steele combo this universe so eagerly needed. Preserving the motivation of family and continuing to save his daughter’s world and not his own relegate Scott Lang’s adventures to their particular corner of the MCU. Sure, he’ll be called in to back up The Avengers when needed, but The Wasp will also be there to reign in his antics. No more solo Civil War detours once loved ones get un-dusted.

Ant-Man is not all fun and games, but its addition to the MCU is a necessary memorandum on the appeal of the Marvel hero. They needed to show that they could go back and do another Iron Man. Not a replication, but a slant on the scoundrel do-gooder. Scott Lang is a relatable good egg attempting life as best he can. He has problems like the rest of us but rises to the occasion like we all hope we would when push comes to shove. That’s always been the allure of comic book characters.

The Wasp

What Ant-Man Contributes to the MCU:

  • The Wasp – While she may not have been invited to either Civil War or Infinity War, but I am confident that Hope van Dyne will evolve into a major player in the MCU, and it didn’t take as long as it took Black Widow to gain some respect. Ant-Man revealed a character worthy of the suit, and now that her dad has opened his armory to her, we will discover a hero of immense power. Ant-Man’s superior half.
  • The Quantum Realm – The resilience of the entire universe may reside within the Quantum Realm, with the Avengers suiting up for Endgame to reverse that jerk Thanos’ bad deeds.
  • Luis and his Crew – Michael Peña is a gift to any movie, and he absolutely steals the show in Ant-Man. As the exuberant minor criminal looking to bring Scott Lang back into the life, Luis avoids culpability through sheer adorable charm. I can’t imagine him hanging out with The Avengers, but I’m willing to try. Marvel appears to have kept Lang’s cohorts for the solo adventures, but they should give Taika Waititi another one-shot to highlight their shenanigans.
  • Hank Pym – Like Luis, I don’t see Pym popping up in an Avengers event anytime soon, but I would love to witness his vicious smarm bumping up against Howard Stark’s annoying playboy son. Those cats are gonna hate each other.

Michael Pena

What Ant-Man Withholds from the MCU:

  • Yellowjacket – Is Darren Cross dead? He sure looked like he got scrunched up into oblivion by story’s end. Maybe he’s just trapped inside the Quantum Real with Janet? Corey Stole was not the most interesting bad guy, but he certainly wasn’t Marvel’s worst either. The Yellowjacket suit design just seems too cool to perish in one film.

Allred Ff

Further Reading:

FF Volume 1 Fantastic Faux” by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred – When the Fantastic Four take a family vacation through time and space, Reed Richards leaves Earth’s protection in the hands of Scott Lang, She-Hulk, Medusa, and world-renowned pop singer, Darla. Yeah, it’s a weird, wonderful little series that doesn’t get enough credit in the fan community. SPOILERS for the comic book life of Scott Lang: Dr. Doom killed his daughter. The moment the Fantastic Four vanish, Lang uses the Future Foundation to go after the madman. Fraction and Allred weave a sweet, sometimes somber adventure using some of the oddest ducks in the Marvel universe. Allred’s pop art style manages to accentuate the silly and the sad. This Scott Lang is not necessarily the one you’ll find in the film, he’s been through serious hell, but all the heart from Peyton Reed’s movie can be found on its pages.

Ant Man Fight

Read more from our series on the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

PHASE ONE

PHASE TWO

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.