For the second time this summer, a Marvel movie opened below predictions, as Ant-Man, despite opening number one, banked the second-lowest opening in Marvel’s franchise machine with $58 million. This has led to more panicked cries of “What’s wrong with Marvel?!” and “the ship is sinking and everything is on fire!” But as with Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s not really a problem here except that Marvel’s success in recent years has been utterly insane so the yard stick is all f*cked up. Marvel isn’t considering this a loss—Ant-Man isn’t making crazy Avengers money, but they’ll still turn a profit, thanks to the movie’s “mere” $130 million price tag. If there is any lesson to be learned, it’s that Marvel needs to stop marketing all their movies like they’re the same. Nothing about Ant-Man’s ad campaign suggested that this is the family-friendliest movie Marvel has made yet, which probably cost them $10-20 million that went to Minions instead.
After Edgar Wright’s messy exit from the project last year, many wondered how Ant-Man could ever end up any good at all, since it seemed to be the victim of corporate oversight stifling creative flow, but the final result is actually one of Marvel’s best movies, and certainly its funniest. Director Peyton Reed keeps things tight—the movie clocks in at just under two hours—and the script, re-worked by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, is funny and focused. Wright’s script, co-written with Joe Cornish, survives in the form of the main heist plot, and everyone sticks to the spirit of Wright’s story about thieves trying and failing to go straight, though you can see the shadow of Wright’s movie, a darker story about recidivism, around the edges of what actually ended up on film.
Ant-Man opens with Scott Lang being released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for a Robin Hood-ish act of crime in which he siphoned the ill-gotten gains of an obviously evil corporation back to the customers whom they fleeced. Scott is determined to go straight, but can’t keep a job because of his record, and with his ex-wife barring him from seeing his daughter, he returns to crime to make ends meet. This is not the way we usually meet Avengers. We’re used to seeing the Avengers as larger-than-life, the stars of great tales—Steve Rogers literally went down in the history books.
But Scott Lang is just a guy. His most remarkable feature isn’t any type of specialness—he’s a dad. He has a grounded, mundane life and this becomes Ant-Man’s greatest strength. The stakes are not world-ending, it’s just whether or not Scott will get to see his daughter again, and if Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, obviously having a ball) and his own estranged daughter, Hope (a very good Evangeline Lilly), can reconcile, too. Fathers and daughters, particularly how fathers disappoint daughters, is a prominent theme in Ant-Man, and by making the stakes so personal, the movie succeeds in setting itself apart.
It also stands out visually, thanks to the “Incredible Shrinking Man” visual effects. Utilizing macrophotography, real objects were photographed for Ant-Man to interact with, giving his shrunken world a very tactile feel. But it also feeds into the smaller scale of the movie overall, as the climactic battle takes place on a toy train set. There are a lot of great visual gags, but it’s also somewhat of a relief to see a superhero movie end with just two people duking it out, no armies or city-wide destruction needed. Bigger is not always better, and Marvel movies have already gotten so big that it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to see more of them attempt to do what Ant-Man has done and find ways to bring the conflict down to a more personal level.
Though connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man is a very enjoyable movie on its own merit. Paul Rudd’s everyman charm is put to good use as Scott Lang, but Michael Pena walks away with the best parts of the movie as Scott’s former cell mate, Luis. And of course, the movie teases future Marvel properties, particularly for Lilly’s character, Hope Van Dyne. If Ant-Man gets a sequel they should just call it The Wasp and make it about Hope. We’ll be seeing more of Scott Lang, though, as Paul Rudd was on the set of Captain America: Civil War. It will be interesting to see how he fits into the larger Avenger landscape, since he stands out mostly by NOT fitting in. He is by far the most relatable hero Marvel has introduced, and Ant-Man is its most intimate movie. Well, as intimate as a superhero movie can be.