An outsider’s take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: ‘Ant-Man’ (2015) (Movie review)

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his blog series chronicles my first viewing of the complete MCU movie saga. I’ll examine each film under various categories that reflect popular discussion points. Next up is the 12th film, “Ant-Man” (2015):

STRENGTHS

It used to be that adventure movies on a micro scale (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “Innerspace,” “Small Soldiers,” “Toy Story”) evoked a sense of wonder. Here, it’s just another thing the MCU does so perfectly that it’s hardly worth remarking on. Still, there are some fun small-scale action scenes, and it’s neat to see the hero getting along with ants (even naming one “Ant-thony”), which are often portrayed as scary in these types of films. The innate likability of Paul Rudd as the new Ant-Man and Michael Douglas as the elder statesman Ant-Man propel the rest of the film.

WEAKNESSES

I suspect the burglar friends that Scott (Rudd) puts up with are widely liked by audiences. Admittedly, Luis’ (Michael Pena) inability to tell a story without unnecessary details is amusing. But these guys are caricatures more so than characters. “Ant-Man” also provides fodder for the argument that the MCU shunts aside female heroes, as I’ll address below.

It’s neat to see the hero getting along with ants (even naming one “Ant-thony”), which are often portrayed as scary in these types of films.

HEROES

“Ant-Man” has an unusual origin-story structure – I assume as a nod to the comic’s lore – in that the first Ant-Man, who hung up the suit years ago, hands off the reins to a new one. The elder, Hank Pym, is a good-hearted scientist; the younger, Scott Lang, is a good-hearted ex-con who is also playing out a Disney-style story where he wants visitation rights with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Amid the closing credits, Hank’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly from “Lost”) also gets the hand-off, as Hank is finally ready to let her take up the mantle from her late mother as The Wasp.

VILLAINS

Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll of “The Strain”) is another one of those Bizarro versions of the hero often found in origin stories. Cross aims to recreate the scientific breakthrough that Dr. Pym has been hiding, in order to rather unsubtly use it for evil.

WOMEN

Hank trains his new acquaintance and not-scientifically-inclined Scott to use the shrinking suit, disregarding his daughter Hope’s years of pleas that she be given a chance. It’s kind of a bad look, although to be fair Hank’s notion is to protect his daughter, not that he doesn’t think women are capable. After all, his wife, Janet, was the original Wasp. We see her sacrifice herself to destroy a nuclear missile in a flashback scene. Lacking a conversation between two women that isn’t about a man, “Ant-Men” fails the Bechdel Test.

MIRROR TO REALITY

“Ant-Man” shines a light on a very real plight for ex-cons: When they aim to go straight and enter the workforce, many jobs are shut off to them. Even Baskin Robbins won’t take Scott.

BEST ACTION SCENE

Ant-Man and Yellowjacket stage a final battle amid Cassie’s train set. The rules established earlier are put into play, including the fact that at small size they retain their full strength. We also see the power of the magic disks: Scott uses one to blow up the train engine to “full” size, thus wiping out a wall of the bedroom.

BEST COMEDIC MOMENT

“Ant-Man” is savvy for using normal filmmaking techniques within the wonder of the story of the shrinking technology. For example, we expect to see Scott fly through the keyhole in his training session, but he hasn’t mastered the timing yet. So we just hear him repeatedly crash into the door as Hope and Hank stand there, bemused.

WORLD BUILDING

We see that Hank (Douglas with decent but slightly distracting youthful-face CGI effects) was a scientist for S.H.I.E.L.D. back in the 1980s, and among the top members were John Slattery’s Howard Stark and Hayley Atwell’s (in excellent old-age makeup) Peggy Carter. So it’s clear now that S.H.I.E.L.D. existed well before “Iron Man,” even though Coulson is speaking in that film as if it’s a new agency. Later, Scott “borrows” a key piece of tech from the Avengers HQ (as seen at the end of “Age of Ultron”). In the post-credits tag, it’s hinted that Ant-Man – who had successfully gone to quantum size and back amid the final fight — could perhaps help the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who has sought refuge with his old friend Captain America (Chris Evans) and presumably wants to heal after decades of being mind-controlled.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a departure that brought us to outer space; “Ant-Man” is a departure that brings us to innerspace, if you will. In both cases, the tether to the wider narrative is maintained. While this film feels a little bit Disneyfied, it’s thoroughly enjoyable, with excellent explanation of the science and fun action scenes at the small scale. The way Hope is shunted aside from a potential hero’s journey in favor of a man is problematic. But this is just part one of the story. Hope will be the Wasp in this summer’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which gives her the honor of being the first woman in an MCU movie’s title – in the 20th MCU film.