It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve gotten the chance to see a new release in theaters, and there have been a small handful of new releases that have come out on digital and home video in the past few weeks that I plan on visiting very soon. But Ant-Man initially felt like Marvel’s first risky venture. Arguably last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy was also considered a risk, but the hype leading up to the release along with all the trailers were exceedingly positive the entire way through. Here, the fan reaction has been hit or miss with all the promotional materials leading up to the release, not to mention the backlash when Edgar Wright dropped out as director shortly before filming. Considering that Marvel has essentially become its own machine, with a similar tone in all of its movies with variations falling more on the drama half of the equation, I went in with moderate expectations and I really enjoyed myself. It was almost as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy, though it did have a slightly different style of humor, and the action was also quite impressive considering it generally involves the hero becoming really small and back again.
It’s been only a little while since the last Marvel origin story, though this does take a different track as far as the origin goes. Both Scott Lang and Hank Pym are both well established in this film’s universe. Hank Pym had already gone on adventures as Ant-Man back in the 80’s under the direction of Agent Carter with a nice little cameo in the beginning. And he has since been retired for many years though he has kept the suit and the Pym Particles that power it away from the rest of his company. Meanwhile, Scott Lang has spent a few years behind bars for being a high stakes burglar. And not just a burglar, but a bit of a Robin Hood styled bandit who during one heist stole from a company who had been embezzling funds from its customers and deposited those funds back into all of their accounts. And this origin story has Scott Lang learning how to use the already established Ant-Man suit, as well as the ant communicator which allows all three of the heroes: Hank Pym, his daughter Hope, and Scott Lang to communicate with and command several different species of ants.
The humor in the film does feel reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s films where there is an action beat, or a dramatic beat, or even a romantic beat, which is immediately followed by a remark that undercuts the original beat. The biggest exception to this is Michael Pena’s retellings of how he learns of his scores, they are filled with random details of a specific conversation and follow along a “he said that she said that he said” game of telephone that’s visually hilarious as we get to see each link in the chain while they all move their lips to Pena’s voice. Since I always feel that humor in films is very subjective, I will say here that the humor almost always worked with me, especially during the micro action scenes that end up feeling completely absurd as Lang is running around a scale model getting shot at, or tossing around toy train cars as shown in the trailer.
One of the biggest complaints comes from a minor nitpick in the fantasy science as presented in the film. As explained here, the “science” of the Ant-Man suit involves decreasing the space between molecules. The side effect of this is that when he is small, he is extra dense and thus has disproportional strength at that size. There is one moment where Lang uses the same principles to make something bigger than it should be and it smashes a police car. By extrapolating the movie’s science, making something bigger would increase the distance between molecules and decrease the object’s density, so it would be large but not very heavy like Styrofoam.
Aside from the humor and origin story, there is the larger theme of the relationship between father and daughter (or son). There are essentially four of these relationships throughout the film. There’s the one between Scott Lang and his daughter Cassie. She is still very young and completely adores him even though he is a criminal and she lives with her mother and soon-to-be stepfather. Lang is doing everything he can to be the father that he thinks she deserves, and Hank Pym even capitalizes on that at one point. There’s also the semi-estranged relationship between Pym and his daughter Hope. They have been very distant for many years after the death of his wife/her mother Janet. And on top of those, there’s also the pseudo father/son relationship that Hank Pym has as a mentor to the villain Darren Cross and to Scott Lang. The real crux of the strong relationships is the truth. Even though we don’t get to see much behind Scott & Cassie’s relationship, she already has the impression that Lang has a reputation as a “bad man” and can see past that. Hank and Hope have this rift between them because of Hank hiding the truth about Janet’s death for all these years, and it’s not until he tells her the truth about what happened that they finally start to reconnect. And the mentor relationship between Pym and Cross was always doomed to failure from Cross’s obsession with the Pym particles combined with Pym’s reluctance to share any of that information with him, or even admit that it ever existed.
Overall, the action in the film was quite fun. It used the shrinking and growing gimmick of the Ant-Man suit just about as well as it could have been handled. There was always an air of silliness that comes with a hero called Ant-Man, but it still managed to make everything feel impactful and important. It also once again solved the question of why the Avengers aren’t called in to help with a literal line that says “Why don’t we just call the Avengers?” followed by a reasonable explanation. There’s even a great little fight scene between Ant-Man and one of the new members of the Avengers. It’s also nice to have a very stand-alone film that doesn’t overtly set up a future film every fifteen or twenty minutes, instead it just holds off until the mid-credits sting to tease what will happen in a future Marvel film. It’s a lot of fun, again it never quite hit the Guardians of the Galaxy level of fun, but it came pretty damn close to it. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.