The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in that challenging and awkward stage where every new movie must somehow not only stand on its own, but also somehow weave its way into the larger MCU tapestry. Ant-Man does an admirable job of balancing those needs, better than even Age of Ultron (which was really more of a bridge to what’s to come rather than a movie in and of its own). Ant-Man establishes its new and quirky hero entirely on his own merits while at the same time hinting at what his role may be in the larger scheme of things. It’s also one of Marvel’s more off-beat movies, ala Guardians of the Galaxy, but whereas Guardians had this sort of easy-going charm, Ant-Man at times just feels like it’s trying too hard, which leaves some parts of the movie feeling forced, contrived, or derivative. Still, in light of some of its production troubles and less recognizable hero, Ant-Man ends up being a fun if forgettable entry into the larger MCU.
The best parts in Ant-Man are the extremely creative action scenes, which all use the shrinking aspect of the hero to excellent effect. It’s hard to do anything truly “different” with superheroes these days, what with big screen crowded with so many of them, so to see a different type of super hero action – some that didn’t include the destruction of a city for change – is nicely refreshing. However, while this aspect is one of the standout aspects of the film, most of the rest doesn’t quite reach the same heights. I think one of the problems is this film being in the shadow of Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie was quirky, funny, and weirdly charming. Ant-Man seems to be going for the same vibe, but often just feels like it’s trying too hard whereas Guardians was felt much more effortless. Had Ant-Man come out first, it might have been that “unique, quirky” super hero movie we hadn’t seen before, but as it is (and though it may not even be the case), it feels at times like its working hard to duplicate some of Guardians’ success. Plus, many of the dramatic moment feel rather forces and, quite frankly, not nearly as dramatic as the movie wants them to be. These are supposed to be the “heart” moments for the movie, but instead they’re fairly tedious and ultimately feel pretty unnecessary.
However, the smaller focus was the right change of pace to take, and the story of Scott Lang – a man who made some mistakes and wanted to make up for them – is one that we all need to here. At one point he’s told, “Everyone deserves a shot at redemption…” but then comes the crucial statement, “…are you ready to redeem yourself?” I couldn’t agree more with the statement that everyone deserves a shot at redemption; God believes the exact same thing; “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ…” (Romans 2:23-24). Yup, we’ve all messed up somehow, just like Scott Lang. And just like Scott Lang, we all deserve a shot at redemption. However, the difference is we just can’t redeem ourselves; the price of sin is too high. Fortunately, God absolutely agrees that we all deserve a shot at redemption, and so he provided us that shot through Jesus Christ. It’s through him that we find true, lasting, eternal redemption from all our sins. Some may balk at not being able to do it themselves, but given a choice, why wouldn’t one want to seize their opportunity to embrace redemption?
My biggest concern was, considering that the origin of Ultron was altered to make Tony Stark the creator instead of Hank Pym like in the comics, what need was there for Ant-Man to even be introduced into the MCU. Thanks to some fairly juicy Easter-egg scenes during the end credits that he will indeed play an important role…later on. For now, Ant-Man is more about being a fun, quirky heist film rather than having the burden of a bigger, Avengers-related scope. Overall it feels pretty inconsequential, but then again, having a movie just stand on its own may not be such a bad thing for the MCU. After all, Age of Ultron suffered from an overabundance of trying to tie everything together, so the obligatory but still fun mini-Avengers cross-over and mentions here were more than plenty. In short, one of the other strengths of this movie, to a lesser degree than Guardians of the Galaxy, is its willingness to just exist as much on its own as much as it can without having to tie-in with all the rest.
I like that Marvel isn’t afraid to try and make superstars out of super heroes that are less well-known and mainstream. Ant-Man certainly fits that category, and his standalone film is often times fun, fresh and creative; it can also be quite funny. Other times, though, it just feels like it’s trying too hard; like the awkward kid trying to blend in with all the cool ones. While Guardians was able to use that awkwardness to great and charming success, Ant-Man is less successful in following that formula. Still, Marvel has become so skilled at cranking these movies out and has perfected their formula to such a degree that even their lesser films are still pretty good. That’s where Ant-Man ranks; not among Marvel’s best, but it’s still a pretty good movie.