Film

Sub-Atomic Particles and Brilliant Heist Sequences: 'Ant-Man' Masters the Tiny Universe

Corey Stoll as Darren Cross / Yellowjacket in Ant-Man (2015) (Amazon)

There are strong emotional stakes and likeable characters in Peyton Reed's Ant-Man, but they are all rooted in a, well, less than epic scale. This makes Ant-Man refreshing, an MCU palate cleanser.

Comics are inherently silly but even by comic book standards, Ant-Man, a superhero that can shrink to the size of an ant, is pretty silly. Despite the character being a founding member of the Avengers, Ant-Man never really caught on as a comic book. And yet, for the 12th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Marvel Studios gave the character a big screen adaptation.

Development of the film dates back to the earliest days of Marvel Studios, but the film was heavily delayed. Only after the monumental success of The Avengers (Whedon, 2012) did the studio have the confidence, the boldness, to risk adapting more niche properties such as Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man. And the risk paid off, though to a smaller degree with Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) than Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014).

I'm not being flippant when I say that "small" really is the key word when it comes to Ant-Man. The plot does not feature the same world-ending stakes as an Avengers film, instead focusing on a heist. The tone is not deep or self-serious, but light, fun, comedic. There are strong emotional stakes and likeable characters, but they are all rooted in a less than epic scale. This makes Ant-Man refreshing, an MCU palate cleanser. It proves that not every comic book film, or Marvel Film, needs to increase the scale to be successful. Sometimes the silly shrinking works even better.

Dr. Henry "Hank" Pym first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962), when the typical Marvel Comics output was science-fiction/horror anthology books. In his first story, written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber, and drawn by Jack Kirby, Pym is a scientist who shrinks himself and has a frightening experience in an ant hill. The story was a one-off tale, like most Marvel stories, but it was published just after Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961), and Marvel was transitioning into superhero comics.

Lee thought it would be fun to feature Pym again in Tales to Astonish #35 (September 1962), reimagining him as a shrinking superhero named Ant-Man. Superheroes took over Marvel Comics' output, and Ant-Man became the regular star of Tales to Astonish. Janet van Dyne is introduced in Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963) as Pym's lab assistant, but immediately becomes his crime-fighting partner, the Wasp, and romantic interest. Ant-Man and the Wasp are founding members of the Avengers in Avengers #1 (September 1963), and Pym soon reverses his shrinking formula to grow into Giant-Man.

Bee by image4you (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

But Ant-Man and the Wasp never achieved the widespread popularity of other Marvel characters at the time, and they certainly seem like third-string characters from the era that birthed Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil and even Doctor Strange. Their starring feature ended with Tales to Astonish #69 (July 1965), and they even left the Avengers in Avengers #15 (April 1965). They continued to be strong supporting characters, with many great stories occurring in later issues of The Avengers. The Wasp fared better over the years, particularly once later writers replaced her flighty, flirty attitude from the '60s with an actual personality. But I will save a deeper look into that character for my article on Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed, 2018).

Pym is a far more tumultuous, problematic character. He often struggles with mental health issues and an inferiority complex amongst his fellow heroes. He created Ultron, one of the Avengers' most enduring foes, and expresses guilt over that mistake. Throughout the years he constantly changes his superhero persona, from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket to the Wasp. He is known for erratic, sometimes violent behaviour, and infamously strikes Janet in an argument, which results in his expulsion from the Avengers. Marvel heroes tend to be deeply flawed and utterly human, and Hank Pym takes that concept further than most. He is troubling and fascinating.

In the late-'70s, with Pym constantly changing personas and acting erratic, writer David Michelinie saw an opportunity to pass the Ant-Man mantle to a new character. Michelinie and artist John Byrne introduce Scott Lang, a reformed burglar and Stark security consultant, in Avengers #181 (March 1979). Immediately after, he becomes the new Ant-Man in Marvel Premiere #47-48 (April-June 1979). In those issues, Lang's daughter, Cassie, is sick. When the doctor planning to perform Cassie's surgery is kidnapped by the nefarious Darren Cross, a corrupt businessman, Lang steals the original Ant-Man suit to save her and, thus, his daughter. After, Pym gives Lang his blessing to continue operating as Ant-Man.

Lang appears intermittently in various comics over the years but, like Pym, never gained massive popularity. He officially joins the Avengers in 2003, but dies in 2004. Cassie goes on to become a founding member of the Young Avengers, and that team saves Lang through time travel chicanery in 2012. The concept of passing the mantle onto a new character is not particularly common in Marvel Comics (it is far more common in DC Comics). But, with Pym's problematic history and neither Ant-Man ever gaining widespread popularity, the Ant-Man filmmakers hedged their bets and included both characters in the film.

Stan Lee shopped around an Ant-Man film in the late-'80s, around the release of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (Johnston, 1989), but it never gained traction. In May 2000, Ant-Man was one of 15 Marvel properties, including Captain America, Thor, and Black Panther, licenced to Artisan Entertainment for film adaptations. In 2003, Artisan was accepting Marvel-related pitches, and Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish pitched an Ant-Man film. It focused on Scott Lang and was a heist film, possessing a hard-edged, comedic Elmore Leonard quality.

First comic-book appearance of Ant-Man (Marvel Comics)

Nothing came of the pitch, Artisan was purchased by Lionsgate, Wright directed Shaun of the Dead (2004), his first feature, and the rights to the Marvel properties reverted back to Marvel. But Wright and Cornish held onto their Ant-Man idea, and even mentioned it to Kevin Feige in 2004. When Feige launched Marvel Studios and began developing the MCU in 2006, he hired Wright and Cornish to script Ant-Man for Wright to direct. Thus, Ant-Man entered development alongside Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) and The Incredible Hulk (Letterier, 2008).

At this point, Wright and Cornish's story still focused on Scott Lang, but it now included an older Hank Pym. It loosely adapted Scott's first Ant-Man story, including Scott's daughter, Cassie, and Darren Cross as the villain. But the film was not prioritized by Marvel and they decided to save the character until after The Avengers. This meant that Ant-Man would not co-found the Avengers in the MCU as he does in the comics, but it allowed Wright time to direct two more films, Hot Fuzz ( 2007) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), as he revised Ant-Man. By 2012, the screenplay was finalized and Wright directed a test sequence that was shown at San Diego Comic-Con to great acclaim.

Later that year, Marvel finally announced a 2015 release date. Wright completed his fourth feature, The World's End (2013), and then focused on finally making Ant-Man. By early 2014, Wright had assembled his crew and main cast, including Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Evangeline Lilly as Hank's daughter, Hope, and Corey Stoll as Darren Cross. But then, in May 2014, after eight years of work on the project and over a decade developing it, Edgar Wright left Ant-Man.

In Wright's words, he wanted to make a "Marvel" film, but Marvel did not want to make an "Edgar Wright" film. Marvel insisted on hiring other writers to rewrite the screenplay, presumably to bring it more in line with the rest of the MCU. Wright had only directed films that he had written, and he did not feel comfortable having his screenplay substantially changed by someone else before he directed. Members of the cast later claimed that Wright's screenplay, while fantastic, may not have fit well in the larger MCU, but that may just be saving face.

Adam McKay, a close friend of Rudd's, was tapped to rewrite and direct, but he declined to direct out of respect for Wright. He and Rudd revamped the screenplay, while Marvel hired Peyton Reed to direct. By all accounts, the overall structure of the film (Scott stealing the Ant-Man suit, being mentored by Hank, planning a heist, and an action climax in Cassie's bedroom) were all present in Wright's screenplay. McKay and Rudd's rewrite introduced scenes involving the subatomic "quantum realm" and Hank's wife, Janet/the Wasp, as well as a key scene at Avengers headquarters. These additions seem designed to tie the film closer to the MCU and set up future MCU events, which Wright seemed to resist.

First comic book appearance of Scott Lang's Ant-Man (Marvel Comics)

Wright has a loyal fanbase, and there were concerns that his departure would sour part of the audience on Ant-Man. More broadly speaking, public production conflicts, last-minute director changes, and reported rewrites from uncredited writers during filming typically indicate serious trouble for a film. But miraculously, Reed and his collaborators succeeded beyond all expectations. None of the behind-the-scenes drama translated onto the screen. Ant-Man is a breezy, comedic, fun, refreshingly small-scale Marvel film that is as likeable as its cast. Arguably, its success and quality in spite of its minimally popular source material and public production issues actually makes the film one of Marvel Studios' most impressive achievements.

Ant-Man opens in 1989 with the Triskelion, headquarters of SHIELD in Washington, DC, last seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo Brothers, 2014), under construction. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) barges into a meeting of SHIELD leaders, Howard Stark (John Slattery), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan), after learning that SHIELD is secretly attempting to replicate his shrinking formula. Douglas has been digitally de-aged to look like he walked off the set of The War of the Roses (DeVito, 1989) and Atwell has been aged-up 40years.

Director Peyton Reed was concerned about this being the first scene, since poor effects could immediately turn viewers off from the film. His concerns were unfounded, as the aging effects are impressive. The scene sets up Pym's work as Ant-Man, the loss of his wife Janet, his animosity towards SHIELD, and Pym's insistence that he will never let his scientific work fall into the wrong hands. But the scene's true importance is placing Hank Pym into the history of the MCU. Ant-Man may have missed the founding of the Avengers, but he was a SHIELD operative decades earlier.

The film then moves to the present day with a close-up of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) being punched in the face in prison. This is part of a goodbye ritual on the eve of Scott being released. Rudd is slightly more gruff and dishevelled than audiences are used to seeing him in these early scenes, but there is no hiding his immensely likeable charm. Scott is in prison for burglary. He blew the whistle on his employer's unethical business practices, which got him fired. In response, he leaked company records online, and broke into and vandalized the CEO's home. Then he went to prison.

There is a tension in the film between wanting to be true to Scott's comic book origins as a reformed convict and not wanting him to be too much of a bad guy. His crimes are therefore a bit of non-violent, Robin Hood-esque mischief for which he paid the price. Scott moves in with a trio of ex-cons, the irrepressibly cheery Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip "T.I." Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). Luis comes to Scott with a burglary job, but Scott insists on staying straight to earn the chance to see his young daughter.

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang / Ant-Man (© 2015 - Marvel Studios/Disney Enterprises / IMDB)

But that is not easy. Scott is fired from his job at Baskin-Robbins when they discover his criminal past ("Baskin-Robbins always finds out"). He is behind on child support, so his ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer), and her cop fiancé, Jim (Bobby Cannavale), refuse to let Scott see his six-year-old daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston). There is some mild social commentary in Scott's situation about the challenges facing convicted felons once they have paid their debt to society. They run out of options, and are often forced back into a life of crime. This happens to Scott when he takes Luis up on the burglary job.

One of the benefits of introducing Scott Lang to the MCU is that he is the everyman, doing his best in a tough world and trying to look after his daughter. Scott is smart and talented, but far more relatable than any other MCU hero to-date. He is not a super-genius, like Iron Man or Bruce Banner, a highly-trained soldier, like Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, or War Machine, or an alien god, like Thor. He is an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary adventures, giving Ant-Man a unique, fun tone. And, of course, Rudd's affable, funny persona perfectly sells Scott's relatability.

Scott accepting the job leads to the first Luis "tip montage", which immediately became the most iconic sequence in Ant-Man. Scott insists on knowing how Luis learned of the burglary job, so Luis tells him in his very particular, tangent-laden cadence. He explains that an old man has a large vault in his basement, and that he will be out of town. The old man's housekeeper told her boyfriend, who told Luis' brother, who told Luis. As Luis tells the tale, the film cuts to all of the characters in the chain lip-syncing along to Luis' monologue. Luis also gets distracted discussing his love of wines or the personal histories of characters. The sequence is hilarious, and launches the film into the first heist.

A montage depicts Scott, Luis, Dave and Kurt preparing to bypass security and break into the old house. Scott faces some obstacles along the way, like a fingerprint scanner and the age of the vault, but he brilliantly bypasses each one. This demonstrates Scott's physical, technical and problem-solving skills. Inside the vault, Scott only finds a strange suit and helmet, which he takes. All of this is secretly watched by Hank.

Hank Pym's wife, Janet, was lost shortly before he left SHIELD. His daughter, Hope (Evageline Lilly), was seven at the time (right around Cassie's age). Hank started Pym Technologies in San Francisco and became increasingly estranged from Hope over the years. He also kept his "Pym Particles", which shrink the space between atoms, making objects smaller and more dense, a closely guarded secret. Hank was ultimately pushed out of his company by Hope and his protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

Ever since, inspired by legends of the Ant-Man ("Tales to astonish!"), Cross has pursued shrinking technology. He has perfected shrinking inorganic matter and, as he nears a breakthrough in shrinking organic matter, he is looking to sell the technology to the highest bidder for use in combat. This worries Hope and Hank, and they are conspiring to stop Cross. Hope has Cross' trust and wants to use the Ant-Man suit herself to stop him. Hank insists on bringing in another party, a smart guy with burglary skills, to carry out the mission. He finds Scott, and arranged for the tip about his vault to get to Luis.

Scott is disappointed by the burglary, but tries on the suit out of curiosity. He presses a button on the glove, and shrinks down to the size of an ant in his bathtub. The shrinking effect is thrilling and beautifully rendered. Outlines of Scott linger briefly in the air as he shrinks, showing the decreasing progression. It is dynamic and matches the comic book art perfectly. Rather than build goofy-looking oversized sets or fully digital sets, Reed used macrophotography (ultra close-up filming) to capture locations from the shrunken perspective, then digitally placed Rudd in the shots. The detail is tremendous, from large dust particles in the air to tricks of light at that size. The echoing, distorted sound design also helps sell the illusion of miniaturization.

Hank speaks to Scott through the helmet, telling him that this is a test. Scott must outrun a flood of water as Luis starts a bath. He jumps out of the bathtub, falls through a crack in the floor, and ends up riding the grooves of a vinyl record in a downstairs club. Scott runs across the dance floor, avoiding stomping feet, then falls through a vent into another apartment. There he is vacuumed up. All the while, the film demonstrates the rules of shrinking: Scott can run fast, jump high, and his added density makes him tough. He escapes the vacuum, runs into a dinosaur-sized rat, and jumps out of the window to escape. He lands on the top of a car, and inside is Garrett Morris (an original cast member of Saturday Night Live who played Ant-Man in a popular superhero party sketch). Besides establishing the rules, the sequence demonstrates the fun that can be had with such unique superpowers.

Terrified by the experience, Scott returns the suit but gets arrested. While he is in jail, Jim expresses disappointment that Scott failed to turn things around for Cassie. Hank meets with Scott, offering to break him out and help him be with Cassie. Scott agrees, and escapes by shrinking in the Ant-Man suit and riding on a flying carpenter ant. Back at Hank's house, Hope makes it clear that she does not want Scott around, and Hank lays out the heist. They must destroy Cross' research, his "Cross Particles", and his shrinking combat suit, the Yellowjacket, before he sells the technology. Scott must quickly perfect the use of the Ant-Man suit, including the ability to mentally communicate and control ants, to break into Pym Technologies and take it all down.

Hank relates to Scott over their daughters, framing this mission as a chance to prove themselves to daughters who have lost faith in them. And so, the next section of the film follows the basic outline of a great heist film. The MCU was experimenting with filtering superhero films through other genres at this point, and Ant-Man presents a superhero film by way of the heist genre. With the characters assembled, the film proceeds to hit every major heist film beat.

(IMDB)

Every heist film needs a clear planning sequence. This is vital, because audiences need to understand the plan beforehand in order to understand whether the heist is going right or wrong later. If viewers are confused during the heist, they will disengage. So, Scott, Hank and Hope discuss the three objectives of the break-in: fry Cross' computer servers to erase the research, blow up the Cross Particles, and steal the Yellowjacket suit. But the Ant-Man planning montage also includes Scott training to use the Ant-Man suit. He fight trains with Hope, practices fast shrinking and growing, explores anthills, and tinkers with the suit. The planning sequence of a heist is also the opportunity for the main characters to interact. Ant-Man establishes interesting dynamics between them: Hank is a gruff mentor to Scott, and has a tense working relationship with Hope. Hope resents Scott's involvement, wanting to do the heist herself, and resents Hank for holding her back. Scott acts as a mediator, cutting through the tension between Hope and Hank.

Tensions culminate when Hope criticizes Scott for failing to control the ants and storms out. Scott chases after her to explain that he is expendable on the mission. Hank is more willing to risk his life than Hope's. Hope calms down and warms to Scott for the first time. When they return, Hank decides it is finally time to explain what happened to Hope's mother. Janet was Hank's partner, the Wasp. On a mission in 1987, Hank and Janet needed to stop a missile fired at the United States. The only way to infiltrate and disable the missile was to turn off the regulator on their suits, shrinking to subatomic size. Janet did so, and stopped the missile, but she continued to shrink endlessly until she was lost to the quantum realm. After, Hank lost himself in his work, trying to find Janet, and he became estranged from Hope in the process. And now, Hank refuses to let Hope wear the suit for fear of losing her like he lost Janet. This is all news to Hope, and it finally brings her closer to Hank.

The next important heist film sequence is the pre-heist heist, when one last element needs to be stolen to complete the main heist. It is an opportunity to demonstrate the skills and relationships that have developed during the planning. In Ant-Man, it is also an opportunity to introduce Scott to the larger MCU. Hank needs a poorly-explained old invention, stored at an old Stark facility in upstate New York. He sends Scott to retrieve it as a final test, but they realize too late that the facility is now the new Avengers headquarters (as of Whedon's 2015 Avengers: Age of Ultron). Scott is immediately detected by the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

First he awkwardly introduces himself as "Scott," then proudly as "Ant-Man", before admitting that Flacon will not know him as either. Then, of course, they fight. This is extremely common in superhero comics, a scene guest-starring another hero. The filmmakers imagined the Falcon sequence as a way to demonstrate Ant-Man's abilities against another established superhero, putting him on the level of the Avengers. It is completely extraneous to the film, but it's a lot of fun.

The next heist film sequence is the last-minute complication. Cross shows up at Hank's house to invite him to the presentation the next night (when the heist is to take place). It is unclear how much he knows about Hank's plans, but Cross immediately calls Hope demanding she increase security for the event. Scott insists they alter the plan, so he brings Luis, Dave and Kurt in to help. The trio brings a fun, funny element back into the film, and the last-minute new people and new plan makes the heist more uncertain. That is, of course, the purpose of the last-minute complication. After, Scott sneaks into Cassie's room, reminding him and the audience of his ultimate motivation.

The next major heist film sequence is, of course, the main heist. In most cases the plan works like clockwork, with only minor complications, up to a certain point. In Ant-Man, Scott shrinks into the water main to enter the building, floating on a raft of fire ants. Luis poses as a guard to reduce the water pressure and install Hank's invention. Luis blends in by whistling "It's a Small World", in a funny bit of Disney/Marvel synergy. Scott enters the building through the bathroom sink, uses bullet ants to take out another guard, and fries the servers. He plants bombs in the Cross Particles vault, then goes for the Yellowjacket suit. Meanwhile, Jim and his partner harass Hank for information on Scott's whereabouts, a minor complication that is overcome with a diversion from Dave and Kurt. The heist seems to be going perfectly until, as Scott approaches the Yellowjacket, everything goes to hell.

Everything going to hell is the next major heist film sequence, when the best laid plans of the characters fail and they are forced to improvise. This is the most exciting sequence of a heist film, but only if the plan is clearly-established and the audience is invested in the characters. Ant-Man succeeds at both. Cross reveals that he knows all about Hank's plan, and tries to shoot Hank. In the confusion, Hope defends Hank, Hank receives a non-fatal gunshot, one of Cross' buyers escapes with a vial of Particles, and Cross escapes with the Yellowjacket suit. Hope tends to Hank and orders Scott to go after Cross. Scott finally goes full Ant-Man, and it is exhilarating.

The film has been more heist than superhero film up to this point, but this sequence flips that balance and I love it. Scott encounters two guards who shoot at him through security glass. Scott shrinks, jumps through a bullet hole in the glass, knocks out one guard, hangs onto the barrel of the other guard's gun, then flips up to run along the top of the gun before knocking out the second guard. It is a showpiece action scene that fully demonstrates the unique potential of a shrinking superhero.

Luis sets off the fire alarm to evacuate the building, even remembering to carry out the guard he knocked out. Scott leads a swarm of flying carpenter ants to catch Cross on his helicopter, but Cross shoots Scott's favourite ant, Anthony, in the process. Scott fights Cross and his men on the helicopter until the Pym Technologies building explodes. The reaction of the Particles makes the explosion shrink into itself in a neat effect that brings to mind the ending of Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982). And with that, the heist is over, and the superhero climax begins.

But like so many things in Ant-Man, the climax is unique and smaller-scale. Around this time, critics were raising concerns about too many world-ending, city-destroying climaxes in blockbusters. Perhaps in response, Ant-Man kicks off a series of different kinds of MCU climaxes that continued through Captain America: Civil War (Russo Brothers, 2016) and Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016). Scott and Cross (wearing the Yellowjacket) end up in a briefcase tumbling out of the helicopter. Inside they fight, causing bits of shattered lifesaver candy to float around and accidentally making an iPhone play Plainsong by The Cure. They land in a family pool, then fight in the backyard until Scott whacks Cross into a bug zapper with a ping pong paddle. Several times in the sequence, the film cuts from a heated shrunken battle to the full-sized perspective, making everything seem hilariously minor. The furious briefcase battle ends with a little plop in a pool. Frenetic fighting in the backyard ends with a dull thwack of the paddle. It gets a laugh every time.

(Amazon)

Eventually, Cross finds Cassie, and the climactic battle moves to the train set in a little girl's bedroom. Avengers: Age of Ultron, two months earlier, ended with a small city hovering over the Earth, threatening to fall and destroy all life on the planet. But this is Ant-Man, things are smaller-scale even if the emotional stakes, a father protecting his daughter, are incredibly high. The two shrunken combatants run along the train like an old western. Cross ends up in the path of Thomas the Tank Engine, barreling towards him. But, from Cassie's perspective, the little toy train just derails with a quiet toot of its horn. The Thomas toy and a random ant are both enlarged by errant growth Particles during the battle, adding a surreal element to the fight.

Scott is unable to penetrate Cross' suit to disable it. So, just like Janet, Scott disables his regulator and goes subatomic to save Cassie. Cross is killed as his malfunctioning suit implodes, but Scott shrinks out of control. What follows is a delightful, completely unexpected psychedelic sequence of images. Scott shrinks to the size of atoms, then keeps shrinking through exotic backdrops until he passes through a strange, kaleidoscopic mirror realm and ends up, presumably, lost in the quantum realm. But, thinking of Cassie, Scott pulls his mind together enough to fit growing Particles in his regulator, and grow back to normal size.

Afterward, Scott reunites with Cassie, and his heroics earn him the chance to see her regularly. Scott Lang is unique among MCU heroes, a well-meaning, everyman goof motivated by love for his daughter. It sets him apart and makes him endlessly endearing. Scott's escape from the quantum realm reignites for Hank the possibility that Janet is alive. Also, Scott and Hope share an off-screen kiss. Finally, in one more tip montage, Luis informs Scott that Falcon is looking for him.

I love superhero films, the MCU films in particular, but I rarely watch them casually. Ant-Man is the MCU film that I am most likely to watch on a whim, when I am looking for something that is fun, funny and engaging. On a side note, Ant-Man is the only film I have ever seen in a theater outside of North America. My wife and I saw it in a cinema on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on our honeymoon and we were happy we did. The film should not have worked as well as it did, after a decade of development and the last-minute, very public departure of its writer-director. It works because it is light, funny, makes great use of its heist elements and, most of all, makes excellent use of its likeable cast.

Paul Rudd and Michael Peña are absolute delights, and it is nice to see an older movie star like Michael Douglas have fun with this kind of role, but everyone in the cast does a great job. The more serious, treacly parts of the film are often undercut by humour, a technique that also worked well in Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-Man also has an abundance of unique imagery that is only appropriate for a character of this stature. You will not see other superheroes running or flying with herds of ants, or riding on a raft of fire ants. Other superheroes will not be found inside vacuums and water pipes, or battling in a briefcase. Finally, Christophe Beck's fun, jazzy score ties it all together, and invokes great heist films with heavy use of horns and bongos.

Credit to Marvel Studio for, after all of their success, taking a chance on a smaller-scale, more niche film like Ant-Man. For context, Age of Ultron made $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office from a net production cost of $365 million. Ant-Man made $519 million worldwide from a net production cost of $130 million. Both films made about four times their costs at the worldwide box office, but Ant-Man, as in all things, was at a smaller scale. It is often regarded as a minor Marvel film, not as essential as others. But not every film needs to be an Avengers film to be successful or valuable. Not every climax needs to be about saving the world or destroying a city. Sometimes smaller can be refreshing, unique, exciting. Sometimes smaller can be better.

Stan Lee Cameo Corner: Stan appears in Luis' final tip montage as a bartender mouthing along to Luis' comment that an investigative journalist is "crazy, stupid fine." That's 24 cameos in 37 films.

Credits Scene(s):

• In the mid-credits, Hank leads Hope into a hidden area in his basement containing an unfinished prototype of a Wasp suit. He asks Hope to help him finish it for her. Echoing legions of female MCU fans longing for better representation, Hope says "It's about damn time." Unfortunately, it would take three more years to see that realized.

• After the credits is a scene from Captain America: Civil War featuring Falcon and Captain America (Chris Evans) discuss how to handle Bucky (Sebastian Stan). They need help, and Falcon says he knows a guy (implying Ant-Man is about to join the larger Marvel Universe)

First Appearances:

The main cast, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Tip Harris, David Dastmalchian, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, and Abby Ryder Forston all returned for Ant-Man and the Wasp, as did director Peyton Reed

Marvel Cinematic Universe Viewing Order: Ant-Man closes out Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

Phase 1
1. Iron Man
2. Iron Man 2
3. Thor
4. The Incredible Hulk
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
6. The Avengers

Phase 2
7. Iron Man 3
8. Thor: The Dark World
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
12. Ant-Man

Next Time: A half-hearted reboot of the Fantastic Four seems to finally kill their big-screen chances.

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