Ant-Man and the Wasp opened last weekend to one of Marvel’s lowest opening weekend grosses. This is absurd because the Ant-Man movies are among the best of the MCU.
Most of the time when I speak to casual Marvel fans, the Marvel movie they are least likely to have seen is Ant-Man. Even some dedicated Marvel fans overlook it. I can mostly understand why casual Marvel fans never gave Ant-Man a chance. Ant-Man was the first MCU film of a solo character who was not a part of the Avengers. While Guardians of the Galaxy came out the summer before Ant-Man, featuring characters who were also unfamiliar, it had a fantastic trailer that perfectly captured its tone.
Ant-Man’s trailer, however, was relatively awful. While Guardians of the Galaxy looked like no other superhero movie, Ant-Man’s trailer looked like a typical superhero action movie and gave the sense that Marvel ran out of ideas. It did have a few humorous moments, but in no sense did it capture the essence of what Ant-Man actually was.
Ant-Man is the perfect example to show the purpose for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy in completely opposite ways show the vast possibilities of stories Marvel can tell. While Guardians of the Galaxy has a cosmic scope, Ant-Man’s is tiny. Guardians has a whole team of unconventional and alien characters, while Ant-Man is about a normal guy.
On the surface, these comparisons show why Ant-Man seemed unappealing, but it is because of these reasons that the movie is so special. Guardians of the Galaxy, if anything, feels like it fits more into the Star Wars universe than the MCU. Ant-Man, however, fits perfectly into the MCU, yet feels completely removed.
The separation between Ant-Man and previous Marvel films is evident in the first scene when Hank Pym refuses to work with Howard Stark and SHIELD. Almost every Marvel film prior to Ant-Man has some connection to a Stark or SHIELD. With the film beginning with Pym’s resignation from SHIELD, Ant-Man clearly gestures that it is moving away from the world of superheroes.
Further, Ant-Man is even physically removed from the other Marvel films. While the Avengers are tearing up New York, Ant-Man is set in San Francisco. However, while Ant-Man is on the opposite coast of the Avengers, it is still in the same state as Iron Man’s Los Angeles. The film manages to stay aware of the world of superheroes while not exactly being a part of it.
Even the protagonist of Scott Lang is a departure from previous Marvel protagonists. First, he is a criminal. Yes, Scott’s crime is noble and done for the sake of greater good, but it does not change the fact that he is first introduced in jail. Even in the plot of the film, Scott and his team are trying to steal the Yellowjacket suit from Darren Cross. They are heroes because they are trying to stop Cross from selling the technology to Hydra, but they are still technically criminals. They are even actively opposing the Avengers through Ant-Man’s battle with Falcon.
This even sets the course for the future of the MCU, as by the end of Captain America: Civil War, most of the heroes, including Scott once again, are considered criminals despite attempting to do good. However, Scott is also unique because of his relatability. Marvel is likely as popular as it is largely because of its characters’ relatability. While most of the heroes have superpowers, they still always feel human and real.
Scott takes this a step further by actually feeling like a person who could exist in the real world. He is an intelligent guy, but his master’s in electrical engineering is no comparison to Bruce Banner’s seven PhDs. While he uses the Ant-Man suit, he neither created it nor does he have innate super abilities. Further, the movie takes its time in that he has to learn how to use the suit, and by the end of the film he is not even using it perfectly. Finally, Scott’s ultimate goal is to spend more time with his daughter, not necessarily to save the world.
Additionally, Ant-Man distinguishes itself from other Marvel films through its genre and tone. As Scott is trying to steal the Yellowjacket suit, Ant-Man becomes more of a heist film rather than just part of the superhero action genre. When the film was released, Marvel had barely begun to explore other genres.
Through being specifically a heist film, Ant-Man is able to maintain a fun energy that is unique to heist films, making it like no other superhero movie. Also, while most Marvel films have humorous elements, Ant-Man is one of the few, especially early, Marvel films that is a flat-out comedy. Many of the Marvel films employ a witty humor; however, Ant-Man is silly.
Ant-Man is able to maintain a unique brand of humor largely through the shrinking and growing technology. Because of its importance to the plot, the shrinking and growing never feels like a gimmick. Each instance where the technology is used is so visually creative that the humor never gets old. Additionally, all the characters have very conflicting personalities, so every scene is rife with humorous interactions, and the film is insanely quotable.
Ant-Man perfectly expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet in a familiar and relatable way that shows stories can exist of any scale, of any genre. Heroes can exist anywhere in any form. Even the film itself doesn’t have to look like a superhero movie (how many other movies, superhero or otherwise, can effectively establish an emotional connection to an ant?). It is disappointing that Ant-Man is often overlooked, but at least Ant-Man and the Wasp continues Ant-Man’s legacy of telling a unique story within the MCU, and hopefully creates a path for other films to do so.