Discussions of an Ant-Man film date back to the late 1980s, when Stan Lee first attempted to get the project off of the ground. None of the major studios showed any interest in it, and all plans were shelved until the early 2000s. Writer/director Edgar Wright wrote a treatment with his conspirator Joe Cornish, which they pitched to Marvel Studios in 2003 – despite claims that he never intended to pitch the film to anyone. Over the next several years, the script was adapted so that it included original Ant-Man Hank Pym as well as the current iteration Scott Lang. Over the next decade, the script was revised between Wright’s work on The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) and in late 2014 it finally entered production. However, in the months leading up to this—despite all the crew members being hired and ready to go—Wright left the project, citing creative differences. It was at this point that director Peyton Reed and writer Adam Mackay were brought in to finish the project. We may never know how Wright’s Ant-Man would have looked, but the film we got is, in my opinion, still one of the most entertaining movies in the MCU.
The plot follows cat-burglar Scott Lang as he pulls one last heist in the hopes of finding enough money to pay child support for his daughter Cassie, who he is not allowed to see otherwise. Instead, he finds himself in possession of the Ant-Man suit, and at the beck and call of its creator Hank Pym, as well as his daughter Hope. Hank’s former protégé, and Hope’s, current boss is Darren Cross, who has created his own weaponised shrinking suit, which he intends to sell to the highest bidder. Which happens to be Hydra. It’s up to our new trio, as well as a few crooks that Scott knows, to pull off a heist in order to stop him. As somebody with a soft spot for heist movies like the Ocean’s trilogy, I really appreciate that the heist isn’t the sole focus. The majority of the plot is spent preparing for it, but it’s here to serve to different purposes. The first of these is training Scott to use the suit, since he’s going to continue using it, and the second is kickstarting the plot and allowing our characters the opportunity to bond. The heist is more of a catalyst than the focus of the narrative, what really drives the plot forward is the relationship between the characters, although there are still several Marvel Moments to remind you that this is a blockbuster.
Scott Lang is an extremely likable and sympathetic character. He’s a father, down on his luck, who can’t get a regular job due to his status as an ex-convict. His crime? Taking money from a company who was underpaying their employees, so that the CEOs could get bigger payslips, and returning that money to the employees. He’s a modern day Robin Hood… but the legal system doesn’t see him that way. After serving his time he lies about being an ex-con to procure a job at Baskin Robbins, but is fired once they find out. This isn’t an MCU or film issue, this is a real thing that happens to real people. The American Justice System functions on behalf of prison companies who make the most money when their cells are full. Coupled with companies refusing to hire ex-cons, it’s no wonder that so many return to a life of crime. The primary goal of the justice system should be reformation, not punishment, and Scott Lang is an embodiment of that. He also happens to be a caring father, and is portrayed with all of the charismatic charm of Paul Rudd.
The other father in this story is Hank Pym, who retired from SHIELD after they attempted to replicate his shrinking formula, The Pym Particle. His wife Janet sacrifices herself on a top secret mission but hides this information from Hope, who grows to resent him for keeping this from her and telling her that Janet died in a plane crash. In attempting to shield her from the pain, he has denied her the chance to grieve properly. Their journey is one of reconciliation, as Hank realises that he was over-protective, and Hope understands why. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful relationships in the entire MCU.
I believe that these relationships, as well as a healthy amount of comedic action, were what Wright’s Ant-Man would have focussed on. Of course, we may never know for sure, but I have my suspicions about where Marvel may have stepped in. The first is anything connected to The Avengers, and the second is the villain. During Scott’s first mission, he must retrieve a gadget from one of Hank’s old warehouses, however things quickly go awry when he discovers that this warehouse is now home to The Avengers. This leads to a fight between Scott and Sam Wilson, who I suspect may have been the only hero available at the time. Meanwhile, Darren Cross is a decent villain with solid motivation, but at the beginning of the third act he becomes straight up evil. He’s selling his tech to Hydra, shooting Hank and holding Cassie hostage. This is supposedly due to his variation of the Pym Particle being unstable and altering his brain waves, but I wonder if the more likely reason might be a corporate one. I feel like these two scenarios lessen the impact of the film slightly by pulling you out of a character driven story and into an action blockbuster, which would be decent enough reason to leave a project.
For me, there are two factors that help Ant-Man stand out from most other MCU instalments. Firstly, this film is funny. Other films in the MCU have humour, but they would still be classed as action-adventure, whilst this is definitely a comedy. There are some particularly effective visual gags which make brilliant used of Pym’s shrinking and enlarging tech, specifically one featuring beloved children’s character Thomas the Tank Engine. The second is the wonderful score composed by Christophe Beck. The comparisons to James Bond are plentiful, so I will instead compare it to the work of Murray Gold whose music was instrumental in shaping the revived run of Doctor Who. He filled his music with the amount of energy and heart that was a core component of the show, and Beck’s score fills me with a similar sense of excitement, especially the Ant-Man theme itself which has all the whimsy of Rob Grainer’s original Doctor Who theme.
Ant-Man was released mere months after the tonally dark Avengers: Age of Ultron, and was exactly the kind of palette cleanser the fandom required. There were no long-lasting or even short-lasting ramifications aside from an Avengers connection and the introduction of the Quantum Realm, so it very nearly stands on its own. This isn’t the last origin story we’ll be seeing in the MCU, but I think it is the last one that feels like it doesn’t have any commitments, set-up or connections to the bigger picture. My opinion of it only continues to grow.