Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Ant-Man and The Wasp.
It may not be most long-awaited, game-changing, or critically-lauded superhero film of the year, but Ant-Man and The Wasp was the follow-up Marvel fans (and maybe the summer blockbuster season, period) needed after the shell-shock of Avengers: Infinity War.
A light-touch action-comedy with relatively small stakes (can Janet Van Dyne be rescued from the Quantum Realm? Will Scott Lang pull off his mission without being discovered and thus escape his house arrest sentence?) and character relationships that are decidedly human-scale (even the phase-shifting "villain" Ghost is ultimately just trying to cure herself of a painful condition), it bounds along with an energy more akin to a late-1990s sci-fi comedy in the vein of The Nutty Professor or Flubber than the rest of its Marvel brethren; identifiable as a "superhero" movie chiefly in the sense that its title characters have costumes and nicknames and Scott is all-too-eager to remind his colleagues that he (briefly) fought alongside Captain America.
All told, a fitting form for a property that's become something like the "sherbert course" of Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, after Avengers: Infinity War, that was just what was needed.
- This Page: Ant-Man 1 Was What The MCU Needed After Age of Ultron
- Page 2: Hank Pym Makes Ant-Man and the Wasp The Perfect Counterpoint To Infinity War
Ant-Man 1 Was What The MCU Needed After Age of Ultron
It's easy to forget, particularly in hindsight, that the MCU was in something of an uneasy place (or, at least, as close to "uneasy" as things had gotten for the essentially-bulletproof box-office juggernaut that the Disney/Marvel machine has evolved into by this point) when the original Ant-Man was poised to open. While a major hit initially embraced with solid enthusiasm by fans and audiences, Avengers: Age of Ultron was not quite as universally-hailed as the original Avengers, facing stiffer criticism for too many world-building side-stories and what some saw as an uncomfortably-rendered subplot about Black Widow's infertility-anxieties. More troublingly, rumors of breaking-point tensions between actors, filmmakers and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige with Marvel-proper's infamously-prickly CEO Ike Perlmutter had begun to swirl in the press alongside talk of "creative burnout" around director Joss Whedon.
If there was ever a point where the grand MCU "experiment" could have begun to slide in the wrong direction early, this would have been it (though some tension would eventually be relieved when Disney split Marvel Studios into its own division to negate Perlmutter's influence over the films), and Ant-Man was widely expected to produce more issues. A long-delayed feature based on a largely-unknown character, it had been meant to show off the ability of the Cinematic Universe to incorporate the auteur sensibilities of iconoclast comedy director Edgar Wright... but would instead arrive completed under a (largely unfair) cloud of fanboy suspicion by Peyton Reed after Wright bailed on the project. It was a minor movie primed to face massive scrutiny.
And yet, thanks in no small part to an exceptionally sly "lean into the skid" humor-focused marketing campaign and the fact that Reed and Marvel had hammered together a decidedly solid family-friendly action-comedy against all odds, Ant-Man turned out to be not simply a fun time at the movies in its own right and the launch-pad for yet another successful Marvel franchise but proof positive that the genre itself was capable of some much-needed deflation. The film's signature visual-gag, zooming out from "epic" bug-sized battles to reveal the thunderous explosions and clashing fisticuffs as little more than action-figures clattering around on a play-table, was exactly the sort of endearing mockery the MCU and superheroes, in general, were due for after the deadeningly-serious Sturm-und-Drang that had characterized Avengers: Age of Ultron's city-flattening brand of finale.
That's not to say there was nothing "serious" happening in Ant-Man, or that there aren't similarly weighty things going on in its sequel. Indeed, given that we're talking about the made-up lives of costumed cartoon-characters the degree to which any of these proceedings matter is all a matter of setup and execution: Audiences didn't burst out laughing at Batman v Superman's "Martha Moment" even as they sobbed through Guardians of The Galaxy 2's Ravager Funeral because weepy raccoons and space-pirates are more innately compelling than human beings who miss their mothers - one film simply connected more with the audience than the other. So it was with Ant-Man, where for all the even-silly-for-a-Marvel-movie gags, Scott Lang and Hank Pym's shared quest (they both want to undo past failings as fathers) registered deeply with filmgoers.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019