Marvel’s Tiniest Hero has the Biggest Heart

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How does one follow up the enormous battles of Marvel’s Avengers Age of Ultron? For Marvel the answer is to make things smaller and introduce (finally) a founding member of The Avengers, Ant-Man.

What Marvel has done so far with their Marvel Cinematic Universe has been impressive. Weaving multiple heroes from their individual films into two extremely successful Avengers movies. With each film the stakes have been raised, not only for the heroes, but for the studio as well, to deliver bigger and more impressive spectacles with each new film. Age of Ultron was a colossal film that followed the general Marvel movie template; gather your heroes, threaten the world, look like the heroes can’t prevail, then heroes manage to save the world from destruction. It’s a format that has been hard to argue with as each film seems to draw larger and larger audiences.

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Ant-Man continues the MCU while stepping away from the formula a little bit. The stakes in Ant-Man are not global in scale (at least not imminently) but are more close to home as the main focus of the film is family.

On the surface Ant-Man is a heist movie. There are two robbery set-ups in the film that would be great set-pieces in movies of their own. But the truth of Ant-Man is that it is really about two fathers trying to do right in the eyes of their daughters. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd in the titular role) is trying to figure out how to get back into his daughter Cassie’s life after a stint in prison. Dr. Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas doing a bit of the mad scientist) struggle is repairing the relationship he lost with his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Both of these men are struggling with having made choices in the past that lead to separations both emotional and physical from their daughters. The Lang/Pym relationship is one of mentor and student, yes, but it’s more than that. Dr. Pym relates to Scott’s struggle and in that way they are each other’s emotional support. When Dr. Pym offers Scott the opportunity to be the hero his daughter still sees him as you can almost hear him wishing he could do the same with Hope. In this way Ant-Man finds an emotional grounding that has been somewhat lacking in the larger films like Age of Ultron. The struggles of Scott Lang and Dr. Hank Pym are familiar. They are the stakes that we can all relate to, of family, of mistakes and of hopeful redemption.

Antman 2Even the bad guy in this film struggles from a fractured father/son relationship with his mentor. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) was Dr. Pym’s protégé and has taken control of Pym Technologies. His ambition and his brilliance, which attracted Dr. Pym to him when he was younger, has morphed into a madness that has made him obsessed with rediscovering a secret technology that Dr. Pym refused to share with him.

This technology is the Pym Particle. An invention that allowed Dr. Pym to alter the space between atoms thus allowing him to shrink to the size of an ant while also increasing his strength; resulting in a human who can break into almost any protected facility and packs a punch with the equivalent strength of a gunshot. Dr. Pym’s fear is a world where this technology is loose and armies of tiny super soldiers are able to carry out devastating surprise attacks and assassinations all over the world. His fears come from having been the Ant-Man for S.H.I.E.L.D. and seeing first hand how the governments of the world could use the technology he created.

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The only way to stop Darren Cross from successfully completing his own weapon (The Yellowjacket) is for Dr. Pym and Hope to train Scott how to fight, how to use the Ant-Man suit, and how to communicate with an army of ants so that he can engage them as his partners in his mission. The special effects for the suit are superb and the macro photography, while excellent, is kept to a minimum.

While the film is smaller in scope and the action is kept more confined and contained than in other Marvel films there is still plenty of connective tissue to the MCU to keep hardcore fans satisfied. Fans of Avengers: Age of Ultron will recognize a certain training facility, and Captain America fans will recognize the building being constructed in the 1980’s flashbacks is the  Triskelion, a.k.a. the headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D., from Captain America The Winter Soldier.

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Ant-Man is not the biggest or the best film in the MCU. Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air for Marvel fans. It is a very entertaining and engaging film that manages to introduce a lot of concepts that are going to be important to the MCU going forward while telling a much more intimate and personal tale of broken families within this universe. Kids will enjoy the special effects and teens and adults will greatly appreciate the humor. Especially when Scott Lang’s sidekick Luis (Michael Peña) shows up on screen and steals the show. And the climactic battle between Yellowjacket and Ant-Man is appropriately action packed and colorfully humorous.

Ant-Man opens nationwide July 17, 2015.

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