OPINION: Why Marvel's Smallest Film has the Biggest Heart
Anyone who knows me knows that I love Ant-Man.
Since the first trailer for the original 2015 film dropped, I’ve been infatuated with the film, the character, and the role he plays in Marvel’s broader cinematic universe. Here’s a guy who not only is down on his luck, having lost years of his life during prison and for all intents and purposes, is no longer hire-able by just about anyone, but also has so much more to lose. Ant-Man takes its titular character and places him right on the line of losing everything, reminding us throughout that he’s been given a second-chance, and those don’t come around that often. Meaning that Scott, to put it simply, better not f*** up.
That is an extremely uncommon story to come across in a superhero film populated with morally squeaky-clean protagonists and billionaires with unthinkable technology. Tony Stark’s inciting incident is being caught in a terrorist attack, meanwhile Scott Lang’s is getting fired from Baskin-Robbins. It’s a cutesy difference that director Peyton Reed plays up for laughs, but not far below the surface, we see that it pains Scott. That ice cream job could’ve been the thing that got him back on his feet, but now he’s lost that too. In one of the most poignant scenes I’ve seen in a superhero film, Scott simply sits in his van one night and contemplates the days he has before he gets to see his daughter Cassie again.
This introduces us to the central conflict in the Ant-Man series which is that of breaking and mending relationships with the people in our lives. It may sound simple, but it is absolutely critical in understanding what exactly Peyton Reed is doing with these movies and deepens them in ways that feels far more intimate and personal than most other superhero films because of it. The dynamic between Scott, Hope, and Hank in the first film has been discussed ad nauseam, so I’d more like to talk about Scott’s relationship with the crew and his family, though all of the relationships and arcs in the film are important.
One of the very first character interactions we get is between Scott and his best friend, Luis (an absolute scene-stealer, I should mention) who tells him that his father just got deported and his girlfriend left him…but at least he’s got his van! This moment is really strange and funny, but it highlights that Luis, despite being an ex-convict and someone who has lost a lot, takes pleasure in the little things and values the relationships he still has with Scott and his newfound crew. That’s not something that Scott has quite learned how to do yet, but that’s because before we can make peace with what we’ve lost, we first need to gain something. This is true of every character in the series, but especially Scott seeing as he’s the hero of our story.
What I love so much about everything I described above is that those themes about relationship and the heart that ultimately serves as the crux of these films, isn’t something that works despite it being a superhero film, but rather because of it. Captain America works well as a character in his films despite the character being kinda hokey and old-fashioned, Doctor Strange works as a relatable tale despite his absurd, otherworldly powers. Ant-Man is such a lovable dork of a character that he could only ever be Ant-Man and as the audience, we completely understand why he’s a character as silly as Ant-Man. It plays right into everything we know about him, and is highlighted in scenes such as when he meets Falcon and they awkwardly banter about how stupid his name is. These aren’t the coolest or the flashiest powers at times, but much like in his life, these are the cards he’s been dealt, and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t become the best worst superhero around. It’s all about working within your means and doing it not only for yourself, but the ones you love.
Speaking of, let’s talk about Scott’s family.
Scott is a divorcee (oof) and his ex-wife has recently been remarried (double oof), with full-custody of their daughter Cassie due to Scott’s recent imprisonment and lack of keeping up with child support. Now most films would take that and twist it into a story about why Scott is a great guy and why his ex-wife and her new husband are bad guys, but as this entire piece is meaning to convey, Ant-Man isn’t like most films. It knows that relationships between people are fundamentally complicated, and while we understand that due to our day-to-day experiences, many films fail to properly convey it. Peyton Reed understands that while our empathy primarily lies with Scott, that those who are on the opposing side of him aren’t doing so to be cruel or unfair to him. His ex-wife, Maggie (played wonderfully by the forever underutilized Judy Greer) has just had her ex-convict/ex-husband/father of her child get out of prison and try to reinsert himself into the new life she’s forged for herself. It’s pretty obvious why she takes objection to that and why she tells Scott to get off of his ass and do the work before he can start acting as if nothing has changed, which by the end of the film he’s able to do and earn back her trust. After everything Scott must go through, he at last gets to sit down with his ex-wife and her new husband and their daughter to enjoy dinner. It’s not perfect and it may not even be ideal, but it’s the card Scott has been dealt and he’s going to make the most of it.
Ant-Man is sentimental without being saccharine, funny without becoming a sitcom, and knows full well to lean hard into its gee-whiz retro-futuristic origins to achieve a sense of awe and wonder that we rarely see in films in general today. However, with all those things in mind, it's still the tiny things that make Ant-Man a giant feat.
Written by: Scott from Twitter.