This post is part of Vox's ongoing coverage of Marvel and all its properties. Before you dig in, catch up on our reviews and discussions of Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the studio's other movies to date.
I owe Marvel an apology.
Two years ago, when the company announced it was moving forward with an Ant-Man movie, I rolled my eyes and let out one of my best "get a load of this guy" sighs. I was convinced that Ant-Man was the result of Marvel freebasing hubris. The company, which had recently released one of the greatest superhero films ever made, clearly believed it could do no wrong and was now devoting an entire film to one of the most aggravating and disappointing Avengers in comic book history.
Even the lifeless husk of meat known as the Sentry was a better Avenger than Ant-Man. If the Avengers were an NBA team, Ant-Man would be Kendrick Perkins — a man who would actually cost you points every minute he is on the floor. In Marvel's comics, there are times when the character induces an urge to drive a boat full of golden retriever pups into the treacherous arms of a kraken and down to their submarine graves (see: Avengers No. 213, where Ant-Man builds a dangerous, unstoppable robot for the sole purpose of redeeming himself with the Avengers).
Prior to Ant-Man's release, I frequently expressed my doubts about the guy, questioning everything from his abusive relationship with his wife to his corny, utterly idiotic ideas. Even Marvel editors have called him a failure. I was prepared to bury Marvel in an Ant-Man casket.
And then the company proved me wrong, delivering a movie with the same brilliant magic as many of its best films that reminded me of what makes Marvel so great.
Ant-Man honors Hank Pym's legacy with honesty
My initial hesitation with Ant-Man was rooted in the fact that the character's source material isn't very rich. Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, is burdened with an abrasive history that involves multiple failures, dozens of crooked, overly complicated schemes, and ambitions that outweigh his superpowers. That makes for an unlikable movie hero.
And Marvel, to my surprise, didn't shy away from that.
Pym's (Michael Douglas) convoluted scheme to loop in Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to do his bidding instead of his more-than-capable daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), is inefficient. Hope could have easily taken out Darren Cross, but that would have been too easy.
Easy isn't Pym's style. Pym is a jerk. We're supposed to empathize with Hope's frustration. And though Hope doesn't exist in the main Marvel comic book universe, the movie's storyline really gives us a taste of Pym's hard-headed and prickly personality without delving into the uglier parts of his comics-based past.
The movie smartly makes Cassie Lang the best part of Scott Lang's story
Hank and Hope's relationship in the film provides a gateway into and a contrast to Scott Lang's relationship with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Marvel stays close to Scott's comic roots, portraying him as a man who will do anything for his daughter — including breaking the law. The difference is that in the comics, Cassie has a heart condition (with expensive treatments) that serves as the impetus for Scott Lang's law-breaking ways; in the movie, Scott can't see Cassie because of a divorce and defaulting on child support.
Thanks in large part to Fortson being an absolute delight, Marvel was able to really deliver on Scott Lang's character, so much so that I kinda hope Scott and Cassie will get a movie of their own.
I'm worried that Marvel won't see Ant-Man as a success
Ant-Man only made $58 million in its opening weekend, the second-lowest domestic total for a Marvel movie to date. To be crystal clear, $58 million is a decent showing at the box office for any film that isn't a Marvel movie, but it's nowhere near what the company is used to. I have to wonder how much Ant-Man's release has been affected by Marvel fatigue, the title character's general lack of renown, and the cinematic onslaught of this summer's film slate (which includes Jurassic World,Avengers: Age of Ultron, Inside Out, Minions, Trainwreck, and more). There's also the possibility that Ant-Man could gain momentum, like 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy did, with strong word-of-mouth reviews.
What I'm hoping is that Marvel won't see Ant-Man's $58 million opening weekend as a bust. The movie is so much fun (the suitcase fight!) and so imaginative (the way director Peyton Reed plays with size and scale in his action sequences!) in a way that I haven't seen Marvel display since the first Iron Man movie. What Ant-Man does in its last 30 minutes is fantastic.
It would be an utter shame for Marvel to interpret the movie's lackluster box office as a sign that the risk it took didn't work.
So here's my official apology
I am sorry I thought Ant-Man was a terrible idea. You were right, and I was so very wrong. I really thought I'd be able to plant my flag in what was supposed to be a garbage fire of a film and declare Marvel dead.
Then you put me in a headlock and showed me the best half-hour of a comic book movie I've seen this year, daring me to find some kind of fault in its scrappy spirit. Ant-Man wasn't perfect, but I can't recall any instance in recent memory where I felt more joy at the movies than I did during its last act.
Please take my money and do great things with Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
I've never been happy to be so wrong,