Spoilers follow for Ant-Man’s first two solo Marvel movies.
Ant-Man isn’t the first film that springs to mind when someone asks “What’s your favorite Marvel movie?”. In an era where superhero films dominate the theatrical landscape, it’s a relatively small fish in a big pond.
However, the 2015 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) flick shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. Sure, there are far grander spectacles, such as the Avengers movies, than this Peyton Reed-directed movie. There are more inventive MCU Disney Plus shows (Moon Knight, WandaVision) and crowd-pleasing films (Spider-Man: No Way Home), too. But Ant-Man, despite the diminutive stature of its hero, has one major thing going for it: it’s the MCU movie with the biggest heart.
Paternity for eternity
For all its superhero stylings and MCU mythos, Ant-Man is essentially a film about two fathers trying to do right by their daughters.
For Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), that’s attempting to be the dad that his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) needs him to be. Scott’s criminal past means his access to Cassie is practically non-existent, with ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and new fiance Jim Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) refusing to entertain visits from Scott. Unless he can hold down a real job and provide child support, visitation rights are on indefinite hold.
Ordinarily, viewers might be inclined to take Maggie and Jim’s side. After all, Scott is a convict who continually struggles to turn his life around. As the saying goes: old habits die hard – and, in Scott’s case, his inability to get out of the lawbreaking rut he’s in means we should root against him, especially if Cassie’s safety is ever threatened.
Yet Scott’s everyman persona, coupled with his clear love for Cassie, has us willing him to succeed. He’d had a good life – with a master’s degree in engineering, a good-paying job at VistaCorp, and a family to love and provide for – but all of that falls apart when he’s fired from VistaCorp, enacts Robin Hood-like revenge on them, and is sent to prison.
Scott, though, isn't an unrelatable criminal – he’s a well-meaning do-gooder. In fact, his desire to do the right thing, despite the personal consequences, actually makes him more sympathetic. Thanks to Rudd’s effervescence and likeability, Scott’s positioning as a charismatic, affable, and wisecracking individual means we can’t help but like him, either.
Equally, the tight, endearing relationship between Scott and Cassie is evident from the first scene they share. Rudd and Ryder Fortson’s dynamic is brimming with charm, humor, and genuine chemistry, and lends a real sense of believability to their familial bond. The disappointment in Scott’s eyes when he realizes he can’t see Cassie until he gets his life together is proof of his unwavering love for her. This is a dad who would do anything for his only child – clear foreshadowing to Avengers: Endgame and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, anyone? – and spells out just how gi-ant (pun intended) his heart is.
Scott’s relationship with Cassie fascinatingly juxtaposes the one Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) shares with his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly).
With Hank’s wife (and Hope’s mom) Janet van Dyne lost to the Quantum Realm – until 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, anyway – Hank and Hope’s bond has become so fractious it’s seemingly irreparable. Well, that’s the case until the duo starts working together. The reason? To stop Hank’s former protegé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from using Hank’s research to develop the Yellowjacket – an Ant-Man-like shrinking suit that’ll be used for espionage-style warfare – and sell it to criminal organizations.
Even then, though, Hank and Hope’s relationship is only a step away from rupturing again. Hope’s insistence on wearing the Ant-Man suit and stopping Cross clashes with Hank’s steadfast refusal to let her, owing to the fact he doesn’t want to lose the only family he has left. It’s why Hank tricks Scott into stealing the Ant-Man suit in the first place. Hank wants to bring in someone like Scott with the skills to burgle Cross’ technology – and someone who is expendable if the heist goes awry – so Hank doesn’t lose his daughter.
It’s these adjacent but opposing familial dynamics that make Ant-Man a thematically compelling watch. On one side, you have Scott, whose relationship with Cassie couldn’t be stronger despite their separation. On the other, Hank and Hope see each other every day, but the trauma they’ve endured, coupled with their broken relationship, has led to their estrangement.
Notably, it’s only when Scott joins Hank (and Hope) to stop Cross that the pair get a shot at redemption. In becoming the new Ant-Man, Scott transforms into the hero that Cassie already believes him to be. He saves the day, albeit in amusing circumstances – that Thomas the Tank Engine toy-based showdown between Scott and Cross will always be funny – and proves to Maggie and Jim he’s ready to step up.
Hank also patches up his relationship with Hope. He tells her the truth about Janet, including how she saved the world before she was lost to the Quantum Realm. He stops pushing Hope, too, by bringing her into the superhero fold and passing the Wasp suit – another Pym Particle-powered suit – onto her.
Without Scott, however, it’s arguable that Hank and Hope might never have made amends. Ant-Man was the first Marvel movie to introduce a second-generation superhero – if you discount Wanda and Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron – in Scott. In Hank, Scott also acquires the trusting albeit grouchy mentor he requires to reinvent himself.
Hank benefits from his father-son dynamic with Scott, too, though. Seeing the relationship Scott has with Cassie forces Hank to reconsider his bond with Hope, leading to his own change of heart. "Second chances don’t come around all that much," Hank tells Scott midway through Ant-Man. It’s heartening that Hank heeds his own advice, but it’s Scott who inadvertently salvages Hank and Hope’s relationship.
An important MCU component
Ant-Man isn’t an MCU film with an Avengers-level threat. Its flaws – namely, some choppy editing, occasionally ropey dialog, and an antagonist who’s nothing more than a carbon copy of its hero – prevent it from being one of the best superhero movies ever.
However, in a cinematic universe where daddy issues and familial trauma reign supreme, it’s refreshing to see a Marvel film that positively enforces the need for close-knit, loving family bonds. In Scott and Cassie Lang, Ant-Man explores the importance of having good – nay, great – relationships with people who are dear to you, regardless of how often you see them. It’s a rich thematic thread that Ant-Man and the Wasp similarly built on, and one that’ll be put to the test again in Ant-Man 3, which kickstarts Marvel Phase 5 on February 17.
Ant-Man is a smaller-scale, more intimate MCU movie than we’ve been used to, especially in recent years. But it’s a film that, primarily thanks to Scott and Cassie, is packed with emotional resonance that makes it worth rewatching. And that’s what makes Ant-Man not just an important cog in the MCU machine (even outside of his vital role in Avengers: Endgame), but a Marvel movie with the biggest heart imaginable.
For more MCU coverage, find out which Marvel projects made it onto our best Disney Plus shows and best Disney Plus movies lists. Additionally, read up on where Ant-Man ranks in our best Marvel movies guide.
Ant-Man is available to stream now on Disney Plus.