This weekend, the world will welcome Ant-Man into the Marvel movie family. As far as superhero movies go, it’s a little offbeat and it seems to stray from the Avengers formula that has worked so well for Marvel. However, last summer a little film called Guardians of the Galaxy strayed from that formula, substituting goofy, off-the-wall characters for the handsome, serious likes of Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, and Nathasha Romanoff, and it did pretty well for itself.
Yet Ant-Man seems to be cut from a different cloth than Guardians or Avengers. For one, it hinges on Paul Rudd, who is eminently likable, but he hasn’t proven himself as any sort of action star. Again, we can look to Chris Pratt’s successful transition, but that’s likely more the exception than the rule.
So, going into its premiere week, we must ask:
Can Ant-Man be an Avengers-level character in the Marvel universe?
There are only a handful of reviews circulating so far and they seem to be mixed. It’s currently holding down a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn’t far from the 74% that Avengers: Age of Ultron scored, but is a far cry from the 89% Captain America: The Winter Soldier tallied up. The first Iron Man racked up an impressive 94%. So, thus far, Ant-Man seems to be a little behind the curve. It’s very early in the game here, but that’s what we have to go on, which isn’t much.
So let’s break the movie down based on what we do know in order to answer the million-dollar question as best we can:
Much of what’s made of a superhero movie lies in the direction, and Ant-Man has found its problems there as well. Originally, the film was set to be helmed by fanboy fave Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), but due to conflicts with Marvel on his approach, he stepped down. Several subsequent candidates said no as well, leaving Ant-Man with Peyton Reed, the director of several comedies (Bring It On, The Break-Up), but nothing approaching a big summer blockbuster. It’s possible he could hit this one out of the park, but his name won’t get anyone in theaters, and he’s certainly a gamble to bank an action movie, let alone a Marvel franchise, on.
Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is a thief tasked with protecting a new technology. That allows him to square off against heavy military bad guys, team up with scientists, and do lots of cool stuff in laboratories. And let’s not forget the superpower he obtains to get really small, yet really strong. All those plot points sound right in the Avengers‘ wheelhouse. They don’t have a thief yet. They have a scientist, a billionaire, a really old soldier, and a Norse God, but no thief. And Paul Rudd’s handsome enough to make the cut.
The fact that Ant-Man is fighting crime when he’s the size of a…well, you know, means that it would be a little hard for him to interact with the rest of the Avengers. And while the idea of a very tiny superhero stepping up with Thor, The Hulk, and the rest does sound ridiculous enough to be funny, getting down to Ant-Man’s scale of things would likely take its toll on what would otherwise be big, over-the-top action sequences.
Ant-Man’s alter-ego, Scott Lang, would be able to hold his own with anyone on-screen, as Paul Rudd is endlessly likable and can play off many of the actors in The Avengers. So that’s a huge asset. I mean, getting Paul Rudd up against RDJ in just a couple scenes would be well worth the price of admission.
Here’s where things get really tricky. Marvel loves to spread their characters all over the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), but there’s only so much story to go around. Even with all the sequels, spin-offs, and reboots, it’s getting about as crowded as Westeros is in Game of Thrones. Another character, even one as different and refreshing as Ant-Man should be, just wouldn’t have much room to operate.
Even as it is now, the Avengers movies are mighty crowded, and even the solo films are turning into Avengers movies, somewhat. That’s not a knock on Ant-Man, but more a testament to how well Marvel has developed its characters. Anyway, next up to step in with The Avengers is a newer, younger Spider-Man, so a crowded club is getting a little more full, anyway.
While the jury’s out on Ant-Man, the nature of the film, the star, and the director suggest that it’s better to accept this film at face value rather than try to cram the story and the character into a larger context such as the Avengers. HOWEVER, that’s easier said than done, as Marvel has a tendency to want to pepper every story with crossover characters and converging plots. Even if it doesn’t seem like a natural fit.
So while Ant-Man doesn’t feel like he’s Avengers material, it’s safe to say that after about a dozen Marvel films, the most important criteria for inclusion in that club is box office success. So whether or not he SHOULD be able to sit with all the other Marvel characters at the cool kids table (he shouldn’t, btw), it all comes down to box office performance. And that’s something that Marvel has little control over.
So, put another way, we may have a say in the matter, depending on whether or not we pony up to see Paul Rudd and Co. take on the newest Marvel story next week.