I tried to think of a neat, anecdotal, opening to this post, but nothing says it quite as eloquently as blatantly stating fact: Ant-man is a movie. If you had said this ten or fifteen years ago, comic fans would have been incredulous, and everyone else would ask who the hell Ant-man was.
It’s hard to process just how much progress has been made in superhero cinema since the new millenium. In 2005, between Spiderman movies, the trend was starting to take off with Batman Begins, and less successful attempts such as Fantastic Four, Constantine, and Elektra. Five years before that the only superhero film of note was X-Men (and, outside comic adaptations, Shyamalan’s Unbreakable). 2015 is a bit of an off-year in terms of Superheroes, with only the Fantastic Four reboot, Ant-Man, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, along with excitement mounting for X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, and, most of all, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. These three, and most notably the latter two, are going to be cinematic events.
Over the course of these past ten/fifteen years, we have seen a huge shift in these types of films. Not just in popularity, but in scope and connection. Civil War is connected to every movie that has come before it, and Dawn of Justice is connected to every movie that will come after it. And these films, as well as each of their kind, becomes part of a great, lumbering, cinematic beast. By going as deep in the Marvel roster as Ant-man shows just how many superhero movies there have been.
Much like Netflix’s Daredevil, Ant-man is refreshingly small-scale. Age of Ultron, as well as many of the movies before it, seemed to suggest that the whole world was at stake in their stories. The conflict in Ant-man simply felt more quaint. Each movie from Thor: the Dark World to Age of Ultron seems to have some type of extinction-level threat. The ante is seemingly upped after every movie, but it’s almost hard to believe there’s any real danger for the characters and for the rest of the world. So when Ant-man fights a threat of one man, it feels refreshing. By constantly having a world in total jeopardy, it takes away any real fear of the movie’s threat. Sure, a global threat is there in Ant-man but we worry more for characters.
Ant-man is both a symptom of the over-saturation of superhero cinema as well as a break from it. It shows that Marvel Studios is willing to take a break from their larger properties and spend time and money on a different project, as well as showing that not every character in their universe has to literally save the world. Here, Marvel Studios is both trying something bold and different, as well as expanding something they’ve already created.