Phase two of the MCU was all about expanding and enriching the universe built in phase one. With the past films we saw expansion into Marvel’s cosmic locations, the introduction of more infinity stones, and the integration of many more fan-favorite characters. All of these changes were in line with the expectations set by the massively successful phase one which culminated in The Avengers, Marvel’s most ambitious film at the time. This meant that because phase two had met, challenged, and often exceeded those expectations, fans were eagerly awaiting the groundbreaking film that would surely finish out phase two.
Understandably then when Ant-Man was announced to be this final phase two film there was a certain amount of trepidation from the fans. How could Ant-Man live up to the bar set by the rest of phase two? With the announcement of a cast of characters including a retired Hank Pym, the less popular Scott Lang, and original characters, the trepidation only grew. I went into Ant-Man with this same reluctance but the film surprised me. It introduced a concept that is central to superhero comics and will, I’m sure, prove to be essential at the close of phase three: legacy.
Ant-Man follows Scott Lang as he tries to live up to the expectations of his mentor, reputation, and family. Each aspect works to introduce legacy to an MCU audience that at this point couldn’t imagine a future for the franchise without its current stars. In a subtle way, the story of Scott proving himself as the world’s smallest hero in these ways reflects the uphill battle any character would have trying to fill the giant shoes of any of the current MCU lineup.
Scott’s mentor, Hank Pym, is a character who needs no introduction to comic fans. As a founding member of the 616 Avengers, he casts a big shadow. In the film he’s given similarly impressive credentials as a former member of S.H.I.E.L.D. and founder of his own company. He is set up as a hero who has contributed a lot but needs to pass on his mantle to a new generation. Scott is nowhere near the perfect man for the job and no one is going to easily take over Hank’s old suit.
By the close of the film, however, Scott has proved to Hank and the audience that someone new can fill those shoes. The relationship built between them was good for the chemistry of the movie but it served a greater purpose for the MCU as a whole. Scott and Hank working together shows the audience that someone new and vastly different can take over for an old hero who doesn’t completely fit in where he used to. It doesn’t have to mean the end for Hank, but it can bring in a new crop of heroes to carry on the torch. With the looming ending of contracts for big stars in the MCU this message was one the audience needed.
In the same vein, the introduction of Scott’s daughter, Cassie, played with legacy in an even more understated way. Because of her place in the Young Avengers in the comics universe, her introduction suggests a larger picture of what may be coming in the future (and if the next phase casting rumors are to be believed, sooner than later). Scott is positioned between Hank and Cassie, taking up Hank’s mantle and preparing it for his daughter when she gets older. Cassie and her belief in her father throughout the film is an anchor to the concept of legacy. She gives the audience a reason to trust and root for Scott and subtly gives us something to look forward to for the future of the MCU.
All in all, Ant-Man was received pretty positively. It was funny, engaging, and heart-warming. Despite its smaller stakes (compared to its galactic predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy), it fit well into the larger universe and proved a comforting ending to phase two. The impact of Ant-Man wasn’t a clue to bigger mystery of Thanos and his plans and it didn’t provide closure to any hero’s story. What it did do was offer hope for the new directions the MCU went in phase three and a guiding hand for the audience now with the bigger changes on the horizon.
[Photo courtesy of IMDB]