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Ant-Man Is Only Eight Years Old, but Marvel Could Never Make it Today

There’s nothing like the original.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has long been accused of being bland, but no one can deny that it’s been innovative. The franchise revolutionized the idea of a cinematic universe, the use of VFX technology in superhero movies, and the now-iconic post-credits scene. But its most interesting innovation is also the hardest to quantify: it turned superhero movies into a genre of their own, a formula that countless movies both in the MCU and beyond have built on.

This wasn’t always the case. As recently as 2015, Marvel made a genre movie with a superhero twist, instead of the inverse that’s become standard for the MCU.

Ant-Man had a long and arduous path to the screen. In 2006, the movie began development with Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright attached, but after delays, three script drafts, and scheduling issues, he left the project, citing creative differences. Bring it On director Peyton Reed took the helm, but the story and screenplay credits were still given to Wright.

The result is the bones of an Edgar Wright movie — a boisterous celebration of a classic genre, in this case the heist film, that satirizes while still being a pitch-perfect example — dressed as a Marvel movie. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a cat burglar commissioned by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to steal the powerful Yellowjacket suit from Pym’s former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

Aiding them is Pym’s old Ant-Man suit, which Scott learns to control after a classic training montage. He learns to wrangle ants, strategically shrink and enlarge objects, and tackle the dangers of the Quantum Realm, dangers that now form the basis of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

But both superhero and heist movies are only as good as the human motivation behind the action, and in Ant-Man that comes in the form of Cassie Lang (Abby Ryder Fortson), Scott’s daughter. As an ex-con, seeing her is his primary motivation, which Cross knows and uses against him.

But what makes Ant-Man one of the best MCU movies is how little it feels like an MCU movie. It’s the last gasp of the franchise’s experimental phase, when directors still had the latitude to play around and see what worked. The movies have since abandoned that sense of freedom, although the MCU has somewhat reclaimed it via Disney+ streaming television. Ant-Man is the She-Hulk of Marvel movies: a bit goofier, built on an existing genre, and only tangentially connected to the core of the franchise.

Scott’s relationship with Cassie cements the humanity of his character, and the threat of losing her raises the stakes.

Marvel Studios

Recently, every MCU movie has dealt with mortality and the afterlife, the time-space continuum, or the multiverse theory, and it’s all become a bit rote. There’s something truly joyful about revisiting a superhero movie that would be an excellent heist movie even if it wasn’t connected to the MCU at all. So as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania draws near, it’s worth remembering a time when the MCU was still trying to figure itself out, and having fun doing it. We know what lies ahead for Scott Lang, but he had humble origins.

Ant-Man is now streaming on Disney+. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania premieres in theaters on February 17, 2023.

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