The Marvel Moment
At the end of this month, Avengers: Endgame will bring to a head Marvel’s decade-long experiment in shared-universe storytelling. To mark the occasion, The A.V. Club is revisiting all 21 movies in this mega-franchise through a single, significant scene in each: not the best or most memorable scene, necessarily, but the one that says something about the MCU as an ongoing blockbuster phenomenon. This is The Marvel Moment.
Ant-Man kicks off with a ton of place-setting, explaining the complicated past of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), as well as the troubled relationship between Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). It’s not really until about the 20-minute mark that the movie quits revving in neutral and finally slides into gear, when Scott’s old cellmate, Louis (a gleeful Michael Peña), tells a story about a possible score. It involves a lot of secondhand and thirdhand hearsay, all relayed by people lip-synching Luis’ own words in his voice. The quick edits of the sequence suggest “fun caper,” a welcome transition out of “sloglike exposition.” (The gimmick works so well that director Peyton Reed dusts it off again at the end of the movie, and even improves upon it in the sequel.)
Luis is one of the best examples in a string of vital (and usually human and un-powered) Marvel secondary characters who add a dose of levity to the proceedings. From the moment Tony Stark started wise-cracking in Afghanistan in Iron Man, the MCU movies distinguished themselves by being funny. (One of his very first lines is, “C’mon, it’s okay, laugh. Hey!” Granted, he gets blown up by a Stark Industries missile soon after that.) Some of this levity involves physical comedy—like Tony crashing into things in his suit, or Hulk thrashing Loki around—but a lot of the MCU humor relies on dialogue.
In the group films like the Avengers and Guardians movies, there are enough heroes hanging around for someone like Iron Man or Drax to provide the comic relief. In the single-hero films, characters like Luis, Spiderman: Homecoming’s Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), Black Panther’s Shuri (Letitia Wright), or Thor: Ragnarok’s Korg (voiced by the film’s director, Taika Waititi) help flesh out the comedy. Like any kid, Ned wants to know if Spider-Man can lay eggs or not. Like any sibling would do, Shuri makes fun of her brother’s sandals, even if he is the king. Ragnarok has a ton of delightful moments, but Korg’s deadpan pile of rocks highlights the situational absurdity even more. (“Sounds like you had a pretty special and intimate relationship with this hammer.”)
Paul Rudd is pretty hilarious all on his own, but the omnipresent grin of Peña’s Luis is truly infectious. When Scott comes in and says he’s ready to hear about the “tip” in Ant-Man, Luis jumps to his feet, enthusing, “It’s so on right now!” and finally the movie is as well. We quickly segue into Soderbergh-like scheming music as Luis, Scott, Dave (T.I.), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) prepare for the big score. The fact that we eventually find out that Hank Pym set the whole thing up anyway just makes the caper all the more perfect. Because from now on, we’re happy to watch Luis do anything, whether it’s taking down a security guard, preparing a client presentation for his new X-CON company, or even lecturing his staff about the high costs of breakfast. After all, fight scenes are fight scenes. But nobody else in the entire MCU tells a story like Luis.