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.

Marvel movies often operate an epic scale: Either the world is ending, or the films are filled with larger-than-life characters, or both. And for the most part, this strategy has paid off. After all, what would the Guardians Of The Galaxy look like going up against a small-time space crook? But 11 years of never-ending peril can get exhausting, turning every MCU climax (with a few exceptions) into epic, numbing CGI light shows where entire wars are fought, but the impossibly high stakes aren’t fully felt by the audience.

That’s where Ant-Man comes in. The Ant-Man franchise carved out a corner in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a sort of superhero digestif between the high-stakes meals of the Avengers movies. The first film came at the end of the second “phase” of the MCU, serving as a breather between the character-packed Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War. The second, Ant-Man And The Wasp, was released just after the devastating conclusion of Infinity War. Whether intentional or not, by juxtaposing its biggest events with its smallest character (literally), Marvel proved it doesn’t need massive stakes to keep audiences invested. Fans are perfectly happy spending an afternoon in the low-impact universe of the Ant-Man franchise, and there’s perhaps no greater example of this than Scott Lang’s “daily routine” scene from Ant-Man And The Wasp.

Like his comic book counterpart, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is the antithesis of a prototypical Avenger. He has no god-like superpowers, exuberant wealth, or military training. He’s the everyman Avenger, like Spider-Man without the superpowers (or the name recognition), a small time crook, ex-con, corporate whistleblower, and devoted father who occasionally suits up to take a swing at Iron Man. He’s not a spy or a genius—although he does have a master’s degree in electrical engineering—and he didn’t even make his Ant-Man suit. Lang is barely the hero in his own story, and seems to be just along for the ride as Hank and Hope Pym carry out their plans.

Rather than shy away from that aspect of Scott, or play up his importance, Rudd and director Peyton Reed lean into his insignificance. At the onset of Ant-Man And The Wasp, Lang needs to pass the time with only three days left on his house arrest sentence. (He was given two years due to his involvement in the big airport battle in Civil War.) But instead of an elaborate training sequence, we get a full minute of Paul Rudd doing Paul Rudd things: he dances and sings karaoke, practices his close-up magic tricks, and sobs while reading The Fault In Our Stars. It’s a short, endearing sequence indicative of the Ant-Man franchise’s priorities: lighthearted, low-stakes entertainment meant to add a bit of levity to the rest of the MCU. And sometimes, that’s all you need.