Which is Marvel Studio’s best solo origin movie? That’s a question worth discussing after Ant-Man became a refreshing summer blockbuster.
There’s certainly fan support for Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk and Thor. But to prevent an all out civil war, this post will focus on what many regard are the two top contenders for best solo debut movie.
Time to pick a side! It’s a battle of the movies between Iron Man (2008) versus Ant-Man (2015). After going head to head in several categories such as Story, Heroes and Villains we’ll turn the floor over to the people’s decision (that’s you!) for your all important vote.
In constructing a superhero origin movie the comic book source material can be used as a blueprint and there are certain conventions which can be followed. Marvel got it right by picking Iron Man as the first superhero in MCU. Superpowers? Yes, but Iron Man’s abilities are grounded in quasi-technology not fantasy. He’s a somewhat realistic hero to introduce moviegoers to the MCU. A gateway hero if you will, eventually paving the way for more relatively unknown, fantastical heroes in Marvel’s catalogue.
Secret identity? Nope, Tony Stark is Iron Man. His love interest, Pepper Potts, knows this from the beginning and by the end of the film so does the rest of the world. The hero’s mission? The story does a great job of showing us first hand why a billionaire weapons industrialist would have a change of heart and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. He’s saving people from the weapons he’s created. The screenwriters made sound decisions in adapting the comic book origins to the silver screen, such as contextualizing the story within the war in Afghanistan for a modern audience.
While Iron Man got the ball rolling, Ant-Man’s story concludes Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a strong note. After a barrage of comic book movies of late, the story cleverly side steps superhero fatigue by focusing less on how the Ant-Man originated and more on how the mantle is passed on to the successor. There’s a fresh angle to the mentor and protegé relationship that could have been lost if Ant-Man was a straight-up ‘superhero saves world type story’. If anything, Ant-Man pokes fun at big blockbuster action movies, the kind of movies Marvel is very good at making.
Whereas Iron Man shows the progression of the suit from prototype to the classic red and gold armor, the Ant-Man suit was already created decades ago. The brief back story of the original Ant-Man ties into present day events and hints at exciting possibilities to come. We’ve seen plenty of intricate heist movies before but add in shrinking powers, an army of lovable ants and an incredibly high fun factor, Ant-Man delivers in a big way. And who knew watching ants drop a sugar cube into a cup of coffee could be so entertaining and funny?
In many ways, Tony Stark / Iron Man embodies the tone of the MCU. He’s fun and quippy yet can be taken seriously when needed. Like some other comic book heroes, he’s inherited his billionaire dollar fortune from his deceased parents but he’s not a brooding, tortured soul. Robert Downey Jr. turns a womanizing, prodigal son into a likeable hero we can root for. If you think about it, Iron Man’s powers, identity and costume are essentially one in the same.
Tony Stark was willing to put his billionaire dollar company on the line while Scott Lang stole from the rich and gave away billions, like a modern-day Robin Hood. Paul Rudd as Lang is an unlikely yet highly likable superhero. Lang isn’t out to save the world, he can’t even keep a menial job because he’s an ex-con. His motivation is personal and relatable: the most important thing in the world to him is his daughter. Hank Pym didn’t choose Lang as his protegé because he’s the most athletic or heroic, but because he has an honorable heart and of course, an incredible talent for high-tech thieving. Strangely enough, Ant-Man who can communicate with ants might be the most humanizing of Marvel heroes.
The strongest Marvel movie villains aren’t really villains in the strictest sense. Sure, Loki and the Winter Soldier stir up plenty of trouble but they are characters with a deep connection to their hero counterpart and will continue to evolve as the MCU heads into its next phase. The one and done villains in Iron Man and Ant-Man serve an adversarial role to exemplify aspects of the hero. They both depend a lot on the actors’ performance but are largely one-dimensional.
The general concept of Darren Cross / Yellow Jacket may be better than the execution, which in itself wasn’t very memorable. Darren Cross as played by Corey Stoll represents what would happen if Hank Pym was exposed to too much of the particle and didn’t have the moral fiber to keep the technology from being weaponized . At the same time, Darren Cross was the original protégé, whose qualities contrasted with and showed why Scott Lang is more deserving of Hank Pym’s secret technology.
Raza, the leader of the terrorist organization who captured Tony Stark, worked as a smoke screen for the true villain under our nose. Jeff Bridges is solid as Obadiah Stane, he captured the father figure/mentor role with ease which made his evil reveal all the more deceptively cruel. Stane could have benefited from additional scenes but understandably the origin movie needed to focus on its hero. Interestingly, in their super villain form both Yellow Jacket and Iron Monger didn’t emerge as a direct threat to the hero until the final act, though Stane did have the better villain moment when leaving a paralyzed Stark to die after taking out his power core.
The heist in Ant-Man lent to a good utilization of the supporting characters. The standout is Luis (Michael Peña) providing laugh-out loud comedic moments. Just when Hope Van Dyne’s (Evangeline Lily) cold bitterness was about to become overbearing the script gives us a breakthrough moment between her and Scott Lang and we begin to see her warmer side. Their romantic relationship wasn’t ideally set up and largely played for laughs at the end. A hero himself, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym has a knack for making everything he says sound believable, a great casting choice for a movie with a far out premise. Let’s not forgot the adorable Cassie Lang and Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), the ex’s cop boyfriend who’s actually not made to look like a total jerk.
Iron Man has a smaller supporting cast to work with. Both Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes and Pepper Potts play off of Tony Stark very well and in different ways. Here’s a dissenting opinion: Terrence Howard is the better fit to play Rhodey (and War Machine if he was in the Iron Man sequels) although Don Cheadle is the more likable, suave actor. The chemistry between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) was more of warm admiration than sizzling electric. However, overall Pepper proved to be important in moving the story along in a couple of key scenes and given that she doesn’t have superpowers it’s understandable her contribution in the climatic showdown was to relegated to pressing a button.
When it comes down to the intangibles, it’s really like splitting hairs. Ant-Man has the edge in comedy, take for example the smile-inducing fight between new Avenger Falcon and Ant-Man. It’s harder to stack up the action scenes since Ant-Man doesn’t have major action set pieces in the traditional sense, save for the final scene which is as much a satire on the genre itself.
Iron Man’s special effects hold up very well, there’s hardly a moment where the CGI takes you out of the viewing experience. In terms of rewatchability, Iron-Man has proven it’s got staying power and is a huge fan favorite. Although Ant-Man did well at the box-office, it will gain more reverence over time as movie goers who overlooked it in theaters discover it on home video. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is a film which even if you’re tired of watching superhero movies, it’s different and fresh enough to pull you in.
Both Iron Man and Ant-Man are the right debut solo movies for the Marvel phase they are in. The success of Iron Man and Marvel’s first phase paved the way for the little known Ant-Man. At this point, Marvel Studios is pumping out multiple movies per year, but Ant-Man is anything but cookie cutter or formulaic. What it comes down to is your own personal preference and gut, emotional reaction. Do you find Paul Rudd adorably irresistible as Ant-Man? Do you love Iron-Man and will always remember your first? Or is there another Marvel solo debut movie you think deserves to get more recognition?