I saw Ant-Man last night and found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable film, full of charming performances, especially the always charming Paul Rudd and Michael Peña, intermittently amazing special effects and a breezy, light-footed affect that served the material well. Some of the macro photography when Rudd's character shrinks to the titular ant-size is fantastic, and they make great use of the juxtaposition of the stakes of the conflict with the size of the world around it.
It also can't be ignored that Ant-Man seems to be where Marvel finally got it's act together and did something about their third act problem. The pomposity and overblown effects orgies that the third acts of most Marvel films so far has become something of a cliche, but Ant-Man manages to avoid that with two separate, but related strategies. First off, the third act actually continues the plot. Novel! In most Marvel films, the third act is an extended denouement, with the hero(es) chasing after a bad guy who has a macguffin, and needs to have it taken away from them. In Ant-Man (spoiler alert, obviously), the third act is in part an extended heist, a chase after the bad guy, and a stand off who's stakes are at once momentous for the characters (Rudd's daughter is in danger), but undercut by the film's wry juxtaposition between the ostensible stakes and the actual scale of the conflict. It's clever and satisfying that most Marvel films haven't quite managed to pull off.
Part of what I find fascinating about the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe is the way they've found to move away not just from the grim, dark, grimdark DC cinematic efforts like the Nolan Batman films and the atrocious Snyder-helmed Man of Steel, though that is worthy of celebration in itself. What Marvel seems to be trying to do is open up a shared universe of films that contain not just the same characters, or an ongoing story, but one where different stories are told in different registers, as best suits the material. Seems like an obvious choice, but no one has brought the kind of resources and thoughtfulness to it yet.
To that end, like last year's Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man (almost) never takes itself too seriously. It winks at the material, even if it never embraces the campiness of it the way the '60s Batman series did. It's a middle way between the two approaches, and it works very well for a character who can shrink and rides ants around.
What Marvel is doing is crossbreeding other genres with superheroes. So far, we haven't seen much in the way of great leaps. Guardians of the Galaxy was better than two thirds space opera, and Ant-Man was half two fifths heist movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a third paranoid conspiracy thriller. While Marvel has been fairly tentative in feeling this space out, I think there's actually a lot of room for them to do some truly fascinating things with it, especially with the upcoming slate of films.
It's interesting that for the (third) reboot of Spider-Man, Marvel is going with an actor who seems a lot younger than Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire. Spider-Man meets John Hughes? There's all sorts of room for Doctor Strange to be, well, strange, and Black Panther and Captain Marvel are both such fascinating properties that go against the established grain of superhero films, they could be really fascinating.
Of course, all of this could just totally collapse. Marvel's track record so far has been pretty great, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will continue to be that way. Certainly, Edgar Wright's departure from Ant-Man was a less than positive sign. Marvel needs to ensure that they can continue to pull in talented, interesting directors, writers and performers with unique visions for their characters, and make sure that those people aren't stifled under the weight of MCU-service. That might prove a tricky maneuver to pull off, especially as the universe starts to expand and grow. But it'll be interesting to see where they go with it.