Henry Pym first appeared in 1962’s Tales to Astonish #27, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, in a story called “The Man in the Ant Hill,” about a man who invented a shrinking potion and was reduced to insect size. The story was inspired by The Incredible Shrinking Man movie, which had been released only six years earlier. In a sequel in Tales to Astonish #35, he became Ant-Man, inventing an ant-communication helmet and a costume to protect him from bites. In Tales to Astonish #44 (1963) he married Janet van Dyne who became the Wasp, and they joined the Avengers. In Tales to Astonish #49, Ant-Man became Giant-Man, and later Goliath. In the comics, it was Pym who created Ultron instead of Tony Stark. The villain Yellowjacket appeared in Avengers #59 (1968), but it was really Hank Pym, having had a mental breakdown, but in 1969 (in Avengers #60) he recovered. Ant-Man and the Wasp were married in Avengers #63, but later the Wasp accused him of domestic violence and Captain America gave Giant-Man a sound thrashing.
The 2015 movie begins with a flashback to 1989, when Hank Pym resigns from SHIELD as they try to replicate his invention, which shrinks people and objects to the size of insects. Naturally, they want it for military use. In the present day, his estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and his former colleague Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) have forced him out of his company, Pym Technologies. Cross has created Yellowjacket, a militarized version of Pym’s Ant-Man technology. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a brilliant but unlucky safe cracker, has been released from prison. His wife has divorced him; she and his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) are living with another man—a police detective named Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). Unable to find a job as an ex-con, he moves in with his old cellmate Luis (a very engaging Michael Pena) and though he resists for a while, decides to commit a burglary with him. He breaks into a house and an old safe, but the only thing to steal is what he believes is a motorcycle suit. Trying it on, he shrinks to the size of an ant and, terrified, returns the suit, but is arrested.
Pym, who had tricked him into the robbery, wants Lang to become the new Ant-Man, break into Cross’s lab, and steal Yellowjacket. He sends an ant with the miniaturized suit into his cell and returns it to full size. Lang puts it on, shrinks down, and escapes. Pym and Hope train him to control the ants. Hope is still angry with her father because of her mother’s disappearance years ago, which is why she uses her last name, but knows Cross is dangerous. Pym warns Lang that if he overrides his regulator, he could disappear into the Quantum Realm and never be seen again. This is what has happened to Pym’s wife, the Wasp. Lang, with the help of his largely incompetent burglary crew and a swarm of flying ants, sneaks into the Pym Building to sabotage the servers and plant explosives, just as Cross is unveiling the Yellowjacket suit, which he plans to sell to Hydra. Of course, it all goes sideways. Pym is shot and wounded, Lang is captured and escapes, but Cross pursues him and threatens his feisty daughter. The battle, both antagonists changing size at a dizzying pace amid the girl’s toys, is both exciting and hilarious.
The whole movie is filled with delightful humour—Marvel’s trick to deal with situations that are inherently ridiculous. Except for Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps, the Ant-Man movies are pretty much the most humorous in the Marvel canon, though it never stoops to parody and remains exciting. It is filled with startling action, with Ant-Man as a kind of knight in armor assaulting a high-tech castle at the head of a vast army, which in this case is an entire ant colony. Clearly, the Ant-Man and the Wasp sequel was already in the planning stages. Lang is forced to enter the Quantum Realm to defeat Yellowjacket, but then finds a way to return, suggesting to Pym that his wife may still be alive somewhere. To obtain the necessary tech for the heist, Lang is required to break into Avengers HQ, defended by Sam Wilson as the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), which brings him to the Avengers’ attention. And Pym, reconciled with his daughter, presents her with an updated Wasp suit.
Stan Lee tried to market the Ant-Man idea to New World Cinema in the Eighties, but Disney was coming out with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and nothing happened. In 2000, Howard Stern tried to buy the rights, but nothing came of that either. The wonderful visual effects were by ILM and Double Negative. Michael Douglas was de-aged for the flashback using the same tech that turned Captain America into a skinny kid, and later, de-aged Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel.