This contains spoilers for the ending of Ant-Man.
The best Marvel movies all have heaping helpings of heart - from skinny Steve Rogers refusing to back down in an alleyway at the opening of Captain America: The First Avenger to everybody standing up with Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy - but none have the heart reserves found in Ant-Man. That’s because the movie’s plot comes not from a place of exterior conflict but emotional fulfilment: it’s all about Scott Lang trying to be the man his daughter believes him to be.
That’s why Ant-Man’s best scene isn’t an action sequence or even one of the comedic training montages. It isn’t the drop-in by The Falcon or Luis’ hilariously rambling stories. It’s Scott at the dinner table with his family at the end. It’s the scene that truly pays off the movie’s heart.
In another film that scene wouldn’t exist. It’s easy to imagine the version of this movie where Scott Lang, forced to go on the run after the events of the story, sits outside the house in his van, looking in on the family he lost in order to serve the greater good. It’s also easy to imagine a version where, during the finale, Scott totally humiliates Paxton (or Paxton humiliates himself), allowing Scott to become the alpha male of the house, maybe even running Paxton out of the picture.
Instead the movie has Scott joining the family - complete with Paxton - for a dinner that is at first awkward and then becomes more comfortable. Paxton brings Scott in to the workings of the family by sharing video of Cassie doing somersaults; instead of making this a pointed reminder that Scott has been missing out on his daughter’s life the one-time antagonist creates a bridge to include him.
The capper on the scene, for me, is the revelation that the bizarre overgrown ant that made for such a great gag in the final battle is present, surreptitiously being fed by Cassie under the table - a strange looking dog for a strange looking family. This represents the fact that the weirdness of Scott’s new life has been accepted and absorbed by his family; he’s Ant-Man, and they’re okay with that.
Some might dislike this happy ending, wishing instead for something more brooding, or for an ending that seems - on the surface - more consequential. But I love this ending, and I think it’s actually harder to pull off than a darker or more conflicted finale. As modern audiences we tend to recoil at endings that feel pat and happy, and on the surface this could be seen as pat. But we understand that while this is a happy family this is also an unusual family, a post-nuclear family that is constructed along its own lines, a family that doesn’t follow the usual script of divorce. That’s a script that’s replete with bitterness and resentment, a script that cannot allow two men to sit together at a table without one feeling threatened. Both men had spent the film feeling threatened by the other, but in a display of healthy masculinity both set that aside for the good of the family. Cassie doesn’t end up with a bad stepdad or a fucked up biological dad, she ends up with two strong, heroic men who give her harmony instead of strife.
Following up on Avengers: Age of Ultron - a film all about the tangled relationships between parents and their offspring, as well as about the dark consequences of superheroism - the ending of Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air, a blast of earned optimism. Yes, The Avengers are off dropping cities from the sky, but not every hero has to be tortured in some way. At the end of Ant-Man doing the right thing brings Scott to a better place, not to the morally grey place The Avengers have found themselves.
The ending of Ant-Man is one of the reasons I’m so excited to see Scott in Captain America: Civil War. As the heroes choose sides and assemble for battle over philosophical issues relating to the larger meaning of heroism and their role in the world, Scott is only concerned about his family. Captain America and Tony Stark are looking at the world in big, abstract ways, while Scott looks at it through the prism of one thing only: Cassie. The choices he makes in Civil War must be informed by the dinner table scene at the end of Ant-Man, by the fact that his whole reason for wearing that suit is to be the kind of hero a father should be for his daughter.