Michael Peña’s Luis is one of the funniest side characters in the ‘Ant-Man’ films, but he also provides an important perspective.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best quality can also be its biggest problem; initially, the franchise was exciting because of how precisely connected all the various storylines and events were, and it was thrilling to see characters from different individual stories cross over and meet one another. However, in recent years, the increasingly complex nature of the timeline has made the series more difficult to invest in for casual viewers who may only have interest in a handful of projects. It’s as if the MCU is lacking the perspective of someone whose life is only occasionally impacted by galactic events and superhuman battles, and that’s why Michael Peña’s performance as Luis in the Ant-Man films is so important. Not only is Luis one of the funniest side characters in the Ant-Man films, but he also provides an outside perspective than the ones shared by the core characters.
Ant-Man is the one MCU film that seemingly had everything stacked against it, yet somehow worked anyway. Fans were ecstatic about the project initially when cult filmmaker Edgar Wright was attached to write and direct, but after he left the project due to “creative differences,” Peyton Reed was brought in as a last-minute replacement. Casual viewers may have had trouble believing that a movie about Ant-Man would be as exciting as those following Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, and thankfully Reed acknowledged that head on. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is just a wacky goofball and working dad, and he’s more concerned with keeping his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) safe than anything. By treating Ant-Man as more of an action comedy than a blockbuster epic like Iron Man or The Avengers, Reed was able to add more humorous bits; you wouldn’t have time to introduce someone like Luis in a film that’s trying to pay off a decade of foreshadowing and character development.
Ant-Man's Luis represents a different side of heroism in the MCU; he may have a checkered past, but he’s also a victim of unfair economic and social circumstances within the MCU. The Avengers may have saved the world from extraterrestrial threats and multiverse dilemmas, but they haven’t made it much easier for working class people like Luis who are just trying to make ends meet. Luis doesn’t have an easy life, but his perpetual sense of optimism is completely endearing. He shows how even those without superpowers can have an impact as he helps his best friend Scott accept his destiny of becoming a hero and father. It’s not only one of Peña’s best performances, but the most entertaining part of the Ant-Man franchise that shows how unique it is.
With a film that’s taking such a tonal risk as Ant-Man, nailing the characterization of the protagonist was more important than anything. While Scott clearly had to be a less experienced, serious hero than Steve Rogers or Tony Stark, he also had to be convincing as someone who could step into a suit and put his life on the line for the sake of the greater good. Rudd’s comedic timing made him a good counterbalance to Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne, but Peña had to be even funnier and more laid back than Scott. He had to show that the two are fundamentally different; Scott is burdened by the responsibilities of both fatherhood and now being a superhero, whereas Luis only has to be concerned about himself. The fact that he’s able to nonchalantly risk his safety for Scott speaks to the casual decency that’s often absent in these films.
The MCU risked going stale if the films started to all share the same tone and stakes, and thankfully Ant-Man shakes things up by treating the story as a heist caper like Ocean’s Eleven. If Scott is George Clooney’s Danny, the master coordinator who maps out the highly complex scheme, then Luis gets to be Brad Pitt’s Rusty, the quippy, humorous jokester who is tasked with some of the more absurd and wacky elements of the robbery. The third act of Ant-Man is actually pretty intense; Hank is nearly killed by HYDRA agents, and Cassie is kidnapped by the corporate villain Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). If Ant-Man risked getting a little too self-serious, the cutaways to Luis trying to pitch in remind us that this is still a fairly grounded, silly adventure.
If Ant-Man nailed the tone needed to separate itself apart from the rest of the MCU, then its 2018 sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp failed to make the argument as to why this needed to be a series in the first place. Perhaps Ant-Man was a fun detour for one film, but the more serious stakes of Ant-Man and the Wasp that dealt with the Pym family drama and an adventure into the Quantum Realm felt like the Ant-Man franchise was taking on greater stakes. Rudd had less time to be silly when he was tasked with a bigger mission, which made it all the more important for Luis to serve as the comedic center point of the film.
Ant-Man and the Wasp may lack the number of inventive heist scenes that its predecessor had, but Luis gets involved in a few fun moments when he helps Scott by deceiving the hardworking FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). Considering that the majority of the film’s plot revolves around complex quantum mechanics and science fiction mumbo jumbo, having an old-fashioned scheme in the middle of things was a nice detour from the central plot. Refreshingly, Luis seemed to be just as confused about what was going on as a casual audience member may have been.
The release of the Ant-Man films has been interestingly scheduled; the first film immediately followed the darker adventure in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man and the Wasp dealt with the fallout of “the snap” in Avengers: Infinity War. With Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania following all the developments of the multiverse in Phase Four, it will certainly be tasked with addressing how radically the universe has changed. We can only hope that Luis can stick around to try and figure things out, because we’ll be right there with him.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania premieres in theaters on February 17.
Liam Gaughan is a film and TV writer at Collider. He has been writing film reviews and news coverage for eight years with bylines at Dallas Observer, About.com, Taste of Cinema, Dallas Morning News, Schmoes Know, Rebel Scum, and Central Track. He aims to get his spec scripts produced and currently writes short films and stage plays. He lives in McKinney, TX.