Tales to Astonish

Ant-Man is small scale fun with a large scale impact. As the twelfth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man was a long time coming for the shrinking superhero. Hank Pym was originally created as a genius who developed Pym Particles to shrink himself to the size of an ant. “The Man in the Ant Hill” was originally a straightforward monster comic, but Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber liked the concept so much that he was turned into a superhero 8 issues later. Ant-Man first appeared in Tales to Astonish #35 in 1962. Despite debuting after the Fantastic Four, Ant-Man was never as popular as the more A-list Spider-Man. Ant-Man and his girlfriend the Wasp boosted their appeal when they joined the Avengers.

Hank Pym was unique for constantly changing his persona since joining the team. Such identities include: Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket. Although The Avengers omitted Ant-Man and the Wasp, a solo film has actually been in development since the 80’s. Marvel foolishly selling the rights never resulted in a movie since Honey, I Shrunk the Kids came out around the same time. Ant-Man has what is easily the most complicated production history in the MCU. It actually predates the MCU with comedic genre director Edgar Wright making it his passion project since 2006. Producer Kevin Feige allowed Wright to take as much time as he needed, but his standalone take on the story eventually led to his unexpected departure. Although audiences expected Marvel’s first failure, Ant-Man became the most enjoyable shrinking flick I’d seen in a long time…

25. Ant-Man

Ant-Man runs with the ants

Ant-Man was always meant to be an astonishing action adventure superhero film with comedic overtones. Exactly the kind of tone that works in the MCU. Edgar Wright was always an Ant-Man fan who wrote a script with his equally comedic writing partner Joe Cornish. Kevin Feige and Stan Lee were on board with his portrayal, but the screenplay changed multiple times to fit within the MCU. Ant-Man could’ve been released in the middle of Phase Two, but Wright completing The World’s End made it seem like the beginning of Phase Three. Despite the massive size of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man became the end of Phase Two instead. It was an unusual decision, but I think a small stakes origin story was more than welcome after so many event films. Wright is probably the most high profile director to leave sighting “creative differences.” No one expected much from Bring it On replacement director Peyton Reed, but he was just as passionate about the character. Wright’s genre bending directing style would’ve been fun to see, but at least most of his ideas remained in tact.

Although I would have prefered seeing Dr. Hank Pym as the star, Wright’s mantle passing storyline was a good idea. There definitely aren’t many movies that focus on the second incarnation of a superhero. Scott Lang assumed the Ant-Man mantle in the 1979 Marvel Premiere #47. He was never as iconic as Pym, but Lang’s reformed criminal past as a struggling single father did endear him to readers. The third incarnation, Eric O’Grady, isn’t worth mentioning. I was still a much bigger fan of the original Ant-Man, but I gave Scott Lang a chance. Much like the schlubby Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd became another very unexpected comedian cast as a superhero. Rudd’s easygoing sense of humor and everyman charisma made him the highlight of many R rated Frat Pack comedies. He wasn’t in terrible shape, but he did get ripped for his obligatory shirtless scene. Rudd is already hilarious, but he was surprisingly perfect at taking the admittedly silly sounding Ant-Man seriously. Rudd actually co-wrote most of the revised script with Adam McKay.

Like the comics, Lang is a burglar with engineering skills who tries to become a better father for his daughter Cassie Lang. Much like Thor, Scott’s supporting cast are mostly original characters made for the movie. Ant-Man has true Latin charm thanks to Michael Peña stealing every scene he’s in. Luis is a fast talking happy-go-lucky hispanic friend of Scott who picks him up from prison in his ugly brown van. His habit of telling overly detailed stories will always be comedy gold. Ant-Man is very much a heist film with a superhero in it. So Scott needed a crew to match. Luis finds the lead, Kurt operates the computer, and Dave drives the car. They’re not the deepest characters, but they have their moments. At times it feels like they were only included for diversity sake. Peña is the latino, rapper T.I. is the black guy, and character actor David Dastmalchian is the Russian. Scott’s criminal record can’t even get him a job at Baskin-Robbins (they always find out), but that doesn’t stop him from visiting his adorable daughter played by Abby Ryder Fortson.

Rather than give Cassie a heart condition, the movie lightens things up with a standard divorced parent subplot. Judy Greer was everywhere in 2015, so she plays Scott’s ex-wife Maggie. Bobby Cannavale gives Scott a hard time as Paxton, a San Francisco cop who acts as the other guy in the relationship. Scott has a heart of gold, but he agrees to Luis’ burglary job when he has no other options. Lang really shows his engineering expertise when he breaks into a rich man’s house. The vault happens to contain the Ant-Man suit. Hank Pym is now portrayed as an elderly supporting character. The change suits the story, but it might’ve also had to do with Pym’s unfortunate history as a wife beater. Pym can be hotheaded, but thankfully respected actor Michael Douglas makes him very likable. As a nod to the comics, the movie makes the clever decision to have Pym perform secret missions as Ant-Man during the Cold War.

He didn’t create Ultron, but Pym is very much a genius who developed Pym Particle shrinking technology. The MCU connection comes from Pym formerly working for S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1989. This was their first extensive use of digital de-aging. Michael Douglas looks just like Gordon Gekko as Pym resigns in response to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attempt at replicating his formula. Martin Donovan is partially de-aged as the more devious Agent Mitchell Carson, Hayley Atwell wears old age makeup to play Peggy Carter, and John Slattery didn’t need to do anything as Howard Stark. Pym is untrusting of the Starks and unwilling to go to the Avengers for help (especially after they dropped a city in Age of Ultron). Ant-Man is very similar to the first Iron Man since Hank’s company Pym Technologies is left to a trusted bald guy who turns out to be unhinged. Corey Stoll does his best with Darren Cross, but he’s just like most over-the-top bad guys. Spouting evil one-liners and being an evil reflection of the hero. Cross is the reason Lang becomes the new Ant-Man in the comics, but he was originally an ordinary villain with a heart condition.

The Yellowjacket persona was Pym’s third identity that earned a negative reputation, because it’s the costume he hit his wife in. So it made sense to make Yellowjacket the villain with Cross in the prototype suit. Cross gets dangerously close to replicating the shrinking formula that he plans to sell to the highest bidder. An army of microscopic Yellowjackets assassinating enemies without being seen is actually way more evil and high stakes than it seems on the surface. It’s enough to make Pym Technologies chairman Hope van Dyne team up with her estranged father. In the comics, Hope Pym is the daughter of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne who becomes the obscure villain Red Queen in an alternate reality. It’s lucky she exists in the comics, because a reworked version of her was a perfect female lead for the movie. Rising action star Evangeline Lilly sports a pixie cut and fully commits to her strained relationship with Hank. Perfectly illustrating the movie’s theme of fathers trying to do right by their daughters. Hope takes her mother’s name since Janet apparently died when she was a child.

Like the comics, wearing the Ant-Man suit for years took a toll on Pym. Although Hope is the natural choice, Hank chooses Scott Lang instead. Hank orchestrated Scott’s theft in order to see his skills in action. It takes about 30 minutes to finally see Lang wear the Ant-Man suit, but it was well worth the wait. The Ant-Man costume is mostly black leather with a red design and a series of tubes. The shrinking science is given a lot more logic with his trademark ant-like helmet being fully inclosed. It makes plenty of sense when you take microscopic oxygen into account. The first shrinking sequence is a terrifying thrill ride that sees Ant-Man face a giant bathtub, giant record players, a giant vacuum, and a giant rat. Garrett Morris who dressed up like Ant-Man in an SNL sketch even cameos at the end. The retired Rick Moranis sadly doesn’t cameo despite his reputation in shrinking movies. Technology has come such a long way since then. Macro photography mixed with impressive CGI gave the miniature surroundings a more believable feel.

Scott gets arrested trying to return the stolen suit, but Hank breaks him out with the help of his ant associates. I was definitely curious about how Marvel would believably translate an army of telepathically controlled ants to the big screen. Every ant is realistically rendered with great attention to detail. The classic image of Ant-Man riding a flying ant is brought to life when Scott mounts a numbered ant that he affectionately names Ant-thony. Ant-Man is very residential with most of the action taking place in Pym’s house. As Cross grows progressively more unstable turning his employees to goup and testing his shrinking technology on lambs, Hank and Hope train Scott so that he’s prepared for the big heist. The main objective is stealing the Yellowjacket suit and destroying all the research in Pym Technologies. Scott trains in a fun montage that also reveals a few crucial bits of information. Hope helps Scott to perfect his fighting style while wearing the suit and they grow closer with their natural chemistry.

Hank warns Scott against messing with his suit’s size regulator or else risk entering the Quantum Realm. Pym also supplies the suit with handy shrinking and enlarging discs. I’ve always been fascinated by ant behavior, so I was pleased to see the movie explore different species of ants. Carpenter ants are used for ground & air travel, fire ants use their bodies to build structures, crazy ants can conduct electricity, and bullet ants pack a painful bite. Hope tries to prove she’s more qualified for the job, but Hank is very much against his daughter risking her life. Turns out Janet van Dyne was the Wasp in past missions with her husband. I was happy to see Ant-Man and the Wasp together, even if it resulted in her going subatomic to defuse a missle. The final part of the heist is a piece of technology Pym needs from an old Stark warehouse. Turns out that warehouse is really the new Avengers compound in an unexpected sequence that pits Ant-Man against an Avenger. It’s definitely the most excited I’ve been to see Falcon. Since he’s B-list enough to be on equal footing.

Anthony Mackie finally gets a cooler red wingsuit that was designed before his appearance in Age of Ultron. Their fight is a great mix of shrinking and flying. When Cross increases his security, Lang’s crew is called in for backup. They each do their part in a nail-biting heist that only half succeeds. Hank is shot by Cross, but he and Hope flee the imploding building with a giant tank keychain. A totally insane Cross tragically shoots Ant-thony and wears the Yellowjacket suit to exterminate Ant-Man. The Yellowjacket suit is similar, but more yellow with high tech stingers. Ant-Man vs. Yellowjacket is a very dramatic climax when small, but it’s made more hilarious at normal size. Cross trying to kidnap Cassie leads to the most high stakes battle in a little girls bedroom I’ve ever seen. Made more humorous with an enlarged ant and Thomas the Tank Engine toy. Scott’s only hope is using his regulator to go subatomic. Yellowjacket is shrunken from the inside out and even loses an arm for the sixth time in Phase Two.

The Quantum Realm is a trippy psychedelic microverse that hints at stranger things to come. Scott only escapes using the power of Cassie’s love and an enlarging disc placed inside his regulator. The experience gives Hank hope that he can still save his wife. Hayley Lovitt stands in for Janet just to make room for a more high profile actress in the sequel. Scott and Hope share an out of nowhere kiss and Scott gains acceptance from his family. Ant-Man is also accepted by Sam Wilson in a last minute Luis story that hints at Spider-Man and features Stan Lee’s cameo as a bartender. The fan pleasing mid-credits scene reveals an incomplete Wasp suit that finally gave me hope for her future. The after-credits scene was great too, but it’s just a clip from Captain America: Civil War. The only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. connection was news coverage of the film’s events. Despite all the behind the scenes drama and need to connect to the MCU, Ant-Man was a success that really grew on me.

26. Ant-Man

Ant-Man vs. Yellowjacket

Followed by: Ant-Man and the Wasp

2 thoughts on “Tales to Astonish

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