Why Ant-Man – and maybe ‘Ant-Man’ – matters

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I know there was some discontent out there with the trailer for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” movie, but I was relieved when I saw it the other day.

Why?

Mostly because I was relieved the trailer indicated the movie, starring Paul Rudd as the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang, will address some of the same questions the moviegoing public will have: Why do we need a superhero who shrinks? And why would anyone call themselves Ant-Man?

But also because the movie will finally acknowledge the place in the Marvel Universe of one of its pioneering characters.

So who is Ant-Man and why should we care about him?

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Ant-Man is best known as Henry, or Hank, Pym, and he debuted in comics in “Tales to Astonish” 27, published in January 1962. Pym was an unfortunate scientist who could shrink to ant-size … but couldn’t defend himself from ants. He barely survived this tale that was a retread of “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

But Pym returned in “Tales to Astonish” 35, this time as Ant-Man and sporting a helmet that let him communicate with ants. He was their master!

After several issues of adventures, Pym and girlfriend (later wife) Janet Van Dyne appeared in the first issue of “The Avengers,” as a diverse group of heroes got together to defeat Thor’s brother, Loki.

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Pym and Van Dyne even named the group, which makes it all the more important that their history in the Marvel universe be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers co-founders!

Pym is a problematic character on a couple of counts, though.

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It’s not like the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs another genius scientist, even if Pym created Ultron, the villain in the upcoming “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The MCU already has Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.

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Plus, Pym was always an erratic character. That’s a plus for the realistic 1960s-and-beyond Marvel Comics universe, but not for movies that increasingly play to a wide mainstream audience. So Pym the brilliant genius who had emotional breakdowns, masqueraded as at least one super-villain and even struck his wife is shifted to a secondary role in the movie.

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Why the “Ant-Man” movie matters is another thing. but I think that it does.

Everybody worried when the movie’s original director, “Shaun of the Dead” creator Edgar Wright, left the project and he and Marvel cited creative differences. The temptation was to worry that Marvel wanted Wright to make his movie more mainstream and he didn’t go along.

I trust ultimate director Peyton Reed – “Bring it On” is a classic – but more than anything, I trust Marvel.

Why?

Well, their track record is pretty good. Most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have been good to great, with only a couple of lesser entries (“Iron Man 2” to some extent).

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I also think “Ant-Man” will explore the idea of failure, loss and redemption in the Marvel universe. And that’s good, because those story beats and emotions are a huge part of the comic books.

The upcoming “Doctor Strange” movie, with Benedict Cumberbatch set to play the arrogant surgeon who rebuilds his life, should strike some of the same notes.

But more importantly, I think Marvel will use “Ant-Man” to fill in the gaps in its movie universe.

How?

Rumors indicate that portions of “Ant-Man” will take place in the 1960s, with a younger actor playing Michael Douglas’ role of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man. It’s been suggested that we’ll see 1960s-period-appropriate versions of Howard Stark and other characters long established but unexplored during a period of several decades.

Just like “Agent Carter” on TV right now is filling in the blank spots in the post-World War II Marvel universe, I believe “Ant-Man” will fill the gaps in the 1960s, with a young Pym and wife Janet Van Dyne (parents of Hope Van Dyne, the character played by Evangeline Lilly in the movie) adventuring and working with SHIELD.

There’s a ton of material here that, if properly explored, will fill in “lost years” and make the Marvel on-screen universe feel even more like a real, if fantastical, world.

So yeah, Ant-Man matters because of his history and “Ant-Man” matters because of how it might flesh out the Marvel history onscreen.

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2 thoughts on “Why Ant-Man – and maybe ‘Ant-Man’ – matters

  1. Pingback: ‘Ant-Man’ trailer: Big things, small packages | keithroysdon

  2. Pingback: ‘Ant-Man’ – Yep, it’s the real deal (Spoilers. Duh.) | keithroysdon

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