Sunday, July 19, 2015

Marvel Watch: Ant-Man (2015)

I was never skeptical of an Ant-Man movie.  For folks who have long followed my ramblings, you know I have a very simple rule for why I'll give anything a go when it comes to sci-fi and superheroes:  there is no such thing as a bad idea, only bad execution.  Frankly, when people were predicting doom for Guardians of the Galaxy because (oh my goodness!) it wasn't a known quantity!  and it had a raccoon and tree-man! I was left scratching my head and saying: well, those aren't actually problems for a movie.   Those are just new or odd things.

Re: Ant-Man comics:  I have a pretty huge gap in my comics' knowledge regarding Hank Pym as Ant-Man from the classic Marvel U, and I was just left confused by Mark Millar's take on Pym in The Ultimates, that I sort of believe has taken Pym off the playing board for Marvel forever.  I'm totally unfamiliar with anything about Scott Lang other than that - he exists in the comics, I guess?  It seems like I saw him in a Marvel role-playing game supplement.  At some point I read one issue of something called Irredeemable Ant-Man, which didn't really work for me.

So, there you go.  I basically can't tell you anything about Ant-Man as a comics figure beyond the period in the 1980's when Hank Pym was adventuring with no mask and just growing and shrinking things and using the heroic name "Hank Pym" as part of West Coast Avengers.  But check in with me if you have questions about Super Turtle.  I have wisdom.

As per the movie?

Trailers should have told you that Michael Douglas, 71, is not leaping about as Ant-Man.  Instead, comic actor Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a sort of hi-tech heist-guy fresh out of San Quentin.  Despite a strong motivation for going straight, the challenges of his ex-con status have made employment a challenge.  He becomes embroiled in a heist to "rip-off some old dude with a vault" and winds up with the Ant-Man suit.

If you've seen pretty much any superhero movie, it won't shock you to learn there's an evil corporate opposite, which you also saw in the trailer.  Really, it's a pretty formula-driven movie because its a an origin movie for a technology-driven superhero.  There's almost always an evil-opposite in these whether it makes sense or not (see: Iron Man and forcing Zod into Man of Steel).

So, really, Ant-Man (2015) relies on two things.

1)  The movie knows what it is, and relies on a light touch, a comedic take on the super-heroing that feels as close to a straight comedy as anything that's come out of Kevin Feige's factory.

2)  A surprisingly effective theme of fathers and daughters.  Or fathers and children.  I'm not sure it had to be daughters, but it worked better for mirroring narratives as Lang's motivator is getting back in touch with his young daughter and Pym's is reconnecting with his own emotionally estranged daughter.

There's not a whole lot new here, but it does work in the manner of the better superhero movies of 15-20 years ago, and had we not already had a dozen Marvel movies prior, we'd all find really gee-whiz spectacular.  The time slot I wanted to see the movie in only offered a 3D screening, so I paid a couple extra bucks and wore the glasses (something I don't usually really care about), and unlike, say, Thor, the 3D in the miniaturized world of Ant-Man ended up as a happy surprise.  So, if you have the extra $3, something to consider.

I'm not up on my Marvel, so I don't know who "Hope Van Dyne" is in the context of the comics.  Here, she's the child of Hank Pym and, I'll assume, Janet Van Dyne, and furious with her father for the distance he put between himself and his daughter in the wake of her mother's death.  Evangeline Lily isn't an actress I've followed, and who had a thankless role on Lost as "the hot girl" our alpha males could bark at each other over.  At least until Elizabeth Mitchell showed up and made everything better.  But, hey, she's good and likable here, and we'll certainly see much more of her in the inevitable sequel (Ant-Man was doing fine with a worldwide take of about $80 million on opening weekend).

This is also the most Marvel U-lived in of the projects, and points towards how things will work going forward - a bit more like the comics.  We get not just direct mentions of Avengers (and the plot of Age of Ultron)  but a cameo-ish appearance by an Avenger (yay!).  Add in another cameo featuring the cult favorite of the Marvel CU, and the tapestry that's being woven is really pretty incredible.  I still don't feel like I'm being forced to keep up, a la the usual Marvel Comics crossover.  It's still a pleasure to do so.

Someone online mentioned that superhero movies are their own genre at this point, akin to the Western, which had a rise and fall.  Which seems true, although Westerns enjoyed a near 60 year dominance of the box office.  This could be true if the varying tonal approaches to superheroes we're seeing at Marvel these days are any indication (and something DC is going to have to deal with, but started off completely on the wrong foot to do so).  Just a quick glance at even the John Wayne classics shows a wide range of kinds of movies within the western, and all of those were handicapped by the fact that all of them had John Wayne playing the same character in every damn movie (McClintock!,  Searchers, Stage Coach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).

All in all, it's not like I was particularly moved by Ant-Man, but this seemed like the place where Marvel might misstep and the pundits would finally declare Marvel over with.  But...  nope.  Maybe when we get an Irving Forbush movie.


Matt A. said...

I don't know if we can say that superhero movies will be the launching pad for a new John Ford - they're just too big budget to let a director have his way like that. But I'd like to see it happen.

paul haine said...

"I don't know who "Hope Van Dyne" is in the context of the comics"

Technically, "Hope Van Dyne" isn't in the comics. There's a Hope Pym, who has the alter ego of the evil "Red Queen" who runs an evil organisation known as "The Revengers". Not sure what the rationale was in changing her surname for the film, though I expect some licensing quirk more than planned storylines.

The League said...

Well, that's a thing, then. And I would go along with the licensing quirk idea. Thanks!

The League said...

Well, I don't know that opening up a "old studio system model" vs. "new studio system model" conversation would do much but make everyone fall asleep, but Ford was absolutely part of the old system. He just had enough Spielberg-like success he could do whatever he wanted. DC/ WB is claiming their hallmark will be creative freedom for directors, which is hilarious, because Zack Snyder has said again and again that he just does what the studio asks and they've already fired someone off Wonder Woman.

Marvel couldn't keep Edgar Wright around, so there's clearly rails on the system that you can't push against. The opportunity for directors to leave their individual mark on these huge properties is probably not available for the next few years, but I think you can see the difference, nonetheless, when you look at Cap 1 vs. Cap 2 or even Iron Man 1 vs. Iron Man 3.

But, yeah, the likelihood of another Tim Burton coming along and reimagining all this stuff without a panel of studio execs hanging over their shoulder is minimal.

Simon MacDonald said...

I actually really liked this film. As a father of a 10 year old girl I really dug the dual father/daughter relationships in the film. As a divorced Dad I'm constantly scared that something will happen that will estrange my daughter and I so the emotional core of this film was really pulling at my heart strings.

As for Ant Man in the comics I think that the Scott Lang version is most compelling one. The third Ant Man Eric O'Grady was pretty funny in the hands of Robert Kirkman but once Kirkman was off to Image they really didn't know what to do with the character and eventually killed him. Which was probably for the best.

Anyway, I feel like Phase 2 of these Marvel movies ended on a high note rescuing me from what I thought was a hot mess of Avengers 2. Looking ahead to Phase 3 I'm most excited about Black Panther and Doctor Strange. I expect GotG2 to be good but no where near as good as the first and Captain America 3 is not what I signed up for.

The League said...

Yeah. The genuineness of Scott Lang's motivation made the movie a lot more tangible than a revenge story. And the movie's avoidance of the usual trope of finding some reason to make him look like an idiot or failure in front of his kid was a welcome omission, because most movies would insist on that scene (and Judy Greer is now in the Marvel U, which I support).

I'll just wait and see what Marvel has cooked up. I was actually deeply skeptical of Cap 2 until, really, about 2 minutes into the movie, so I hope that happens again. But, yeah, very jazzed for the Phase 3 movies. Black Panther is the one I'm anticipating the most. So much they could do there.