Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) is poised to strike theaters again on July 17th. This time featuring Ant-Man, a hero with a major history in the comics but nary a footnote in the MCU as of yet. Written by a host of talent including the movie’s original director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,) who left the project citing creative differences that reportedly stemmed from some script revisions, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd are also credited with contributions to the screenplay. Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break-Up) replaced Wright as the director of the film and the project was not delayed. The common denominator here seems to be comedy, with both directors having made their bones in that genre. How do you take a character who was tragic on many levels in the comics and make his story into a comedy hero movie the likes of James Gunn’s hit Guardians of the Galaxy? I think it comes down to three main factors, the story, the cast, and as always with comic book based movies, the audience.
From the beginning, it was obvious that this would not be the Ant-Man of my childhood. In the comics Hank Pym as Ant-Man was a founding member of the Avengers. In the MCU, he was replaced by Hawkeye. In the comics he was a tragic character, almost an anti-hero most of the time. He was the creator of Ultron in the comics , but as you know from Avengers: Age of Ultron Tony Stark holds that dubious honor in the MCU. He also committed acts of domestic violence and had bouts with depression and mental illness in the comics, at one time resulting in his expulsion from the Avengers and even some jail time. These events in his life were the major impetus for Pym’s constant changes in heroic identity. He changed costumes and code names more often than Tony Stark changed girlfriends. He was Giant Man, Goliath, Yellow-Jacket and more, all in an effort to put his mistakes behind him and give himself perceived blank slates. You can see how the writers and even Marvel themselves would be hesitant to use that character on the big screen. Hank Pym’s issues are no laughing matter. So if Ant-Man was to be a comedy, Hank Pym could not be the main character. The departure of Edgar Wright certainly cast a bad light on the story itself. Although no details were revealed about the disagreement, by either side, the dispute itself does not bode well. Shortly after Wright left an unnamed “source” told The Hollywood Reporter;
“Kevin Feige [and his top lieutenants] run Marvel with a singularity of vision, but when you take a true auteur and throw him into the mix, this is what you get. They don’t want you to speak up too much or have too much vision. People who have never worked there don’t understand how they operate, but if you trust them, they have an amazing track record.”
The sheer volume of changes made to the lore have me concerned, but to have continuity with the MCU much had to change so I do not consider them examples of “egotistical” change. Feige and Marvel have proven that they know best when it comes to their characters. Just look at what they have done with Hulk and Daredevil since bringing them back into the fold. I suspect you’ll see a similar results with Spider-Man now that he is back at home where he belongs.
I do have serious questions about the story being told in Ant-Man, though. The fact that the movie includes an aged Hank Pym lends credence to the inclusion of the children of Hank and Janet Van Dyne (Wasp, from the comics universe.) Why is Yellow-Jacket, another of Pym’s identities in the comics, played by a different actor and the seeming villain of the film? Where has Pym been, and why hasn’t he appeared in the MCU before now? I hope all of these questions are answered, but it is still a lot of change. That being said, I do have faith in Marvel’s dedication to success so far so I’m willing to withhold by criticism, for now.
To make a good movie, especially a comedy, you need to have the right actors. Signing Paul Rudd on as Ant-Man/Scott Lang is probably the linchpin of the project in my opinion. Rudd has proven time and again that he has what it takes to find the laugh in almost any situation. The inclusion of Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) and John Slattery (Howard Stark) indicate that Pym has been around the MCU for a while, albeit not at the forefront. Other well-known actors like Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne), Corey Stoll (Darren Cross), Judy Greer (Maggie) and Bobby Cannavale (Paxton) lend further credence to a solid cast. So the acting will not be an issue, but did they pick the right characters to give us a story we care about? Hope (Lilly) and her twin brother Henry are not even from the main Marvel Comics Universe. They were the creation of Tom Defalco and Ron Frenz as part of Marvel’s MC2 universe. They appeared in A-Next #7, in which they formed a group named the Revengers to fight A-Next over their use of the Avengers’ name. One of the members of A-Next is a grown up Cassie Lang, daughter of Scott Lang, who will be played by Abby Ryder Fortson. Confused yet? How Hope and her twin brother, who is uncredited in the film, fit into the story remains to be seen. I can’t help but feel that some of this confusing continuity is remiscent to other Marvel-based franchises that met with great criticism, like the X-Men. I give the cast high marks but I have far too many questions marks when it comes to the story.
The final factor in this movie’s success is also the least likely to be positive or accepting in any way, and that is the fan base. The comic purists are going to lose their minds as this film plays out on the screen. After all, Pym was a founding Avenger who got the boot from the MCU. He was also the real creator of Ultron. He was groundbreaking as a character in many ways. He was among the first characters to be used to draw attention to domestic abuse in comics, and he fought mental illness for many years as an Avenger. Comic book purists are among the loudest, most negative, and least interested in taking a “wait and see” approach. Not only does this story have to be good, it better be able to explain the use of out of continuity characters, and it better have something to add to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general. If it doesn’t the comic die-hards will be relentless in their criticism. The mainstream audience, on the other hand, will be much more likely to give it a chance, especially after the largely unknown Guardians of the Galaxy made such a huge splash at the box office.
Ant-Man will hit theaters on July 17, 2015 and many will flock to see it. Based on what I know of the story, cast, and audience, I predict that it will not break any long-held records for ticket sales. The story, of which I admittedly know little more than I can infer from casting and news bytes, seems… off. That said, the cast is strong and Marvel Studios’ has a solid reputation, so I will go see Ant-Man in the theaters.