How Does Paul Rudd Stack up as a Superhero in Ant-Man?

16 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ant-Man: A brief history of Marvel’s most important third-string hero.

As perhaps befits a movie about a superhero who can shrink to insectoid scale and return to normal size in the blink of an eye, expectations for Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man” have shifted wildly during the course of its scrambled production process.

In its efforts to colonize the multiplex with heroes, Marvel Studios has gone big (Thor), bigger (Hulk), neurotic (Spider-Man), unmanicured (Wolverine) and anarchist collective (Avengers) and finally decided that less is more. Originally developed by genre-savvy filmmaker Edgar Wright, who departed the project over creative differences with Marvel, “Ant-Man” was ultimately helmed by Peyton Reed, a director known for comedies like “Yes Man” and “Bring It On” but short on action bona fides. His size-shifting capabilities (as his name implies, he can shrink himself to the stature of an ant) and genius wouldn’t get you very far in a fight against supervillains, and if you’re looking for a hero with the ability to communicate with his or her namesake animal, there are more adorable characters like Squirrel Girl. Turns out it was right: Ant-Man, while based on a minor deity in Marvel’s pantheon, is not only one of the more entertainingly human fantasies to come out of the studio, but it also defies the bedrock fanboy aesthetic that you don’t want to merely watch the superhero–you want to be the superhero. …

One just crawled across my laptop screen, and as I crushed its tiny body between my thumb and forefinger, an alarming thought crossed my mind: They know what I’m up to. The fumes from this man’s numerous crash-and-burn attempts to become the greatest could — and did — fill hundreds of issues of Marvel comic books.

That Ant-Man is Hank Pym, super-scientist creator of the Pym Particle that allows a man to instantaneously shrink down to the size of a … see character’s name. ‘Ant-Man,’ with Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Thomas the Tank Engine. And though there have been multiple attempts to rewrite his history and bestow his title upon other characters, Ant-Man’s existence always comes back to one unique truth: He’s a third-string hero who’s seemingly destined to fail, and he will do everything in his power to avoid that fate. The Times’ Kenneth Turan writes, “Playful in unexpected ways and graced with a genuinely off-center sense of humor, ‘Ant-Man’ (engagingly directed by Peyton Reed) is light on its feet the way the standard-issue Marvel behemoths never are.

Business as usual this is not.” Turan goes on to say the movie benefits from the presence of Rudd (a “genial and charming everyman”) and Michael Douglas (bringing “invaluable gravitas”), as well the “anarchic popular culture spirit” imprinted by the initial writing team of Wright and Joe Cornish. These men, including Pym, have been incorporated into some of Marvel’s most iconic stories; various incarnations of Ant-Man have been involved in the creation of Ultron, maintained a rough relationship with a superheroine known as the Wasp, and died one of Marvel’s most iconic deaths. Variety’s Justin Chang calls “Ant-Man” a “winningly modest addition” to the Marvel canon and adds, “Though we can mourn the more stylish and inventive stand-alone caper we might have gotten from director Edgar Wright … this enjoyably off-the-cuff franchise starter takes a cue from its incredible shrinking protagonist … and emerges with a smaller-scaled, bigger-hearted origin story than most comicbook heroes are typically granted.” In some ways, Chang says, “‘Ant-Man’ feels less like a full-blown superhero spectacular than a goofily amusing, warmly sentimental family drama with a pleasing overlay of blockbuster elements.” Chang also singles out Michael Pena, who plays Rudd’s trusty sidekick, for his comedic chops. So someone else will have to tackle the hot topic of “What ‘Ant-Man’ Gets Wrong About Ants.” Directed by the comedy specialist Peyton Reed (“Bring It On,” “The Break-Up,” “Yes Man”) from a script credited to Edgar Wright, Adam McKay, Joe Cornish and Paul Rudd (who stars), this film is a passable piece of drone work from the ever-expanding Marvel-Disney colony. USA Today’s Brian Truitt says “Ant-Man” offers Marvel’s “most distinctive solo character yet” and should appeal not only to superfans, but to “most anybody who can fathom a shrinking man.” Truitt concedes that “Tonally, ‘Ant-Man’ is a little all over the place — at times, it’s a quirky comedy, heist film, trippy sci-fi project and family drama, never able to really blend everything in a cohesive fashion. … That said, when it’s on its game, ‘Ant-Man’ does some of the best stuff ever in a Marvel movie.” Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty gives “Ant-Man” a B grade and says it “should uncock a lot of skeptically raised eyebrows.

What’s more, the lives of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) — the two Ant-Men at the center of the character’s eponymous 2015 film — couldn’t be more different. Like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” last year’s off-brand Marvel hit, “Ant-Man” dabbles in the bright, playful colors of the superhero spectrum, reveling in moments of cartoonish whimsy and smirky humor. And he’s, well, let him run down his list of particulars (per the “Ant-Man Prelude” comic): “I was a failed criminal, a convict and a terrible husband.” A loving dad, though, and willing to do anything to redeem himself in the eyes of his cutie-pie young daughter Cassie (Abbie Ryder Fortson, gooily sweet).

Their origin stories are deeply at odds: One lets his failures affect his family, while the other can’t afford to fail because his family’s survival depends on him. Recruited by Pym to battle a bald baddie named Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, smarmy and smirking), Lang dons the shrink suit, gets real small and goes running and flying with swarms of CG ants to thwart the nefarious schemes of Cross, who wants to use Pym’s invention for evil purposes.

He also gets belted around and roundly scorned by Pym’s judgmental daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly, her stare disapproving, her hair severely styled). The truly great Marvel superheroes struggle with hubris. ‘Ant-Man’ mostly panics and yells and falls down a lot.” He continues: “Sometimes Rudd is just a little too cute and dimply, and sometimes Reed … pushes things a little too hard, particularly with Christophe Beck’s comic, pastiche soundtrack, or some oh-those-funny-minorities! characters. … As hard as everyone here works, ‘Ant-Man’ emerges only as a minor hero – fine for occasional gags and cameos in upcoming Marvel ensembles, but undeserving of all this attention.”

OMG and LOL — not so much of the first (unless you are still astonished by the sight of guys in mechanical suits punching each other), but a decent dose of the second. Success doesn’t come easy to him, and the solutions he comes up with to fix his problems typically involve more problems, like more shitty, uber-powerful robots. Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale show up as Scott’s former wife and her new husband — stepfather to Scott’s adorable daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) — but for fans of these wonderful actors, the main satisfaction will come from the knowledge that they earned some money. (The continued marginalization of the brilliant Ms. Janet van Dyne), became a target of his frustrations — a dynamic we don’t often see in comic books: It’s difficult to encapsulate the 50 years of comic book stories Ant-Man and the Wasp ultimately shared, but the bottom line is that Ant-Man’s writers and artists weren’t afraid to show the couple’s relationship going sour. That led to rough patches for the pair, with the Wasp serving as a voice of reason and Pym playing the role of hardheaded challenger and going against her clear thinking.

He’s a pleasant enough hero, registering confusion, amazement and irritation when circumstances require them, but his special charisma gets lost in the suit and drowned out in the hectic noise of the plot. Thus, it’s easy to see why Marvel wouldn’t want to fully incorporate Pym into its contemporary movies, even though he and his wife were founding and crucial members of the Avengers.

The most ingenious sequence comes near the end, during a climactic battle between two miniaturized dudes, which toggles between their perspective and that of normal-size people. What appears to the combatants to be a noisy, screen-filling, no-holds-barred struggle looks, at human scale, like a minor disturbance in a room full of toys. Some people feel the Marvel Cinematic Universe has pretty much gutted Pym’s story from the comics, salvaged the best parts (Ultron!), and brought a ghost of the original Ant-Man to the screen.

That’s worrisome to critics who believe that giving the character his own film could be part of Marvel’s strategy to create more complicated and less heroic heroes. “If this is how Marvel plans to approach the rest of its catalogue, it’s a very different treatment from the one that gave us faithful versions of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America,” Andrew Wheeler wrote at Comics Alliance in 2014. “I worry that doubt has set in, and the studio will make movies that sneer at the comics rather than honoring them. Those aren’t the superhero movies I enjoy.” The first time we meet Scott Lang is in Avengers No. 181 (1979), a story that actually begins with two superheroes, Beast and Wonderman, watching a movie and commenting about how the public sees heroes and superheroes.

The two pay a visit to the Avengers mansion, where they’re attacked by a wayward security system: Initially, we don’t know much about Lang other than that he’s a bit of a genius when it comes to electronics. But in Marvel Premiere No. 47 and 48 (1979), we find out that Lang’s spent time in jail for theft, which he committed while trying to support his family. At that point, Pym — who’s actually been watching Lang the whole time — says Lang can keep the armor, so long as he continues to use it for good: While Pym’s legacy is marred by domestic abuse and a litany of failures, Lang’s is built on the expectation that even if he doesn’t always behave like a model citizen, he’ll do anything for his family.

His greatest worry — that something bad might happen to his daughter — is more intimate than Tony Stark’s fear of global war, more grounded than Thor’s quest to be honorable, and more realized than Captain America and Black Widow’s different but shared internalization of feeling out of place. There are plenty of other Avengers (She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Spectrum, Luke Cage, Nova, Valkyrie, etc.) whose powers and personalities would make for much more scintillating movies. Marvel’s executives knew this, but ultimately, the character’s lack of flashiness didn’t matter because Ant-Man got its start as one of Stan Lee’s pet projects. In Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Howe explains that Lee just wouldn’t stop pitching a film based on the character, who was one of his favorites. As William Rabkin, a script evaluator for New World entertainment — the company that bought Marvel in 1986 — told Howe: Stan Lee loved Ant-Man beyond all reason, and nobody ever gave a damn … He was always on about Ant-Man; he wanted an Ant-Man script in the worst way.

When your canon also features anthropomorphic raccoons who traverse space with talking trees, Eastern European twins blessed with super speed and telekinesis, and a demigod who can control the weather, a guy who can make himself tiny doesn’t seem all that spectacular. As Howe explains, the first iteration of an Ant-Man movie was developed 26 years ago, around 1989, and only came about because executives thought they could beat Disney to the punch of a shrinking story: Rehme thought for a minute. Yet here we are, 26 years or so after those initial pitches, with a Marvel blockbuster gamble built on a broken, tiny man, who has no business starring in his own movie.

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