Marvel, DC and where threats to America really come from | News Entertainment

Marvel, DC and where threats to America really come from

16 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

So the prospect that Ant-Man, the minuscule Mighty Mouse of Marvel’s stable of powerhouse superheroes, might join the brawny big-screen ranks of the Hulk, Thor and the rest has long held some pleasing irony.

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. That’s why lots of curiosity ensued when, just weeks before shooting on “Ant-Man” was to commence, Edgar Wright, the British blender of genre and comedy who had worked on the project for eight years, departed over “creative differences.” It was a sacrifice, seemingly, to the Marvel colossus. 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. The precise source of the dispute is unknown, but it’s clear enough from the final product, pushed forward with the quick insertion of director Peyton Reed (“Bring It On,” “The Break-Up”) and a rewrite by Adam McKay and others, that “Ant-Man” was bedeviled on one hand by staying true to its more modest size and idiosyncratic nature and on the other by meeting the larger, blander demands of being a Marvel movie complete with superhero cameos and sequel potential.

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. He has an ethnically diverse group of petty criminal friends: Tip (T.I.) Harris, David Dastmalchian and Michael Pena, the only actor in the movie who’s rightly convinced he’s in a comedy. Lang is trying to right himself for the sake of his young daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston) and for the purpose of paying child support to his ex-wife (Judy Greer, an actress too good to be twice relegated to the domestic sidelines in this summer’s blockbusters). 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.

Through some strained plot mechanics, Lang is recruited by the original Ant-Man, the scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), to succeed him in the suit. 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). During training, while Lang tries to perfect his communication with other underground ants, he sometimes pops out of the ground like a sprouted cabbage.

Change, we are told, is afoot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Ant-Man” is the final movie in the studio’s Phase Two, and there are promises of bigger intergalactic battles looming in Phase Three.” Still, you have to squint pretty hard to spot the differences from Marvel movie to Marvel movie. Pym’s greatest creation, the most sophisticated artificial intelligence that the Marvel Universe has ever seen, turns out to be Ultron — one of the Avengers’ most enduring foes. “His history was largely a litany of failure, always changing guises and switching back and forth from research to hero-ing because he wasn’t succeeding at either,” Jim Shooter, a former editor-in-chief at Marvel, wrote on his website, explaining Pym’s shortcomings. “He was never the Avenger who saved the day at the end and usually the first knocked out or captured.” Having a hero fail — and fail miserably, as Pym did — would actually make for an interesting story that cuts against the grain of Marvel’s overachieving superheroes. 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. 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. And that’s a large part of why Ant-Man concentrates more on the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang, and depicts Pym as an old man: It puts the spotlight on Lang and minimizes Pym’s personal story. 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. 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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