Not entirely sold on Ant-Man? Neither was I until now…
The concept on film of a shrunken protagonist with size-alterations as a plot-device is nothing new. But what gives these films a spark or explosion of uniqueness is how they’re done on-screen. Films such as Fantastic Voyage (1966), Innerspace (1987) and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989) have all given their unique spin on the concept. The former two were fascinating in that they involved the backdrop of the human body being explored internally at the molecular level by its main characters. The special effects were also intriguing, as well. The latter film was awesome, but the portrayal of 1/4th inch-tall humans pitted against humongous insects grew to frighten me as I progressed into adulthood (don’t ask me why, I don’t know). With that said, you’re probably wondering why I would possibly even want to see the upcoming “Ant-Man” film six months from now. Several reasons come to mind:
- To face my own fear of large insects on-screen.
- To feed my needs as a Marvel cinephile.
- To see the character of Ant-Man finally get the validation that’s been long denied him in the comics.
So far, from what I saw in the full trailer, Ant-Man will tell the story of a criminal seeking redemption by playing and eventually becoming the hero. That’s the theme of the story broken down to its most basic and simplified trope. To be honest, the trailer didn’t look all that exciting, but that could be misleading. When the previous director, Edgar Wright, was on the helm, he promoted the film as different from its peers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that it’s telling the story of a man who actually likes being a super-hero. That sounds like it would be fun to watch, except with Wright gone and with the trailer being what it is, it doesn’t seem likely. But again, I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. In the comics, the original Ant-Man creator Stan Lee said the character suffered due to subsequent creative teams’ inability to grasp the concepts of dimension and perspective. It took decades to make the characters’ size-changing adventures seem interesting for readers, even with their membership in the Avengers. But here’s some background on Ant-Man….both of them.
Who are they?
FIRST APPEARANCE: Avengers (Vol. 1) #181, March 1979 (As Lang); Marvel Premiere #47, April 1979 (as Ant-Man)
The title character of the film is portrayed by actor Paul Rudd. This version, whose real name is Scott Edward Harris Lang, is the second man to don the Ant-Man costume. Lang is an electronics expert whose job as a technician wasn’t supporting his family. To that end, he turned to burglary to make ends meet. Eventually, he was caught and sentenced to five years on Riker’s Island. He was released for good behavior after three years, but he had some additional advanced electronics training during his stint. Additionally, his wife, Peggy-Rae, divorces him while he was jailed and left their daughter, Cassie, in the custody of her aunt and uncle. Shortly after his release, he was personally hired by Tony Stark to re-design and install a new security system for the Avengers mansion. He reconnects with Cassie during this time period, but she falls ill to a congenital heart disorder. In the comics, he returns to burglary as a last resort to save his daughter. He steals the Ant-Man equipment from Dr. Henry Pym (the original Ant-Man) and uses the size-shrinking technology to infiltrate Cross Technological Enterprises to rescue Dr. Erica Sondheim, whose expertise in laser surgery were Cassie’s only hope for survival. After liberating Dr. Sondheim from CTE company-head Darren Cross, Scott saved Cassie and was allowed by Dr. Pym to keep the Ant-Man equipment. From then-on, he balanced his life as a father, a part-time Avenger and owner/operator of his own electronics company.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Tales to Astonish #27, January 1962
Henry Jonathan Pym (like “gym”, but with a ‘P’) has been dubbed by Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four as “the most brilliant bio-engineer alive”. When you get that kind of props the Marvel Universe’s most intelligent man, you know you’re good, right? Wrong. Hank Pym is a man racked by insecurity despite his known genius. He’s more simpatico with Bruce Banner than Tony Stark is, actually. They both suffered and repressed their own childhood traumas and instead focused their energies towards intellectual pursuits and scientific endeavors; Banner, like Pym, also has Mr. Fantastic bowing in surrender and submission to his expertise in gamma radiation; and they both became heroes through sciences of their own devising. Pym’s mother died during his childhood and he trivialized it (and eventually the role of motherhood in general) to cope. The man breezed through college and collected a total of nine post-graduate level degrees, including Ph.D.’s in biochemistry, robotics and entomology. But again, for a man as intelligent as Pym, he’s been prone to extreme bouts emotional instability, self-doubt, anxiety and generally low self-esteem. He was obsessive in his work, particularly in researching how to alter the size of matter. For a while, he had no success until he discovered particles that enabled him to do so. After drinking a formula infused with the particles, he shrank down to insect-size and found himself running in terror from giant ants on an anthill. He escaped and reverted to his normal size, but then destroyed the formula, believing it to be dangerous. He later re-created the formula and used it as a crime-fighter. As Ant-Man, he was a founding member of the Avengers. Despite his newfound power, he still continued to feel small in the eyes of his peers. He’s modified his size-changing formula over the years and assumed many different super-heroic identities (each with different fluctuations in powers and personalities, see above). He’s also retired and returned to the Avengers perhaps more than any other member. On film, the character is to be portrayed by Michael Douglas and will serve in the background as a mentor to Scott Lang.
Both men derive their abilities from what’s known as the Pym Particles, subatomic particles that allow size-changing as well as the shunting and accruing mass extra-dimensionally. For Scott Lang, he employs a gas containing magnetically-suspended Pym Particles in order to change sizes. He can shrink himself to as small as below microscopic size. By doing so, he gains access to the Microverse (more on that later). By exposing himself to a different set of gaseous Pym Particles, he can re-enlarge himself to his normal size. He can apply both gases to people and external objects to create the same effects. Even at 1/2 inch in size, Lang retains his normal strength level. His costume was designed, manufactured and used by Pym during his time as the original Ant-Man. It consists of stretch fabrics laced with unstable molecules, and a cybernetic helmet that allows the user rudimentary telepathic communication with ants, is equipped with sound amplification allowing the shrunken user to be heard by normal-sized individuals, a retractable plexiglass face shield, an oxygen supply and gas canisters containing the Pym Particles. In shrunken size, he uses a flying ant for transportation.
By transcending the limits of their size-changing abilities, or if augmented in conjunction with artificial means, a Pym Particles user can travel beyond the this reality’ physical limits.
Microverse: A parallel dimension that is properly accessible from Earth by reducing one’s mass to below sub-atomic scales. On that level, the energies used in the reduction process created a breach in the dimensional barrier separating Earth from the Microverse and allowing traverse into the former. The Microverse was once believed to exist in the atoms of our universe, but with the merger of the known microverses (Jarella’s world, the Psycho-Man’s Sub-Atomica and the Micronauts’ microverse) into one, that theory has been proven incorrect. Access to the Microverse via artificial means, such as the Prometheus Pit, causes a relative size distortion upon entering.
Scott Lang entering the Microverse.
Overspace: A dimensional space above and apart from all other realities where one can confer and communicate with abstract cosmic entities (Eternity, Death, the Living Tribunal, et. al.). It is accessible by growing past dimensional barriers.
Pym Particles: Subatomic particles named after their discoverer (Dr. Henry Pym) that originate on a planet in the Microverse named Kosmos. On that scale, they’re used as a pollen by the planets indigenous insect population. In Earth’s dimension, exposure to these particles creates a mass-alteration field within the metabolism of a living being, causing the being to dramatically shrink or grow in size. The field also expands a short distance out from the being’s body, which is what causes user’s clothing to shrink and grow along with him. These particles can also affect inanimate matter as well. Shrinking shunts an objects mass into Kosmos while enlarging accrues mass from there.
Underspace: A parallel dimension also accessible via shrinking. It exists in a level below the Microverse in an even smaller dimensional space.
Allies and Enemies?
The chief antagonist of the upcoming film is slated to be Darren Cross, portrayed by Corey Stoll. He’s the CEO of Cross Technological Enterprises. He’ll be utilizing the Yellowjacket costume for his own evil purposes and is Lang’s nemesis. From the looks of it, the film will be loosely based on Lang’s origin story. Since he’s employing the YJ costume, it’s safe to assume that Cross won’t be using a pacemaker that transforms him into a crimson red nuclear caveman as it did in the books. Egghead was one of Pym’s biggest enemies in the book, but won’t be included in this cast. Both Pym and Lang are members of the Avengers in the books, so we can expect some related easter eggs to appear. Janet van Dyne (the Wasp and Pym’s second wife) also will appear, but it seems she’ll have the same role as Sela Ward in The Fugitive (1993) or Terry Kiser in both Weekend at Bernie’s films.
I personally feel that Pym should be the title character. His backstory is more interesting than Lang and he’s one of two founding members of the Avengers that hasn’t as of yet had an on-screen depiction. Also, it’s not known whether or not his on-screen backstory will involve any of the Avengers. I would’ve liked to seen Pym’s psychological hang-ups on the big screen and how an actor can convey that internal struggle with consideration to his genius and exponential size-changing. Michael Douglas portraying Pym has him decades older than he looks in the present-day comics (which could be a reference to Marvel’s sliding timescale). If Pym is portrayed on-screen in a costumed identity, it’ll most-likely be in flashbacks. His classic origin story when he shrunk himself down to anthill has to be shown or at least have a passing reference made to it. Also, with Pym, he’d be a welcome addition to the Tony Stark-Bruce Banner pairing of genius superheroes. It’d be interesting to see Robert Downey, Jr.’s Stark poke and prod Pym to get an understanding of what makes him tick. But knowing Stark, he’d probably put Banner (as the Hulk) and Pym (as Giant-Man) into a pit to fight and extrapolate deductions from that. Also, Hank Pym is the creator of Ultron in the comics. The Avengers sequel has Ultron as the villain, so it would’ve made sense for this film to be released before Avengers Age of Ultron (Unless Ant-Man will serve as its prequel). Considering Pym’s controversial storylines, it’s understandable somewhat why Marvel Studios would want to forego making Pym the main character. When he was Yellowjacket, it was due to being mentally unstable. During which time, this happened:
Yeah, Marvel Studios isn’t ready to tackle social issues like chemical insanity-driven domestic violence yet. Paul Rudd seems to be a good choice as Lang. He’s from the same irreverent character stock as Tony Stark and the Legendary Star-Lord, so that may turn out to be a hit with viewers. It’s also worth noting that Ant-Man doesn’t have the kind of quality enemies that the Hulk, Ironman or Thor possess. Despite the affiliations, this character has been a B- or C-level character in all of his incarnations. Speaking of which, I doubt we’re going to see anything to the effect of Giant-Man or Goliath. As Ant-Man, this film a purely shrinking affair. I hope they make a nod to the Microverse when characters shrink. References as small as those only expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward. Also, considering that both characters were a hit with only a small following of readers, this film is the chance to make them household names. Though I’m skeptical from what I’ve seen in the trailer, I doubt that this will be Marvel Studios’ first dud. It may give viewers the same widespread enthusiasm they had for Groot and be another cash-cow. In the thematic parlance of the film and its characters, size doesn’t matter.
Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A University of Connecticut graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, movies, hip-hop, et. al. You can follow him on Twitter @shack_house83.
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