Through Phases One and Two, Marvel fans have had the pleasure to experience film versions of a tech-genius, a gamma-irradiated monster, a god who walks among humanity and a team of legends forging a union to protect the world. As different as they appear on the surface, each of these movies has one thing in common: They’re huge in scope and execution. Because of that, it may come as a surprise that Marvel’s biggest prospective hit may well the one which features their smallest protagonist to date.
Announced well before the phrase “Phase One” was first uttered, director Edgar Wright’s “Ant-Man” may not appear to belong on the same plane as “The Avengers,” “Iron Man,” “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “The Incredible Hulk,” but a closer look at some of the elements that make up this long-awaited Marvel film indicate that there is a very real possibility “Ant-Man” could become Marvel Studios’ biggest success story to date.
EDGAR WRIGHT: GENRE CHAMELEON
“Ant-Man’s” existence has teased fans since Edgar Wright took the stage at Comic-Con International in 2006. Many were surprised that Wright’s choice of character wasn’t one of Marvel’s bigger guns, but it was clear that “Ant-Man” was Wright’s passion project. The director confessed that his favorite comic growing up was David Michelinie and John Byrne’s “Marvel Premiere” #47, one of the first issues to heavily feature Scott Lang. According to the then up-and-coming director, the book spun him into a world where the coolest thing possible that can happen to a person would be to achieve the freedom of being small. Really, really small.
Fast forward eight years, and Wright still carries the same love and respect for the character as he did back in 2006. Whether it’s “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “The World’s End” or “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” it’s clear that when Wright chooses a project, he throws himself into it completely, delivering a deft exploration and intensely clever parody of the genre’s pacing and tropes. The fact that Wright has turned his loving attention to an established superhero should be an exciting prospect for Marvel fans. Just look at his track record: With “Shaun of the Dead,” Wright delivered a loving horror parody which doubled as a rather intense and effective horror film layered within the send-up of the genre. “Hot Fuzz” took on the genre of action cop films in a similar fashion, while “The World’s End” mixed laughter with an examination of the intricacies of the modern science fiction movie. It’s anyone’s guess what he’s got planned for superheroes in “Ant-Man,” but one thing seems to be a sure bet — Wright will give it his all.
Plus, Ant-Man’s rogues gallery is perfect for Wright’s unique sensibilities. Imagine the director having a go at villains like Egghead, the Porcupine, Whirlwind or — dare we dream — the Scarlet Beetle. Wright is one of the great visionary modern filmmakers with a narrative voice wholly his own. His passion for a project like “Ant-Man” creates the prospect that we’re going to get a very special film.
LEAVING THE PAST BEHIND
By making Scott Lang the protagonist of the film, Wright has removed a potentially huge, dark encumbrance off the “Ant-Man” concept, opening the film up to explore a spirit of free-wheeling adventure rather than burdensome emotional angst.
The original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, was one of Marvel’s premiere heroes, pre-dating Marvel luminaries Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men. Pym’s early adventures, while not played for laughs, were pretty footloose and fancy free with a sense of fun and high adventure. His banter with the Wasp made for fun, fast paced, rollicking superhero tales set in the Cold War. Then, when Ant-Man lost his own feature in “Tales to Astonish,” he became a regular player in “The Avengers.” There, Marvel creators created story elements and plot developments which moved the character forward rather than keeping him as the outdated Cold War adventurer. While these new elements to Pym’s character created such legendary stories as the coming of Ultron, they also made the character a rather tragic figure saddled with intense guilt and emotional baggage.
The creation of Ultron, bouts with mental illness and spousal abuse came to define the character, and it’s very difficult to find a modern Hank Pym story that does not reference this trifecta of character flaws. Forget that he was being emotionally controlled when he struck the Wasp; the action came to define Pym as a character. While these elements certainly added layers to Pym’s backstory, they also succeeded in completely robbing the character of the airy lightness that helped define the Ant-Man character. The power to shrink (or grow) is fantastical in nature, a power which should be filled with joy and humor — a tone that came across in the early Pym stories. It’s hard to capture that tone when focusing on a character whose defining moments were spousal abuse and accidentally creating robot Hitler.
By settling on Scott Lang as the film’s primary hero, Wright has freed himself from having to deal with these elements; instead, the story can focus on the joy of Ant-Man’s abilities rather than the past sins of a broken man. “Ant-Man” has the potential to put the fun back into a concept weighed down by decades of melodrama, a formula that can mean huge things for the potential franchise.
THE GENIUS CASTING OF PAUL RUDD
Forget Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, Paul Rudd is the true superhero casting coup of the year. Rudd has the perfect look, sense of humor and presence to make Ant-Man shine. He has that everyman quality inherent in most of Marvel’s heroes, and his comedic acumen makes him the ideal actor to react to the no doubt insane world Wright will create. Most of Marvel’s lead actor choices, beginning with Robert Downey Jr., have been a bit left of center, yet undeniably perfect — it’s almost a Marvel tradition at this point — and Rudd continues in that tradition, fitting the mold of the likable lead thrown into an insane world. Considering Ant-Man’s powerset, CGI work is inevitable, and Rudd’s range, presence and likability will prove key in selling the concept to viewers.
Given Wright’s track record, a multi-faceted comedic actor is key to bringing the world of “Ant-Man” to life. It needs a lead that audiences will relate to and want to take a journey with. Rudd is a perfect fit, and casting Michael Douglas as Hank Pym to serve as the dark counterpoint to Rudd’s hero — if that’s the direction Wright takes things — would make for some truly classic moments.
THE POSSIBILITY OF THE WASP
While we’re excited that Ant-Man is coming, he isn’t the only superhero fans want to see make a long awaited big screen debut. Janet Van Dyne, aka The Wasp, is arguably an even more important character in the annals of Marvel history than her partner and sometimes husband, Hank Pym. Like Pym, The Wasp is also a founding member of the Avengers in the comics, and serves as a long-running member of the group. While fans have gotten to know and love the non-powered Black Widow, The Wasp would be the first woman introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with fantastic powers, not to mention a comic history that dates back to the beginnings of the House of Ideas. In fact, she’s the longest-lived Marvel heroine after the Fantastic Four’s Invisible Woman.
Although neither The Wasp nor Janet Van Dyne are confirmed for the film as of yet, the search is still reportedly on for the film’s female lead. Regardless of her MCU identity, the right dynamic with Paul Rudd could lead to big screen magic for Ant-Man and — hopefully — The Wasp. A dual romantic comedy/superhero story has not yet been attempted in a superhero flick, and if successful, it could be the perfect formula for “crossover” appeal leading to a true box-office bonanza.
Or, hey – Hank Pym took on the Wasp mantle for a short time — perhaps Wright could head in that direction.
THE LEGACY OF PYM PARTICLES
Considering the number of individuals in the Marvel Universe affected by Pym Particles — the atomic substance that gives humans the ability to change size — Wright’s film has the potential to serve as an introduction to a universe of size changing heroes, all with enough of a disparate personality to create a great character dynamic between multiple size-changing adventurers. There’s Douglas’ Hank Pym and Rudd’s Scott Lang — but a third man in the comics also took on the Ant-Man mantle: S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Eric O’Grady, the self-acknowledged ass who uses his powers for personal gain. If used, O’Grady is one of many size-changers that could add to a fabulously diverse group of characters that can play off each other and create a truly unique narrative.
Wright has proven his adept touch with ensemble casts in “The World’s End” and the UK sitcom “Spaced.” Imagine a film with multiple size changers, each acting as allies and foils as they learn how to change size and the meaning of heroism. The mere possibility of three cinematic Ant-Men is exciting, and the potential of each could make “Ant-Man” a superhero experience like no other. Plus, there’s always room for expansion — perhaps Eric O’Grady could make an appearance on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” after “Ant-Man” debuts. Maybe Bill Foster (Black Goliath/Giant Man) could play some kind of role in the MCU moving forward, or Clint Barton could take on the Goliath mantle for a while, or perhaps we’ll see Yellowjacket appear in one of the character’s numerous incarnations.
Ultimately, the possibilities “Ant-Man” presents Marvel’s live-action plans are nearly endless, offering Wright and Marvel Studios the keys to expanding the Cinematic Universe in ways none of the previously-released films could. He’s a legacy character with connections to numerous other characters and concepts which have the potential to inform future movies, television projects and more. “Ant-Man” may be a little hero, but he opens the door to big opportunities.