Ant-Man: A Refreshing Origin Story
There is nothing more to guarantee Hollywood box office success then Superhero movies. As we have seen in the billions of dollars Marvel studios has made through The Avengers and Age of Ultron on their own, and I’m sure that Warner Brothers will make just as much with next years Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Suicide Squad, it has been a while that a superhero film has really grasped a fresh take on the standard origin story.
This is where Ant-Man comes in.
Ant-Man had the set up for the film to be a complete failure. It was in development for almost ten years, originally with Edgar Wright as director. However, late last year, the film lost its director due to Wright’s creative differences with Marvel studios. This left Peyton Reed, now as director, to quickly rush the film into production in order for a final product to be ready for its release date, the following year. The film wrapped in December, leaving only 7 months until the film’s release for editing, and for a film with major special effects seemed doomed.
However, the film is deeming to be a success. Resounding well with critics and keeping the top spot of the box office in the past two weeks of its release. The main reason critics are enjoying this film is that it is a breath of fresh air on the idea of the superhero origin story and how Ant-Man can stand alone within the high calibre of Marvel films.
While on paper, the premise of an Ant-Man that can shrink to the size of an ant seems a little dull and odd to the wider audience, it was able to create a fun new take on the origins of a superhero through the means of a heist film. This take of an origin story took everything on a smaller scale, which altogether made the stakes feel much larger then the stereotypical ‘the world is in danger’ problems in every other film we have seen in both Marvel and DC’s cinematic Universes, allowing you to take the somewhat odd premise seriously.
In the film, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a divorced man with a daughter he cares about, and in order to be able to see his daughter, he must find a way to pay the child support. This is difficult for a man straight out prison, obviously unable to find a job. This changes the way one sees the film. Rather then it being just another superhero movie, there was something real at stake. It felt more personal. This allowed us, as the audience, to become instantly more invested into the character, wanting him to succeed at an illegal task in order for his daughter’s happiness. It is the innocence of her character that really keeps us rooting for Lang, along with Paul Rudd’s likeable persona on screen. There has been no relationship of such in the MCU so far and as long as his motivation was for his daughter, we as an audience were going to remain invested.
Ant-Man, to date, is the only movie in the Marvel cinematic universe to have a predecessor of the suit or powers in the film. The addition to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in the film was able to add a new element to the genre and the coherence of the universe. Having a character who is aware of the consequences of a superheroes’ power and what can happen if that power falls into the wrong hands creates a new dynamic between Hank Pym and Scott Lang, unlike we’ve seen in any Marvel movie before. This ties in to the relationship Pym has with his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily), not allowing her to be the one to use the suit in the heist, due to these consequences it could entail. This is heavily due to Pym not wanting history to repeat itself through her mother and how you can’t change events in the past. This is able to mirror the relationship that Scott has with his daughter, keeping the audience on the side of Lang, wanting everything to succeed.
This dynamic is also able to create the sense of a mentor towards the new superhero. Someone guiding Scott and teaching him how to work the suit and communicate with the ants in order to make them follow and answer to him. Although the mentor image is all for an ulterior motive, we eventually see a family aspect between these two characters through the trust and respect they gain for one another.
This strength of relationships within the film helps to really develop the characters and add to the feel of the film, which definitely is ‘smaller feels bigger’. There aren’t much of family relationships at stake in previous Marvel films, they have primarily been more romantically linked and there is something different to the viewer when the life and happiness of a child is at stake. Superhero films usually follow the same formula of the entire world being destroyed rather then something small and personal. By changing the basic conventions of the formulaic standards these films follow, allows the dynamic to feel more real and terrifying for the audience instead of the same formula, which at this point has become to numb to viewers at this point and they don’t actually become invested in the characters.
One of the criticisms that Marvel has had in its films since the release of the first Avengers in 2012, is ‘Why can’t they just call the Avengers?’ Ant-Man was able to address this beautifully. The flashback at the beginning of the film, besides the wonder of how they made Michael Douglas look 30 years younger, was able to establish a relationship between Hank Pym and primarily Howard Stark, as well as Peggy Carter, linking the film and its history among the canon of the cinematic universe. The reasoning for Hank Pym not wanting Scott Lang to involve the Avengers into the film is based on his hatred of the Stark family.
This idea really brings the idea that not all films produced by Marvel need to have a plot that is world threatening. They don’t always need the Avengers. They need to focus on the larger scale action; when aliens are taking over New York City or when an Artificial Intelligence taking over the world cannot be destroyed. It really was able to create a different viewing for the audience, where we weren’t really expecting the giant scale and spectacle that we saw previously this year with Age Of Ultron.
Keeping it on the small scale allows more creativity and originality to flow through. This is incredibly important due to the line-up that Marvel has planned over the next five years, with ten new films, many of which are stand alones and possibly origin stories. If they continue to find new ways to introduce characters and add new stakes and focus on relationships, they could in fact continue to be one of the most fleshed out and more coherent universes in film.