The new Ant-Man is the next step in Marvel’s commitment to their cinematic mission. The world knows The Avengers, but Ant-Man? A few months ago I interviewed Bruce Timm, executive producer for DC’s animated projects for another story, and even he said he’s baffled over Ant-Man. Is it possible Marvel finally has a “too weird” property, even weirder than Guardians of the Galaxy? Star Wars at least informed the cultural palette that made Guardians easy to digest.
Ant-Man will set the tone for all the new Marvel movies that aren’t already blockbuster properties. Coming up in Phase Three is Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Inhumans, all big-budget movies starring no-name, who-cares nobodies. Longtime comic readers will have to pick up the slack informing their lesser-informed friends who is who, if they can find reason to care.
Marvel doesn’t even consider Guardians of the Galaxy to be a proper superhero movie. This leaves Ant-Man to be the first straight superhero Marvel has produced since Captain America: The First Avenger that introduces an entirely new superhero — or in other words, a new brand. Can Ant-Man sell?
Ant-Man was introduced in Tales to Astonish #35 in September 1962. Created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber, Ant-Man was originally Hank Pym, a scientist who discovered a way to shrink himself with “Pym Particles” several issues earlier. But it was in issue #35 when he assumed the mantle of Ant-Man, creating a costume and a high-tech helmet as he began a career battling criminals, crooks, and Communists. (It was the ‘60s.)
In 1979, Marvel writers David Michelinie and John Byrne introduced Scott Lang, a reformed petty thief with a very ill daughter. Lang returns to a life of crime to steal Pym’s equipment to save the only doctor, being held prisoner, that can cure his daughter. With his daughter saved, Lang tries to return the Ant-Man gear to Pym who lets him keep it if he promises to continue Pym’s legacy as a crimefighter.
And that’s what Ant-Man will be about this summer. Spoilers?
Despite the goofy, pulpy sci-fi roots of Ant-Man and the hero’s connection to nature’s most ubiquitous bug, the movie is bound to be the most human story Marvel has ever done. In a franchise that has featured hulking green beasts fighting Norse gods, a criminal trying to save his daughter by any means necessary is a universal heartbeat on an intimate scale.
Ant-Man’s success or failure will set the tone for the rest of the “unknown” Marvel heroes with movies waiting in the wings. If Ant-Man bombs, these movies will still go into production but there will be a dark cloud over them. There will be a stink that they will have to do double duty to get rid of.
Ant-Man is just a movie, and other movies like it have had to confront similar questions. For a time during which only Batman and Superman movies could be produced, pop culture wasn’t ready to become so geeky. The commercial possibilities were invisible, everything was deemed too nerdy.
But now everything is nerdy, but the risks remain. All it takes is one good movie to prove relevancy — Mad Max: Fury Road, anyone? — and it will be seen if Ant-Man can stand up to the challenge.