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Thoughts on Ant-Man

I went back and forth on whether I was going to see Ant-Man in theaters. I knew I wasn't making an effort to go opening weekend, but other than that, it was up in the air. Then S mentioned that she was interested, so I decided why not, and I got together a group. We watched it last night, at a local theater that has a bar. Just in case. (For the record, I ended up not getting a drink -- the line was too long before the movie, and the showing ran late enough that the bar was closed by the time we got out.)

Short verdict: it was fun. I was entertained and amused. I'm sure I laughed out loud more times than at any other Marvel movie, including Guardians of the Galaxy. Paul Rudd charmed me, as expected. Michael Douglas set my teeth on edge a little bit, also as expected. (Which perhaps makes him an appropriate choice to play Hank Pym.) Evangeline Lilly was great, and I hope we see Hope Van Dyne in future films. Yellowjacket was yet another cookie cutter "titan of industry looking for power and revenge" type, as seen in the Iron Man movies, without the excellent acting of Jeff Bridges or Sam Rockwell to bring a higher level of interest to the character. (I was a little more intrigued by the former SHIELD agent, and I wish we'd gotten more on him.) But I don't expect much from an MCU villain who isn't Loki, at least not in the movies. (The "Agents" shows, at least, are much stronger in that regard.) The visuals and effects were very well done, big screen-worthy if that kind of thing matters to you. I'm actually sort of curious about the 3D version, and I never watch movies in 3D. At its core, Ant-Man is a heist movie, and I do enjoy a good heist movie. It was worth seeing.

But of course I have quite a bit more to say. There have been three main problems dogging Ant-Man since it was announced and throughout the development process: Edgar Wright leaving the project, the absence of Janet Van Dyne, and Marvel's choice to make an Ant-Man movie at all. And all three of these issues also appeared on screen, to greater and lesser degrees.

1. Edgar Wright's involvement with the project was well-publicized from the very beginning. I think it's fair to say that the movie would never have been made if he hadn't championed the idea. So when he left, it was a big deal. The only other Edgar Wright film I've seen is Scott Pilgrim, so I'm hardly an expert on the subject, but his stamp on the final product remains, mainly in its action-comedy sensibility. The scenes where Luis is telling Scott where he got his hot tips struck me as strongly influenced by Wright, as were the training montage and the final fight with Yellowjacket. Since we don't know exactly why Wright left the project ("creative differences" can mean a whole host of things), it's hard to say what would have been different had he stayed at the helm. If the comments of other Marvel directors, and would-be Marvel directors like Ava DuVernay, are representative, I suspect the connections to SHIELD and the Avengers may have been at least part of his complaint. The battle between Scott and Sam Wilson was one of the highlights of the film for me, but we'll never know what, if anything, Wright would have done instead. So it's hard to say whether this was a net negative or net neutral (I'd be surprised if it were a net positive).

2. The fridging of Janet Van Dyne bothered me on several levels. Like other people familiar with the Ant-Man mythos from other media (in my case, the TV series "Earth's Mightiest Heroes"), I was unhappy to learn that Wasp wasn't going to be in the film, and that disappointment turned to anger when we found out that she was killed off to fuel Hank's angsty backstory. But even if I hadn't already known and loved Janet, her treatment by this film would have put me off. Not only is the MCU deprived of Janet's presence as a fully-realized character (at least for now), but her death and its effect on Hank sideline Hope from the action. The complaint I've heard most often about this film is how hard it works to keep Hope from being the hero, and I agree with this criticism whole-heartedly. The most positive thing I can say is that the movie recognizes the problem, through Hope's repeated claims that she should be leading the mission instead of Scott, and especially in the way that Scott backs her up. So I appreciate the a nod to it, and I was happy to see the first stinger, with its suggestion that Hope will eventually take up her mother's role, but it was too little and, in the case of the stinger, too late.

The other female characters are mostly sidelined from the action, too. Cassie Lang mostly exists to motivate her father and be put in peril; Maggie mostly exists to put an obstacle between Scott and Cassie. Personally, I found Maggie to be sympathetic, but I fear her treatment from fandom. It's always good to see Peggy, but she had maybe three lines. (Can we please have a movie where she and Janet are BFF?) So the movie was lacking in that respect all around, and a clear strike against my enjoyment of it.

3. In some respects, it's not really fair to hold the Ant-Man movie responsible for the lack of a Black Widow movie, or another property led by a woman and/or a character of color. It took the "not another white dude!" backlash largely as an issue of timing, since it was announced as a Phase Two film shortly after the release of the Avengers, when everyone first started clamoring for a Black Widow stand-alone. (Guardians of the Galaxy got some of the same flak, but less so, I suspect because fewer casual fans were familiar with the property, and it stars a mixed-gender team, not a solo white man.) Now that we have a completed film to discuss, I think it's more fair to ask ourselves whether the world, and the MCU, really needed an Ant-Man movie.

Much as I enjoyed watching it, I have to say no, not really -- or at least not this Ant-Man movie. Most frustrating, perhaps, is how easily it could have been saved: just move the first stinger from the end of the movie to the middle. Let Hank come to the realization that it's unfair of him to sideline Hope in time to complete the new Wasp suit and for Hope to join Scott in the fight. If Hope had been a full-fledged hero in her own right -- like Falcon or War Machine -- the film would have been more interesting, it would have made more sense, and it would have just been better all around.

So odds are, I would still rather have a Black Widow film -- although I do realize that I'm comparing an actual movie with the ideal Black Widow movie that lives in my head. ;) And of course there's no reason we couldn't have had both Ant-Man and Black Widow, except for Marvel's priorities, and its misguided ideas about whose stories are the most important to tell. Ant-Man is an almost perfect example of that problem in and of itself: Marvel made a film about a hero with a well-known and beloved female counterpart, then did everything in their power to keep her out of the spotlight -- first by killing off Janet (a comic book death, to be sure, with seeds sown in this film for a possible return, but still) and then by sticking Hope on the sidelines. Throwing a bone of a possible Wasp appearance in a second Ant-Man or later Avengers movie is not nearly enough. We need movies about female heroes here and now, not in some nebulous future.

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