Wednesday, 22 July 2015
Ant-Man (4½ Stars)
Ant-Man? Who's Ant-Man?
That's the question people were asking when Marvel announced this film a few years ago. Even some fans of Marvel Comics weren't sure who he is, because he is admittedly one of Marvel's more obscure heroes. The man behind Ant-Man's mask, Dr. Hank Pym, has been a regular character in Marvel Comics for over 50 years, but he only appeared as Ant-Man in 16 comics, Tales to Astonish #35 to #48 and Avengers #1, from September 1962 to October 1963. In the following years he appeared using many names, including Giant Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket.
Hank Pym first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 as a scientist experimenting with ants and size changing. "Tales to Astonish" was a monthly comic presenting science fiction stories. We can assume that when Stan Lee wrote this story in January 1962 it was a standalone story, with no intention to feature Hank Pym again.
Later that year everything changed. After the success of the Fantastic Four, Marvel's first super-hero comic since the 1940's, Stan Lee decided to launch a series of super-hero comics. He began with the Hulk (May 1962), Spider-Man (August 1962) and Thor (August 1962). After these came Ant-Man (September 1962), for which he brought back Hank Pym in a new costume. The cover of Tales to Astonish #35 incorrectly announces "The Return of the Ant Man" (spelt without a hyphen for one issue only). It was the return of Hank Pym, but the first appearance of Ant-Man. At first he fights as a solo character, but in Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963) he's joined by Janet Van Dyne as the Wasp.
In September 1963 Stan Lee decided to create a second super-hero team. This was to be a different type of team to the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four were a team who were made up of people who only appeared in that team (apart from a short-lived series of solo adventures of the Human Torch in Strange Tales #101 to #122). The Avengers were a team of super-heroes who also had their own lives and their own battles away from the team. Apart from Ant-Man, the Wasp, Thor and the Hulk the team also features Iron Man, who was first introduced in March 1963.
Where's Captain America, you might ask? He didn't join the Avengers until the fourth issue, so it's incorrect to call him the first Avenger. If anything, Ant-Man should be called the first Avenger, because he was the one to suggest the creation of the team in the excerpt from Avengers #1 shown above. But this was the first and last time Hank Pym appeared as Ant-Man in the Avengers comics. In Avengers #2 he was already Giant Man, the character he became in Tales to Astonish #49 (November 1963).
As the years went by Hank Pym's relationship to Janet Van Dyne changed. First she was his assistant, then his fiancée, then his wife. Then he began to beat her, and they were divorced. Most of the original Marvel heroes were imperfect, in one way or another. Daredevil was blind, Thor's alter-ego Donald Blake was lame, Iron Man suffered from heart attacks. Hank Pym seemed to be healthy at first, but in the late 1960's we found out he was schizophrenic.
Now let's finally move on to the film. We see Hank Pym as an old man who has given up crime-fighting after the death of Janet Van Dyne. He has taken great care to prevent his size-changing powers being acquired by anyone else, but a former colleague of his, Darren Cross, has devoted his life to re-inventing a method of shrinking human beings. Darren intends to sell this technology to the highest bidder, even if it's an organisation that is intent on using it for evil purposes. Hank Pym trains a reformed cat burglar, Scott Lang, to become the new Ant-Man and destroy Darren's research facility.
Despite being far distanced from the content of the original comics, I found the film faithful to their style. The screenplay was written by Edgar Wright, director of "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" and I assume that the comedy elements were written in by him. Originally he was the film's director, but he walked out because of creative differences. This worried me, but the final result still shows enough of his style to make it an excellent film.
One slight warning to people who haven't seen the film yet. It has two extra scenes, one in the middle of the credits and one at the end of the credits, so please don't leave the cinema until the very end.