Marvel’s Ant-Man Movie: The Dangers of Being Small

Ant-Man looks a little out of place on the Marvel schedule these days, doesn't he? Maybe that's not such a bad thing...

“The idea of Ant-Man,” Edgar Wright told a panel at the 2006 San Diego Comic Con, “is how kick-ass it would be to be small.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Edgar Wright was talking about the Ant-Man movie on one of the industry’s biggest stages nearly a decade ago. This is before Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and long before the idea of a Marvel Cinematic Universe was anything other than the idle daydream of comic book fans everywhere. Things have changed so drastically for this project that we now have to wonder just what Ant-Man’s place is in the grand superhero movie scheme.

Edgar Wright, of course, departed the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the summer, in a storm of teeth-grindingly polite public statements from both sides. Peyton Reed (Down With Love) now sits in the director’s chair, and has the unenviable task of following up the work of a beloved (and possibly wronged) director and his vision. Ant-Man has always seemed like one of the riskier projects on Marvel’s slate (although, at one time, we would have also said this about Guardians of the Galaxy), and after a number of release date shifts, it now sits precariously between two “universe defining” Marvel movies with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War.

It’s easy to forget just how long this project has been in development. Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish wrote an Ant-Man treatment for Artisan Entertainment way the hell back in 2003, which he described to SuperHero Hype in 2006 as “more in the crime-action genre, that just happens to involve an amazing suit with this piece of hardware.” It wasn’t until 2004 that he met with Kevin Feige and Avi Arad, and even then there was no Marvel Studios as we know it.

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Kevin Feige, of course, is the architect of the multi-platform media empire that Marvel Studios has since become. As Marvel grew, and the “shared universe” went from a way to let fans know that this was all one big sandbox to a perpetual moneymaking machine, there was certainly a desire for Ant-Man to join the party. Wright, however, had other ideas, telling CinemaBlend back in 2010 that “the script that I’ve written…the chronology of it or the way it works wouldn’t really fit in with what they do…maybe there’s a later Avengers then they could draft him in.”

Obviously things (and release dates and directors) change, because here we are, months away from the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and there will be no Ant-Man (barring a potential post-credits cameo by Paul Rudd) in that movie, either. In the comics, it was Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas in Ant-Man) who creates Ultron, while the film is opting for Tony Stark as the inventor who unleashes Ultron on the world.

It’s all but certain that some of the rewrites that allegedly drove Wright off the project involved the studio’s insistence that the film conform more to the increasingly expanding mythology of their TV and film world. Kevin Feige recently hinted that Marvel’s patience had been tested a little when he admitted that there had been some compromise on their end, as well:

“We changed, frankly, some of the MCU to accommodate this version of Ant-Man. Knowing what we wanted to do with Edgar and with Ant-Man, going years and years back, helped to dictate what we did with the roster for Avengers that first time. It was a bit of both in terms of his idea for the Ant-Man story influencing the birth of the MCU in the early films leading up to Avengers.”

Ant-Man‘s July 15th, 2015 release date now falls right between two “important” movies on the Marvel calendar. Avengers: Age of Ultron arrives on May 1st and then we get Captain America: Civil War on May 3rd of 2016. One of these things is not like the other. In fact, other than Ant-Man, every single movie on the Marvel slate involves either big chapters of existing franchises (the aforementioned Captain America 3, Thor: Ragnarok) or introducing more cosmic, high-powered characters (Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, The Inhumans) in preparation for the two Avengers: Infinity War movies. Suddenly, a movie detailing the origin of Ant-Man seems, well, kinda tiny in comparison.

So, this is a good thing, right? After all, Edgar Wright was determined to keep Ant-Man from becoming just another cog in Marvel’s machine. Virtually everyone involved has promised that there will still be plenty of Wright’s vision on display in the finished film. So if this one sees release between two universe-altering films without directly influencing either, surely it’s a sign of a small movie victory (by superhero movie standards, at least) right? Well, not exactly…

Even from the earliest descriptions of the plot Wright described “a prologue where you see Pym as Ant-Man in action in the ’60s, in sort of Tales to Astonish mode basically, and then the contemporary, sort of flash-forward, is Scott Lang’s story.” The film’s official synopsis still sounds like there are elements of this in here, with Michael Douglas as Hank Pym mentoring the shadier Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Setting portions of this film in the past will allow Ant-Man to sidestep some of the larger issues at stake in Marvel’s current movies. I suppose it’s possible that even the “present day” events will be set before the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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But now we’ve also got Marvel inserting characters from the Agent Carter TV series into the film, so we’re still getting flashbacks of some sort. Whether those flashbacks go further into the past than the ‘60s or if we’ll see the Agent Carter characters aged a few years remains to be seen, but the point is, Marvel simply won’t let Ant-Man exist in a vacuum. If Hank Pym and Scott Lang won’t fit in with Marvel’s cosmic plans, then surely, Marvel can find a place for them within the confines of their burgeoning TV and Netflix empire. 

On the other hand, Marvel’s presence, other than Thanos (who probably would have been there anyway) was relatively unobtrusive in Guardians of the Galaxy, and that film was all the better for it. The problem Ant-Man faces is that he’s a character who has historically been tied rather intimately with Avengers mythology. Then again, to use Guardians of the Galaxy as another good example, nobody seemed to care that the team on screen bore little relation to most of that property’s comic book history. Marvel could do with more movies that aren’t tied intimately to each other, and the idea of Ant-Man working in the margins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, from a storytelling standpoint, an attractive one.

Regardless, Marvel appear to have moved on in their larger plans with or without Ant-Man. “The idea of Ant-Man is how kick-ass it would be to be small,” Edgar Wright said ages ago. Perhaps being small is no longer a chance that Marvel is willing to take. But in comparison to the more cosmic scope of Marvel’s upcoming movie slate, Ant-Man suddenly looks very small indeed. That might not be such a bad thing.

* this article originally appeared on November 19th, 2014 * 

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