We Need To Talk About Hank Pym.

Film Briefly, very briefly. Having finally seen MARVEL's Ant-Man this lunchtime and in a similar style to The Avengers post because I don't have a coherent, flowing argument just a few random points of order... expect spoilers.  Don't read this if you haven't seen the film yet.

(1) It's a bodge but an entertaining bodge. Even after seen the film, I'm not dissuaded from anything I've said previously in these posts:

The Torchwood Problem.
Squirrel Girl!
Reedless to say.

Having pursued the insanity of making an Ant-Man film for years even as the MCU idea invalidated why Edgar Wright wanted to make it in the first place, there needed to be a situation creatively where the director put up and shut up in script terms with Kevin Feige simultaneously allowing him to direct it in his own style or dumping the whole thing and letting Diablo Cody produce Squirrel Girl instead or some such.

Just as the Thors are grand fantasy, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a conspiracy thriller and Spider-Man will be their teen series, Ant-Man was supposed to be the Edgar Wright comedy.  So when the competent but directorally vanilla Peyton Reed took over, his job he was on to a loser since he couldn't direct what the project is supposed to be but similarly with the lead in he was unable to dump everything and start again, and it shows.

It's a bodge, a project in which two different directors with all obviously different styles are pulling away from one another, one of whom is behind the camera, the other still around as a kind of ghost.  It's AI (Kubrick vs Spielberg) or X-Men: The Last Stand (Singer vs Ratner).  There are moments which have to have been kept from the Wright/Cornish script, the funniest bits probably, and it makes the whole thing endearingly messy.

If anything, Reed seems to adopt three different styles.  The closest to Reed himself and certainly scriptwriter Adam McKay is probably the stuff with Scott Lang and his family which resemble an "adult" comedy or Indiewood piece (underscored by the Judy Greer casting).  Whenever the MCU interpolates it's the Russii of Captain America.  Everything else from the slapstick to the "mime" montages to all the business with Rudd's friends and visual gags (including the Thomas bit in the trailer) are very Wright.

Of course as anyone who's had to work out which bit of Shakespeare's collaborations are Shakespeare or someone trying to write like Shakespeare or Shakespeare trying to write like his collaborators, the who did what isn't certain and won't be unless the Wright script is leaked (assuming it hasn't already).  The casting was apparently mostly done before Wright walked (which is interesting because parts of Rudd's dialogue sound like they were written for Simon Pegg).

But let me be clear: despite all of this, in places, Ant-Man touches on brilliance.  Parts of it are as good as anything MARVEL has been involved with.  We can argue all we want about who is responsible for that and as I've said before at some point in the future there will be a long essay by someone who has the time arguing that the MCU is franchise as auteur, in which case Ant-Man is akin to The Trouble With Harry in Hitchock's pantheon or Woody Allen's Amazon series.  But, yes, brilliance.

(2)  Apart from the themes about passing the baton and essentially retelling the same story as Iron Man, Ant-Man is also about how to do an origin story in a universe where superheroes are a "reality" in a similar way to a Doctor Who alien invasion story when they sort of thing happens weekly or the Buffy comics now that magic and vampires are out in the open and actually have their own chat shows.  This is the action comedy version of Skye's arc in Agents of SHIELD.

Without going around in circles, the amount of MCU activity might have been why Wright walked and it feels bolted on, although I really did yelp on seeing the top of the New Avengers building wondering if anyone would cameo and very pleased with the answer.  See also the working of Spider-Man into the dialogue near the end.  For a teenager, he's already making waves in the verse and of course it'll be interesting to see how he appears in Civil War.

Far cry from Iron Man's post-credits.  To return to the Who analogy (sorry), we've now gone from Ninth not mentioning Davros by name in Dalek to Davros turning up in Journey's End and remembering who Sarah Jane is.  The trick now will be keeping things fresh, and doing away with origin stories seems to be the thing.  But shifting into radically "different" genres looks to be a useful process also, though I'd still like to see "non-superhero" material set in the MCU.

(3)  The box office.  Domestically in the US, Ant-Man's had the smallest box office of any MARVEL film since The Incredible Hulk but is doing well internationally, with a £4m weekend in the UK.  But the press have been relatively sanguine about this because the budget was much smaller and expectations were lowered due to the production history.  Plus its probably made about as much if not more as it might have done if it had still been an Edgar Wright film.

But content wise it doesn't feel like the kind of film which should be judged a flop on those terms.  If this had been an Avengers or any of the other larger films were a building, spaceship or town falls out of the sky at the end then it would have been worrying.  But much of the film takes place in and around Scott Lang's apartment, his ex-wife's house, Hank Pym's house or the laboratory which has his name.  The most compelling sequence is about a tiny reformed burglar drifting through inner space in a dayglo version of the Orphan Black title sequence.

Ant-Man represents the sort of film I'd like MARVEL to do more of.  Much as I like the larger films were a building, spaceship or town falls out of the sky at the end, I'm more often drawn to the minor characters into MARVEL comics, the non-Gods (which is also presumably why I still tolerate Agents of SHIELD).  There's a sense of that in Phase Three with something like Black Panther which doesn't look like it's going to be a giant blockbuster either.

Which is why I'd love a sequel.  There isn't one planned, but the obvious idea would be for the new Ant-Man and Wasp, mentored by Pym to enter the microverse searching for the older Wasp and with the obscuring of her face throughout, there's clearly a plan for that, leaving the door open in casting terms.  Catherine Zeta Jones?  Sandra Bullock?  Juliet Binoche?  Anne Archer?  I'm trying to think of actors who haven't already been in this space before.  It's tricky.

The problem is there's no space for it as such going forward.  The July slot is free next year but that's not enough lead time, which makes the next potential slot November 2019.  MARVEL could decide to slot another one in ala Spider-Man and push everything up again, but Ant-Man isn't Spider-Man.  Another option would be a DTV film in collaboration with Netflix but they're already tied up with The Invaders series so that seems unlikely too.  Sigh.

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