THE GREAT MARVEL MOVIE CATCHUP PART 12
If Guardians of the Galaxy is the MCUs lighter funnier side then Ant-Man is the full on over the top wacky side. Hank Pym, a hitherto unmentioned early SHIELD member is introduced here in scenes that take place in 1989. Hank has developed a method of shrinking humans down to the size of an ant. He has used his discovery to become a war hero but is resistant to SHIELD’s attempts to mass produce his technology fearing they will use it for nefarious purposes. After confronting Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and some other original SHIELD members he vows to keep the secret from everyone as long as he lives.
Fast forward to the present time and Pym’s ex-protégé and now rival Darren Cross has almost perfected his own version of the technology. When Hank finds out, he devises a plan to entrap recently paroled felon Scott Lang and forms an unlikely partnership, training him to be the next Ant-Man. Inevitably Scott’s new Ant-Man and Darren’s Yellowjacket must fight it out for the right to be the only miniature superhero. Although Darren Cross is presented by this film as a villain, I’m not sure he’d see himself as a supervillain but more of a superhero with a different moral compass.
Pym’s invention is referred to as the Pym Particle but appears to be some kind of serum or something. The action of the particle is never really discussed which is probably a good thing as this film has such a weak grasp of basic scientific principles that it works best when it ignores them completely. The main part of the discovery is the ant man suit which allows the user to not be reduced to mush when they use the Pym Particle to shrink and somehow allows them to control the shrinking and growth effects of the particle. For some reason this gets a lot less kudos than the particle and is more or less taken for granted even though it is actually the suit that gives Cross the most trouble in his plans.
There are some great scenes where Scott is training to become Ant-Man, mostly as he fails to manage to do the things that Pym requires of him. There’s some good slapstick comedy where Scott shrinks or grows unexpectedly and many of the laughs revolve around him crashing into or through things or otherwise getting bashed in the head. There are also some great scenes involving the ants that Scott has to learn to control in order for their plans to thwart Cross to work.
You can’t really discuss this film without talking about the special effects miniature photography. This is a bit of a mixed bag in this film. The early shots where Scott accidentally shrinks himself are not well handled and don’t feel realistic at all. The scene is a bit of a rollercoaster ride with lots of scene changes most of which look pretty unbelievable and fake. However, when the direction allows for more static scenes where more practical effects can be used, it is much easier to believe that you are actually looking at someone really small. There is some nice camerwork playing with perspective and depth of field to make objects appear smaller or larger which works really well.
Some of the better scenes are when the real world is the correct size and Scott is really small. Although it is often difficult to believe that a person that size could have such a significant effect on the world around it (when was the last time you saw a toy train derailed by striking an ant on the tracks?) there are some pretty funny bits when Scott is shrunk but the action is shown from the normal size perspective. The Pym Particle appears to be able to make things grow too and there are some hilarious bits where random items are expanded up to ridiculous sizes.
Scott’s ex-con friends are good supporting characters, especially once they find out about his suit and start helping him and Hank out. I especially like his friend Luis who is totally incapable of explaining anything simply and although he presents himself like a gangster has a surprisingly cultured side. He makes a great sidekick throughout the film. The others are more generic good hearted crooks and don’t get a lot of time but do get some great lines when they are on screen.
The suit and the shrinking process are the real stars of this movie and really all of the characters are given a back seat. The villains are sketched in with generic Evil Plans that you could find in any story. The heroes are a little more fleshed out but not much. The lack of character development does give space for the shrinking suit and the armies of tame ants to come to the fore which is presumably what the film makers intended to concentrate on.
Most of the plot is pretty straightforward and borrows/copies a lot from other films. Scott is a well meaning criminal who wants to go straight. His ex-wife is remarried (to a cop). Scott doesn’t get on with the new husband and doesn’t get to see his daughter as often as he would like. Scott is desperate to convince his wife that he is going straight so she will let him spend more time with their daughter but soon gets drawn back into crime again when he is unable to keep a regular job and Luis tells him about an ideal score.
This film is definitely best enjoyed with your suspension of disbelief turned up to maximum and it often plays for laughs rather than going for serious action or believable science. This is what you would expect given the Marvel movies to date but this is definitely the most deliberately humorous and has some of the most outrageously ridiculous science of any MCU film so far. It is also one of the few MCU films with no overtly supernatural or alien elements, relying entirely (as far as we are told) on human technology.
Although I was able to turn off my disbelief and just enjoy the fun for most of this film there is one thing that I have to call out: Going sub-atomic! At one point in the film Hank mentions to Scott that the suit can be used to shrink a person even smaller than ant size, even to the extent of shrinking to sub-atomic sizes. The drawback is that going sub-atomic is a one way trip, something Hank knows from personal experience. This of course sets up the obvious scene later on in the film where Scott uses the sub atomic ability to save the day.
Putting aside the obvious impossibility of shrinking something that is made out of atoms down to a size smaller than atoms (after all shrinking a man down to the size of an ant is just as impossible so why worry about that). From a slightly nerdy point of view, depending on the materials and construction methods used it might not even be necessary to go that small to get inside the Yellowjacket suit to save the day. Although he would definitely need to shrink a bit more than usual. My main objection is actually to the way that this is presented in the scene towards the end of the film.
Once sub-atomic Scott is inside the Yellowjacket suit, and remembering that once you’ve gone sub-atomic you can’t get any bigger, Ant-Man is shown alongside wires, circuit boards and microchips showing that his size is actually much closer to being the size of an ant again than a sub-atomic particle. Finally, back to the nerdy point of view again, individual sub-atomic particles have a very hard time interacting with macro sized matter in any meaningful way so it is doubtful that sub-atomic sized Scott could do anything to interfere with Yellowjacket without increasing in size anyway.
You’d think that I’d complain about Scott coming back from the sub-atomic world after the viewers were assured that it is a one way trip. However Hank’s assertion that there is no coming back is based only on the fact that the one person who has done it in the past failed to come back. A sample size of one is not large enough to base a scientific observation on!