Talking Movies: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Talking Movies

Released: 17 February 2023
Director: Peyton Reed
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas

The Plot:
After aiding the Avengers in saving the world, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) has become a beloved celebrity now focused on making up for lost time with his daughter, Cassie (Newton). However, when Cassie inadvertently sucks Scott and his family into the mysterious Quantum Realm, Ant-Man faces his greatest challenge when he comes face-to-face with the maniacal Kang the Conqueror (Majors), a tyrannical despot from beyond time!

The Background:
In his first comic book appearance, Doctor Hank Pym/Ant-Man wasn’t the unstable, garishly-costumed hero who would form the Avengers, nor was he the only character to take up the Ant-Man mantle. Perhaps his most notable successor was Scott Lang, a reformed criminal created by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Byrne, who assumed the role in 1979, and both characters eventually featured in the first live-action Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) film. Ant-Man’s impressive $519.3 million gross and largely positive reviews led to a sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp (ibid, 2018), which outperformed the first at the box office but was met with more mixed reviews. Although the core cast returned to the film, Emma Fuhrmann was disappointed to learn she’d been recast; Kathryn Newton replaced her as Cassie in a decision apparently motivated to better highlight Cassie’s coming-of-age story. Having been established as one a pivotal hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), the third film sought to further explore the Quantum Realm and the complexities of time travel through the inclusion of Kang the Conqueror. Returning director Peyton Reed was excited to pit Ant-Man against such a villain as part of his wish to produce a pivotal entry in the MCU rather than a simple palette cleanser, and Majors was equally excited about exploring the multiple facets and iterations of Kang in this film and beyond after previously portraying an alternative version of the character in Loki (Various, 2021 to present). Following numerous delays, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania finally released last week; as of this writing, it has grossed nearly $290 million and the box office and been met by mixed reviews; critics have expressed disappointment with the pacing and content of the film, though Jonathan Majors’ performance was met with unanimous praise and that there were some visually impressive sequences to be found amidst the jumbled plot.

The Review:
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ant-Man; I’ve never been the biggest fan of the character, especially as his characterisation and relationships can be a bit dated, hokey, and inconsistent, but framing it as a superhero heist film and focusing on Scott Lang as this flawed, but loveable, reluctant hero, a dad just trying to make amends, was a really refreshing idea and helped contrast the MCU’s cosmic scope with a nice grounded adventure. I remember not really being too impressed by Ant-Man and the Wasp; I really should revisit it sometime, especially as it laid a lot of the foundation not just for a major plot point in Avengers: Endgame but also for this film, which takes Ant-Man so far away from a quirky, sci-fi action comedy and into the absolutely batshit realm of other dimensions and timelines. Scott is a great character to thrust into these situations; despite all of the abilities the Pym Particles give him, he’s still just a regular guy, someone who reacts realistically to the crazy events happening around him, so he makes for a charismatic and relatable character to help focus these mind-bending concepts through.

While there’s surprisingly little for Hope to do, Scott and Cassie’s relationship is a focal point of the film.

This is immediately emphasised in the opening scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania; Scott is now a recognised and celebrated personality who remains awestruck at the fantastical things he’s seen in his adventures. However, as much as he enjoys the limelight, the abilities afforded to him by the Pym Particles, and the experiences he’s had alongside his fellow Avengers, Scott is now content to focus on promoting his inspirational memoirs and making up for lost time with his family. Hope van Dyne/The Wasp (Lilly) has now taken control of her father’s company, renaming and restructuring it in her image and to help displaced families following the Blip. She and Scott are seen to have a loving relationship and are no longer at odds with each other like in the previous film, but the two spend a surprising amount of time apart considering both of their names are in the title of the movie, so Quantumania is less a story about these two pint-sized heroes/lovers saving the Quantum Realm and more focused on developing the relationship between Scott and his daughter, Cassie. Cassie is now a somewhat rebellious teenager; she’s getting arresting and causing Scott headaches because she wants to follow in his example, “look out for the little guy”, and help others, and is disappointed in him giving up his superhero duties when there are still people that need help. Her arc throughout the film is both learning the value of patience and how to control her own shrinking/growing abilities, and understanding that the life she is so enamoured by is dangerous. While Scott is proud of her moral compass, her ingenuity, and her moxie, he also wants to protect her first and foremost; thankfully, while this is a point of contention between the two, the film doesn’t portray her as a cliché sulky teenager who acts without thinking or unreasonably lashes out at her father and they still have an adorable bond, she just wants his respect.

Janet’s stubbornness and fear cost the characters valuable time.

As part of this, Cassie has secretly been spending her time working with Hank (Douglas) to research and map the mysterious Quantum Realm. Despite Hope’s repeated efforts to find out more about the time her mother spent trapped there, Janet (Pfeiffer) remains stubbornly tight-lipped and this was a real issue for me in the early going of the film. Because Janet refused to talk about the Quantum Realm, the characters had no idea of the dangers that lurked there; her warnings came too late to prevent them all being sucked down there and, once they are stranded in the Quantum Realm, she continues to refuse to tell them anything for no real reason at all when that knowledge really would have helped them be better prepared once the source of her fears, Kang, inevitably showed up. Instead, Janet leads Hank and Hope on a merry tour of the Quantum Realm, now expanded into a strange alien environment full of colourful beings and bizarre creatures, most of whom, like the enigmatic Lord Krylar (Bill Murray), know Janet from her time as a freedom fighter. Hank, who has spent his entire life researching the Quantum Realm, is understandably fascinated by the ecosystem and society that dwells there, and equally stunned to get a glimpse of his wife’s tumultuous life amongst these beings. Both characters receive more screen time this time around and are certainly more of a focal point to the plot than Hope, and Hank’s demeanour is now noticeably far more relaxed; he’s lost a lot of his edge and is now portrayed as a quirky scientist with an unhealthy obsession with ants, whereas Janet is shown to be unreasonably cagey and to have fought against the all-powerful Kang during her time trapped in the Quantum Realm

With his nuance performance and incredible power, Kang was the undeniable highlight of the movie.

Although we get a glimpse of his arrival in the Quantum Realm in the film’s opening moments, Kang is a mystery throughout most of the film; he’s talked about with a mixture of awe and fear by the colourful freedom fighters Scott and Cassie hook up with and Janet is so terrified of him that she goes out of her way to keep her family in the dark just to try and avoid catching his attention. This is a shame as, once Kang arrives onscreen, he is unquestionably the most interesting and charismatic character, eclipsing even Scott with his nuanced performance. A cold, calculating, driven individual, Kang is a man from beyond time who was betrayed by his own alternate selves (or “variants”) and banished to the Quantum Realm because of his destructive nature. I know a little bit about Kang from the comics but am by no means a Kang expert, and Quantumania decides to keep his exact backstory and motivations a bit vague, presumably to explain them in further productions. It’s not really explained how or why he has the powers he exhibits or what his limits are; at first, he’s weak and helpless and needs Janet’s help to repair his ship, then he regains his fantastically comic accurate suit and shows an ability to stop characters in their tracks with a thought and swat his pint-sized adversaries out of the air. Yet, though he appears unstoppable and has built an empire comprised of (literal) faceless stormtroopers and advanced technology, Kang can still get down and dirty in a fist fight. Yet, for all his imposing menace and the captivating allure of his unhinged psyche, Kang is very much a desperate man; he’s clearly been broken by some unknown tragedy and is fuelled not just be a need to conquer and avenge himself, but a desperate desire to bring a twisted order to the multiverse, regardless of who he has to torture, enslave, or kill along the way. He’s not just some maniacal villain, though; he seems to genuinely value Janet’s friendship and is driven to violence only as a means to facilitate his escape and seems to regard himself as a necessary evil n the face of some unknown future threat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
There are a few themes at work in Quantumania; you might think that it’s a movie about Scott and Hope as surrogate parents and the dynamic of the Pyms and van Dynes co-existing as this superhero family, but it’s sadly not. You might also think that it’s geared towards showcasing Cassie’s journey into her own superhero persona and, while that certainly is a development in the movie, the focus is more on Scott learning to accept that her daughter wants in the life (which he’s happy to do, he just worries about her) and her learning to walk before she runs (perfectly exampled when Scott has to teach her how to properly make use of the Pym Particles in a fight). The film does shed a bit more light on Janet, a largely mysterious character who clearly has been through some stuff and seen some things down in the Quantum Realm, but it, like her, is unnecessarily coy about the specifics and we’re left with only the briefest, vaguest mentions of her as an inspirational fighter in the war against Kang. Like the other Ant-Man movies, Quantumania leans heavily on the comedy; mostly, this is demonstrated through character’s being awestruck by their surroundings, struggling to adapt to the Quantum Realm’s bizarre society and characters, and riffing off each other. For the most part it works, though the absence of Scott’s more comedic supporting cast is felt in the movie and there’s one scene in particular where the dramatic tension is completely undercut by unnecessary forced comedy.

While the visuals generally impress, others are a bit cartoonish and disappointingly realised.

This would be the death of Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who’s revealed to have survived the ending of Ant-Man but been left a misshapen and embittered troll of a man; rebuilt by Kang’s technology into the ultimate cybernetic killing machine, he chases down Scott and his family with a vengeance as the MCU version of George Tarleton/ Mechanised Organism Designed Only for Killing (M.O.D.O.K.) M.O.D.O.K. is one of the most bizarre villains of Marvel Comics and one I never thought we’d ever see translated to screen, so it’s pretty amazing to see him flying about shooting lasers and missiles and sprouting buzzsaws, but then the face plate lifts up and we’re forced to look at this really unsettling, cheap-looking CGI face and listen to Darren spouting pithy declarations and the character loses a lot of his menace. It’s a shame but, for the most part, Quantumania looks really good; it’s naturally a very CGI-heavy film and as far removed from its more grounded predecessors as you could get and goes to great lengths to expand upon the Quantum realm, while also handwaving a lot of the specifics. Humanoid characters like Jentorra (Katy O’Brian) and telepath Quaz (William Jackson Harper) exist alongside anthropomorphic houses and surreal alien creatures like the protoplasmic Veb (David Dastmalchian) and a robot with a laser for a head! These characters, while visually interesting, aren’t very well developed, though; I barely caught most of their names and their single characteristic is wanting to oppose and dethrone Kang, but they do help to show how versatile the Quantum Realm is. Before, characters couldn’t survive in the Quantum realm without special suits or suffering severe time dilation; that is now no longer a problem as they’ve conveniently travelled to a part of the dimension where they don’t need their helmets to breath and suffer no consequences of lost time once they return. The world is colourful and alive, but also feels strangely restricted; I also can’t help but feel like exploring the Quantum realm should’ve been a sub-plot in Ant-Man and the Wasp and that maybe it would’ve been better if Quantumania had take place entirely in Kang’s city, Chronopolis, to avoid the slow start to this movie. Everything also just feels a bit too cartoonish and intangible, and it’s again far too obvious that many actors aren’t actually in the same shots in some scenes, which really took me out of it.

There’s an intriguing conflict and looming menace lurking amidst the bombardment of spotty CGI sequences.

Yet, there are still some exciting and bonkers action scenes on offer here; any time M.O.D.O.K. shows up the screen I filled with explosions and frantic action, and seeing Scott, Hope, and Cassie come together in their small and giant forms for the finale was exhilarating, though it was difficult to appreciate Giant-Man’s scale from the framing. One really inventive scene in the film sees Scott shrink further down to reach the core of Kang’s ship; there, he splits into an infinite number of variants and they must work together to get him closer to the core, literally evoking the image of an ant colony working together. Cassie later has a cool coming-of-age moment where she inspires the people of the Quantum Realm to rise up against Kang, and even Hank gets to have a moment to shine by leading his army of technologically advanced ants into battle, though the same unfortunately can’t be said for Hope, who spends most of the film sporting a ridiculous haircut and being understandably annoyed at her mother’s stubbornness before swooping in to aid Ant-Man in reaching the core and in defeating Kang. After Scott retrieves his ship’s core, Kang sets about escaping his confinement using an elaborate set of spinning rings, which will bring him and his army out of the Quantum Realm and allow him to get back to conquering the multiverse. Giant-Man storms his citadel and, despite all of Kang’s vaulted and incomprehensible time powers, a fist fight breaks out between Scott and the conqueror that sees Ant-Man absolutely decimated. Scott frantically gets his family to safety and chooses to stay behind and sacrifice his freedom to prevent Kang’s escape, only for Hope to show up and help fend Kang off, presumably killing him or banishing him to a further sub-sub-atomic dimension. The film then teases that Scott and Hope will be trapped in the Quantum Realm but the Cassie just immediately saves them and everything’s fine…save for Kang’s troubling warning of an oncoming danger and an entire legion of his variants turning their attentions towards the MCU following Kang’s defeat. Personally, I think it would’ve made more sense for someone in the core cast to die or even have it be Hank and Janet who make the last-minute save and end up trapped in the Quantum Realm; that would’ve been quite fitting given Hank’s obsession with it and small things and Janet’s past there but, instead, things wrap up in a nice little bow and I’m left wondering which version of Kang will return to fight the Avengers and how his threat will be restored after being easily overwhelmed by an army of giant ants despite boasting about how many Avengers he’s killed!

The Summary:
I had high expectations for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania; knowing full well that Kang was set to be an Avengers-level threat in the future and having had some knowledge of the character, I expected this to be a little darker, a little more high stakes, and to have serious repercussions for the MCU going forward. Hell, there was the suggestion that Ant-Man might not live through the tale, let alone be victorious, and it seemed like this could be the shake-up the MCU needed to start seriously working towards their next big team-up movie. Instead, it was just lacking in a lot of ways; I get the idea of exploring and expanding upon the Quantum Realm, but it felt like it took way too much time and I just wasn’t that interested in what was happening there as it felt somewhat inconsequential. It tied in nicely to Cassie’s arc of wanting to help people no matter where or who they are, but a lot of the new characters were forgettable, despite being visually interesting. There was next to no onscreen chemistry or development for Scott and Hope; she could’ve been entirely absent and it wouldn’t have mattered all that much as Cassie could’ve easily done everything she did. Paul Rudd continues to shine as Ant-Man but he’s bogged down by all this CGI mess and protracted world-building, and the environment really didn’t give his unique powers a chance to stand out. The sole saving grace was Kang; Jonathan Majors did an excellent job of portraying a nuanced villain, one who is filled with regret for the evils he must do, and he stole every scene he was in. sadly, though, we really don’t learn anything about him; I have no idea where he’s from or why he’s compelled to be the way he is, meaning a lot of the connection I felt to him came from inference, which is fine but I would’ve liked to see some of the early runtime focused more on him so we get a better sense of his motivations. I think Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will land better on repeat viewings, especially once Kang returns to the MCU in future productions but, for now, it was a bit of a let-down for me and definitely a case of style over substance.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania? How did you think it compared to the other Ant-Man films? What did you think to the exploration and expansion of the Quantum Realm? Did you enjoy seeing Cassie develop into her own heroic role and the relationship between her and Scott? Were you disappointed by M.O.D.O.K.’s portrayal and the effects used to bring him to life? What did you think to Kang and his motivations, and are you excited to see him return in the MCU? Whatever you think about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, drop your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check out my other Ant-Man content.

Back Issues: Marvel Premiere #47/48

Writer: David Michelinie – Artist: John Byrne

Story Title: “To Steal an Ant-Man!”
23 January 1979 (cover-dated April 1979)

Story Title: “The Price of a Heart!”
27 March 1979 (cover-dated June 1979)

The Background:
After debuting in the pages of Tales to Astonish #27, the legendary Stan Lee brought Hank Pym back eight issues later under the guise of Ant-Man, a size-changing superhero who would become the focal point of the book, help found Marvel’s premiere superhero team, the Avengers, and gain infamy for his mental and emotional stability. Pym rapidly switched costumed identities, created the murderous Ultron, and was notoriously abusive towards his wife, all of which meant that Pym often walked away from his most iconic persona, which allowed other characters to take on the Ant-Man role. While some were even worse than Pym, this can’t be said of his first successor, Scott Lang; created by David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Byrne, Lang was something completely different from Pym, a reformed criminal who made a brief appearance in Avengers #181 before debuting as the new Ant-Man in this two-issue arc. Although Lang wouldn’t graduate to his own self-titled solo series until 2015, he made frequent appearances in Marvel Comics; depicted as a single father trying to do right by his daughter (who would go on to become a member of the Young Avengers as Stature), Lang would join the Avengers and a new version of the Fantastic Four, the FF, and be a part of numerous big-time Marvel events. Lang has also appeared outside of the comics in various Marvel cartoons, and was always slated to be featured in a live-action Ant-Man movie; while Ant-Man didn’t make it to the MCU’s first big crossover movie, he received his own critically and commercially successful film in 2015, with veteran actor Michael Douglas portraying the volatile Hank Pym and universally beloved Paul Rudd taking on the Ant-Man identity as his successor, Scott Lang.

The Review:
“To Steal an Ant-Man!” opens with a dramatic one-page spread courtesy of the brilliant John Byrne. In it, we find Ant-Man battling past armed guards working for Cross Technological Enterprises (CTE) in a bid to save his daughter, which is stated to cost the life of a patient in critical condition on Doctor Erica Sondheim’s operating table. Through Ant-Man’s dialogue and thought balloons, we’re told that this is a different man in the classic Ant-Man costume, one still getting to grips with being a superhero and the shrinking ability of his suit. This leads to some fun action panels where Ant-Man shrinks out of harm’s way and gets washed out of the room by an extendable faucet. Saved from drowning by his cybernetic helmet, Ant-Man grits his teeth and initiates a flashback to catch us up to speed with who he is and what’s going on and rekindle his motivation. This is, of course, Scott Lang who, months earlier, was released from prison after being a model prisoner; a genius with electronics, Lang ended up turning to burglary as it was “easier than fixing old Motorolas” but, having languished in Ryker’s Island, is determined to go straight and make the most of the warden’s generosity in setting him up at Stark International. His primary motivation to turn his life around is his young daughter, Cassie, who absolutely adores him, and he’s supported by his sister, Ruth. Despite her partner, Carl, less than thrilled at Lang’s duplicitous past, Scott throws himself into his new role designing advanced security systems for Anthony “Tony” Stark and enjoying his newfound freedom, but his happiness is soon shattered when Cassie falls ill due to her aorta having spontaneously grown inward and blocking her blood flow.

Desperate to help his sick daughter, Lang becomes the new Ant-Man and is subdued by the hulking Darren Cross.

As her condition weakens and the medical bills pile up, Lang grows desperate and becomes tempted to return to his old ways before being referred to Dr. Sondheim, whose research into laser focused surgery could save Cassie’s life. However, when he goes to visit Dr. Sondheim, he finds her practise being shut down and the doctor herself being spirited away by goons from CTE. With no options left, Lang opts to break into a nearby lavish manor house in the hopes of stealing money to hire the muscle needed to break Dr. Sondheim out of CTE. Luckily for Lang, he happened to break into the heavily fortified home of Dr. Hank Pym but doesn’t make the connection until he finds his Ant-Man suit sealed away in a high-tech chamber. Seeing the suit and its gadgets as the key to his recent problems, Lang steals the suit, slips into it, and uses the knowledge he gleaned from reading Scientific American to utilise the cybernetic helmet (because its just that easy and of course Pym would allow all his secrets to be published so readily…) and summon a gaggle of ants. Though initially startled at being shrunk down to the size of an ant, Lang revels in the technology and the ants’ willingness to help and sets out to infiltrate CTE. Thanks to retaining his full-size strength, the new Ant-Man is easily able to hop through an air vent but doesn’t quite trust his ability to float down on the rising air so he hops on an ant and follows the vent towards an operating room, easily taking out a guard with his comparatively enhanced strength. Enlarging to full size, he bursts into the theatre to bring us up to speed, taking out the last of the guards and begging Dr. Sondheim to help his daughter. Unfortunately, it turns out that she was operating on Darren Cross, chairman and namesake of CTE, who’s a surprisingly eloquent mammoth man-mountain! The story continues in the next issue, which sees Cross delivering a beat down to Ant-Man; even though Lang can shrink to microscopic size, direct flying ants to distract Cross, and has a degree of superhuman strength while small, Cross exhibits superhuman strength far beyond Lang’s and vastly superior senses (referred to as “hyper vision”) which easily allow him to knock Ant-Man unconscious. After stripping Lang of his gas canisters and breaking his helmet, Cross locks him in a cell rather than killing him (since “murder is so pedestrian!”) and, once he’s awakened, regales him with his origin story.

Once the ill-fated Cross is defeated, Lang’s daughter is cured and he receives Pym’s blessing.

After spending fifty years amassing incredible wealth and becoming a successful businessman, Cross’s dream of making CTE the greatest industrial power on Earth was interrupted when his heart began to fail on him. Rather than retire for the sake of his health, Cross naturally paid to have a “living nuclear […[ pacemaker” created and grafted directly onto his cells. Not only did this save his life, it also vastly augmented his heart, gifting him with enhanced senses and strength and a rapid healing factor but, eventually, resulting in his monstrous appearance. Although he enjoyed the benefits of this procedure, the strain soon once again threatened his life, so he had Dr. Sondheim kidnapped to perform a diabolical heart transplant to keep him alive. Now that he has a bona fide superhero in his clutches, Cross plans to take Ant-Man’s heart in place of the unwitting homeless people his men captured for the procedure. Luckily, Lang kept spare antennae in his boot and uses them to summon some ants to help retrieve his belt so he can punch out some guards and escape from his cell. Reinvigorated and armed with knowledge of Cross’s abilities, Ant-Man fares far better in his second bout against the man-mountain, but the fight easily goes in Lang’s favour thanks to time finally running out for Cross. The strain of exerting himself against Ant-Man accelerates his heart condition and he drops dead a few panels into the fight, but to Dr. Sondheim’s dismay as she took a vow to save lives, not end them. Thankfully, Ant-Man has a solution to the doctor’s upset and she’s successfully able to cure Cassie’s life-threatening condition. Although Lang is sure that the ants will grass him up to Pym and that he’s sure to return to prison for stealing the suit, Pym (in his God-awful Yellowjacket persona) shows up to offer Lang his blessing and Lang gratefully accepts, ready to begin a new life as the all-new Ant-Man!

The Summary:
After suffering through two issues from Ant-Man’s early days in the swingin’ sixties, reading a later Ant-Man adventure is a real breath of fresh air. Not only is the artwork far better, with much bigger and more detailed characters thanks to the great John Byrne, but the sense of scale is far better and the more bizarre aspects are much more realistic and futuristic rather than being basic or outlandish. Even better, the characterisations and dialogue are much improved in this new decade; Scott Lang is a far more relatable and interesting than what I’ve seen of Pym so far. He’s well aware of his flaws and is just trying to do right, is a little self-deprecating but absolutely devoted to his beloved daughter, and is determined to turn his life around even before he acquires the Ant-Man suit. Although it’s a shame that there isn’t more time spent showing him acclimatising to his new abilities, I can forgive this since the story needs to move ahead and Lang is said to be pretty smart and to have some knowledge of Ant-Man’s abilities, and he earns extra points by taking his relationship with the ants to the next level by nick-naming them (“Emma” the flying ant being the most prominent example here).

Lang ends up being a far more interesting and relatable Ant-Man than his predecessor.

Even the no-name guards get some personality, spouting some quirky dialogue and holding a grudge against Lang for taking them out earlier in the arc. Although we don’t learn too much about Cassie, it really is refreshing to see a superhero actually have a daughter; so often, writers and creators refuse to give characters such responsibilities so it really helps make this new Ant-Man unique even if he’s using the same costume and powers as his predecessor. While Darren Cross may look like another hulking monster, he’s given a surprising amount of nuance through his extensive vocabulary and strategic, conniving mind. Retaining his intelligence and exhibiting a measured personality, Cross isn’t depicted as being inherently evil (there’s nothing to suggest he was doing anything underhanded before his physical transformation) but turns towards increasingly wicked methods as his desperation and condition worsens. A successful man who isn’t ready for his career or life to end, Cross simply wanted to continue working and to stave off death; after his nucle-organic pacemaker afforded him superhuman abilities, he of course relished in those powers, but he’s still portrayed as a desperate man trying to stay alive. In the end, this was a great introduction to probably my favourite iteration of Ant-Man; Scott Lang is far more stable, far more relatable, and far more interesting than his volatile counterpart and his debut in the role was far more entertaining than Pym’s. Admittedly, this has a lot to do with the era in which this story was written but good writing and good characters speak for themselves and this two-issue arc did more to make me interested in Ant-Man than anything I’ve seen of Pym so far.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Scott Lang’s debut as Ant-Man? Did you find him and his plight with his sick daughter relatable or do you prefer Hank Pym’s turn on the character? What did you think to Darren Cross and his monstrous condition? What are some of your favourite Scott Lang stories and moments, and who is your favourite Ant-Man? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Scott Lang’s time as Ant-Man below, or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back next Friday for more Ant-Man content!

Back Issues: Tales to Astonish #44

Story Title: “The Creature from Kosmos!”
5 March 1963 (cover-dated June 1963)
Writers: Stan Lee and H. E. Huntley
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
After featuring in the pages of Tales to Astonish #27, the legendary Stan Lee thought it would be fun to revisit the incredible shrinking man, Hank Pym, and recontextualise him as a size-changing superhero eight issues later. Ant-Man soon became the focal point of the Tales to Astonish publication and eventually help to found Marvel’s premiere superhero team, the Avengers, but he wasn’t alone in these endeavors. Created by Lee and H. E. Huntley, Janet van Dyne/The Wasp was only the second of Marvel’s female superheroes; fuelled by a need to avenge her father and a successful fashion designer in her own right (reflected in her many wardrobe changes), Janet became enamoured by Hank Pym (and seemingly every male hero in the Marvel universe) and, after years of will-they-won’t-they and petty spats, the two finally married in 1969. Life as a superhero and with Pym wasn’t easy for Janet; frequently depicted as some scatter-brained bimbo, Janet was forced to watch on helplessly as Pym rapidly switched between identities and created the deadly sentient murder machine Ultron, and was also infamously depicted as suffering physical abuse at Pym’s hands. Still, Janet made a bit of a mark in her own right over the years; she was the leader of the Avengers for a time, was believed dead for a short period, and an alternative version of her gave birth to a daughter, Hope, a supervillain known as the Red Queen. Although the character was unable to appear in the MCU’s first big crossover movie, the Wasp has featured in cameo roles in Marvel videogames and has shown up alongside Ant-Man in Marvel’s animated efforts; a brief cameo in Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) established that Pym (Michael Douglas) was devastated by her loss but he was overjoyed to be reunited with her in the sequel, where she was brought to life by veteran actor Michelle Pfeiffer.

The Review:
“The Creature from Kosmos!” (or: “Ant-Man and the wasp! Vs. The Creature from Kosmos!”) begins innocently enough in Dr. Hank Pym’s laboratory. By this point, Pym has fully embraced his role as Ant-Man; he’s got a snazzy form-fitting costume, has his Pym Particles (now in the form of gas pellets) built into his belt, and can control ants using a special cybernetic helmet that transmits “electronic-wave commands” to the insects. It’s not made clear exactly what Ant-Man is up to in the lab, and the first few panels seem to be there simply to give us some fun small-scale visuals to open the story. Whatever he was up to, Pym quickly grows to full size and broods over his lost love, Maria; I wasn’t aware of this until now, but Pym was previously married to a Hungarian immigrant and, when returning to Hungary for their honeymoon, Maria was abducted and killed to send a message to “those who attempt to escape from behind the Iron Curtain!” Grief-stricken and enraged, Pym took to the streets in a desperate bid to find those responsible and make them pay, only to end up in jail on the verge of a complete mental and physical breakdown. Filled with a burning desire to stamp out injustice, Pym threw himself into his work and the story retroactively states that his entire reasoning behind his shrinking serum and becoming Ant-Man was to make up for being unable to save Maria all those years ago. However, for all his scientific genius and passion, Pym despairs at how many times he’s cheated death and longs for a partner, someone to carry on his legacy should he fall in battle, and forgoes food and sleep working to equip this partner with the means to do so by studying the biology of wasps.

After losing his wife, Pym finds a kindred spirit (of sorts) in society girl Janet, who’s also suffered a loss.

Pym’s research is interrupted by the arrival of Doctor Vernon van Dyne, a fellow scientist who comes asking for Pym’s help with a Gamma ray beam he hopes to use to detect signs of life on other worlds. Pym, however, is not interested in the project since it’s a little outside of his field of expertise, and van Dyne leaves amicably enough, but Pym is left rattled by the startling resemble of van Dyne’s young daughter, Janet, to his lost Maria. Janet also feels an attraction towards Pym but dismisses him as another scientific bore and longs to connect with a more adventurous type of man. Van Dyne returns to his laboratory to try and boost his ray through his own method, but is stunned when an unspeakable, horrifying, malleable alien lifeform that is so monstrous to behold that van Dyne can scarcely lay his eyes on it. speaking through telepathy, the creature exposits that it is an outlaw from the planet Kosmos who was ostracised for trying to enslave its race. Having escaped along the path of van Dyne’s ray, the creature atomises the hapless scientist, leaving only smouldering remains for the heartbroken Janet, who had popped out for some revelry, to find. With no one else to turn to, Janet calls Pym for help but his dismisses her story as the ravings of a “bored society [playgirl]” and only springs into action as Ant-Man after news of van Dyne’s death reaches him from his network of ants across the city. Ant-Man catapults himself across the city using a pistol-like device that effectively allows him to travel vast distances much like Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk’s superhuman leaping, his landing safely cushioned by a gaggle of ants he commands to catch him. Rather than grow to full size to talk with Janet, Ant-Man remains shrunk down while he investigates van Dyne’s body and his wrecked machine, quickly coming to the conclusion (despite such things not being in his wheelhouse) that an alien lifeform was behind the grisly murder. Ant-Man is struck by Janet’s vow to avenge her father’s death, which has changed her demeanour (or, at least, his perception of her) from a “bored, flighty shell” to one of determination that only further reminds him of his beloved wife. After instructing Janet to call the federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), Ant-Man finds that his insectile companions are afraid of the alien since it secretes a mist containing traces of “formic acid” and is thus, apparently, analogous to an ant. Nevertheless, Ant-Man commands his ants to seek out the monstrous beast responsible for van Dyne’s death and returns to his laboratory to greet Janet in his civilian identity (since he told her to go to Pym after calling the F.B.I.).

Pym recruits Janet to help him defeat a horrifying alien, despite her inappropriate feelings towards him.

When Janet reaffirms that she is determined to hunt down her father’s killer, and to dedicate her life to the pursuit of all criminals, Pym is convinced that he’s finally found the partner he has longed for and reveals his duel identity to her, forcing her to swear to stand by him in the pursuit of justice as the Wasp. Pym radically implants synthetic cells below Janet’s skin tissue that all her to shrink to the size of a wasp and grow tiny wings and antennae to communicate with insects and furnishes her with a belt full of his special gas and a ridiculous costume to wear into battle. Janet is then forced to endure  atrial by fire as the ants report that the alien has been running amok through the city and is currently advancing towards the George Washington Bridge. Janet is so overjoyed by Pym’s generosity and the thrill of her new abilities that she blurts out a confession of love! Thankfully, I’m not the only that finds this incredibly shallow and inappropriate as Pym quickly rebukes her since she’s so much younger than him and he has no desire to fall in love again, but his thought balloons betray his harsh statements and Janet sees his rejection as a challenge to prove herself worthy of him. With the ants too afraid to directly oppose the creature, and the military’s full might useless against it, the Wasp throws herself at the alien in a bid to avenge her father and win Ant-Man’s affection, only to be captivated by the alien’s pheromones. After rescuing (and reprimanding) his headstrong new partner, Ant-Man stumbles upon a way to defeat the alien and rushes them back to his lab, where he whips up a chemical antidote to the monster’s formic acid, which he loads into the shells of a 12-gauge shotgun (!) to fire at the creature. With the alien rampaging through Wall Street, Ant-Man and the Wasp scurry on over with their weapon and give the creature both barrels, dispelling it and ending its threat once and for all. Both are so overjoyed at the result that they embrace and, while Ant-Man insists that such displays of emotion aren’t “proper”, the Wasp can’t help but see that he’s blushing beneath his helmet. The story ends with Pym elated to finally have a partner to fight crime alongside, and with Janet secretly vowing to make Pym realise that they’re meant to be and to fight by his side until they’re together as a loving couple.

The Summary:
Gee…well…where to start…? So, it was great to see a more familiar version of Ant-Man this time around. By this point, he’s firmly established himself as a costumed adventurer; he’s got the snazzy outfit, the fancy gadgets, and even a contact in the F.B.I. whom he liaises with. Ant-Man’s relationship with the ants is also far more amicable now thanks to his special helmet, which instantly translates his thoughts into commands for the ants and their “language” into English so he can easily get a lead on crimes and have a near-limitless communication network all across New York City. While his superhero career might be on the up, however, Hank Pym is given far more emotional depth through the tragic loss of his first great love and his desire to have a protégé to carry on his legacy. Heartbroken by Maria’s death, Pym his not interest in losing anyone ever again and is thus resistant to falling in love again; his only concern is opposing the forces of evil and stamping out criminal scum using his fantastic abilities and he simply wants a partner who will take up that mission should he fall in the line of duty.

I can’t decide which is worse, Pym and Janet’s unhealthy relationship of the forgettable alien villain.

He’s thus completely knocked for a loop when Janet enters his life and he’s instantly torn between her striking physical resemblance to Maria and her youth and perceived shortcomings. It’s only after the violent death of her father than Pym starts to see Janet differently; van Dyne’s death changes her, hardens her edge, and motivates her to not only avenge him but hunt down criminals everywhere much like Maria’s death motivated Pym, which makes it seem like they’re kindred spirits but actually is the beginning of a very toxic and unhealthy partnership. Pym is only interested in giving Janet the means to have her revenge when he sees her suffer a tragic loss; literally nothing else except her determination and likeness to Maria qualifies her to be his partner, yet he kits her out anyway and then admonishes her for flying head-first into battle without considering the consequences. Even worse, his need for a partner is so strong that he continues to let her tag along even after she randomly blurts out that she’s in love with him (despite dismissing him earlier) and continues to sweep her affections (and his own obvious attraction for her) under the rug in the hopes that they can focus on the greater good. It’s all very rushed, is what I’m getting at, and their relationship is off to a pretty bad start as Janet is only sticking around for the thrill of her new abilities and in the desperate hope to force Pym to admit her loves her, rather than actually following through on her promise to prove herself to him. The unnamed alien monster is thus pushed way to the background and sticks out like a sore thumb; it’s interesting that even the ants fear it and that it has all these vague, fear-inducing powers and appearances, but it doesn’t take much to dispatch it and I can’t help but feel like a more grounded threat, like gangsters or something, would’ve been better for the story. It seems like the alien’s simply there to “astonish” readers and be this visually alluring monster for the cover art and splash page as it seems completely out of place and overly fantastical for a story that’s trying to be this drama of love, loss, and legacy and ends up being this weird melting pot of manipulation and denial.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the Wasp’s debut story? Did knowing Hank Pym suffered such a tragic loss change your perception of his character? What did you think to his motivations in recruiting Janet van Dyne and her characterisation in this story? Do you agree that the strange alien monster was out of place here or did it make the story more appealing for you? What are some of your favourite Wasp stories and moment? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Ant-Man and the Wasp below, or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back next Friday for more Ant-Man content!

Back Issues: Tales to Astonish #27

Story Title: “The Man in the Ant Hill!”
28 September 1961 (cover-dated January 1962)
Writers: Stan Lee and Karry Lieber
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
Although Hank Pym debuted in this story, he wouldn’t actually assume the identity of Ant-Man until eight issues later; the story’s premise of a man being shrunk down and hounded by insects did so well that the legendary Stan Lee thought it would be fun to return to the character, now in a more traditionally superheroic guise, and he soon became the focal point of the Tales to Astonish publication, gaining an attractive female partner and eventually helping to found Marvel’s premiere superhero team, the Avengers. All-too-soon, Pym’s mental and emotional stability began to be questioned; he rapidly switched between identities, such as Giant-Man, Goliath, and the ridiculously-named Yellowjacket, created one of the Avenger’s deadliest enemies in the sentient murder machine Ultron, and gained infamy for being abusive and hostile towards his wife. For such an obscure Marvel character, Ant-Man has often been a pivotal component to some of Marvel’s biggest stories and has featured fairly prominently in their animated ventures, while other characters have also assumed Pym’s mantle, especially during his periods of instability or death. Although the character was unable to appear in the MCU’s first big crossover movie, Ant-Man finally came to the big screen in 2015, with veteran actor Michael Douglas portraying Hank Pym as a volatile and flawed mentor figure while Paul Rudd took on the Ant-Man identity as his successor, Scott Lang.

The Review:
“The Man in the Ant Hill” doesn’t waste any time and begins with Dr. Hank Pym marvelling at the success of his mysterious chemical serum (now widely known as Pym Particles) which can shrink and grow any object at will. Pym marvels at his success and bitterly thinks back to how he was mocked and ridiculed by his peers in the scientific community, who saw his methods as little more than flights of fancy that distracted from more practical and realistic projects. Undeterred and resentful of their scorn, Pym refused to deviate from “things that appeal to [his] imagination” and vowed to show them up by becoming the greatest scientist ever with his incredible serum, which he believes will be a “boon […] for mankind” as any object, from food to even armies,  could be reduced in size to save on shipping costs and for rapid transport of vast quantities. So proud of his crowning glory is Pym that he doesn’t waste any time and jumps straight into human trials, dousing himself with his shrinking serum, but his elation quickly turns to horror as he realises that he’s shrinking too small too fast…and that he has no way of returning to normal!

Pym recklessly reduces himself in stature and narrowly escapes become dinner for some ants!

Reduced to the size of less than an ant and stumbling into the garden outside of his laboratory in a frantic state, Pym is further horrified when he’s spotted by an army of ants and chased into their vast network of dirt tunnels. Stuck in a pool of sticky honey, Pym faces certain death but is unexpectedly freed by an ant, only to be faced with a hoard of hungry insects eager to eat him up! Luckily for the misguided scientist, a lone matchstick sits in the cave and, with a well-timed throw of a rock-sized pebble, Pym is able to light a fire to keep his pursuers at bay. As he scrambles to safety using a make-shift lasso (which appears out of nowhere and with no explanation), Pym is attacked by another ant, which clamps him in its vice-like pincers. Thankfully, Pym has learned “the art of judo” and handily tosses the ant aside but, by the time he finally gets out of the dirt tunnel, he’s far too weal to climb up to his enlarging serum, much less fend off the ants. Luckily for him, the friendly ant carries him up to the window ledge and he leaps into the test tube, growing to full size once more. Relieved and elated to be normal again, Pym immediately dumps his serum down the drain, realising that it’s far too dangerous to be used ever again, and humbly agrees to turn his attentions to more practical projects in the future, leaving him to ponder the fate of that random ant that saved his life.

The Summary:
“The Man in the Ant Hill” is an exceptionally brief cautionary tale on the dangers of science and the foolish recklessness of man. Pym has very little characterisation beyond being a bit of an egomaniac; he’s ridiculed by his peers for his wild theories and so desperate to prove them wrong that he develops a serum that he fully believes will benefit the world for good, but doesn’t bother to test its success beyond the first few trials and thoughtlessly douses himself in it without a second’s hesitation. Shrunk to a fraction of his size, Pym doesn’t even allow his scientific reasoning or logic to keep him inside his laboratory, where his only hope of salvation lies, and stumbles outside where he’s easy prey to the ants that life in his garden.

A bizarre story full of conveniences and clichés about the dangers of scientific curiosity.

The artwork is simple and inoffensive; there’s a decent sense of scale at work here and  Pym is constantly portrayed as being smaller and weaker than the insects that hound him (at least until he’s actually caught by one, and then he’s somehow able to overpower it simply because the script says so and “judo”). Where the story falls apart for me, though, is in the random instance of one helpful ant; why is this one helping him when all the others want his blood? How did it understand that he wanted to be carried up to his window ledge? It’s awfully convenient to the story, for sure; about as convenient as a matchstick randomly being down in the tunnel and Pym’s uncanny throwing accuracy, but it’s a convenience that probably has to happen to allow Pym to safely return to full size and learn a valuable lesson in humility. Overall, it’s not a story that’s really going to blow your socks off with innovative art or complex themes; Pym suffers for his ignorance and arrogance as all reckless scientists must and the twist of an ant-sized man is fun, but it’s very much a product of its time and easily forgotten in the grand scheme of Ant-Man stories.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Ant-Man’s first tentative appearance in Marvel Comics? Did Hank Pym’s plight strike a chord with you or were you unimpressed by his recklessness and stupidity? Why do you think that one ant helped him out? What are some of your favourite Ant-Man stories and moments, and who is your favourite Ant-Man? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Ant-Man below, or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back next Friday for more Ant-Man content!

Talking Movies: Captain America: Civil War

Released: 6 May 2016
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $250 million
Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Brühl, and Chadwick Boseman

The Plot:
After saving the world from a near-extinction event, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) work alongside a new team of Avengers. However, Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) unpredictable powers damage their credibility and spell the end of the team unless they agree to fall under the jurisdiction of the world’s governments. This causes tensions between Steve and the other Avengers, particularly Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), that are only further exacerbated when Helmut Zemo (Brühl) activates James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier’s (Stan) brainwashing and inspires a conflict within Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The Background:
Considering that Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo and Russo, 2014) was such a massive hit and that, by 2016, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had basically become an unstoppable franchise juggernaut, a third Captain America movie was never in question. The first film of Phase Three of the MCU was originally revealed under a very different title before it was revealed to be taking inspiration from the controversial storyline of the same name. Pitched as a psychological thriller, Captain America: Civil War quickly became the biggest solo Marvel movie when many returning characters and Avengers signed on to feature. The film saw not only the debut of a new team of Avengers and the introduction of T’Challa/Black Panther (Boseman) but also the long-awaited inclusion of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to the MCU. The directors lobbied hard to include Spider-Man and, after much negotiating, Marvel were able to reach an agreement with Sony Pictures to recast and share the character. Though ostensibly Avengers 2.5, Captain America: Civil War was incredibly successful; it made over $1.150 billion and was the highest-grossing film of 2016. Like its predecessor, the film was almost universally praised; while some criticised the film’s bloated cast and premise, many were impressed with the film’s action and intrigue and the dramatic way it fractured the Avengers to set the stage for the MCU’s biggest film yet.

The Review:
I honestly can’t say that I really had much of a reaction when I found out that the third Captain America movie wouldn’t be tackling the Serpent Society; I only really know the group from the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010 to 2012) cartoon, where I found them to be annoying and over-used. However, I was a bit concerned when it was revealed that Marvel Studios would be adapting the “Civil War” (Millar, et al, 2006 to 2007) storyline as not only was I not a fan of how out of character everyone (especially Iron Man) acted in that story but the MCU Avengers had just ended Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015) on a high note and, like the downfall of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), it seemed a bit too soon to be tearing these characters apart when they were still so new as a group.

Cap’s efforts to train a new Avengers team are disrupted when his loyalties are divided.

One thing I’ve always found odd about the “Civil War” storyline is the fact that Captain America, the living embodiment of America’s ideals, is the one fighting against the government and Stark, the arrogant industrialist who actively spits in the face of governmental boards, is the one pushing for registration and culpability. Yet, it sends a clear message when the bastion of truth and freedom finds something oppressive about the ruling body and Steve is a proud man who sees the world in old-fashioned shades of black and white and has learned enough about the modern world to become suspicious of those who wield too much political power and who just wants to do the right thing without compromise. The trailers and hype for the film excited me and I was keen to see a Marvel solo movie featuring so many additional costumed characters in supporting roles as I am a big fan of that in my superhero movies after years of them all living in isolated bubbles. Plus, even with the expanded cast, the film remains, at its core, a Captain America story and is completely focused on Cap’s divided loyalties between his Avengers team-mates and his old friend-turned-brainwashed assassin, Bucky. Cap begins the film as the field commander of the newly-formed team of Avengers we first saw at the end of Age of Ultron; as always, he is all business when on the job and determined to teach the younger members of the team, like Wanda Maximoff, how to best scope out potential targets and situations and build a rapport as a team.

Wanda’s unpredictable powers are the catalyst for the film’s events.

The catalyst for the eventual conflict within the Avengers is Wanda; unlike the other members of the Avengers, she’s still very young, inexperienced, and an outsider. Add to that the fact that her “Hex Powers” are both unpredictable and volatile and she is a bit of a powder keg, despite her generally calm and composed demeanour. Deep down, she just wants to help people and do the best she can so, when she instinctively uses her powers to hurl Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) into the air to keep his suicide bomb from killing innocents, she is devastated when her throw goes awry and kills several Wakandan humanitarians. Although Steve tries to console her, rightfully pointing out that no-one, however (super)powerful can save everyone, she only really feels a connection with the Vision (Paul Bettany), another being born of an Infinity Stone to whom she has grown very close and who desires to not only explore his abilities and humanity but who also seeks to understand the nature of the Infinity Stone embedded in his forehead.

The Avengers are divided on the Sokovia Accords, which would see them conform or retire.

Cap’s team is also comprised of his friends, Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Mackie) and Black Widow. Now much more comfortable in his role as a superhero, the Falcon has built a camaraderie with the other Avengers and is a vital member of the team thanks to his drone, Redwing, and his specialised flight suit, both of which allow him to provide unprecedented air support. Natasha, meanwhile, continues to be an absolute bad-ass in the field, striking with speed, precision, and power, while also sharing the responsibility of teaching Wanda how to conduct herself out in the field. They, and many of their team mates, live and train at a specialist compound, paid for by Stark’s not-inconsiderable funds. Stark, meanwhile, has semi-retired from the superhero life and is only brought back into the fold after the incident in Lagos which, especially after the devastating events in Sokovia in Age of Ultron, call into question the unchallenged actions of the Avengers. Thus, in a continuation of his growing sense of impending cosmic danger and his desire to protect the planet by any means necessary (and due to his guilt at being responsible for collateral damage caused by the Avengers’ actions), Stark is immediately onboard with the “Sokovia Accords”. Although Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross’s (William Hurt), now promoted to Secretary of State, acknowledges that the world owes the Avengers an unpayable debt, he stresses that they must register to answer to a democratic committee before acting so that they can be properly held accountable for their actions. The Sokovia Accords rattle each member of the team in different ways based on their previous experiences and relationships; James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Vision, for example, look at the numbers and the orders and, influenced by their relationship with Stark, believe that signing the Accords is the only logical action whereas Sam is adamant that it will only be a matter of time before the government screw them over.

Zemo plots to destroy the Avengers from the inside out and is focused only on his vengeance.

Steve, ever the soldier and pragmatist, argues against “[surrendering] their right to choose” and his conviction to take a stand against being controlled, even by the United States government, is galvanised after the death of his former flame, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who firmly believed in standing up for her beliefs. However, when it appears as though Bucky has attacked the ratification of the Accords and killed the peace-affirming Wakandan king, T’Chaka (John Kani), Steve makes it his mission to personally track down his former friend and bring him in before he can be arrested by the authorities. T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa, overwhelmed by grief and bloodlust, dons the ceremonial Vibranium suit of the Black Panther to hunt down and kill Bucky, causing tensions to bubble to boiling point. It is into this tumultuous storm of ideals, emotions, and conflicting beliefs that Zemo enters the fray. A survivor from Sokovia who relentlessly goes on a hunt torturing and murdering Hydra operatives to acquire “Mission report. December 16. 1991”, a document that proves the final spark to ignite the titular civil war within the Avengers. Zemo has acquired the Soviet’s book of codewords and is able, through his charm and false documents, to gain access to Bucky after he is arrested and activate him in order to acquire the information he seeks. Bucky, who has been living off the grid and on the run since the end of The Winter Soldier, continues to suffer from decades of cryogenic stasis, manipulation, brainwashing, and memory wiping, which have made him a confused and purely instinctual creature. Although Steve still remembers their time together as friends and the entirety of Bucky’s past, Bucky is haunted by fragmented memories of his time as an assassin and naturally paranoid, lashing out at friend and foe alike when they try to reach him.

Everyone, especially Black Panther, is after Bucky thanks to Zemo’s machinations.

While Wanda shoulders a lot of the guilt for what happened in Lagos, Steve feels he is also to blame as he was distracted by Rumlow’s mention of Bucky. Still, he is steadfast that what he, and the other Avengers, do cannot be regulated by a governing body, especially after how deeply entrenched Hydra was into S.H.I.E.L.D. This causes a clash of ideals and beliefs between and Stark; showing his partial growth as a character, Stark is now more than willing to compromise and work within the system to keep them in check and also to ensure that the team stays together but Steve is adamant that they shouldn’t have to answer to anyone lest they be stopped from intervening where they are most needed. While the Sokovia Accords themselves probably would have divided the Avengers enough to cause some kind of conflict, they potentially wouldn’t have come to blows if it wasn’t for Zemo’s manipulations and Bucky’s apparent culpability in T’Chaka’s death. When he comes to his senses, Bucky reveals that he was just one of many Winter Soldiers created by the soviets and that Zemo was responsible for the bombing at the ratification. Stark, however, remains oblivious to the deception that has taken place and takes it upon himself to lead his allies in apprehending Bucky, even if it means recruiting the young and relatively untested Spider-Man to help throw Cap off his game and fighting against his allies for the greater good. Steve, realising that he is now, once again, a fugitive, puts together a team of his own to defend Bucky and fight their way to uncovering and exposing Zemo’s plot. To this end, he recruits Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and, on Sam’s suggestion, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to help him out, and such is the strength of Captain America’s conviction and fortitude that he is able to convince ex-cons like Scott, retired heroes like Clint (both of whom have familial responsibilities), and Agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) to put themselves and their careers at risk to help his cause.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Being as it’s basically an Avengers movie in disguise, Captain America: Civil War is a natural escalation of The Winter Soldier in every way. As a result, it’s bigger and far more intricate and bombastic than the previous Captain America movies but, arguably, maybe not the definitive ending to a trilogy of standalone movies in the same way as, say, Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013) tried to be. However, there is a very good reason for this and that is that, at this point, MCU movies were much more about focusing on a singular hero but also expanding their shared world exponentially in the lead-up to their biggest movies ever. Despite its heavy subject matter and action-packed events, the film also has time for absolute tone-perfect comedy; Bucky and Sam’s reaction to Steve’s admittedly awkward kiss with Sharon, Scott’s gushing over meeting Captain America and the other Avengers, and Spider-Man’s incessant quips and references during the big airport fight all brilliantly break the tension and add some pitch-perfect levity to the film.

Tom Holland made an immediate and exhilarating impression as the all-new Spider-Man.

Of course, one of the main selling points of the film is the climatic fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man and the introduction of Spider-Man to the MCU. As much as I loved Andrew Garfield in the role and still think it would’ve been a lot simpler and easier to simply fold him and the Amazing Spider-Man films (Webb, 2012 to 2014) into the MCU, casting a younger actor as an inexperienced version of the character was a great way to introduce Spider-Man with a clean slate and Tom Holland played the role to perfection. Although enthusiastic about getting a shot to team up with heavy-weights like Iron Man and the Vision and eager to impress both Stark and the Avengers, Spider-Man is in way over his head; still he holds his own and delivers both quips for days and some of the best web-slinging in just one big fight scene even after (at the time) nearly fifteen years of Spider-Man movies. Though young and operating in a homemade suit that allows him to use his powers responsibly, Peter is still portrayed as something of a child prodigy as he manufactures his own webbing and web shooters and, despite not mentioning his beloved Uncle Ben by name, has the same strict moral code as any other iteration of the character, making for perhaps the most well-rounded portrayal even after many decades of Spider-Man adaptations.

The fight between the two teams soon escalates when Rhodey is critically injured.

The clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man isn’t just about Spider-Man, though, or even Steve and Stark; instead, it’s a reluctant fight between close friends and allies, many of whom use known weaknesses against their team mates in order to gain a bit more ground. While you might think that a guy like Hawkeye is no match for the Vision, his various trick arrows do a decent job of disrupting the synthezoid and burying Iron Man beneath a pile of cars. Similarly, Cap is technically physically outmatched and reluctant to fight against a teenager like Spider-Man but is able to best him using his shield and distracting him with falling debris. Another star of the conflict is Ant-Man who, in addition to enlarging vehicles with Pym Particles, makes an entertaining and amusing debut as Giant-Man, and we even get to see Hawkeye and Black Widow go at it, albeit with an acknowledged reluctance. Even Stark doesn’t actually want to fight; he brings his team to the airport to convince Cap to stand down out of respect for their friendship and for the sake of the team, and specifically orders them to subdue their former allies rather than grievously harm them. However, despite this, and as entertaining as this clash between the two groups of Avengers is, things end up becoming much too real when an errant shot from the Vision ends up crippling Rhodey from the waist down, which only adds further fuel to Stark’s fire.

Cap is forced to defend Bucky from Stark in the finale as the Avengers implode from within.

Both Steve and Stark make compelling arguments for and against signing the Sokovia Accords but, as is to be expected of the storyline and these larger than life characters, take their argument to the extreme. In the source material, this led to Stark hunting down and imprisoning his fellow heroes in the ultimate act of uncompromising betrayal, becoming something of a tyrant in the process. Here, he doesn’t go quite that far until he has absolutely no other choice; despite his grating personality, it’s clear that Stark sees Steve and the others as trusted friends and allies and like Natasha, is more than willing to compromise to keep the team together, in check, and to advocate for amendments to the Accords later down the line. However, both Steve and Stark are pushed too far when the others continuously refuses to see things from their perspective and to compromise their integrity or conscience. After the climatic airport fight, however, and the truth of Zemo’s manipulations is revealed, Stark swallows his pride and heads to Siberia to investigate the other Winter Soldiers. Unfortunately, his conflict with Steve and Bucky is reignited when it is revealed that Bucky was brainwashed into killing Howard and Maria Stark (John Slattery and Hope Davis, respectively) to acquire super soldier serum for the Soviets. Stark’s introduction to the film, and a major sub-plot of his previous appearances, dealt with his unresolved issues with his father and, upon learning that both of his parents were taken from him, he flies into a mindless rage and attacks the two in a fantastically realised and emotional fight scene. Though torn between his friendship with Stark and his loyalty to Bucky, Steve ultimately has no choice but to choose to defend his old friend in order to get him the help he needs and, in the process, Zemo’s master plan succeeds as the Avengers are torn apart and Cap gives up his shield to go on the run with Bucky.

It’s a bittersweet ending as the Avengers are left divided and scattered thanks to Zemo’s efforts.

This finale is the perfect culmination of a film that is packed full of fantastic action sequences and fight scenes; expanding upon the brutal, gritty action of The Winter Soldier, Civil War continues to deliver some hard-hitting action from the likes of Cap and Black Widow, especially. Their fight against Rumlow is a great way to open the film and, following an equally engaging conflict of ideologies and beliefs, the action only escalates as Steve desperately tries to reach Bucky and bring him in independently only to end up fighting against the German police in a cramped stairwell and racing across the rooftops and streets of Berlin. Black Panther joins the battle for this latter sequence in a brilliant introduction to the character that only scratches the surface of his physical capabilities. Unlike other MCU villains who, by this point, showed glimmers of complex personalities and had somewhat multi-faceted personalities but were often just dark mirrors of the titular heroes, Zemo is quite the layered villain. Unlike his comic book counterpart (who, visually, he wouldn’t come to resemble for some time), Zemo isn’t some crazed fascist dictator or maniacal supervillain. Instead, he’s a former Sokovian soldier haunted by the loss of his family in Sokovia due to the Avengers’ actions and who wants to bring them down from the inside out in order to ensure that they never again threaten the safety of innocents. Simultaneously, Zemo has no love for Hydra either and wishes to see both costumed heroes and villains made a thing of the past; he also views his crusade to be a suicide mission as, once he sees Iron Man driven to the point of murderous rage, he considers his mission complete and prepares to kill himself. He is stopped, however, by Black Panther who, having witnessed the Avengers tear themselves apart over grief and rage, chooses to spare his father’s killer and see him brought to true justice. The damage, however, is done; even though the film ends with Cap going to rescue his friends from imprisonment on the Raft and offering an olive branch to Stark, the Avengers are effectively disbanded and wouldn’t come together again until the greatest threat imaginable came knocking.

The Summary:
As brilliant as the last two Captain America films were, Captain America: Civil War was a massive escalation for the character. In many ways, you could make the argument that Marvel Studios could have had the third Cap film focus solely on his hunt for Bucky and made a third Avengers movie for the “Civil War” storyline, but it does a surprisingly good job of balancing its different characters and themes. None of the extra Avengers or the wider conflict between them overshadow Cap’s story or the continuation of his character arc and story with Bucky and, if anything, all of the different conflicts and personalities help to bolster this narrative. At its core, Civil War is a film about secrets, truths, and complex ideologies; both Steve and Stark have valid points for and against superhero registration and Bucky is a tortured soul responsible for an untold number of tragedies and atrocities and yet he wasn’t in full control of himself and was forced into perpetrating those acts and that, as much as their friendship, motivates Steve to protect him to see that he gets help rather than be unjustly imprisoned or killed. Black Panther vows to kill Bucky to avenge his father but chooses to spare Zemo when he learns the truth, showing a fundamental moral compass that helps to define him in his brief screen time. Stark is also driven to avenge his parents when he learns that the Winter Soldier killed them and the result is the complete fracturing of any trust between him and Steve, disassembling the Avengers and, similar to the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier, fundamentally changing the nature of the MCU to ensure the stakes are as dire as possible for when Thanos (Josh Brolin) comes calling. As under-rated a gem as Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) is and as impressively thrilling as The Winter Soldier is, Civil War edges both out in terms of sheer spectacle and showed that even a solo MCU film could have Avengers-level implications for Marvel’s shared universe.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Were you a fan of Captain America: Civil War? What did you think to the conflict between Steve and Stark and were you on Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Did you enjoy seeing the other Avengers in the film or do you feel like it got a bit too crowded for a Captain America movie? What did you think about Zemo, his character and motivations, and Bucky’s overarching story? Are you a fan of the “Civil War” comic book? Did you enjoy the debut of Black Panther and Spider-Man? What did you think to the decision to tear the Avengers apart at that stage in the larger MCU story? Are there any Captain America stories and villains you would have liked to seen make it to the big screen? How have you been celebrating the Star-Spangled Avenger this month? Whatever you think about Civil War, or Captain America in general, drop a comment down below.

Talking Movies [Sci-Fi Sunday]: Ant-Man

January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I’m spending every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.

Talking Movies

Released: 17 July 2015
Director: Peyton Reed
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $130 to 169.3 million
Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Abby Ryder Fortson, and Michael Douglas

The Plot:
Petty thief Scott Lang (Rudd) struggles to adapt to the straight and narrow after being released from prison. Determined to prove himself to his young daughter, Cassie (Fortson), he turns to stealing once more and unwittingly finds himself in possession of Doctor Hank Pym’s (Douglas) incredible Ant-Man suit. Gifted with a real opportunity to turn his life around, Scott trains with Pym and his stern daughter, Hope van Dyne (Lilly), to master the suit’s ability to shrink and control ants in order to keep the conniving Doctor Darren Cross (Stoll) from perverting Pym’s life’s work into a weapon.

The Background:
When comic book readers were first introduced to Hank Pym/Ant-Man, he wasn’t quite the garishly-costumed Avenger would later help form the Avengers; instead, he was merely a scientist featured in the pages of Tales to Astonish #27. The creation of the legendary duo Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the character was re-envisioned as a superhero eight issues later and would go on to be a consistent, if unstable, character in the pages of Marvel Comics. Crucially, however, Pym wasn’t the only character to take up the mantle of Ant-Man; one of Pym’s most notable successors was Scott Lang, a reformed criminal created by David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Byrne, who took over the role in 1979. Both Hank Pym and Scott Lang had featured in Marvel cartoons and videogames since their debut, but development of a live-action film can be traced back to the 1980s, when development was scuppered by a similar concept, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (Johnston, 1989). The project finally started gaining traction in the early-2000s when Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish wrote a film treatment focusing on the Scott Lang version of the character for Artisan Entertainment, who held the film rights at the time. Over the next ten years, the film was continually showcased and teased; the character was bumped from the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and eventually slotted in to debut in Phase Three. Sadly, Wright eventually left the project in 2014, right after both casting and the script had been finalised, due to “creative differences” between himself and Marvel Studios. Peyton Reed soon succeeded Wright as the director and worked closely with star Paul Rudd (who underwent a physical transformation for the role) and writer Adam McKay to rework and expand upon Wright’s script. Double Negative and Industrial Light & Magic handled the film’s shrinking effects, with star Corey Stoll sporting a motion capture suit to bring the villainous Yellowjacket to life. Finally, after being in development for over ten years, Ant-Man released to a massive $519.3 million worldwide gross; the reviews were equally impressive, with critics praising the film’s family dynamic, performances, and the unique blend of humour and action that set it apart from other MCU films. The film performed so well that a sequel was produced in 2018, and a third instalment is due for release later this year, and only served to further bolster Rudd’s undeniable charm and charisma.

The Review:
Ant-Man is one of those Marvel superheroes that I’ve never really had strong feelings about one way or another. Like many, I mostly know the character as being an emotionally and psychologically unstable individual who occasionally abuses his wife and has inferiority complexes, though I primarily associate the character with one of the Avengers’ greatest villains, Ultron. Consequently, while Ant-Man and the Wasp were instrumental in the formation of the Avengers in the comics, I can’t say that I was too disappointed to see the character miss out on the big screen debut of Marvel’s premier superhero team. However, by the time Ant-Man was produced, the MCU was really ramping up its scope; the Avengers had formed, we’d seen Gods and bleeding-edge technology and even space adventures and, while Ant-Man probably would have fit in nicely during the MCU’s first phase (although it probably would have been deemed too derivative), it was actually a surprising breath of fresh air to come back down to “ground level”, so to speak, before really getting balls deep into the Infinity Saga.

Years after Hank quit S.H.I.E.L.D., ex-con Scott tries his best to set a good example and rebuild his life.

Ant-Man opens up in 1989 and by showcasing just how far de-aging technology has come as Hank Pym (digitally restored to match the time period) angrily confronts Howard Stark (John Slattery), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell made up to look noticeably older), and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) after discovering the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division’s (S.H.I.E.L.D.) attempts to replicate his Hank Particle technology. While Peggy is shocked at the revelation, Howard tries to impress upon Hank that his research could be put to far better, greater use than simply fuelling his efforts as Ant-Man. Already annoyed at being reduced to a glorified errand boy, Hank is pushed to the edge when Carson mocks his anger and brings up his late-wife, Janet, leading to Hank lashing out, breaking Carson’s nose, and quitting S.H.I.E.L.D. Although Howard pleads with Hank to reconsider, Hank storms out, making an enemy of Carson in the process and establishing a few key plot points for the movie: Hank doesn’t trust S.H.I.E.L.D., seems a little unstable, and is highly protective of his research. The film then jumps ahead to then-present day to introduce us to Scott Lang right as he’s being released from prison; a former VistaCorp systems engineer, Scott is a veritable genius, holding a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering but is reduced to working a menial job at Baskins-Robbins in his desperate attempt to stay on the straight and narrow and set a good example for his young daughter, Cassie (Fortson). It’s crucial to note that that Scott wasn’t arrested for anything violent or threatening (indeed, he states that he hates violence); instead, he hacked into VistaCorp’s security system and redistributed misbegotten funds to their victims before exposing their misdeeds online, painting him as a sympathetic, almost Robin Hood-like figure right from the outset as he strives to do good deeds and has a clear moral compass but isn’t exactly the best at making responsible decisions. Although Scott has a strained relationship with his ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer), and her new fiancé, cop Jim Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), he is extremely close to Hope, who is always excited to see him. He’s desperate to make up for lost time but faces nothing but an uphill battle to show that he’s changed and can be a responsible adult.

Luis’s enthusiasm is offset by Hanks’ cantankerous nature and Darren’s lust for power.

After his release, Scott is taken in by his former cellmate and best friend, Luis (Michael Peña), an enthusiastic, supportive, and incredibly friendly and optimistic former con who initially tries to coax Scott back into his former life. Luis is one of many highlights in Ant-Man; in many ways a predecessor to the colourful characters and banter we’d see in Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017), Luis just exudes likeability and friendliness. Peña’s delivery and fast-talking cadence also provide one of the film’s most hilarious moments where Luis rapidly breaks down the particulars of a big-time score, which is fantastically realised with Peña’s voice playing over a number of other ancillary characters as he enthusiastically tells Scott how he came by this information. Luis sets Scott up at an apartment and introduces him to Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), both of whom are only too eager to assist with Scott’s heist into a rich old man’s house and make that big score. Scott doesn’t return to his cat burglar ways lightly, but believes he has no choice if he ever hopes to set himself up with an apartment, pay his child maintenance fees, and see his daughter again. In the interim years after the opening, Hank Pym has done pretty well for himself; he set up his own company, Hank Technologies, and is clearly quite wealthy from the research and technology developed there. However, he has slowly become more and more of a recluse and been pushed further away from his company; his protégé, Darren Cross, is in the final stages of assuming full control of Hank Technologies, renaming it Cross Technologies, and fully replicating the Hank Particle technology. Fascinated by Hank’s past as the shrunken secret agent superhero Ant-Man, Darren has developed a suit, the “Yellowjacket”, to reproduce the technology and sell it as a peacekeeping weapon for geo-political and military applications. Hank is frustrated by all of this, especially Darren’s insistence on reproducing the Ant-Man technology, but handicapped by his ability to do anything about it; prolonged exposure to the Hank Particles has left Hank physically unable to suit up again because of the risk of further (and permanent) damage to his mind and body but he is equally adamant that his estranged daughter, Hope, not take up the mantle because of the risk not only to her but also his lingering guilt and fear after losing his wife to that same technology.   

Darren is not just on the cusp of having everything he lusts for, but also completely going off the rails.

Although Darren is frustrated at his inability to shrink organic material, both Hank and Hope know that it’s only a matter of time before he cracks the secret and begins manufacturing weaponised Ant-Man technology. Although Hank is reluctant to risk losing Hope, he’s more than happy to recruit Scott to his cause, having identified him as the perfect expendable candidate for their operation thanks to his intellect and skills as a cat burglar. I always found Hank’s reasoning here very interesting, and somewhat hypocritical; he won’t risk losing Hope so he brings in Scott, positioning him to a point where the former thief has little choice but to agree to become Ant-Man, but Scott has quite a lot to lose as well so it just goes to show that Hank, for all his morals and ethics, doesn’t necessarily have the most clean-cut of motivations. Anyway, Scott is initially disheartened to learn that all his efforts have resulted in only an old motorcycle suit and a funky helmet but, upon slipping into the outfit out of sheer curiosity, he is both excited and horrified to discover that it enables him to shrink down to near-microscopic proportions at the push of a button! Scott is naturally freaked out and attempts to return the suit, only to be arrested in the process and perfectly placed for Hank to exposit a truncated version of his life story and his troubles with Darren Cross. For a stereotypical, suit-wearing antagonist, Darren actually has a few things going for him that help him to break free of the corporate bad-guy trope I loathe so much. Of course he’s a smooth-talking, slick weasel and a sharp businessman, but he’s also a manipulative and sadistic asshole; he took full advantage of Hank’s trust and faith to gain a majority interest in Hank Technologies, leeched every bit of information and brilliance from his mentor he possibly could to advance his own career and self-interests, and has no qualms about killing those who get in his way using perverted Hank Particles to reduce them to a gooey residue. He’s a highly intelligent, and highly unstable, antagonist who oozes charm but also menace; you’re never really sure what he’s thinking and you can almost see the urge to lash out and go full crazy bubbling beneath the surface. In many ways, he’s a dark opposite for both Scott and Hank since he’s kind of like what Scott could have become if he’d gone down that path while also being on the verge of a full-on meltdown like Hank seems to be half the time. Both Darren and Scott also have eyes on Hope, but Darren’s lack of mortality and lust for power are what separate him from his rival.

Hope resents her father keeping things from her and stopping her from suiting up.

Hope and Hank have a strained relationship, to say the least; she resents her father for keeping the truth about what happened to her mother from her, and for picking Scott over her, however they come together when they realise how dangerously close Darren is to perfecting and weaponising the Ant-Man technology. Still, Hope is very abrasive to both Scott and her father, referring to him as “Hank” or “Dr. Pym” for much of the film and constantly annoyed at Scott’s ignorance. Familiar with both Darren’s research and personality, as well as the particulars of Hank’s technology, to say nothing of the company’s security measures and systems, Hope is also Scott’s physical superior in every way; she sees Scott as a bungling, naïve fool who’s in over his head and is greatly frustrated at her father’s apparent lack of trust in her. To be fair, Hank distrusts almost everyone; he resents both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the flamboyant nature of the Avengers, and sees this job as being more about subterfuge then barging in all guns blazing. Hank is also tortured at the loss of his wife, who joined him for his pint-sized adventures as the Wasp and was lost to him after she was forced to reduce herself down beyond the limits of the suit and got lost in the “Quantum Realm” as a result. Scott’s influence on the two is palpable; by sharing with Hope that Hank clearly loves her and doesn’t want to risk losing her, he not only learns the trick to communicating with Hank’s ants but also helps mend the rift between father and daughter, finally revealing the truth about her mother’s death and her father’s inability to cope with the grief of his greatest failure. Consequently, all three are forced to set aside their differences, and self-doubts, in order to redeem each other and keep Darren from potentially threatening the world for the next generation.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One thing that sets Ant-Man apart from other films in the MCU, particularly at the time it was made, was its strong emphasis towards humour; humour has always been a big part of the MCU, but Ant-Man is basically part-comedy and shines all the brighter for it. Paul Rudd impresses in the title role with his incredible screen charisma, likeability, and comedic timing and the film features not just the traditional snark and biting wit of the MCU but also some truly amusing gags relating to Baskin-Robbins (they always find out) and Titanic (Cameron, 1997), but also excellent use of sight gags and editing (the film consistently cuts away from the drama of Scott’s shrunken adventures to see him barely having an impact on the real world). Ant-Man also separates itself from other MCU movies by being as much a heist movie as it is a superhero affair; Scott and his crew undergo a great deal of preparation and planning before breaking into Hank’s house, which involves acquiring uniforms, cutting power lines, and communicating from a nondescript van. Once Scott is inside the house, we get to see just how capable and adaptable he is; he’s slick and agile, easily able to slip inside with barely a whisper, and cobbles together unique solutions to break into Hank’s antique vault using only household items. Whilst being trained in combat by Hope and the particulars to the suit by Hank, Scott lends his skills to planning the assault on Pym Technologies, which involves studying the layouts and the security systems and the defences surrounding the Yellowjacket suit. This requires a highly co-ordinated attack on all fronts, using every resource at their disposal, including not just Scott’s crew (much to Hank’s chagrin) and also an infiltrating into the Avengers compound. This leads to a brief scuffle between Ant-Man and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) that is the first true test of Scott’s newfound abilities, and additional opportunities for Luis and Scott’s amusing cohorts to shine with their hilarious shenanigans.

The suits look fantastic thanks to both excellent practical and digital effects.

Ant-Man absolutely excels in its visuals and presentation. The Ant-Man suit itself is a thing a beauty; fittingly drawing its influences from Scott Lang’s comic book adventures and more modern interpretations of the character, it’s not a mechanised suit of armour or made up of fancy nanotech and wis, instead, a very tangible and almost rudimentary costume that resembles a motorcycle outfit. It looks advanced, but not so advanced that it’s impossible to believe a genius like Hank Pym could have made it at home and with limited resources, and I love how it seems so functional and practical. The helmet is especially impressive, especially in this first outing for the character; rather then peeling back like nanotech, it flips up and is a largely practical prop, all of which works wonders for bringing this frankly ridiculous character to life. Darren’s Yellowjacket outfit is functionally similar, but noticeably different; for starters, it was brought to life using digital effects but I sure as hell couldn’t really tell that when watching the film. Yellowjacket has always been a bit of an absurd character, costume, and concept for me but the film presents the character as very menacing and technologically superior to Ant-Man in everyway. While it’s admittedly very “safe” for the film to wheel out the dark doppelgänger trope again, Yellowjacket can not only shrink and grow himself and other objects but he can also fly and sports stinger-like blasters on his back; this, coupled with the characters’ distinctive red and yellow colour schemes, really makes it much easier to distinguish the two in their climatic fight scene.

Ant-Man’s unique ability to shrink makes for some fun and innovative action sequences and visuals.

Naturally, Ant-Man’s most unique selling point is the character’s ability to shrink down to a near-microscopic level; this effect is rendered using digital technology and directly attributed to the suit and the Pym Particles, meaning that Scott must stay in the suit and the helmet at all times to stay alive when shrunken. Although minuscule in size, Scott retains his full-size strength and weight, effectively making him superhuman when he’s shrunk. However, the dangers surrounding him are many and varied; normal, everyday things such as a person entering a room, rats, and water are life-threatening hazards and the effect is, quite naturally, very disorientating for Scott for much of the first half of the film. Thanks to a lengthy (and amusing) montage sequence, Scott slowly learns to master the suit, which enables him to shrunk and grow in a fraction of a second to pass through the smallest openings, strike with near-superhuman speed, strength, and swiftness, and enlarge or reduce everyday objects to be used as weapons in combat. As versatile as the suit is, perhaps the greatest benefit of the suit is the ability to control ants using electromagnetic waves. Hank is obviously the absolute master of this; he controls flying ants to spirit Scott across the city, commands “Bullet Ants” to keep him subdued, and even directs drones to communicate and pass sugar cubes. While Hank is very clinical about this ability, preferring to number the ants rather than name them and grow attached to them, Scott is much more appreciative of their help and bonds with them like one would a pet. He names his flying ant “Anthony” and is devastated when it is killed near the finale, but also learns through his training of the particular differences and practical applications of each of the different types of ants at his disposal: “Crazy Ants” can conduct electricity to fry electronics, Bullet Ants deliver an excruciating sting, “Carpenter Ants” allow him to fly about at high speeds, and “Fire Ants” not only bite but also form bridges and pathways. By the finale, Scott has fully mastered the suit and the ants, and is able to shrink and grow in the blink of an eye to dodge bullets and take down entire groups of highly trained, armed men, leading to some of the MCU’s most unique action sequences as everyday locations are rendered exciting and action-packed thanks to Scott’s diminutive stature.

Yellowjacket is defeated, Ant-Man returns from the Quantum Realm, and Hope finally earns her wings.

A particularly frosty confrontation between Hank and Darren sets Cross off and sees him beefing up security, leading to an escalation in Hank’s plans. Although he despairs of Scott’s friends, Hank begrudgingly accepts their help in causing distractions and infiltrating Pym Technology. While Ant-Man and his ants fry the servers and cause chaos to the security systems, Hank puts himself in considerable danger as Darren negotiates the selling of the Yellowjacket technology to Carson and his Hydra associates, and the two finally reveal their true faces as hated enemies. Although Hank is wounded in the fracas, the timely intervention of Hope allows Scott to escape when he’s captured; Hope’s pleas to Darren fall on deaf ears and, pushed to the edge by the destruction of his company, he dons the Yellowjacket suit for himself and fully embraces his hatred and lust for power. This leads to some fun and incredibly unique fight scenes as Ant-Man and Yellowjacket battle not just on a damaged helicopter but also in a suitcase, bouncing about between packets of sweets, keys, and a mobile phone, and Ant-Man bats Yellowjacket into a fly zapper with a table tennis pad. Darren’s knowledge of Scott’s identity leads to him targeting Cassie, escalating their conflict significantly and leading to my favourite fight sequence of the film where Ant-Man and Yellowjacket duke it out on a toy train set and across Cassie’s bedroom, leading not just to an enlarged ant being set loose upon the city but a gigantic Thomas the Tank Engine crashing out into the street! Yellowjacket’s titanium armour proves too tough for Ant-Man and, with his daughter at risk, Scott has no choice but to risk going sub-atomic in order to disrupt Darren’s suit and reduce him down into a twisted nothingness. Adrift in the Quantum Realm, Scott is disorientated and bombarded with bizarre visuals but holds on to his memories and love for Cassie and uses those emotions to force himself back to consciousness, repairing his regulator and returning to the real world. His heroic actions and self-sacrifice earn him not just his daughter’s adulation but Paxton’s respect, finally allowing him to be a part of Cassie’s life once more or for them to build a family unit. His return also gives Hank the hope that he might be able to retrieve his wife one day, and finally sees Scott and Hope act on their mutual attraction for each other. The film concludes with Luis (eventually) relating that the Falcon is actively seeking out Ant-Man for help with a much bigger problem that affects not just the superhero community, but the entire world, and Hank finally gifting Hope with her own Wasp suit for the next go-around.

The Summary:
I wasn’t expecting much when I went into Ant-Man; the MCU was growing and starting to veer away towards the cosmic and outlandish and it seemed like their days of doing more grounded, more human heroes were all but done but Ant-Man definitely set a precedent for diverse storytelling that the MCU continues to stick to. It’s amazing to me that even after expanding their scope towards Gods and the depths of space and hinting towards larger cosmic threats the MCU is still masterfully able to snap back to ground level with a character like Ant-Man, and Scott Lang was such a breath of fresh air for the franchise. Paul Rudd is so immediately likeable, and he brought a real comical, heartfelt performance to Scott Lang, and it’s largely thanks to him that I found myself actually caring about Ant-Man for the first time in…I think forever. The comedy and gags on offer were absolutely top notch, with Luis being an obvious highlight, but I also really enjoyed Michael Douglas’s performance; he played a world weary, cranky, slightly unstable former superhero-come-mentor perfectly and brought so much presence to every scene he was in. He, like all of the actors in this, also seemed to be having a great time with the film, which doesn’t take itself too seriously and perfectly incorporates elements of a heist movie to give it a unique flavour. While we see incredible cosmic visuals and escalating threats quite often in the MCU, Ant-Man’s shrinking sequences are still really impressive; I love how our senses are changed alongside Scott’s when he’s smaller and how everyday things we take for granted suddenly become a life-threatening obstacle for Ant-Man. It’s fun seeing Scott learn about the suit and what he can do, and seeing him bond with the different ants and work alongside his crew, and while I think Ant-Man probably would have been better placed in the MCU’s first phase, it was a much-needed palette-cleanser at the time and remains one of the most entertaining and unique entries in the MCU.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Ant-Man? How did you think it compared to other films in the MCU? What did you think to the emphasis on comedy and heist elements and on Scott’s status as a struggling ex-con and father? Did you enjoy the film’s unique action sequences and shrinking effects? Were you disappointed that Yellowjacket ended up just being a dark mirror of Ant-Man or did you think Darren’s character stood out enough to justify it? Were you a fan of Ant-Man prior to this film and, if so, which iteration of the character was your favourite? Whatever you think about Ant-Man, sign up to drop a comment below or leave a comment on my social media, check back in next week as Sci-Fi Sunday continues.

Back Issues [A-Day]: The Avengers #1

Having introduced comic readers to a whole host of colourful characters, in September of 1963 the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought together six of Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers. A super team like no other, with a constantly rotating roster, the Avengers has become the premier team of Marvel Comics and, thanks to the team and its individual members forming the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have become an unbelievably popular and successful franchise in their own right.

Story Title: The Coming of the Avengers!
Published: September 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
In 1960, DC Comics brought together their most popular and powerful characters to form the Justice League of America. Never ones to let the competition get a leg up on them, and having seen successful with the Fantastic Four and the debut of the X-Men in that very same month, Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman asked Stan Lee to create a similar team of superheroes. Helpfully, Lee and a number of his most famous collaborators had already established a number of colourful characters to bring together: Tony Stark/Iron Man, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Doctor Donald Blake/Thor Odinson, and Doctor Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet van Dyne/The Wasp. Since the debut issue, the Avengers have been a consistent and influential presence in Marvel Comics; the roster constantly shifted and changed, with the Hulk leaving the team in the second issue and Lee memorably dusting off the long-retired character of Steve Rogers/Captain America in issue four. Since then, the team has expanded and changed many times, seen spin-offs and splinter groups, been disassembled and reassembled, and taken part in all manner of massive cosmic events in the decades since their introduction.

The Review:
“The Coming of the Avengers” begins with Thor’s brother, Loki Laufeyson, the God of Mischief, imprisoned on the “dreaded Isle of Silence” in the mythical realm of Asgard. This is, of course, back when Loki was a despicable, irredemable villain whose previous mad schemes for power and conquest were thwarted by his brother; consequently, Loki is incensed at being exiled to the barren wasteland by Odin Allfather and plots a devious scheme for revenge.

Loki burns with a desire to destroy Thor, not Blake, and sees the Hulk as his chance to do so!

Though his physical self is trapped, Loki is able to use his vast magical abilities to project his disembodied self across the length of he dimension-spanning Bifrost and down to Earth, the planet Thor loves so dearly. He spies in on Donald Blake but dismisses him as a lame and insignificant mortal; he is acutely aware that Blake and Thor are one and the same but desires victory over Thor, not his crippled mortal shell. After many long hours, Loki comes upon the Incredible Hulk and is instantly intrigued by the creature’s brute strength and disdain for humanity. Thanks to Loki’s manipulations, the Hulk is blamed by the media when a train almost derails (despite the fact that the Hulk went out of his way to keep the train on track after Loki’s tricked him into damaging the tracks). Concerned for the well-being of his friend, Rick Jones desperately attempts to contact the Fantastic Four for help but Loki intercepts the broadcast and successfully coerces Blake to transform into Thor.

Words almost can’t express how much I despise Janet’s characterisation in these early comics!

However, Rick’s broadcast is also intercepted by Ant-Man and the Wasp and Tony Stark, who eagerly leap into action to stop what they perceive to be one of the Hulk’s trademark rampages. Though he’s now decked out in his slightly more streamlined gold plated armour (which can also charge through solar power), Stark is still entirely reliant upon his iron plated chest device to keep him alive but, nevertheless, he’s eager to test the strength of his armour against the Hulk’s much-vaulted power. The Fantastic Four eventually pick up the transmission regardless of Loki’s interference but are unable to assist since they’re already busy on another case but Rick and his fellow “Teen Bridge” are star-struck when Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp all show up to answer their summons. This is probably as good a time as any to talk about how much I loathe Janet van Dyne, especially in her earlier appearances in the sixties and seventies! She’s such a ditzy, scatterbrained little tart; all she ever does is think about her hair, make-up, and appearance and constantly fawn over other men right in front of her partner/husband, Hank. Sure, Hank is generally much more focused on his work, the mission, or being professional and is largely neglectful and ignorant of Janet but that doesn’t excuse her God-awful characterisation. Similar to Susan Storm/Invisible Girl, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, and many of Marvel’s supporting female characters at the time, Janet is constantly patronised and spoken down to by men but, unlike many of them, she actually deserves such harsh treatment since she’s more of a glorified model or brainless celebrity than a capable superheroine, much less an individual worthy of their respect since all she wants to do is drool over Thor’s muscles!

Loki is apprehended but the battle between Iron Man and the Hulk continues to rage!

Anyway, having inadvertently brought together some of Earth’s mightiest heroes, Loki changes tactics and uses his powers to trick Thor into thinking the Hulk is right outside their door! Acting without thought or logic, Thor immediately heads out to battle the Green Goliath and immediately heads to Asgard when he realises that the “Hulk” is merely one of Loki’s visions…just as Loki planned all along! Meanwhile, the Hulk, now free from Loki’s control, has…disguised himself as Mechano the Mechanical Man and hidden himself away at a circus? Thanks to Ant-Man’s uncanny helmet, which allows him to control and communicate with ants, Pym is able to first locate the Hulk and then use countless numbers of ants to cause a cave-in beneath the beast’s feet. Unimpressed and irritated, the Hulk easily bursts free of the trap and reacts with anger when Ant-Man attempts first to calm him and then to trap him. As in his debut appearance, the Hulk is far more than the mindless, rampaging beast he is generally known as; he’s eloquent and intelligent, using words like “masquerade” and being smart enough to disguise himself as a circus performer and use weapons to blow the Wasp out of the air and render her helpless. The Hulk is kept from crushed the Wasp into a fine paste by the timely arrival of Iron Man; after Iron Man’s attempts to lure the Hulk into a trap fail, he gives chase but the Hulk is wily enough to allow Iron Man to pass harmless overheard so that he (as in the Hulk) can deliver a crippling blow to Stark’s “propulsion battery”. Over in Asgard, Odin grants Thor permission to travel to the Isle of Silence to confront Loki and he has to overcome numerous traps and hazards conjured by Loki’s black magic along the way. Thor perseveres and shatters Loki’s magical barrier using his enchanted hammer, Mjölnir, in his mission to “avenge” Loki’s foul deed. However, Thor is kept from attacking Loki first by the sudden arrival of a monstrous troll, a nature of the isle, and then by Loki’s deceitful illusions.

Loki is defeated with ridiculous ease and a new super team is born!

Regardless, Thor triumphs again by summoning lightning to drive the creature away and then dispels Loki’s duplicates with an implausible twirling of his hammer. Though Thor has Loki in his grasp and intends to bring him to Earth to answer for his deception, there’s still the little problem of the Hulk to contend with; Iron Man, having repaired his battery, continues his pursuit of the Hulk to an automobile factory, where the Hulk is able to endure and outwit Iron Man’s attempts to subdue him. Thor interrupts the battle and reveals that Loki was behind everything; Hulk’s desire to make Loki pay for framing him is momentarily avoided when Loki breaks free of Thor’s grasp and prepares to resume his battle with his hated brother…only for a hoard of ants to open a trapdoor beneath his feet and cause him to fall into an lead-lined chamber. With the threat ended, Ant-Man suggests that the six of them join forces as a team, which the others (including the Hulk, despite everything he went through during the issue) readily agree to and it is the Wasp who suggests the team’s name: The Avengers!

The Summary:
“The Coming of the Avengers!” is a breath of fresh air after the year I’ve had looking back at early origin stories and comic books; even compared to standalone stories of the time, it’s refreshing to not have the plot be endlessly bogged down with recaps of the characters’ origins and to not have every other piece of dialogue by a description of that character’s ability. Characters do still have an annoying tendency to monologue and describe what they’re doing as they’re doing it but it’s a far more action-packed issue than some other comics I’ve read this year, that’s for sure.

The brisk pace means some characters get more focus than others but there’s still time for cameos…

If you’re a newcomer to Marvel, this is obviously a bit of a disadvantage since you’d have no idea who any of these characters are; the only characters who really get any extended backstory and focus are Thor and Loki, which is only natural considering it is Loki who drives the main plot of the issue. However, we never see an appearance from the Hulk’ alter ego (Banner isn’t even mentioned in the issue), Ant-Man and the Wasp are never seen outside of their costumed identities, and the comic even has time to waste panels on a cameo by the Fantastic Four. The intention, however, is pretty clear: Rick’s first thought is to call the Fantastic Four since there are only a couple of superhero teams in existence at that time and the implication is that Loki is a threat worthy of the Fantastic Four’s involvement, which thus makes the Avengers appear just as capable and formidable by proxy. Not that the Avengers really need any help in that regard; each character has already had numerous chances to shine and show how capable they are in their solo issues but what better way to showcase that to its fullest than by pitting them against the Hulk, the most powerful mortal in Marvel Comics at the time?

For all his power and scheming, Loki is incredibly ineffectual and his plan massively backfires!

Iron Man, especially, is eager to pit his skills and augmented strength against the Hulk’s (who sadly never gets to tussle with Thor to see which of the two truly is mightier) and it’s certainly unique seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp futilely try to subdue the beast with traps and trickery. It’s not a perfect story by any means; I could talk for days about Janet’s characterisation and she basically does nothing except buzz around, pine after Thor, and name the team and Loki never thinks to use his powers to send the Hulk into a mindless rampage to help tip the balance in his favour. Indeed, though Loki’s powers are vast and have the potential to be extremely dangerous, he’s pretty ineffectual as Thor easily fights off his illusions, he’s anti-climatically defeated by Ant-Man and the Wasp (of all people), and all he succeeds in doing is uniting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as a team. He might have had more success if he’d tried to manipulate them into fighting each other or used his powers to better effect but, as an excuse to bring together six of Marvel’s most formidable superheroes into a super team, “The Coming of the Avengers!” succeeds far more than it fails…it just needed to be a bit longer and have a bit more interaction between the characters.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

How do you feel about “The Coming of the Avengers!”? Do you feel it was an effective introduction to Marvel’s newest and greatest team or do you, perhaps, find it a little weak and light on content? Which of the original line-up is your favourite? What did you think to the Wasp’s characterisation and the treatment of females during this time? Which version of the team is your favourite or who would you like to see on an Avengers roster one day? Do you think the singular threat of Loki was suitable enough justification for bringing together these heroes or would you have preferred a bigger threat? How are you celebrating the debut of the Avengers today and what are some of your favourite Avengers storylines, characters, or adaptations? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on the Avengers in the comments below.

Talking Movies: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Talking Movies

Marvel Studios took one of their biggest gambles in producing Ant-Man (Reed, 2015), given that the character is far more obscure than his other Marvel counterparts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yet, seemingly against the odds, Ant-Man surprised by momentarily shifting the tone of the MCU away from world- or galaxy-ending threats and back down to Earth for an amusing heist adventure. Now, in the wake of the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War (The Russo Brothers, 2018), Marvel is at it again. However, while Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed, 2018) does scale back to stakes and focus of the MCU, it also expands upon the nature and potential of the Quantum Realm, perhaps in service of future films in the franchise.

Scott has been under house arrest since Civil War.

Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place about two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War (The Russo Brothers, 2016) and sees Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) three days away from being released from house arrest after violating the Sokovia Accords. While Scott has used the time to set up a security and surveillance company with his friend Luis (Michael Peña) and bond with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), he has last all contact with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) as they were less-than-impressed with Scott’s actions and have been on the run ever since. However, when Scott has a dream/vision of his time in the Quantum Realm, he reaches out to Hank and is promptly abducted by Hope. Taken to Hank’s laboratory (which he can shrink to the size of a carry-case), Scott learns that he may hold the key to finding and rescuing Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer).

It’s all about the car chases this time.

Hank is reluctantly forced to coerce Scott into helping Hope acquire a vital component to their Quantum Tunnel from Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), an act that draws the attention of the mysterious assassin Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). Very quickly, Hank, Hope, and Scott are in a race against time to evade Burch, the FBI (led by Jimmy Woo (Randall Park)), and Ghost and complete the machine before Janet is forever lost to the Quantum Realm. I went into this thinking we would be getting a much faster paced, more action-packed story now that the origin and exploration of Ant-Man’s powers had been sufficiently delivered in Ant-Man but, surprisingly, Ant-Man and the Wasp is as much about the notion of family as it is its action. While nothing quite tops the small-scale battles on Thomas the Tank Engine railroad tracks or inside purses, there is a decent level of car-based action as Scott and Hope shrink and grow Hot Wheels cars to evade their pursuers and the fight sequences involving Ghost are pretty exciting.

Ghost continues Marvel’s attempts to have more layered villains.

Speaking of, rather than being a simple dark counterpart to Scott or Hank like Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) was, Ghost is a pretty unique and sympathetic character. Constantly fading in and out of reality thanks to exposure from the Quantum Realm, she blames Hank for her affliction and the death of her parents. It also helps that she’s pretty bad-ass, which helps showcase Hope’s ability to kick ass as the Wasp.

Anything Scott can do, Hope can do better.

In many ways, actually, Ant-Man and the Wasp is more about Hope than any other character; she finally receives her suit, which comes with all sorts of nifty gadgets and tech not included in Scott’s, and is clearly a far better and more effective superhero than Scott. Her passion and desire to be reunited with her mother are evident throughout but she also retains a compassion for others (mainly Scott and her father) that keeps her grounded.

Happy to see Giant-Man make a comeback.

As for Scott, he’s everything he was before, and that’s not a bad thing. Paul Rudd perfectly portrays the everyman who is swept up into things largely beyond him and his ignorance to the technobabble and subpar fighting ability are offset by his charm, wit, and ability to think on his feet. Scott is also all about making up for letting down Hank and Hope by not involving them in the airport skirmish from Civil War and, refreshingly, his daughter and family are all perfectly happy for him to continue to be Ant-Man, rather than giving him shit for his actions.

Laurence Fishburne jumps to the MCU but is Bill Foster all that he seems?

Rounding out the cast are Michael Douglas and, in a new addition, Laurence Fishburne as Bill Foster. Foster and Pym have a strained relationship after a falling out and Pym’s efforts to discredit Foster’s work, which all helps cast Hank as a man who has some demons in his past. Driven to rescue Janet, Hank will seemingly go to any lengths to atone for what he sees as his greatest failing. Once again, Marvel Studios employ some impressive de-aging effects to Douglas (and Pfeiffer) to shed more light on the Pym’s troubled past as a married couple and part-time spies. In the end, Ant-Man and the Wasp is probably about on-par with its predecessor; it isn’t necessarily worlds better but it’s by no means a step back. As before, it’s a great way to catch your breath after the exhaustive events of Infinity War and, if the mid-credits scene is anything to go by, a vital entry for future films in the MCU.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Recommended: Of course, and not just for MCU fans. Rudd’s charisma and the general premise make this a great recommendation for everyone.
Best moment: The triumphant return of Giant-Man and the fight sequences involving Ghost.
Worst moment: The side-plot of Scott’s damaged belt, which causes him to by stuck at different sizes, grew thin very quickly for me. It just seemed weird for Hank to create a new, presumably better suit but have the most vital component be janky.