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Ant-Man 101: Paul Rudd & Michael Douglas Are Aboard, But Who Are Scott Lang & Hank Pym? Where’s the Wasp?

If you kind of make a living writing about pop culture yesterday was not a good day to get sick.  There were new trailers for Game of Thrones and Outlander,  Joseph Gordon-Levitt talked about Sandman, and everyone clamored to find meaning in the largely meaningless Golden Globes.  Plus, there were still some juicy Star Wars: Episode VII rumors to sort out, and, oh yeah, Michael Douglas has been cast to play Ant-Man in Ant-Man even though Paul Rudd is already around to do that.  Wait, what!  Let’s talk about that one.

First, let’s clarify if you don’t already know the details: Michael Douglas has been cast to play Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man.  This then means that Paul Rudd will play Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man from the comics.  Back in 2006, Ant-Man director Edgar Wright exact told SuperHeroHype (altogether, Wright has been working on getting this thing made for a decade now) “the plan would be to prominently feature both Pym and Lang, showing Pym as Ant-Man in the sixties and then flashing-forward to Lang’s journey to become the hero.”  It’s unclear if that approach has survived into the current script.  Last week Wright teased the presence of Lang in the film by posting to his website a photo from the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes episode (“To Steal an Ant-Man”) which depicts Scott Lang’s origin story:

avengers-animated-ant-man__span

If you have Netflix and want to know everything you need to about Ant-Man without reading the comics just go find Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and watch the episodes “The Man in the Ant Hill,” “Ultron-5″/”The Ultron Imperative,” “To Steal an Ant-Man,” and “Yellowjacket.”  They about cover everything essential, and though not as dark as the comics do at least portray Pym as suffering a psychotic break in becoming Yellowjacket (some fairly heavy stuff for a kids cartoon).

Lacking that, you could check The Hollywood Reporter’s handy dandy breakdown of Ant-Man’s comic book history, summarized below:

  • There have been three different Ant-Men in Marvel Comics continuity: Hank Pym, Scott Lang and Eric O’Grady.
  • Pym debuted in 1962’s Tales to Astonish “The Man in the Ant Hill.”  In this initial appearance, Pym was a scientist who discovered a size-changing formula that he tested on himself, but he became convinced it was too dangerous to exist in the world so he poured his discovery down a drain.
  • Pym returned 8 months later in “Return of the Ant-Man” in which he used his size-changing formula (and a newly-created helmet that allowed him to communicate with ants) to battle communist spies hell-bent on destroying America.  Why the change?  Marvel wanted to create more superheroes, and Pym’s first story sold well.
  • Pym’s girlfriend and eventual wife, Janet Van Dyne, became The Wasp after getting size-altering abilities from Hank.  The two helped co-found The Avengers.
  • In the late 1960s, Pym created a sentient robot named Ultron, which was kind of like Skynet but cooler.  Ultron became a major foe to The Avengers, and will be the main villain of The Avengers sequel but apparently in no way associated with Pym.
  • Pym’s time as Ant-Man and an Avenger is mostly characterized by him frequently either voluntarily leaving the team (since he’s more of a pacifistic than man of action) or being expelled (due to frequently getting manipulated and brainwashed by enemies…or hitting his wife).  This troubled history includes multiple mental breakdowns and alternate personas for Pym, i.e., Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket.
  • In 1979, Scott Lang was introduced as an electronics expert who has to become a professional thief to save his terminally ill daughter. Lang steals Pym’s ant-man suit and technology to help break out from prison the only doctor who can cure his daughter.  Lang succeeds and tries to return the suit to Pym and turn himself in, but Pym is impressed by Lang and allows him to just continue being Ant-Man.
  • Lang was killed in the 2004 “Avengers Disassembled” storyline, but was revived in 2012 in “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” due to time-travel.  The price of his return was the death of his daughter, which left him a tragic figure obsessed with living up to her legacy.
  • O’Grady succeeded Lang after his death, with a rather boring origin story – he’s just a SHIELD agent who steals the Ant-Man technology from SHIELD’s lock-up.

Pym’s genius scientist background made him an ideal choice for frequent collaboration with Tony Stark, ala the way Downey, Jr.’s Stark interacts with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner in The Avengers.  However, that is something which also made Pym seem like an odd choice for his own feature film.  Wouldn’t he kind of overlap with Tony Stark?  Plus, since the writers of the comics clearly never had any idea what to do with the character and took him in needlessly dark and complicated directions why would a feature film adaptation fare any better?  And how do you Hank Pym on film after taking his most significant creation, Ultron, and giving it to Tony Stark in The Avengers: Age of Ultron?

Ant-Man

Now, the running rumor – remember, it’s like 18 months before this film comes out – is that Pym will actually be the villain of the film.  The source: a headline from Variety which the author has since redacted.  So…..the Marvel movies have always shied away from the darker elements of their characters’ comic book histories, e.g., doing a seriously half-hearted attempt at Tony Stark’s “Demon in the Bottle” alcoholism story in Iron Man 2.   If they did make Pym a villain he’d serve as a kind of cautionary tale to Lang, and it would actually make total sense.  Just don’t give the rumor too much attention right now.

This is still about a guy who wears a helmet which allows him to control ants.  The Scott Lang version kind of lucks into his powers, which would allow Paul Rudd to potentially do the Ryan Reynolds thing from Green Lantern and mock all the silliness just, you know, funnier than Reynolds.

Wasp
The Wasp As She Appeared in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, voiced by Colleen O’Shaugnessy

The big question remains (as pointed out here and here) what does all of this mean for The Wasp?  The Hank Pym Ant-Man was usually a duo of some sort with The Wasp.  Why couldn’t they co-lead the movie?  Do you just change comic book continuity and make her Scott Lang’s love interest?  Or do you cast an older actress to play her alongside Michael Douglas, thus presumably destroying her viability as a major cinematic character from this point forward?  Would Joss Whedon let that happen considering how much he wanted to use her in The Avengers?  

Most everything Marvel has done with their movies has been incredibly risky, and other than their two failed Hulk films they’ve managed to pull everything off beautifully.  Now, they have become so big their getting old war horses like Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Michael Douglas to come and play.  It would be foolish to doubt them now, but with Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man they are taking some even bigger creative chances.  Will a hero like Ant-Man who can do both Honey, I Shunk the Kids and Honey, I Blew Up the Kids translate well to the screen, especially after you’ve taken his most prominent villain-Ultron-away?  You’d think not, but Edgar Wright is a brilliant director (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) when someone keeps his seizure-inducting editing in check.  Based upon his track record, this will probably a very clever, fun film…but what the blazes are they going to do with the Wasp?

Ant-Man is set to premiere on July 31, 2015, directed by Edgar Wright from a screenplay he co-wrote with Joe Cornish.  Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are the only currently confirmed cast members.  They should start filming sometime around April of this year.  Hopefully, longtime Wright actor Simon Pegg will show up in at least a cameo.

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