The recent announcement that Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim fame, chose to leave his superhero passion project Ant-Man, citing creative differences with Marvel over the script. It was a huge blow for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and for the film, which has already cast Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena and Patrick Wilson, among others. It was a varied cast, and was frankly the most exciting film of 2015 until this news. While Star Wars Episode VII looks increasingly like a cynical cash-grab, and no one really knowing what the second Avengers movie is going to be like, Ant-Man consistently remained the one movie that fanboys, especially the ones here at Unleash The Fanboy, were most excited about.
Now, according to the Latino Review, the “creative differences” I mentioned earlier were more or less the result of Marvel messing with the original script by Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish (director of Attack The Block, and co-writer of the underrated The Adventures of Tintin). It’s really unclear as to who thought this was a good idea, especially since Wright has gone three for three with his last films, The Cornetto Trilogy. All of them are beloved cult classics, all of them made a mint at the box office with lower budgets, and all three of them are some of the best films of the 21st century. That is no exaggeration to those of you who haven’t watched Wright’s filmography: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End are phenomenal entries in the genres of zombie films, buddy cop movies, and alien invasion flicks.
Wright also directed another cult classic, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, which was also very good, even if it was not quite on the same level as his other works. That one was a huge flop in theaters thanks to lack of interest and a horrendous marketing campaign, but it was no fault of Wright’s that the film failed? Was this the reason why Marvel tried taking control of the script?
Anyway, the new script was apparently awful and tried to half-ass its way into a franchise. Wright immediately left the project, along with Cornish, and now Marvel needs a new director for its film. But frankly, Marvel should have kept the script the way it was, and let Wright have his way. I’m going to tell you exactly why.
Before we begin, I’d like to state here that my colleague Stephen is the indirect inspiration for this article. I don’t agree with his viewpoints, but he wrote out his arguments very well and for the sake of brotherhood, his very well worded article can be found here.
People Only Wanted To See The Film Because of Wright
This point is not an insult to the character of Ant-Man himself, whether you prefer him as Hank Pym or Scott Lang or Eric O’Grady. Rather, Ant-Man still remains one of Marvel’s least well known characters even to this day, and the movie was only greenlit in the first place because of Wright’s script ideas. A similar claim can be made for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, who are almost completely unknown to the general public. Much like Ant-Man, the Guardians happen to have some of the most interesting backstories and are very well written characters overall. But without a passionate filmmaker to convince the suits to greenlight it, neither Ant-Man or the Guardians would have ever seen the light of day. Looking at other films that starred almost unknown characters, despite the obvious successes of surprise hits like Blade and Iron Man, the numerous Ghost Riders and Elektras of the world that we’ve seen would make most execs, already risk-averse, very hesitant to adapt a character who most people don’t know and doesn’t have a Man at the end of their name.
And frankly, after crap like The Spirit, I’m almost inclined to agree with them.
Wright Exclusively Creates Characters Like Ant-Man
We’re sure that as fellow geeks, the vast majority of you are already aware of at least the most cursory details about Ant-Man. Hank Pym discovers molecules that lets people change size when exposed to them, calls them Pym Particles. Uses them on himself, is able to shrink to almost microscopic size and then back again. Eventually can reverse this, making him into Giant-Man. His main squeeze is Janet Van Dyne, AKA The Wasp. His archenemy is Ultron, who will be seen in the next Avengers movie. He’s being played by Michael Douglas in the film adaptation (Hank Pym, it’s Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang who actually becomes Ant-Man in the movie).
Much like the general public is not aware that Tony Stark is a raging alcoholic, people are also mostly not aware of what an insanely messed up person each of the iterations of Ant-Man is. But admittedly, I don’t know as much about the character as I would like, so I will now refer you to UTF’s Official Ant-Man Expert, Bader Noaimi:
Ant-Man is one of those really cool characters who you can have endless debates about. His existence as a character and his subsequent redemption makes you question your beliefs about right and wrong. But when you finally decide for yourself (in whatever way), your beliefs become stronger as a result.
But I think that to some extent, they all possess those same qualities.
Hank Pym is an abuser.
Scott Lang is a thief.
Eric O’Grady is immoral.
All three Ant-Men had a strong internal moral struggle about being a hero.
What separates Ant-Man from the rest of the pack is that he’s the most morally ambiguous hero out there, and therefore the hardest to sympathize with. As Mr. Noaimi pointed ouch, each of the Ant-Men has a fatal flaw that makes the concept of them being a hero difficult to accept. Since the film will concern only Hank Pym and Scott Lang (that we know of), Eric O’Grady will unfortunately not be profiled here.
Hank Pym, of the two, is clearly the worst one. Mentally unstable after the death of his first wife, his entire run as a superhero has been littered with his insecurities, both perceived and personal. And the one who ended up getting the brunt of his wrath turned out to be his second wife, Janet Van Dyne.
By the way, that’s not even close to the only time he does that. Detractors will attempt to defend him by saying that such behavior was acceptable back in the 1960s. And while this is true, considering that Mr. Fantastic spent more time physically abusing his wife than actually fighting crime back then (spoiler: the original Fantastic Four comic was misogynistic as hell), that’s not a good excuse. That’s like saying that slavery was OK because it was socially acceptable back in the 1800s. Same logic.
Nor are the rest of the Avengers particularly fond of the guy. Captain America in particular has a dislike of the guy, considering that his own mental problems have damn near gotten the Avengers killed on several occasions. But as absolutely horrible as Pym can get, he’s still one of the most realistic portrayals of a superhero out there. Superman is great, but he’s just a fantasy. And this is coming from the guy who absolutely loves Superman. Hank Pym or Andrew from Chronicle is as real as superheroes get. The sheer pressure of having powers and being expected to use them would make most people snap.
Scott Lang is a bit more noble, considering that he turns to a life of crime to protect his daughter. Actually, apart from becoming Ant-Man, his origin is almost identical to that of Sandman in Spider-Man 3. However, Scott Lang was created in 1979, so that means that Sam Raimi and Co. probably stole the idea, or at least repurposed it.
Regardless, Lang was known for doing things for personal gain rather than to help others. He’s currently dead in the comics continuity, killed by the unstable hero Jack of Hearts accidentally in a massive explosion.
You might be wondering at this point something along the following: “That’s all well and good, Palmer, we get it. Ant-Man is a complex, flawed, messed out of his mind hero, and we wouldn’t have him any other way. What the hell does this have to do with Edgar Wright.”
Let’s complete this argument with a few simple character descriptions, shall we?
The first: a complete slacker who would much rather play video games with his roommate all day than take any kind of responsibility. Completely apathetic, to the point of personal injury. It takes a massive crisis to even get him out of his permanently catatonic stupor. Turns out to be a capable leader in the end, but still ends up having most of the people he knows violently murdered.
The second: Straight-laced and obsessed with his work. Will get the job done at the expense of literally everything else. Has a near mental breakdown when he’s questioned, has serious anger issues, and also slaughters a whole town full of people instead of following protocol, for the sake of “being badass.”
The third: He was a complete asshole when he was in high school. A barely functioning alcoholic, after a failed suicide attempt he cons his friends into drinking themselves silly for no reason. Uncovers a massive conspiracy, ends up being indirectly responsible for thousands of murders, and destroys an entire town in the process of trying to escape.
Boy oh boy, all of those people sound a lot like Hank Pym and Scott Lang. Who could all those be?
Ah, yes. That would be three of the funniest and most action-packed films of the last decade, containing characters that are as well layered and as complex as anything else I can think of. And generally, that seems like exactly what Marvel Studios has done since 2008, with a much bigger budget.
Now, of course, we don’t know the exact reasons as to why Wright left the project. Some are saying that he was lazy and was taking too long to start production, others are casting Kevin Feige as a buzzkill who changed the script without Wright’s permission. The true story is known only to those directly involved. But regardless, we have here one of the best directors of the 21st century, with a distinctive filmmaking style, that has found mass success in multiple genres of film. Not to mention that these genres can be easily transferred to that of a big budget superhero movie, since it’s worked before with unconventional choices like Jon Favreau or Joss Whedon or James Gunn. If you can give the guy who directed only one other movie before The Avengers (and this isn’t a criticism of Serenity, it’s damn good), then surely someone like Wright isn’t completely off his rocker.
Of course, the other argument against Wright is that his vision didn’t quite match what Marvel was looking for. I’d like to argue here that vision is exactly what has gotten Marvel as far as it’s gotten, but Marvel hasn’t made a genuinely terrible movie yet. They’ve certainly made films that were merely decent, like the Thor movies and Iron Man 2 (disclaimer: author’s personal opinion here), and very excellent (Iron Man and The Winter Soldier), but not one of their films has been extremely awful the way films like X-Men Origins and Green Lantern have been.
So obviously, Marvel isn’t worthy of the vitriol that it’s gotten over this controversy. Fox nearly killed its chances in the market with awful films based on Elektra and Ghost Rider, not to mention a couple of even worse X-Men films. Luckily, its since redeemed itself by hiring the director of Chronicle to make a Fantastic Four movie and made a trio of good X-Men films. Sony pretty much killed any and all goodwill by making progressively worse Spider-Man films, not even bothering to put a cohesive plot into its most recent one. And while Warner Bros saved Batman thanks to Christopher Nolan, the views on the newest
Superman Justice League movie are still heavily divided. Only Marvel has made it out essentially spotless in terms of quality, hiccups like Iron Man 2 and Agents of SHIELD aside.
So in the end, will Ant-Man bomb without Wright? Will the new film be terrible? Way too early to tell. James Gunn was the first rumored director, but he immediately shot that down, which is a shame. Adam McKay of Anchorman fame was next, but he too has declined the job. Will the new movie be better than whatever Wright had in mind? At this point, it seems very unlikely. Like I said, most of us were watching Ant-Man primarily to see Wright take on the superhero genre, and to apply his unique visual style to a licensed character who isn’t Scott Pilgrim. Without its main driving force behind it, the future of Ant-Man, for now, seems grim.
Speaking personally, I’m really hoping that Wright and Marvel can find a compromise somewhere. And whether or not that happens, I’m still excited to see whatever Wright does next.