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Pixar’s Ant-Man!

Yes, I can’t resist the urge to post every bit of awesome Pixar-related news that comes to my attention. This week it’s the potential payoff on the humongous (yes, I’ve been waiting to use that word a while now) Marvel-Disney deal that broke last week and sent ripples through the geeksphere. I was less-than-interested because I knew it would be years before we say any payoff (given the long Hollywood development cycle) and even more years before Disney got its hands on the movie rights to any ‘big hitters’ (as all the big franchises are tied up with other studios at the moment). There was the thought at the back of my mind that I dared not articulate, but it has happened: Pixar are apparently doing a comic book movie. An Ant-Man movie!

Wait, who?

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na, Antman!

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na, Antman!

Okay, so my point about all the big superheroes being taken remains valid, but still… Pixar! Given these are the dude who made The Incredibles (possibly one of the best superhero films to emerge from the superhero boom we’ve had, and a rare original one), I don’t really mind if they do a movie about the Chairman (whose power is turning people into chairs – I’m not kidding) or Eye Scream (a mutant whose power is to turn into any flavour of ice cream – again, I’m not kidding) – I’m there anyway.

And if DC Comics can seriously propose an Aquaman movie, well…

It’s worth a little explanation about who Ant-Man is and what the deal-io with the movie is (because, seen is he was a Marvel character, there was already a movie in the works). Ant-an is a legacy character – a superhero identity used by a wide variety of characters. Pretty much all of them can change their size (mostly becoming smaller, though some can become larger). The most famous of these Ant-Men was Hank Pym, though there was also an interesting pervy anti-hero who used his powers to spy on women (again, I am not making this up). Anyway, Pym – the original inventor of the technology – also made himself correspondingly as strong as an ant and gave himself the power to command insects telepathically. Seriously? You can change your size, increase your strength and have perfected telepathic mind-control and you call yourself Ant-Man? Yes, he’s supposed to be a genius.

Anyway, that is not really what the character is known for. He hit his wife, a fellow superhero. Now, he was under stress and mind-control and all sorts of weird funky plot and comic book mechanics that made him do it, but still. He hit his wife. Understandably, he’s never lived it down to this day (and that was in 1981). It doesn’t help that the writers can’t really decide if he’s a hopeless failure or a superhero who was under mind-control. He’s been down-and-out and the leader of the crack superhero team The Avengers since then.

Arguably Mark Millar provided a much more definitive take (for better or for worse) on the character for his Ultimates series. Here, the character was initially known as the considerably-less-stupid-sounding Giant Man (as he used his power to grow more often than shrink). Of course, he also beat his wife. This time not under the influence of mind-control, but because he has issues. When this (understandably) gets him dumped from the team, he rebrands himself Ant-Man, hoping to sneak back on. Millar makes the characters’ failings a greater part of his psychology – he’s defined by them and his insecurity. You almost feel sorry for him. And Millar writes the character so well it’s hard to fault this approach. In one chapter, Hank joins a second-tier superhero team only to ultimately find out he’s (almost) as useless as they are (unable to summon enough ants to be useful in the middle of the New York docks). This approach to the character works because it’s rare to see a failure as a superhero – save when it’s played comically like in Mystery Men. I’d honestly be interested in seeing that film, but I don’t see it ever being made. Admittedly Hancock tried, but the movie explained away and rationalised any of his personal flaws (which naturally flowed from events outside of his control and his unnecessary loneliness), rather than simply suggesting that he wasn’t cut out to be a hero.

I think it’s highly unlikely that a wife-beating superhero will ever make it to screen. I imagine that element (and the whole ‘failure as a superhero’ element of the character) will be dropped, but you never know. Pixar are masters at exploring subtext in family entertainment – The Incredibles is a study on midlife crisises and families falling apart as much as it’s about men in tights. They might dare to show a character who isn’t all he could have been (though I still imagine that brutalising his wife is out).

Yes, he's riding a flying ant... that's kinda his thing...

Yes, he's riding a flying ant... that's kinda his thing...

The project has a long development history – Edgar Wright (the dude behind Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) was originally on board to bring the hero to the big screen, one can only imagine he planned on casting Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in the process. Don’t pretend that doesn’t sound interesting. And the quirky nature of the talent aside, it looked like the guys had some interesting ideas:

… the idea that we have for the adaptation is to actually involve both [Ant-Men]. Is to have a film that basically is about Henry Pym and Scott Lang, so you actually do a prologue where you see Pym as Ant-Man in action in the 60’s, in sort of “Tales to Astonish” mode basically, and then the contemporary, sort of flash-forward, is Scott Lang’s story, and how he comes to acquire the suit, how he crosses paths with Henry Pym …

And it wasn’t going to be the guys doing a superhero story, really:

The thing I like about Ant-Man is that it’s not like a secret power, there’s no supernatural element or it’s not a genetic thing. There’s no gamma rays. It’s just like the suit and the gas, so in that sense, it really appealed to me in terms that we could do something high-concept, really visual, cross-genre, sort of an action and special effects bonanza, but funny as well. There will definitely be a humorous element to it as well. So we wrote this treatment revolving around the Scott Lang character, who was a burglar, so he could have gone slightly in the Elmore Leonard route …

I know every writer/director is contractually obliged to claim they are putting their own spin on something, but that sounds like it might have been the real deal. Maybe we’ll never know.

If Pixar are developing Ant-Man, they have a history of developing such projects in-house with their own writers and their own directors. Plus animation (especially highly technical computer animation) is a field that a live-action director may not step into too easily.

It’s still just idle gossip, but maybe it’s something worth getting excited about. I mean it’s going to be tough to do that whole “if only I could talk with ants, walk the ants” bit in live action without making it look like Honey, I Shrunk a Second-Tier Superhero. Animation offers a lot more potential for cool imagery like that. And I hope that Ant-Man is – as a character- not so strictly defined that the guys at Pixar can’t play around with him. I can only see them agreeing to do this if they have total freedom, and nobody write better lead characters than Pixar, so I’d look forward to their twist on the hero.

So hey, that’s my token superhero and Pixar news for the week out of the way!

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