Film

Who’s Under the Helmet?: Why Ant-Man Might Pass on Hank Pym

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Written by William Donald

So we’re getting Ultron.

San Diego Comic-Con’s reveal that the villainous android will take center stage in The Avengers sequel is surprising for a few reasons. For one thing, the post-credits sequence of the first film implied Thanos would be the superteam’s next foe, and while there have been rumors that Thanos is being built up as the Big Bad of Marvel’s “Phase 3”, this is still the first confirmation that the Mad Titan won’t be threatening Earth quite yet. The news also makes the timing of Marvel’s most recent event, Age of Ultron feel a bit off; it got the villain’s name out there, but one would have expected to see that sort of title come out closer to his big-screen debut (for instance, last year a Lizard storyline began the same month The Amazing Spider-Man was released).

But potentially more interesting isn’t who is getting added to the MCU, but who isn’t. Namely, Henry “Hank” Pym, the comics’ creator of Ultron and the original Ant-Man. There is an Ant-Man film in the works, but it’s not set to be released until after Avengers: Age of Ultron, and clarifying remarks from director Joss Whedon and Marvel seem to confirm that Pym won’t appear as the hero until Phase 3.

If then. Because between this announcement and other recent moves by Marvel, it’s looking increasingly possible that Ant-Man may not even star Hank Pym at all.

At first glance, making an Ant-Man movie without Hank Pym under the helmet feels strange. After all, the character has been a Marvel mainstay since the ‘60s. An accomplished scientist, Pym discovered the subatomic, size-altering “Pym particles” and used them to become the mass-shifting superhero Ant-Man. He’s a founding member of the Avengers, one of the smartest characters in the Marvel universe, and has historically appeared alongside his partner and eventual wife Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp), all of which would make him seem to be a slam-dunk inclusion.

Yet despite this, there has been rising speculation that Pym may be pushed aside in what ostensibly is his own movie. And for good reason. You see, introducing Hank Pym into the MCU was always going to be a bit… problematic. For better or worse (mostly worse), Pym is primarily known amongst comic fans for two things. The first is creating Ultron, who immediately set about committing genocide and proving to be one of most dangerous and resilient foes the Avengers have faced.

The other is this:

Yeah. Not exactly the type of resume that makes people jump at the chance to put your face on a movie poster.

Of course as bad as the above is, it’s not necessarily fatal to a character’s viability. Cyclops cheated on his wife (Twice! On two separate wives!), Spider-Man dealt with an actual devil, and there are enough ‘Reed Richards being a dick’ panels to fill their own annual. But those characters have built up a level of popularity and goodwill that lets readers shake off and eventually dismiss their worst moments. Hank’s never reached that level, always being more “important” to the Marvel universe than he is “beloved”. Marvel realizes this but has never discovered a means of fixing it: the fact that he’s changed personas so many times (fighting crime as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and , briefly, The Wasp) speaks to a character constantly being tweaked in efforts to finally make him “work”. As a result, Pym’s darkest hours have come to define him for a large portion of the fandom, and they hang as a constant albatross around the character’s neck.

And Marvel’s recent handlings of the character don’t exactly send a clear message of confidence. Hank Pym was a central part of the team in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, serving as a useful if flawed sometimes-leader and providing an interesting dynamic as a pacifistic scientist uneasy with the violent application of his discoveries. But when Marvel cancelled that series in favor of the more MCU-esque Avenger’s Assemble, Ant-Man was nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile as much as Brian Bendis may talk about how the recent Age of Ultron gave Hank a chance to shine, much of that event involved major Marvel characters debating whether just killing Pym would solve most of their problems. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Still, Ant-Man’s a big name with a unique power set and a confirmed film. We’re getting Ant-Man. But could that Ant-Man be Scott Lang?

A quick refresher: Scott Lang is the second Marvel character to take up the mantle of Ant-Man. An electronics expert who turned to petty crime to support his family, Lang broke into Hank Pym’s home and stole one of his uniforms and Pym particle canisters as part of an effort to save his sick daughter Cassie (who later becomes a Young Avenger as the hero Stature). Upon learning why Scott Lang had taken the suit, Hank Pym gave him his blessing to act as a new Ant-Man. Since then, Lang has frequently worked alongside the Avengers and is currently running Reed Richard’s Future Foundation for supergenius children (he also died and came back to life, but really that’s just par for the course in comics).

Scott Lang isn’t exactly an A-list hero, but neither is Hank Pym. And the newer Ant-Man has some distinct storytelling advantages beyond just lacking Pym’s baggage (though that alone is a huge plus). He’s smart and skilled enough to keep up with characters like Tony Stark without being defined by his genius, and the fact that he uses a stolen suit could give us a hero still fumbling to fully understand his own technology. Plus, Scott Lang’s checkered past would let him fill the “reformed criminal” role that is common in the comic Avengers’ line-up but mostly lacking in the MCU (Hawkeye now just seems to have a vague military background, and without a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to come from, who knows how the upcoming Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch will be explained). Even if he turned to crime for altruistic reasons, Lang’s history with petty crime could provide a nice perspective in how he approaches the team’s role.

Ant-Man‘s director Edgar Wright has cheekily confirmed that Pym is going to appear in the movie so it’s not as though the hero will ever be completely kicked out of the MCU. But Wright has also spoken about how it was Scott Lang’s version of the hero that first got him excited about the concept, and the infiltration action scene shown in previous test footage certainly fits the thief-like Lang better than it does Pym. And so it may be some time before we learn which Ant-Man we’ll be seeing in 2015 release, it’s looking as though Hank Pym’s odds are dropping further and further.

Agree that Scott Lang’s prepping to shine? Ready to defend the importance of Pym? Wondering how this news could affect our casting choices? Sound off in the comments!

About the author

William Donald