IN ANT MAN AND THE WASP, THIS SON OF PASSAIC, NJ FINDS NEW WAYS OF INJECTING HUMOR INTO A MARVEL PLOTLINE WITH EARTH SHATTERING IMPLICATIONS. HOW HE WALKS THE TIGHTROPE BETWEEN PRATFALL AND PATHOS

BY MATT SCANLON

It’s easy to get lost in numbers when simply tallying the number of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, never mind their stupendous economic impact on Marvel Studios and its parent company Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, and how they have influenced scriptwriting and movie creativity overall. Since the MCU series launched in 2008 with Iron Man, its 19 films have amassed a domestic box office gross of just under $7.2 billion, according to boxofficemojo.com, an average of $377 million per production. This number doesn’t require comparison in order to impress, but just in case: the Star Wars family of films has a domestic gross of just over $7.6 billion, the Star Trek series $2.6 billion (all figures have been adjusted for inflation). Ant Man, number 12 in the series and released in 2015, was a comparatively modest hit with its $180 million gross against a $130 million budget (Avengers: Infinity War is currently the series heavyweight, with a $672 million gross), but audience reaction to Paul Rudd’s characterization of protagonist Scott Lang was surprisingly positive, particularly given an MCU fan constituency notoriously unafraid of proffering criticism (recall the firestorm over Edward Norton’s early choice for Bruce Bannon/Hulk or the reception Kat Demmings got for her turn as Darcy Lewis in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World). Rudd’s performance also administered a gratifying dose of humor (the 49 year old, born in Passaic, New Jersey, has starred in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and its sequel, This Is 40, and other comedies), a quality Ant Man comic book fans had grown accustomed to. Discussions between the studio and director Peyton Reed concerning a sequel began just weeks after the original’s release, and a deal was struck in October 2015, which included the return of principal actors Rudd, Michael Douglas, and Evangeline Lilly.

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As with a number of the Marvel films, Ant Man and The Wasp, released nationally on July 6, had to be strategically placed both before and after other cinematically depicted plotlines. This one takes place two years after the circumstances described in Captain America: Civil War, but before those of Avengers: Infinity War. Former petty criminal Lang (Rudd), now on parole after being jailed at the conclusion of Ant Man, is attempting what vexes so many ex-cons: finding a reasonable way to make a living outside the penal system, while also managing the responsibilities of a father. His decision is to form a security company, for which he partners with Luis (Michael Peña), but it isn’t long before yet another set of remarkable circumstances fueled in part by Ant Man technology creator Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) forces Lang to once again don the suit that gives him the power to both miniaturize and super size, and to sustain superhuman powers while in both states. Central to surviving, let alone accomplishing this new mission is him partnering with Pym’s daughter, Hope Van Dyne, whose superhero alter ego, Wasp, is portrayed in the new film by both Lilly and Michelle Pfeiffer.

“The challenge in working on any of these Marvel films is offering a specific, contained story and still having it fit into the universe at large,” said Rudd in a Marvel Studios interview. “Certain events have happened since the first Ant Man until the second, Captain America: Civil War being one of them, so we had to address things that happened to my character in the interim…then imagine what might’ve happened to other characters like Hope and Hank during that time. Once we kind of deal with those particulars, we get into a story that is contained, in that people will understand and follow and be invested, even without having seen Civil War.”

“One of the things that everybody knows is that it’s very hard for felons to try and get a job and go straight,” added Rudd. “But we make a go of it. Luis and I and ‘the wombats’ form a company called Ex Con Home Security. There’s a big account that we need to land, and…things happen [laughs].”

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MARC CAIN SPREAD

“I think Paul Rudd can do anything…drama, comedy, and he really brings life to the character of Scott in this movie,” returning director Reed said. “I’ve always regarded Lang as the everyman of the Marvel universe. Scott is not a billionaire, he’s not a super scientist. He’s a pretty normal guy, and Ant Man is really more about the suit and technology. He’s a very heroic guy, but a normal, relatable one. That’s Paul Rudd’s sweet spot.”

“A real question in Ant Man and the Wasp is on Hope’s end,” added Reed. “She’s a fully formed hero, and she’s now estranged from Scott because he took the suit and went to help The Avengers without telling her. She feels betrayed in the beginning of the new movie and thinks ‘Maybe I don’t need a partner at all?’ But because of this specific mission, they’re forced to bring Scott in because he has information they need. The real arc of the movie between Scott and Hope is whether they should be a partnership, and through the events of the story I think they realize that there might be a place for each other in their lives.”

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Asked to describe humor’s presence in the new script, Rudd pointed to an early conversation he had with Reed.

“One of the things we both agreed upon is what type of movie we wanted to make and how important the laughs were in creating something that was original within a genre [that can be] easily saturated.” Rudd said. “We wanted to make these things fun, but still be emotional and still wow with visuals, but make things funny, too. One of the things I really like about playing this character is that he is thrown into extraordinary circumstances, truly…shrinking, flying around on ants, entering quantum realms. Life threatening stuff. Yet, what we try to sustain and when I say ‘we’ I mean me, because I only speak of myself in plurals [laughs] is this way of dealing with everything with a little bit of humor, but not giving in to the notion of [just having] a carefree attitude.”

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