A Movie/Comic Book Entry – The Strange Case of Dr. Pym and Dr. Pym

Buckle up, kiddos, it’s going to be a long ride today.

I’ve already ranted before on the possibility of an Ant-man movie and why I think it’s unnecessary, to say the least.  And yet there is an Ant-man movie in production.  As I pondered last time, are there really legions of rabid fanboys/girls calling for an Ant-man movie?  Are there whole cabals of Pym fans who have loved him in every costume and codename?  Does someone on the executive level at Marvel have a thing for Pym, which is why it appears he’s running a group of Avengers now?  Do the executives feel some measure of obligation to the character of Pym, who has been in the Marvel universe almost since the beginning (so it’s a matter of tradition, maybe [and if it is tradition, that doesn’t mean it’s worth it]).  Is there anyone out there who actually likes Henry Pym?  Seriously?  Anyone?  I kind of suspect many writers don’t like Henry Pym so I’m baffled how a fan possibly could.

Then again, there’s this (“Scientist Supreme?”  Really?  Only someone with a last name of “Richards” or “Von Doom” has any right to that title).  So someone must like Henry Pym, so I did a search for the term “Who wants an Ant-man movie?” to try to figure out what the hell is going on.  I got a quick hit about the writer for the movie who sees this as a comedy (his credit includes Scott Pilgrim vs The World which is one of my favorite movies) and apparently loves Ant-man.  So I read more.  The director wants to present Pym as a super-spy, and present that shrinking heroes are not always in peril.  That’s not all bad, I suppose, except Pym is not a spy!  He’s a scientist!  Those are two very different skill sets and generally do not overlap.  I am also incredibly confused that the director is regarding the Ant-man movie as a comedy.  I suppose growing and shrinking and talking to ants is kind of funny (wasn’t that the plot of Honey I Shrunk the Kids?) but I fail to see how a character with this kind of history is comedy gold.

Right now I think I stand by my last criticism as to why I have no interest in an Ant-man movie (with further expansion below).  I also have little interest in seeing the Wasp, either.  I know they were founding members of the Avengers.  So what?  Technically one of the first villains the Avengers fought was Namor and no one made a fuss that the we didn’t get to see the bikini-clad Atlantean as the main baddie in the movie.  Wolverine wasn’t on the first X-men team (in fact it took until the third movie to be introduced to Angel and Beast) and no one complained about his presence.  Staying true to the comics is hardly a reason to include certain characters and not others.  And there are what, nearly 200 Avengers and reservist Avengers to choose from?

I just have issues trying to see Henry Pym as a great hero of the Marvel universe.  Hitting his wife, actually, I think is one of the least of his trangressions since he was kind of insane at the time (and sadly he’s hardly the only Marvel male to smack his wife/girlfriend.  To me, the amalgams of the character are so wildly divergent as to make it difficult to reconcile the fact they come from the same source material (hence my reference in the title to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).  And I’m just fine with campy Batman and gritty Batman (but not this Batman), so I think I have a pretty good capacity for suspension of disbelief.

Sometimes I even have trouble seeing Henry Pym as a hero at all.  I described what I think a hero ought to be, and somehow Pym falls through the cracks of all my four descriptors (including the one I made up).  I’m going to have to borrow from a commenter on one of the threads I read about the Ant-man movie – Henry Pym is a weak hero.  In some ways, Peter Parker is a weak hero as well, so it’s not as though there isn’t precedent for this.  Still, to me, Peter Parker still falls more in the category of true hero for the reasons I described previously.  So, then, why is Henry Pym a weak hero, and why do I have no interest in a movie about him?

Here’s a link to a brief history of Henry Pym, which is appropriately in comic form.  For such an old character (for Marvel), he’s had a pretty hard time of it in the hands of writers.  Some writers clearly see him as on par with Mr. Fantastic as a great inventor.  Some writers see him as an egomaniac with severe mental issues that wants to be on par with Mr. Fantastic as a great inventor.  The range is fairly broad.  My amalgam leans heavily towards “egomaniac with severe mental issues” and there are a couple of reasons for this.
1) First of all, Pym tests his new technology out on himself.  This is not the mark of a good scientist.  This is the mark of a mad scientist, from which I imagine the creators of Pym stole from/were inspired by.  Remember, originally Bruce Banner wasn’t zapping himself with gamma rays (that came with the 1970s TV version).
2) Second of all, Pym has some insecurity issues (retconned from the original, but part of canon now) which lead him to try out various identities (Ant-man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, Wasp) and technologies (Pym particles to shrink, to grow, the ant communication helmet, the Wasp’s wings, etc.).  Maybe this is why he created Ultron.
3) Oh, third, Ultron is evil and has tried to destroy the Avengers multiple times.  Sure, sometimes science gets out of hand and maybe this can’t be blamed on any particular failing of Henry Pym – oh wait, except Ultron has Pym’s brainwave patterns.  Also, the original Ultron looked like this (although I’m unclear if Pym installed the brainwashing ray or Ultron built that into himself while Pym wasn’t looking).  Could this android turn out to be anything but evil?  I should also point out that Ultron has gone on to create several androids of his own based on other heroes’ brainwave patterns and every one of them has turned out good (or at least against Ultron).
4) Pym has also been written with various mental issues, some induced by experimenting on himself (Yellowjacket) and some that seemed to be retconned as just part of his personality (Yellowjacket again, only this time with bonus multiple personality Giant-Man).  He has been thrown out of the Avengers, manipulated by villains, and at one point decided the only way to save face with the Avengers was build a robot to kill them that only he could stop (yes, he was insane at the time; but he was insane lots of times).
In short, he has made a lot of mistakes and showcased poor judgment.  I’m not saying other heroes don’t do this.  I’m just saying that in my amalgam, I rarely have the acts of heroism that make up for the mistakes and poor judgment.  Unlike Peter Parker, Pym doesn’t have a “kick me” sign to the universe.  There’s no meta-explanation, unless the writers really don’t like him.  He’s a weak hero whose greatest mistake was so great that there’s an entire storyline where Wolverine (of course) goes back in time to kill Pym before he creates Ultron (and one would think the “Scientist Supreme” could fix that mistake on his own [incidentally, some comics claim that wasn’t Eternity but just Loki messing with Pym which I can totally see, and to me gives more credence to my “egomaniac with insecurity issues” theory {“The embodiment of the universe thinks I’m awesome, so I must be!”}]).

Now I think I should clarify a bit about the movie.  I have a friend who would love to see an Ant-man movie and I had to ask him, “WTF?”  But he told me he wanted to see this movie precisely because he also felt Henry Pym was a weak hero, and a kind of dark, gritty character study of a movie would be appropriate to that kind of character.  He felt such a movie, done properly, could re-define the superhero movie genre.  So I thought about this, and I have to agree with my friend.  A gritty, realistic portrayal of a man who so badly desires to be a hero but just can’t seem to overcome his own flaws and in the end, barely saves the day (or has his much more powerful friends save the day for him), could be an interesting installment to Marvel’s movie universe.

Except that is not what Marvel will make.  Marvel kind of tried that with Ang Lee’s Hulk.  You saw that, right?  People wanted to see a giant green rage monster bust up tanks and what they got was a dark, gritty portrayal of a man so dedicated to science and so twisted in that dedication he was willing to experiment on his own son.  In short, the movie was more about Bruce Banner’s evil father and resulting paternal anger/resentment issues than a giant green rage monster smashing up tanks, and pretty much no one liked it.  So Marvel tried again with The Incredible Hulk, which featured a whole lot more tank smashing and a lot less angst and people liked it a lot better.  I could argue that Bruce Banner/Hulk may have been the wrong character to try to make a character-study driven movie with.  I could also argue, as my friend does, that Henry Pym is exactly the right character to try to make a character-study driven movie with.  And honestly, as I lay out my amalgam before you, I can actually understand and even agree with my friend’s desire for a gritty, character-study driven Ant-man movie.

But that’s not what we’re getting.  We’re getting a summer blockbuster, and that means a Pym-as-scientist/super spy comedy.  And I just don’t think that’s going to work.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

2 thoughts on “A Movie/Comic Book Entry – The Strange Case of Dr. Pym and Dr. Pym”

  1. I love Hank Pym. Love him. He’s one of my all-time favourite Avengers. He might be in my top 5 comic characters in general. He’s a great character. And I’m psyched to see an Ant-Man movie.

    Here’s the thing about Pym: He’s made mistakes. A lot of them. But he’s owned up to them. He continues to own up to them. And he tries to be better. And he more-or-less has been better. Thor-Clone aside (and remember Tony Stark and Reed Richards were both involved there, as well), Pym hasn’t really done anything wrong in a long time. He’s saved the day a few times. After Secret Invasion, he formed a new Avengers team with the goal of actually being Avengers, rather than just hiding from Osborn. After Osborn’s fall, he opened Avengers Academy, trying to take a bunch of kids Osborn screwed over, and turn them into heroes.

    The guy’s proven himself dozens of times over, but he’ll never stop proving himself. He’ll never stop atoning for his mistakes. And no one will ever let him forget what he’s done. People will always remind him that he made Ultron, or that he hit Janet.

    Here’s what I’d like to see for Ant-Man. Start off by making him a hero. Make him a little uncomfortable in the role, like he’s doing it only because he feels it’s what he’s supposed to do, but not what he really wants to do. Introduce Janet at the same time. In the second movie, show him suffering some of the stresses of being a superhero. In Avengers 3, have him and Janet as members of the team, and he suffers his breakdown and hits her. He gets kicked out of the Avengers. In Ant-Man 3, he starts off a broken, shell of a man, and gradually regains his dignity, and rebuilds his life, saving the day, and ending with him retiring from superheroics and passing on the mantle.

    So we get the rise, fall, and rise again. We get a redemption story, the second chance. That would be a great set of movies.

    1. I don’t agree with you, but it’s nice to get some feedback from a Pym fan. Honestly, I think I would like Pym better if the writers would stop trying to make him a hero. He’s a brilliant scientist, and in my opinion with his mental instability, he is long past the point of retiring from the Avengers. That life is not for everyone, after all, and there’s no shame in retiring. So I think I’d like Pym better if he retired and devoted himself to research.

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