(Rated PG [Canada] and PG-13 [MPAA] for sci-fi action violence; directed by Peyton Reed; stars Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Corey Stoll, Abby Ryder Fortson, Anthony Mackie and Judy Greer; run time: 117 minutes.)
A little fun and virtue
By Ted Giese
By Marvel Studio standards, “Ant-Man” is a small movie that, unlike other films in the comic-book-driven franchise, isn’t about saving the world from imminent destruction. Instead, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are more interested in saving their relationships with their daughters.
The plot revolves around the scientific discovery of Dr. Pym, who figured out a way to shrink the space between atoms, effectively (with the help of a protective suit) making a human the size of an ant. Since no one is on the lookout for an ant, the suit gives the wearer the ability to virtually avoid detection in a world full of surveillance. It also packs a punch because the wearer’s increased density makes the Ant-Man like a speeding bullet.
Because of the danger to humankind posed by the suit and its technology, and because of his own personal loss as a result of wearing the suit (the presumed death of his wife), Dr. Pym put it in mothballs and hung up his mantle of Ant-Man. By doing so he kept it out of the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division — a fictional espionage and counter-terrorism agency), HYDRA and any other interested parties, sacrificing scientific advancement for world peace.
However, Pym suspects his pupil, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is on the verge of solving the puzzle of shrinking living tissue and developing his own suit called the Yellowjacket. So he calls on the services of Scott Lang, a burglar just out of prison. Pym and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), train Lang to wear the Ant-Man suit and communicate with ants. The plan is to steal the suit Cross is developing and destroy his research. This all sounds heavy, but it’s really lighthearted; the movie is a superhero comedy. Think “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (1989) meets “Iron Man” (2008), with a healthy dash of self-deprecating humor.
Woven into the laughs is a significant theological point for Christian viewers to consider. While the film is about redemption, it’s not about redemption and righteousness in the eyes of God (coram Deo) but rather redemption and righteousness in the eyes of the world (coram mundo).
How does this play out? In accord with the rest of Scripture, Jesus taught, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matt. 22:37-39).
Dr. Pym, who spent years estranged from his daughter, is focused on the second great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When done rightly, following this commandment translates into redemption and righteousness in the eyes of the world and is the foundation of virtuous living in the eyes of others.
Pym sees that Lang is in danger of falling into a similar sort of dysfunctional relationship with his own daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), and wants life to be better for Lang than it was for him. The tipoff that this is not about redemption and righteousness in the eyes of God comes when Pym offers Lang the possibility of restoring this relationship by saying, “Everyone deserves a second chance,” and “Are you ready to redeem yourself?”
While this is a call to works righteousness, by the end of the film it becomes clear this is not directed toward God but toward the neighbor. Both Lang and Pym need to be righteous in the eyes of their daughters to find a measure of peace in their lives, a goal they help each other achieve. Christian viewers will want to remember, however, that in the eyes of God, true eternal and everlasting righteousness comes not from an Ant-Man suit or from any personal work done in such a suit but from the robe of righteousness given to us by Christ in Baptism flowing from the work He accomplished on the cross and His resurrection. This “kind of righteousness is the righteousness of faith, which does not depend on any works [of ours], but on God’s favorable regard and His ‘reckoning’ on the basis of grace [in Christ]” (“On the Bondage of the Will,” Luther’s Works, Career of the Reformer III, Vol. 33, Martin Luther, Concordia Publishing House, 1963, Pgs. 270-71).
Another interesting and positive part of the film is the whole passing of the torch from the older Pym to the younger Lang. This may remind Christians of Elijah passing the mantle to Elisha in 2 Kings, Chapter 2. While there are neither chariots of fire with fiery horses nor anyone taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, by the end of the film Lang receives the Ant-Man mantle and will undoubtedly wind up in future Marvel films.
For fans of current Marvel superhero films, there are a lot of inside jokes and tie-ins, even an appearance from the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), first introduced in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) and featured in this year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
Is there action? Yes, but often just when the action gets going, just when it starts getting serious, the humor breaks in, providing the audience with a chuckle or a good laugh. Throughout the film the action is generally handled with a light touch; nothing is taken too seriously.
Paul Rudd as former burglar Scott Lang does a good job playing a man who is finished with stealing and ready to move on with his life. He also provides good comedic moments. Michael Peña, who played a tank driver in the grim WWII film “Fury” (2014), shows some great comedic talent playing Luis, a small-time criminal and friend of Lang’s who, along with Lang, finds a new lease on life as a result of the unfolding story. Luis helps illustrate how the theme of redemption in the eyes of the world isn’t just for Pym and Lang but bleeds out onto a majority of the film’s characters. This point is driven home by moments like the one when Luis asks the semi-rhetorical question, “So, we’re the good guys now?” This is a positive element in the film.
More in the vein of “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014), “Ant-Man” is fun and funny. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang isn’t as entertaining as Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, but they are cut from the same cloth. With a ridiculous premise — even for a superhero film — “Ant-Man” provides some silly summer fun and a good presentation of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Parents and Marvel film fans will enjoy its lack of super-serious self-importance but will want to be careful not to miss the chance to talk about the difference between righteousness in the eyes of God verses righteousness in the eyes of the neighbor/world.
The Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; a contributor to “Reformation Rush Hour” on KFUO-AM Radio, The Canadian Lutheran and Reporter/Reporter Online; and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese.
Posted July 23, 2015