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Ant-Man: A little fun and virtue

August 20, 2015 No Comment

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by Ted Giese

By Marvel Studio standards, Ant-Man is a small movie. Unlike other films in the comic-book driven franchise, it isn’t about saving the world from imminent destruction. Instead, Scott Lang and Dr. Hank Pym are more interested in saving their relationships with their daughters.

The plot revolves around the scientific discovery of Pym who figures 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)— Pym puts it in mothballs and hangs up his mantle of Ant-Man. By doing so he keeps the technology out of the hands of SHIELD, HYDRA, and any other interested parties, sacrificing scientific advancement for world peace.

However, Pym suspects his pupil, Darren Cross, is on the verge of solving the puzzle of shrinking living tissue and developing his own suit (which he will call the Yellowjacket as opposed to Pym’s Ant-Man). So Pym calls on the services of Scott Lang, a burglar just out of prison. Pym and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne, 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 light-hearted; the movie is a super-hero comedy. Think Honey I Shrunk The Kids meets Iron Man, with a healthy dash of self-deprecating humour.

Ready for Redemption

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 but rather redemption and righteousness in the eyes of the world. 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 neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). Dr. Pym, who spent years estranged from his daughter Hope, is focused instead on the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbour 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.

While the film is about redemption, it’s not about redemption and righteousness in the eyes of God but rather redemption and righteousness in the eyes of the world.

Dr. Pym sees that Lang is in danger of falling into a dysfunctional relationship with his daughter Cassie, just as Pym himself had with Hope. But Dr. Pym wants life to be better for Lang than it was for him. Pym offers Lang the possibility of restoring this relationship, 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 neighbour. Both Lang and Pym need to be righteous in the eyes of their daughters to find a measure of peace in their daily lives, a goal they help each other achieve.

Christian viewers will want to remember however that in the eyes of God, true and everlasting righteousness comes not from an Ant-Man suit or from any work done in such a suit but rather from the robe of righteousness given to us by Christ in baptism, flowing from the work accomplished by Jesus with His death and resurrection. As Martin Luther writes, this “kind of righteousness is the righteousness of faith, which does not depend on any works [of ours], but on God’s favourable regard and His ‘reckoning’ on the basis of grace [in Christ].”

Ant-Man-posterAnother interesting and positive part of the film is the “passing of the torch” from the older Pym to the younger Lang. This may remind Christian viewers of Elijah passing the mantle to Elisha in 2 Kings. 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 super-hero films there are a lot of inside jokes and tie-ins, even an appearance from the Falcon first introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier 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 humour 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 Scott Lang 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.

Similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is a fun and funny Marvel film. 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 super hero film—Ant-Man provides some silly summer fun and a good presentation of what it means to love your neighbour 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 neighbour/world.

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Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church (Regina, Saskatchewan). He is a contributor to Reformation Rush Hour on KFUO AM Radio, The Canadian Lutheran, and the LCMS Reporter, as well as movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program.  Follow him on Twitter @RevTedGiese.

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