Archive for July, 2015

MV5BMjM2NTQ5Mzc2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcxMDI2NTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_Hot off the heels of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel is back with its second release of the year in Ant-Man. As the film’s title intimates, Ant-Man is essentially Marvel’s attempt to do a smaller film before ratcheting things back up in Captain America: Civil War. Of course, using the words Marvel and small in the same sentence is somewhat of an oxymoron—especially given its $130 million-dollar budget and Avengers-coattail-riding ad campaign (not to mention the tumultuous, widely-publicized departure of writer/director Edgar Wright). In a way, then, the publicity and buzz surrounding Ant-Man is emblematic of the irony of its seemingly contradictory aim: to embody magnitude and smallness in simultaneity. In this respect, Ant-Man speaks to the human condition in a unique way.

Striving for Smallness

Any film about a man who possesses a suit that shrinks him into the size of an ant will necessarily be smaller-scale in the obvious, thematic sense; and Marvel is keen to keep you from forgetting the fact, with numerous not-so-subtle references to the titular tiny insects scattered throughout the film. Moreover, the film’s tagline, “heroes don’t get any bigger” is there to remind you if all else fails. While Ant-Man is much more on the nose than most Marvel films, there are some genuinely impressive moments that epitomize its desire to be the smallest superhero movie ever. One of these moments takes place as an ant-sized Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) battles with his equally tiny nemesis Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) atop a Thomas The Train set. The action is filmed so that it is ostensibly as grand, epic, and world-changing as any corresponding scene in the Marvel canon, but this convention is then comedically turned on its head as a wide-angle shot shows the train set in the context of a child’s bedroom. Another, similar scene occurs as a miniature Scott Lang runs through a model-sized town while being fired upon by his life-sized enemies—the resulting effect of which smartly mimics the disaster porn sequence that is standard fare in virtually every summer blockbuster. In short, there aren’t many multi-million dollar movies that work so hard at being very, very small.

EffectinMV5BMjIxMTYwOTk0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjE2MDY5NTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_g Enormity

In spite of its attempts to embrace the scope and scale of its namesake, Ant-Man is an undeniably large film that wants to be seen as such. The ad campaign made that much clear when they released a series of posters that boasted of Ant-Man’s tremendous power. He doesn’t need a hammer or shield to be as cool as the kids down the block, they said. And then there’s the film itself, which goes (way) out of its way to pit Ant-Man against an Avenger, with the former emerging victorious. In other words, Ant-Man spends too much time trying to fit into the MCU (Marvel cinematic universe) and not enough being true to itself. It is one thing to formally experiment with the themes of scope and scale (see the examples from the previous section), but it is another thing entirely to continually prod the audience and tell them how awesome and epic your protagonist is and how he is totally on-par with the Hulk.

Going to the Ant

While it is easy to attribute Ant-Man’s size problem to the departure of Edgar Wright, the awkward tension actually is quite indicative of the human condition. In a very real sense, we like to feel small. We go to the Grand Canyon, gaze at the stars, watch Planet Earth, and ride rollercoasters because we are imbued by God with a sense of our smallness, our insignificance. We all bear the imago that tells us we are small for a reason. Conversely, Ant-Man shows that our desire to feel small has limits. The sublimity that often accompanies our attempts to confront our smallness is acceptable only insofar as we can control it. Marvel’s dilemma—that they want to make a movie about being small while simultaneously controlling how and when we feel ant-like—is, therefore, our dilemma. In other words, we want to visit the Grand Canyon to see that we are tiny, but we do not want to be lost at sea in order to attain to that same end. The problem for us (and for Marvel) is that we can’t have it both ways. We are tiny … but the Lord is sovereign.

JWWhen I was 13-years-old I took a trip to the beach with my family. As any teenager headed for the beach, I was looking forward to a week of playing in the ocean. On one particular rainy day, however, my family was forced to come up with a ‘plan B’. That plan? Visit the local Cineplex.

Little did I know that this visit to the theater would be unlike any other. We went to see Jurassic Park – a film I knew almost nothing about and didn’t remember viewing a trailer prior to my entrance into this dark theater. As the images began to display on the silver screen and I was transported to Isla Nublar, I lost most consciousness of my being present in a movie theater. Rather, I bought into the notion that I was running for my life from raptors and a hungry T-Rex. I laughed. I screamed. I saw it again…and again.

Fast-forward to 2015 and not much has changed. Even though the visitors of Jurassic World have turned out for a new attraction, raptors and a T-Rex are still headlining this motion picture event. Just as Claire [Bryce Dallas Howard] states that attendance spikes with the release of a new attraction, little did the screenwriters know how true this would be of the newest installment in the franchise.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park [1997] and Jurassic Park III [2001] were colossal disappointments to the fans of this franchise, as well as critics, but the release of Jurassic World has showed us that no one was ready to leave this story. JW has absolutely shredded box-office numbers. It had the largest opening weekend of any movie ever, had the largest follow-up weekend, and reached the $450 million mark faster than any other film. The Avengers: Age of Ultron reached $450 million in 54 days, while JW reached it in 15 days…wow.[1]

While I thoroughly enjoyed this film and think it is an almost perfect summer movie, I think it’s interesting to ponder this movie in our larger cultural context. Again, no movie has accomplished what JW has. Week-after-week it continues to gross large amounts of money and remains number one at the box-office, but why? Is it because people love dinosaurs? Probably. Is it possibly because people have more time to visit the theater in the summer? I’m sure. However, could it be that in the midst of our gender-confusing, marriage-redefining culture, America still has an audience that longs for male leadership? I think so.

One of the aspects I appreciated about JW, was that it wasn’t afraid to have a leading man. Currently, filmmakers seem to unswervingly pursue strong female leads – The Hunger Games and Divergent series, are some recent examples. While I am completely fine with strong females leads, as is God, (see Esther and Abigail as a couple of examples), I was ready to see a film that wasn’t afraid to have a man as a strong leader. I was ready to see that man portrayed as a character that was right. I was longing to see a man that wasn’t made to look like a fool for the majority of the film. I was ready for Owen [Chris Pratt].

Unless you’ve been lost at sea, you’re unfamiliar with the now-household-name Chris Pratt. Even Colin Trevorrow (Director) and Steven Spielberg (Creator/Producer of Every Movie) state that they got a little lucky in the casting of Pratt. In fact, they actually cast him prior to the release of the uber-hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. In an interview, Spielberg jests that they both looked very smart for casting Pratt, even though they – as well as America – had no clue how big Pratt would become.

I’m not exactly sure what it is, but there’s a certain likability to Pratt. Even though each character he portrays carries with it that indefinable likability, he also carries a nuance that makes each character unique. Owen makes you laugh, but he also brings a seriousness to scenes which displays he’s no one-trick pony.

As we meet him in JW, it’s obvious he can train dinosaurs, is willing to take risks to save others, likes motorcycles, and has some romantic history with Claire. Even though Claire is a strong woman, his leadership doesn’t falter under her authoritative tone. As he states, he appreciates her need to make tough decisions, but doesn’t relinquish his place of authority when it comes to being a dino-expert.

Owen proves to be a constant “everyman” throughout JW. He was right about the dangers of genetically-engineering dinosaurs. He was right that setting up play-dates with the indominus rex was, “Probably not a good idea.” He was right that going after said dinosaur with non-lethal weapons would result in death. Even when he’s being attacked by a hybrid-pterodactyl and Claire must come to his rescue, he doesn’t relinquish the lead. Owen is the leader. He’s the protector. He’s bravery encompassed. In short, he’s the hero.

In fact, he’s too strong – at least that’s what some in our culture are claiming. You see, some movie-goers may be okay with a strong male lead, just as long as the female is just as strong, or stronger. But, they are not okay with a solely strong leading man. Don’t believe me? Check out some of the blogs of feminists that are destroying JW. Quite simply, they hate it!

Maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but I think JW can serve as – somewhat – of an accurate barometer for our culture. Genders are being called into question; the creation ordinance of marriage has been redefined; but humans still long for a prince in the midst of chaos. There’s something refreshing about a man entering into a broken creation and fighting to protect those under his care. Whether it’s the chaos of humans re-engineering dinosaurs, humans attempting to redefine marriage, or humans objecting to God’s rules laid out in the garden, we long for a prince to come and make all things new.

Or, maybe I just like dinosaurs…

[1] All these stats are according to JW currently rests at approx. $514 million after a $54 million dollar weekend and third consecutive week at #1 beating new-comers, Inside Out and Ted 2.