Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ant-Man had far too many racially offensive stereotypes and plot holes big enough to drive a movie through

So, at the drive-in, there was Ant-Man and the new Mission Impossible movie.  This isn't about the MI movie (short take: it's good if you like spy movies, and I often do), it's about Ant-Man.

In the future I honestly, seriously, sincerely think that people will study the Marvel movie campaign for it's ability to shut off people's ability to interpret and criticize media for the purposes of selling it to them.  In short, Ant-Man is awful.

In particular, and, Marvel, I wish we'd keep meeting like this, Ant-Man is racist and sexist.  Also, the plot is has a lot of holes - by which I mean inconsistencies.

So, the sexism starts and ends with Hope Pym.  It has to start and end with her, because she's the only woman in the whole damn thing.

Despite her competence, she's not the star of the movie.  Why?  Daddy issues.  Her daddy doesn't want to "lose his little girl", so he infantilizes her to keep her away from super-heroing, instead selecting a not particularly good crook to do super-heroing.  Yes, rather than trust your competent daughter who knows all the super-tech to do the job you need done, you're going to risk bring in a literal, convicted thief to quickly learn the super-tech for the job because you're a fucking moron who doesn't value women.

And when Hope Pym learns that her father is over-protective because Hope's mother, Hank's wife, died super-heroing, the whole thing with Hope being really qualified for the job just goes away.  As does literally decades of neglect, like somehow Hank being sad that his wife died somehow makes it better that he ignored his daughter for 25 years or something.

(If you're going to mention that, y'know, maybe Hope will be Wasp because of a thirty second take - that's not a very good retort.  That, in the future, there might be a non-sexist movie with Evangeline Lilly as Wasp does not alter one whit that in Ant-Man, she was an infantilized woman whose objections over being infantilized were dropped in an absurd way to allow the white man to take charge.  Also, Lilly as Wasp is whitewashing the character.  At almost every turn, the Marvel movies show that they're not nearly as socially minded as they claim to be.)

And completely preventable, too.  If Hope was on tech duty, without the physical skills required to do the heist, cool.  If Hope had been injured leading up to the heist and they needed someone else, also cool.  It could have been handled in a number of ways that didn't involve removing the character and setting the groundwork for her being Wasp (though it would have helped if she was Asian-American).

Still, that's pretty light compared to the racism which is pretty boggling.  Pro-tip: if your only Hispanic character is a criminal who is also comic relief, you're being racist.  Oh, there's another black, criminal comic relief character, too!  Hilarious!  Blacks and Hispanics are, after all, naturally criminal peoples, and they're so whacky when they're incompetent!  (Like it somehow balanced the scales, one of the whacky, incompetent crooks was Russian.  I think they put that in there to say that they were making fun of everyone, which is a tactic I've seen before, and it's stupid.  That you also make fun of white people doesn't mean that the racist caricatures aren't racist caricatures.)

I mean, the white guy is a thief for SOCIAL JUSTICE, and then teaches the blacks and Hispanics how to be better thieves!  For while blacks and Hispanics are crooks, of course, they are whackily incompetent at that and under all conditions are superior when a white man is in charge!

So, even when the heist was ongoing, every time they cut to a black or Hispanic character being comic relief, it took me out of whatever moment there was.

That's what makes the movie awful.  Even if it wasn't racist and sexist, it's one of those superhero movies where keeping your story straight seems irrelevant.  The best comics manage to do it, so they should be able to bring that kind of A game with movies.  They don't.  So rather than being an example of comic-style storytelling at its finest, it ends up being a comic-style potboiler, and not even a particularly good one.

So, when Hank Pym recruits Stephen Lange, he does it by bribing a person to tell a second person, relying on them to tell a certain third person who will then tell a very specific fourth person, who then talks to Lange about a heist.

In short, this is stupid.  This is *embarrassingly* stupid.  It doesn't show Hank as being some kind of master manipulator so much as it shows a deus ex machina, crude and unsophisticated.  Anyone with any experience with human beings knows that telling one person to tell a second person something is pretty chancy - but to imagine that one person tells a second person, who tells a third, who tells a fourth, who tells a fifth . . . and by the time it gets to the fifth person that it is in any sense recognizably what the first person says?  That is ridiculous.

And the bad guy - who's name I can't remember, as he wasn't very memorable, so I'll call him Yellowjacket - was supposed to have been driven crazy by Pym particles . . . except he wasn't ever really, well, exposed to them.  At least not moreso than a bunch of other people, including Hope, who showed no signs of violent instability.   Until he puts on the Yellowjacket armor, Yellowjacket isn't really exposed to them at all, except ringside for a few experiments on other objects.  Which is to say as close as Hope was to Yellowjacket's experiments and Lange's numerous transformations.  DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.

Plus, there was this bit where Hank Pym says he can't use the shrinking tech because he used it for "too long" and it's harmed him in some way . . . and Stephen didn't go, "What kind of harm are we talking about?   What kind of exposure, and what are the risks?"  Nope.  The fact that the technology does some kind of lasting harm is mentioned to keep Hank out of the game but then completely dismissed.  This is lazy writing!

I also found the character of Stephen Lange to be narratively muddled.  On one hand, he supposedly went to jail for crimes of social justice - he stole from a corporation who had cheated people to return the money.  But he's also supposed to be some kind of burglar in the more common sense of "stealing for his own gain".  Which is it?  Was he a crusading Robin Hood-style thief engaging in social banditry or merely a weak-willed crook who rips people off when they going gets tough?

Not to mention that Lange, at the start of the movie, says he's a burglar since he doesn't fight people, but by the end of the movie he's fighting up a storm.  Mind you, the character was shown to be physically capable, so I'm not arguing his ability but his desire.  His moral objections to violence simply evaporated without a trace or comment.

There were probably more, but this suggests the various ways the parts of the story didn't fit with each other.  It didn't make sense in ways that it SHOULD have made sense.

If not for the sexism and racism, this alone would have meant I wouldn't have liked the movie very much. I really expect a screenplay to hold together the basic elements in a consistent way.  I think it's one of the basic jobs of the writing and directing staff - to make sure that the important narrative elements in a story cohere intelligently.  Ant-Man failed to do this.

But the movie was racist and sexist.  1980 wants it's childishly and offensive stereotypes back.