ant-man-thor-poster-1In my review of Ant-Man, I mentioned how the movie couldn’t make up its mind as to whether it was a caper film or a superhero origin story. I laid out the reasons why those two types of stories are, if not incompatible, then at least problematic to mix together. I also mentioned I might do a post on how I might have adjusted the movie if, for some strange reason, they came asking for my advice.

So how would I have done the movie differently?

This is actually a more dangerous question than it might appear. I’m a prose editor. I’m a pretty good one. I’m also pretty good at analysis, developmental/structural rewriting, and closing plot holes. None of that means that I’m good at scriptwriting. Visual media is a very different ballgame. I know just enough about the differences to talk about them, and not enough to actually put them into practice. I’m a professional editor, but I’m an armchair amateur when it comes to script-doctoring. I know my limits and I’m not going to pretend that expertise in one form of fiction extends to another.

So, disclaimers aside, here’s my armchair amateur opinion about what I’d have done if I’d been asked to give a developmental edit (also called structural editing) on the film.

Spoiler Warning

The issues boil down to this: Scott Lang has to be the only one who can be Ant-Man, even though Hank Pym (the previous Ant-Man) is right there, and Hope (Pym’s daughter) is more than willing to do it. He’s a thief, but none of his expertise is actually helpful in the commission of the crime itself; he has some input on the planning, but that’s the limit of him applying his previous talents. He has to be trained up to use the suit, but only he can use it. They might as well have picked anyone off the street to do it, for all his prior skills help with that job.

Why can’t Hank Pym wear the suit?

In the movie, we’re given a vague line about how wearing the suit took a “toll” on him, and so he can’t be the one to do the job. I thought at first that this meant the suit was physically dangerous for him to wear now, but no; apparently he solved the problem of mental instability caused by repeated shrinking (which is used to explain why his former protege is now the bad guy with no morals, which I think is another cop-out).

It would be very easy to give Pym a physical reason for not being able to do the job. He’s old now. He could easily have a heart condition that would interact badly with the technobabbled shrinking magic. (Sorry. I have to treat it as a magic system. Otherwise my physics-trained brain will start trying to reconcile how being shrunk means your energy potential is concentrated but your mass isn’t.) However, I kept thinking back to another superhero story where a young guy had to learn to use a high-tech super-suit invented by a much older man.


Plus, feisty old men with canes tend to pack a punch when it comes to both superhero stories and martial arts movies. Let’s have some more of that. My version of Pym would have a pronounced limp and a cane that hid some gadgets. He can’t be Ant-Man anymore because he isn’t physically up to the job, and needs someone else he can trust. Someone who is a good man at the core but still willing to break the rules when they get in the way. As a consequence, Scott Lang the Robin Hood cat burglar comes under scrutiny.

Ant Man Lang and Pym

This also comes with the added bonus of being able to do flashbacks, both in this movie and in future installments, where the lack of a cane makes Pym look younger. It helps sell the CGI de-aging they did on Michael Douglas for this film (though honestly, that was nearly flawless for all practical purposes). I’d personally love to see the superhero side of Pym contrasted with his present-day self, dependent on others and perhaps reliving his glory days through his new protege.

Why can’t Hope Van Dyne wear the suit?

In the movie, we get another weak line about why: Lang points out to Hope that he’s expendable, and she isn’t. Pym would rather lose him than her, and that’s why her father won’t let her have the suit.

Touching, believable, and utterly insufficient. Why? Because we don’t just need a reason why Pym won’t allow it. We need a reason why Hope, who doesn’t like her father all that much to begin with, doesn’t just steal the suit herself, as well as the ant controlling earpiece that she’s clearly mastered.

There are two different ways to solve it. I’d go with #2, but the first one is less drastic. If there has to be a reason why Pym’s daughter can’t wear it, I would make it so that she can’t wear it.


Now, this would require a further tech departure from the comics. In the comics, you can shrink while not in a suit. However, the movie already plays with this. Neither Ant-Man nor Yellowjacket shrinks when not in a suit, and even the sheep used for animal testing is inside an equally-shrunk container. Lang never opens his Ant-Man mask when shrunk, and you frequently hear breathing sounds identical to what you hear in an enclosed and airtight spacesuit. And, even when he’s shrunk down to a sub-atomic level, Lang is still able to breathe.

So what if the suit needed its own air supply, because when you shrink down your body has increasing trouble breathing? The normal sizes shown in the movie wouldn’t make much difference, but since we’re already hand-waving energy and mass, it could work. If Hope can’t get the suit to fit, then it’s unsafe to shrink.


Of course, it would require a significant difference between actor and actress. Rudd and Douglass are already about the same height, so I have no trouble believing that when he was younger Pym had the same waist size as Lang. Problem is, Lilly would be able to fit in that suit. We’d need an actress with a much more pronounced hourglass figure, which would loose one thing I like about Evangeline Lilly: she’s playing a comic book character that isn’t built to, um, “comic book proportions,” shall we say.

A mere tailoring issue would be easy to fix, of course, but it would require Pym’s involvement. Hope wouldn’t be able to make the adjustments herself.

But that’s still a weak reason, and it does nothing to solve the fact that Hope isn’t really in the movie other than that she has to be in the movie, as the future Wasp and Lang’s love-interest (since his ex-wife has already re-married). She’s not quite window-dressing, but she’s also not crucial to the plot.

So I’d go with Option #2, where I delete her from the story entirely. Or, let me put it this way: I’d get rid of Hank Pym’s daughter. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’d get rid of Hope.

Increase the personal stakes.

Ultimately, if I were doctoring the plot and trying to keep to the same idea (new guy in suit in caper plot), I’d say that Lang should be forced into the story for something more than just that he needs the money. There should be a personal stake.

Don’t get me wrong; an entire army of Pym-suited soldiers would be a bad thing, especially in the hands of Hydra. There’s certainly a lot at stake. The problem here is that it’s all too abstract for this kind of movie. We’re up-close and personal with the events and the characters; the stakes should be as well.

So, first of all, we’ve gotten rid of Hank Pym’s daughter. She’ll be replaced with a personal assistant, someone who’s in on the secret but isn’t suited for up-front hero work and so isn’t a great choice for wearing the suit. That way we still have someone to talk about things and arrange for stuff to happen. If Pym is physically handicapped, he’s going to need someone by his side to handle things. There are a lot of light tasks that become very difficult when you can’t walk easily.

Next, let’s get rid of the cop who married his ex-wife. We can still have all the same issues with custody and visitation rights without her being married; and what underscores a redemption story better than a romantic subplot where a man can demonstrate to a woman that he’s truly turned over a new leaf?

But this is where the personal stake comes in: let’s have her (I’ll call her Hope, and assume she’s still played by Evangeline Lilly) engaged to Cross. She’s going to marry the villain. The villain who’s steadily going crazy because of his experiments.


Suddenly, we have additional stakes, as Lang realizes that he has to stop the bad guy not just to save the world, but to save his world: to keep him from becoming the husband of the woman he loves, and the father of the daughter he’s devoted to. He’s not just fighting for a nebulous cause, but also for an immediate and very personal one.

It also brings a devastating emotional punch to the climactic battle, as well. If Cross decides to hurt Lang’s daughter in revenge, when he had been about to become that girl’s stepfather and assume responsibility, that’s an even more powerful betrayal, with even more emotional punch for the audience.

But it wouldn’t just be because of Cross; no, the pre-caper planning montage (the point in a caper plot where they figure out how to do what they do; this happens in the real Ant-Man right after Cross tells Hope that he’s beefing up security) would now involve this version of Hope, as she would have just found out what’s going on, why Cross is dangerous, and reluctantly and grudgingly agreed to work with her ex-husband to stop her fiance. She would be the one with the necessary access to get in and open doors that ants can’t reach.

“But wait!” you might object. “The original Hope is necessary to get Peña’s character through the background check!”

Nope. All they need is a way to get the hacker guy in the system, which doesn’t have to be at the main building. Presumably that relatively-small complex isn’t where they hire and train security guards. They’d just need fifteen seconds of voice-over saying that security is provided by X company, and they just need to get access to the computer and they’re in; the visual playing there would be a security company data center where Ant-Man is flying in on Antony to slip a flash drive in a computer that contains a trojan to get them past the firewalls from the inside.

So it would be Hope’s betrayal that truly pushes Cross over the edge, makes him don the Yellowjacket suit, and then fight Lang in Lang’s daughter’s room.

This plotline solves the issues of who should wear the suit and why, gives greater emotional impact for both Lang and the audience, and helps reconcile the origin story with the caper plot’s needs. Since the only one who can wear the suit is still physically and mentally the best for the job, we don’t need Lang to be as much of a master over its capabilities as was shown in the first movie, which then can allow Cross to make more mistakes and still be considered deadly and dangerous. (Remember, the fight with Cross is the first time he’s ever been shrunk. If Lang were truly as proficient as he seems, then Cross would never have stood a chance, even with his armored and weaponized suit.)

It also means we can have a heroine who can be strong-willed and able to take her place as the future Wasp without needing to explain why she didn’t do it already. This version of Hope finds out about the secret too late to be trained in how to use the suit, but can demonstrate the ability to think and act under extreme stress that would be vital as Wasp. A few tweaks to the during-the-credits scene and you have the same result.

In fact, I’d have a callback in that scene. I’d have a moment during the movie where she needs new clothes, so Pym gives her some of Janet’s old things, saying “You look like you’re my wife’s size.” It’s a throwaway line, and perhaps we can add in that she’s reminding him more and more of his wife. Then, later, he shows the suit to her, giving basically the same information; only this time he ends it by looking at her and saying “You look like you’re my wife’s size.” A moment later, she gets it, and a big grin spreads over her face. No other words necessary.

Ultimately, this is no more than a sketch. To truly make this a script-doctoring, I’d have to go through the whole script and set up all the setups and pay off all the payoffs. I’d need to make certain that all the scenes’ beats were in the right place, that the pacing was consistent with the action, and — something I don’t know how to do at all — arrange it all in a way that is feasible for shooting and looks good on the screen.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this sort of thing. When I was in college, I made a mild hobby out of it, where I’d try to retell stories in such a way that their plot holes closed themselves, without completely throwing out the original material. I’d work on explaining why something is the way it was presented, rather than introduce something new as a first resort. My friends would say things like “They should have you writing the X-Men movies!” and stuff like that.

But screenwriting isn’t a truly solo project. A lot goes into it: producers, directors, studio executives, copyright owners, and the actors themselves. There are a lot of cooks for this soup. The reason why that soup doesn’t get spoiled on a regular basis is because these people are professionals and they (usually) know how to work together. I deal with a maximum of four other people in my job: the author, possibly a co-author, the publisher, and possibly a publisher’s editor. That’s a lot easier to work with than the huge number of people who work on a major movie.

Still, I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on what I’d have done, if Marvel Studios had seen fit to consult me on their movie. If nothing else, it’s a good look at what I sometimes do when an author needs to know why a particular plot isn’t working.