the human dramas of Ant Man and The Martian

By Gabby Hernandez

Small Guy Troubles

We can dream of being larger than life but it turns out the real dream is what it would be like to be smaller than life. Ant Man is the first superhero in the last ten years with what we might call “relatable” powers. He’s smart, he’s fast, and he doesn’t need to destroy Manhattan for the billionth time—only the construction industry could be happy with this unending carnage of prime real estate. There’s just enough story for the audience to believe that when Dr. Hank Pym (a zippy Michael Douglas) offers Scott Lang (the relatable Paul Rudd) the Ant Man suit, it’s a job he can’t refuse.

Of course, it’s much better gig than the Baskin Robbins job he just got fired from, and the uniform is a lot cooler, too. The first time he tries the suit on he ends up spinning around a DJ booth, getting spit out by a vacuum cleaner, and almost drowning to death in a bath tub. Lang later learns to fly, electrocute, and lift large things just like any other ant on the planet, not to mention communicate with a vast army of insects. Like any other superhero movie, this is a fantasy, but it is a human one. Superhero films have always been about becoming superhuman. Ant Man is about becoming less so and being better for it.

Come on, Matt Damon, use your human ingenuity!
In Ridley Scott’s The Martian, Matt Damon plays an ordinary man with an ordinary name—Mark Watney. In it, we learn what it feels like to be completely alone and left to die. In this way, The Martian isn’t any different than the many other “stranded in the wilderness” movies, only this one just happens to be on another planet. Scott’s film works because it champions our own capabilities, even if we have to adapt those capabilities to surviving on a planet hostile to human life.

Unlike Ant Man, Watney doesn't have any special powers, just human ingenuity. The movie doesn’t require monster aliens, corruptive robotic technology, or ruthless astronauts. It only needs a mind, some potatoes, and the power of fear—a power that Ant Man exploits as well. What makes The Martian so satisfying is its depiction of the simple human will to survive. It's a burning question that people need answered. We want to know what we would do. What if we found ourselves in extraordinary circumstances? When handed the task, Watney never hesitates and overcomes his fear. Like Ant Man, that’s a nice lesson.

Even with this many insect, Ant Man remains human

Both of these films are human films, despite their Sci-Fi elements. And in being so, they are interested in what we might feel rather than effects. An ant sized adventure through inner-space or growing potatoes on Mars is quite fun to watch and beats the never-ending destruction of Manhattan. Both these films make you feel small and that’s a good thing

©Gabby Hernandez and the CCA Arts Review

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