Please excuse me for a second while I geek out. I got rid of my childhood comic book collection over a decade ago, but still love the comic book tales of my youth. I’ve loved seeing these stories come to life on the big screen over the past decade as Marvel launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing movies about incredible – and under appreciated characters – like Ironman, Thor, Captain America, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention bringing them together for mega-event motion pictures like the Avengers films. I have seen each of the Marvel films in theaters – some more than once!
Yet, I admittedly questioned the studio’s decision to give Ant-Man a stand-alone movie. Ant-Man is certainly not one of the most popular Marvel superheroes, even if he was an integral part of the initial Avenger comic books. Funnyman Paul Rudd was an interesting choice to play the lead, but with rumors of turmoil in the writers’ room and on the set, with director Edgar Wright leaving the film over “creative differences,” this movie seemed destined to fail. I couldn’t see how Marvel could make an epic, interesting, action-packed, and funny film about a hero who shrinks down to the size of an insect to save the day. Boy, was I wrong!
Marvel made the right move by having the film focus on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the second incarnation of Ant-Man, while still choosing to keep Dr. Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) as an integral part of the story as well. The film tells the tale of Lang, a down on his luck ex-con, recently released from prison who attempts to find a stable job to support his daughter. He ends up getting recruited by his old cellmate Luis (played by the hilarious Michael Pena, who stole the show), to break in to a safe. Thinking the safe was full of cash or diamonds, Lang agrees, but it turns out that all he finds is the Ant-Man suit. Hank Pym orchestrated this whole thing to try to convince Scott Lang to become the new Ant-Man.
The technology allows anyone wearing the suit to shrink down to the size of an ant, and gives them super strength – after all, ants can withstand 5,000 times their weight. Pairing the suit’s abilities with the ability to control the actions of different types of ants through radio frequencies, Lang is tasked with stealing the Yellowjacket suit, the attempt of Darren Cross, Pym’s former protégé, to replicate the Ant-Man technology. Pym’s point is that groundbreaking technology in the right hands can change the world for the better, but if it ends up in the wrong hands, it can have a devastating impact.
Ant-Man was the most entertaining Marvel film since Captain America: Winter Soldier, and most fun film since the original Iron Man movie. Ultimately, this film was a film about teshuvah, about repentance and change. Scott Lang was a criminal. He tried to change his ways, but was pulled back into the criminal world.
The ant-man suit allowed him to change for the better, but the suit is also a metaphor for each of us. In order to be a hero, he didn’t need to become an overpowering green giant like the Hulk or become a super soldier like Captain America. He needed to become small, for the greatest changes we make are often the smallest.
We think that in order to change during this High Holy Day season, we need to reinvent ourselves. We believe that our lifestyles and work habits need to change. We fail before we even start, fearing that we can never truly change in the way that we seek. However, a small change can make a great impact. Do not seek to completely change. However, a small change – an ant-sized change, if you will – may have a deep and long-lasting impact. It’s the small steps that allow us to truly change our ways and change who we are.
Marvel’s Ant-Man is Rated PG-13 for violence, language, and suggestive humor.
For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.
-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky
There is no doubt about it – this summer’s biggest movie was Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy, which was #1 again this weekend at the domestic box office. It has grossed almost $300 million domestically and over $586 million worldwide, even though it hasn’t even premiered yet in the likes of Japan, China, or Italy.
This movie about a ragtag team of criminals seemed like a ragtag movie itself, surprising even hardcore comic book fans with its success, surpassing the original releases of Marvel Cinematic Universe heavyweights Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. It even surpassed its Marvel summer competition, the much hyped sequels Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The movie is full of action, adventure, great special effects, and a surprising level of comedy. Telling a story that is less well-known than that of Marvel’s other successful superhero franchises, and getting audience buy-in, is much to be celebrated. Bradley Cooper voicing a raccoon with a machine gun and singing along to the catchy music of the film are just added bonuses.
The story is enjoyable, but somewhat complicated. It is like a more colorful and vibrant Star Wars tale, with Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, playing a Han Solo-like Star-Lord. Quill, leads a motley crew of space bandits. Quill steals an orb that he attempts to sell. [SPOILER ALERT] Comic book fans get a thrill learning, after the Collector’s inspection, that the orb is actually one of the six infinity stones, hinting at greater things to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The maverick nature of his theft and actions leads one to think that these Guardians are only concerned with themselves. However, in reality, they sacrifice their own well-being for others.
Peter follows Gamora into outer space, giving her his helmet — without it his power is limited — in order to survive. Later, Rocket, risks his own safety for the sake of the group, crashing the Milano through the Dark Aster. When the Dark Aster crash lands on Xander, the tree-creature Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, sacrifices himself to save the group. When it looked like Ronan was about to destroy Xander, Quill again risks his own well-being, and distracts Ronan, so that Rocket and Drax could destroy Ronan’s warhammer.
Part of being part of a group is understanding and accepting that you must look at for others, not just for yourself. In fact, in the case of these Guardians of the Galaxy, in often means looking out for others, even if that means sacrificing yourself.
During this month of Elul, we are taught to take responsibility for ourselves and for our own actions. However, how often do we really stop to take responsibility for the actions of others? We don’t. It doesn’t make sense to do so. How can we take responsibility for what another does or does not do? Yet, taking such responsibility is exactly what our liturgy tells us to do.
On Yom Kippur, when we publicly, and communally, confess our sins and wrongdoings, we do not do so as individuals. During the confessional prayer, we bang our chests and declare: We have sinned. We have transgressed. We acknowledge the mistakes of others just as they acknowledge the mistakes that we have made. For if they did not intervene, if they did not speak up, if they did not look out for us and try to help us, then they are equally responsible. If we did little to help others, then we are responsible as well.
During Elul, we are taught to guard ourselves, to reflect on who we are and who we want to be. We are taught to guard our words and our actions, but we also must guard others as well. We must look out for others, we must step up and protect others. To truly take responsibility is not just taking responsibility for ourselves; it is taking responsibility for all of humanity. May we come together as a group, despite our differences. May we see each other as brothers and sisters, fulfilling the vision of the Psalmist. And may we always guard each other, because to guard yourself, is to guard those around you as well.
Please Note: “Guardians of the Galaxy” starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista, as well as the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, is Rated PG-13. The film, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios, is the most successful and highest-grossing movie of the summer. A sequel is already in the works.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
The mission and vision of the Pop Elul Project continues throughout the Hanukkah season. I am excited to share that the Hollywood Journal has asked me to write a Hanukkah column for their “Holy Wood” section. The column, “Lights, Camera, Hanukkah,” focuses on the gifts of Hanukkah.
Instead of focusing on the material gifts that one gives and receives, “Lights, Camera, Hanukkah” magnifies the true gifts of the holiday that we are grateful. With each night of Hanukkah, we light another candle on the Menorah, and celebrate another gift. Like the Pop Elul Project, this also shares the messages of our faith and tradition through the lens of Pop Culture. I invite you to check out the first night’s gift: The gift of light in the darkness, with a little help from Thor: The Dark World and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You can view it on the Hollywood Journal’s website here. Check back each night of Hanukkah for an additional gift. I’d love to hear your thoughts.