As evidenced in our obsession with ever-decreasing phones and tablets, the tinier something is, the easier it can be controlled and possessed. Joyce E Chaplin has written about this phenomenon in relation to 16th century portraiture: ‘Anything hand-held made the bearer’s status clear.’ Going back further, miniatures of the Farnese Hercules (the ‘original’ Roman copy in Naples’ Museo Archaeologico is a piece of monumental size, physically huge and stylistically bulging in its masculinity) were so perverse they were famous in Ancient Rome. Even Greece’s ‘larger than life’ hero could become a table set-piece for Roman aristocracy and still retain his ‘physical strength and the greatness of his deeds’ (John Mack, The Art of Small Things), reducing Greek culture, art and religion to something that could be quickly referenced, altered, and, importantly, possessed by Rome. The monumental diminished becomes ridiculous property.
So where does a tiny superhero fit into this? In many ways, Marvel’s Antman achieves (as his original incarnation in 1962 Tales to Astonish #35 did) exactly the humorous effect we’d expect from our fictional miniature man, taking shots at the seriousness of our current obsessive viewership of multi-million dollar superhero movies. As Anthony Lane commented in his New Yorker review of the film: ‘So many men cast themselves as big shots, and we should welcome anything—a magic suit, or a good joke—that cuts them down to size.’ But how do we understand this message when its messenger is a multi-billion dollar film studio? Much of the humour in Antman is beholden to the colossal fictional universe Marvel has been curating (allegedly a main point of disagreement between the studio and Wright), so, while the film shows a company that is willing to deride itself, it also does so solely for the purpose of accruing profit and constructing business – and these targets quite clearly tarnish the quality of the story. In this lies the central problem of the colossal taking on the perspective of the miniscule, the big dogs acting the underdog, the humourless putting on a comic mask – the little people know when they’re being conned. They can see you in better detail after all.