Major spoilers ahead!
Ant-Man and the Wasp is huge! It is the MCU’s first film with a legit female superhero lead – one that’s in the title and everything. The film makes up for the grievous damage in Ant-Man, where Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who is clearly the better superhero choice for the Ant-Man suit (as admitted by the Ant-Man himself), has to make way for Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to play hero to pay heed to a protective father’s feelings. (Side note – do male superheroes never have protective fathers that guilt-trip them into not doing cool shit?).
In fact, the original Wasp (Janet van Dyne) in the comics founded and named the Avengers all the way back in 1963, and has been touted as Marvel’s most feminist Avenger. When fans found out that the Ant-Man movie had elected to backbench this critical member of the Avengers in favour of a newfangled Ant-Man character, they were pissed.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is Marvel’s attempt to correct for this sidelining of Hope van Dyne’s powerful character in the first movie. We still don’t have a female superhero lead all by herself though – the Wasp has to share screen space with the Ant-Man, but this film, to its credit, does hinge its plot line majorly around the Wasp, with the Ant-Man being more of a facilitator than the driver of the plot. One of the earliest scenes of the film sees Pym and Lang watching the Wasp from a screen as she singlehandedly negotiates a ridiculously expensive business deal, and then fights ten baddies simultaneously when the business deal implodes, only needing the Ant-Man’s help when Ghost, the creepy, phase-shifting superhero shows up, befuddling them all with her powers.
Despite the plot line being centred around Hope’s search for her mother, both the official trailers still seem to focus on Ant-Man, introducing the Wasp as his partner. Is it petty that I would have rather the film been called The Wasp and Ant-Man?
The film bases itself around Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne’s search for Hope’s mother, Janet, whom they believed to be lost forever after she went subatomic and risked her life to disable a Soviet nuclear missile in the 1980s. This belief gives way to hopeful excitement that she could still be found, when Scott Lang (who went subatomic in the last Ant-Man movie and gets quantumly entangled with Janet) starts to hear Janet’s voice in his dreams. The scientist father-daughter duo then build a tunnel to the quantum realm in order to go subatomic and search for Janet – the original Wasp (whose last name Hope kept!).
Enter Ava a.k.a. Ghost – the phase-shifting, radioactively-poisoned, terminally-ill (female!) antagonist, determined to steal the tech Pym and Hope have built in order to find Janet and absorb quantum energy from her to heal herself. The other antagonist is a slimy black-market technical component trader who wants to steal Pym’s tech for interested buyers, but is pretty clearly not a major concern – his stereotypically dumb henchmen and lack of superpowers prevent him from being a real threat.
the original Wasp (Janet van Dyne) in the comics founded and named the Avengers all the way back in 1963, and has been touted as Marvel’s most feminist avenger.
So Ant-Man and the Wasp does pretty well for itself in its feminist checklist – protagonist, check, antagonist, check, and legendary older superhero returning with cool new evolutionary radioactive powers, check (Janet van Dyne). The film even passes the Bechdel Test, with (admittedly short) conversations between the Wasp and her mother, Ghost and Lang’s daughter Cassie. The film also has a number of significant characters of colour – but again, most lead characters are white.
However, apart from these four lead women characters (Hope van Dyne, Janet van Dyne, Ava/Ghost and Cassie Lang), the only secondary characters that are women are Lang’s ex wife and Ava’s mother in a flashback scene. All other secondary characters – henchmen, cops, and assorted extras with speaking parts – are male, with the exception of one female cop. It’s almost as though, after making a concerted effort at female inclusion, the makers forgot that regular women (that aren’t mothers and wives of lead characters) existed in the non-superhero universe as well.
Props to Marvel though, for resisting mainstream cinema’s usual penchant to turn homosexual overtures into a punchline. Before Janet returns, she communicates with her family via the body of Scott Lang, whom she has ‘quantumly entangled’ with. In one scene, she takes over his body to give her husband and daughter directions on exactly how to find her, with the result being the surreal experience of Scott Lang’s body casting a loving, maternal eye on Hope, and tenderly holding hands with Hank Pym. While the audience at the theatre I was watching at predictably giggled at this scene, with my seat neighbour in particular being very annoyingly scandalised by the tender look between the two men, I noticed that the film itself allowed the weight of the emotional reunion its due, without turning the scene into a comic moment.
It’s almost as though, after making a concerted effort at female inclusion, the makers forgot that regular women existed in the non-superhero universe as well.
Ant-Man and the Wasp takes Marvel’s baby steps significantly further into the world of equal representation for women. The Wasp is all set to be an integral unit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – until of course, she and her parents are reduced to ashes in the film’s incredible post-credit scene – implying that our first female-led superhero movie’s protagonist does not survive Thanos’ snap of his fingers. Will she come back? We’ll have to wait to find out.