Why It Works for Ant-Man to Play Second Fiddle to The Wasp

Marvel fans are still waiting for the studio's first female-led solo film, but 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' is a start.
Marvel fans are still waiting for the studio's first female-led solo film, but 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' is a start.

[This story contains spoilers for Ant-Man and the Wasp]

The final scene of Ant-Man was a sheepish acknowledgement that Marvel was still playing catch-up in terms of representation. In that scene, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), the daughter of maverick inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), is made aware of the fact that there’s not just a superheroic Ant-Man suit. Her mother Janet wore an equally special suit to become the Wasp, and now it’s time for Hope to do the same. Hope’s response, and the last line of dialogue in the film: “It’s about damn time.” Of course, it’s well past time for Marvel to have a female superhero, and even now, we still have to wait until next spring for the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first solely female-fronted superhero film, Captain Marvel. Ant-Man and the Wasp, at least, suggests a very encouraging step forward.

While Peyton Reed’s 2015 film was more squarely focused on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the eponymous Ant-Man, this sequel doesn’t just pay lip service to Hope by adding her to the title. She’s as much a part of the action; the first major fight sequence is almost entirely dedicated to her, in the more powerful Wasp suit taking on a mysterious villain known as the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). While Scott winds up in the fray, here and in other sequences, he’s a less active character than he was in the first film. This time, Scott follows in Hope’s footsteps, to the point where it’s even weirder that Hope wasn’t wearing a suit of her own originally. She’s plenty capable, never existing as a damsel in distress.

The same goes for Hope’s mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who’s stuck in the miniscule Quantum Realm when the film starts, and has been for decades. For most of the film, we don’t see Janet, as Hank and Hope try to re-enter the Quantum Realm to retrieve her. (In one of the film’s funniest setpieces, Scott, who has a unique connection to Janet because of the time he spent in the Quantum Realm, is essentially possessed by the older woman. Paul Rudd portraying Michelle Pfeiffer is exceptionally funny to watch.) Eventually, Hank is successful in rescuing his wife, who’s brought back for a tearful reunion before the film ends. If Ant-Man and the Wasp commits a truly cardinal sin, it’s in barely featuring the wonderful Michelle Pfeiffer. You can’t cast an icon like that and give her all of ten lines of dialogue. Perhaps we'll see more in a third Ant-Man.

In Pfeiffer’s absence, Lilly gets to shine. Anyone familiar with her work on the ABC genre drama Lost knows that Lilly is a magnetic screen presence; Ant-Man and the Wasp feels even more like a payoff on her innate charisma and charm than her work in the 2015 film. When Hope matter-of-factly tells Scott that if he had called her during the events of Captain America: Civil War, he wouldn’t have gotten caught, it doesn’t feel like a shaky attempt on Marvel’s part to boost up one of its female characters. Instead, it feels absolutely correct; Hope would have succeeded where he didn’t. Throughout Ant-Man and the Wasp, Scott Lang is constantly playing catch-up to the much more skilled Hope. As opposed to being jarring, this feels perfectly apt to both characters, and is vastly more enjoyable than watching Scott try to swagger his way into the lead.

There’s also a shift in representation in the major antagonist in Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ghost. Ghost feels like a milder version of the kind of scarred villain embodied by Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) in Black Panther: a character who suffered familial loss as a child and let that hurt harden their worldview. Ghost was affected by a Quantum Realm-related explosion as a child, losing her parents and becoming molecularly shaken up in the process. Now, Ghost (with the help of Laurence Fishburne's Bill Foster, one of Hank’s old cohorts) tries to harness quantum energy to turn herself into a normal woman, but does so at the expense of innocent lives. Ghost isn’t a truly great Marvel villain — in truth, Jordan’s bad guy in Black Panther is easily its best villain — but there’s more thought put into the conception of the character than in many Marvel bad guys, including Corey Stoll’s baddie in the first Ant-Man.

From the early phases of production, it’s been clear that Ant-Man and the Wasp was going to shift things away from being male-focused. While Marvel is still holding out on making a film with a sole female director, and is months away from a sole female-fronted superhero film, this movie is a step in the right direction. Both due to the writing and to Lilly’s dynamic performance, Hope Van Dyne has automatically become one of the most fascinating heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s just a shame we had to wait so long to see her take the spotlight.

  • Josh Spiegel