Hope shines for 'Ant-Man' and the future of Marvel women
Last week at Comic-Con, I had an interesting conversation with my colleague Drew McWeeny about the upcoming Marvel film “Ant-Man.” Since he’d already seen it, I asked if it was going to be any good. I was hesitant to see another sausage-fest masquerading as an action movie and my daughter was already annoyed with each new commercial, asking “Why can’t Hope just be the hero?” Drew, knowing a Venn Diagram for my love of all things superhero and all things feminism is actually just a circle, told me not to worry. I’d love Evangeline Lilly’s character of Hope van Dyne.
He was right.
Ever since “Iron Man” burst into the cineplex back in 2008 (and well before that in the source material), there has been a distinct pattern. Men save the day, women cheer them on. A handful of exceptions have kept the fulcrum from tipping completely into the abyss of objectification: Black Widow, Maria Hill, Scarlet Witch and the Carter women have all played pivotal supporting roles. Key word there being “supporting.”
But for every time Black Widow makes a man suffer for underestimating her, there are three Jane Foster’s pining away for years over a man they knew for two days. For every Peggy Carter punching a bad guy in the face, there’s a half dozen women getting damseled or fridged. And don’t get me started on the missed opportunity of not hiding the Rescue Suit inside Pepper’s giant stuffed bear gift in “Iron Man 3.”
In “Ant-Man,” Hope van Dyne comes to life as the Avatar of Lady Geek Frustration. Hope is every woman in the audience asking why the Avengers are only 17% female* — which is incidentally the EXACT PERCENTAGE of women used in Hollywood crowd scenes. Hope is every little girl (and boy) frustrated they can’t find Black Widow or Gamora action figures.
*Using the entire roster of the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” crew, including Quicksilver but negating any remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives such as Nick Fury and Maria Hill.
On a more macro level, Hope van Dyne a shining beacon hope (zing!) for the future of the MCU while Hank Pym stands in for Marvel’s changing attitudes about women.
As “Ant-Man” begins, Hope is angry. Angry at being lied to by her father for most of her life. Angry at not being seen as good enough to be the hero of the story. Angry at Scott Lang for winning her birthright simply by the virtue of being a man in the right place at the right time. Hope is shown as more than capable of pulling off the heist that is the heart of “Ant-Man.” With her martial arts training since childhood, insider knowledge of the facility they’re infiltrating, and a mastery of communing with insects that outshines even Hank Pym’s abilities, the film offers up the subtext on a silver platter: “If this movie was called ‘Wasp,’ it’d be over in 45 minutes.”
One could almost take this as an accidental dig at female superheroes, save for the ending.
WARNING: “ANT-MAN” AND POST CREDIT SPOILERS AHEAD!
During the cathartic climax between father and daughter, Hank Pym finally tells Hope what really happened to her mother. She is lost forever in the Quantum Realm after disabling a missile to save countless lives. His refusal to let Hope drive the Ant-Man suit has been tangled up in his fear of losing her, too. If Scott Lang dies in the heist attempt, it would be sad. If his daughter died, Hank Pym couldn’t live with that. In the nicest way possible, Hope basically says he should’ve just TOLD her all that instead of making her feel inferior for decades.
That could have been the end of it, save for the mid-credits stinger. When the dust has settled, Hank takes Hope deeper into his secret lab and reveals a surprise: a prototype of the Wasp costume that is familiar to any fan of that character. Hank apologizes for side-lining his daughter and – realizing the error of his ways — wants to help make her into the hero she was born to be.
Evangeline Lilly looks at the suit — which from her angle incidentally also has her looking directly at the camera — and declares “It’s about damn time.”
Yes. Yes it is.
The most interesting thing about this turn of events? It’s fairly new. One could argue that Marvel had been planning this big reveal for years since the script for “Ant-Man” has been kicking around since 2001. According to Drew, the credit for turning Hope’s character into an inversion of the “reluctant superhero” trope was a late edition. When Edgar Wright parted ways with Marvel, Lilly had a chance to walk. Instead, she helped Paul Rudd and Adam McKay mold Hope into a promise. This would’ve been sometime in 2014, around the same time women emerged as the fastest growing demographic of comic book consumers.
Marvel’s movie process definitely has friction points — e.g. Wright’s departure and Ava DuVernay’s declining to direct “Black Panther” — but it also allows the company to be pretty nimble for its size. Turning a movie studio behemoth towards inclusion takes more time than its comic book counterparts. There are far more moving parts and gears to shift. But if Hope becoming Wasp is any indication, ladies are finally about to step out of supporting roles and into the spotlight.
It’s about damn time.