Wasp: Whoa! You’re so big and strong and beautiful! She-Hulk: Thanks. You’re so small and strong and beautiful. Wasp: We’re friends! She-Hulk: Wow. Making friends here is really easy… Wasp: What are you getting me for my birthday?!
More meta-textually, Ant-Man may be the worst movie in the Marvel Universe for gender roles. Of its three female characters, Scott’s daughter exists to be as cute as possible so we know why he wants to be a good dad (complete with two missing front teeth), Cassie’s mother exists to prevent Scott from seeing her (and to be dating a guy who prevents Scott from seeing her) and Hope van Dyne is a highly capable corporate executive who is also an expert in hand-to-hand combat, using Pym particles and speaking to ants.
The problem is that Hope, an original character, exists because the movie knew it had to have a female lead, and understands vaguely that female lead characters should be capable no-nonsense women, but didn’t actually want her to do anything. And so it digs itself into a hole: It goes out of its way to establish that Hope is already a better candidate for leading the heist than Scott may ever be, and that it would make much more sense to let her retrieve Hank’s secret technology rather than allow a complete stranger with a criminal past that includes whistleblowing to handle it. The only thing in her way is Hank Pym and his personal issues, which stem from the film’s other looming problem with female characters: the removal of Janet van Dyne — the only female founding member of the comic book version of the Avengers — from the modern Marvel movie universe.
Janet’s limited presence in Ant-Man is a classic example of fridging, the death or torture of a female character primarily so that a male character can emotionally react to it. This overused device would be annoying enough on its own, but is employed as an excuse to corral Hope’s character within Trinity Syndrome, an increasingly common pattern in modern blockbusters where a narrative sets up a superlatively capable female character only to pass her over for a less experienced male lead. An end credit scene promising more for Hope later only raises the question, “Why not in this movie?”
So I went and saw Ant-Man. And here’s the thing- while it is a perfectly adequate and entertaining movie, there is absolutely no reason that it had to be about Scott Lang
Look, Ant-Man is a perfectly enjoyable movie. It’s got good jokes and plenty of Easter Eggs. As a Marvel Movie it fits into the MCU as a minor film and will pleasantly waste a few hours of your time.
But this film does nothing nice for female characters. It says nothing interesting about women. It has nothing interesting going on for women. It firmly maintains a bland status quo for women in film (white, straight, cis women at that.)
We can talk about the bullshit that is the fridging of Janet Van Dyne. We can talk about how bland a character Maggie was. We can talk about the eye-roll worthy Scott/Hope kiss at the end. We can talk about the fairly flat portrayal of Cassie and how she was damseled in the most stereotypical way ever.
But all of that is window dressing to the central problem: There is NO REASON for Scott Land to be the protagonist of this film.
It should have been Hope.
It is the same problem with Trinity in the Matrix, with WyldStyle in the Lego Movie, with Rita in Edge of Tomorrow. Even Guardians of the Galaxy and fuckin Bulletproof Monk pull this. The woman who is more talented, more qualified to do The Thing sits back and trains the Straight White Guy to do the thing instead.
And Ant-Man even has the audacity to use Janet’s fridging as some kind of internal justification for this. The mid-credit stinger promises that MAYBE we’ll see some Wasp in the future, but that doesn’t excuse this whole fiasco of a trope happening in here.
Hope should have been the hero of the movie, if not Janet herself.
We should have had a Wasp film.
….but at least we got Cassie. One step closer to that Young Avengers film.
There are some characters that can’t exist without another. Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (way to drop the ball on that one, Bryan Singer), Luke Cage and Danny Rand, Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson, and most importantly, Janet Van Dyne and Hank Pym. So why isn’t Jan in the movie?
Probably one of the most infamous moments in comic book history is when Hank gets angry and hits Jan, his wife. Despite how long ago this happened, there’s zero excuse for his spousal abuse. This one panel is basically the entire reason that Jan isn’t going to be featured in “Ant-Man”. Marvel’s idea of ‘redeeming’ Hank was to not only ignore the entire issue of him being a wife beater, but also to just completely ignore the idea that Jan even existed.
Jan is a very important character to the Marvel universe. Not only was she an original Avenger, but she was also the one to come up the name “Avengers”. Hank Pym is nothing without Jan. Ant-Man is nothing without Wasp. The MCU needs her. Having characters like Black Widow and Storm are great, but they aren’t enough. How great would it be for a little girl to go see “Ant-Man” and see Wasp flying around in her brightly colored costume, zapping bad guys and still being interested in feminine things, like fashion and make-up? Marvel missed an opportunity to finally reel in the audience of little girls that they so desperately need.