This post originally appeared on my personal blog. It has been reposted here.
Ever since the release of Marvel’s Ant-Man there have been a number of articles and essays published discussing the film and the way it treats Hope van Dyne, it’s main (and more or less only) female character. But if you ask me, the problem isn’t so much Ant-Man, it’s Marvel.
If you’ve seen the film, or you’ve read the essays, then you know what I’m getting at. If you haven’t, here are the Cliff’s notes: Hope is the daughter of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man. She is also the President of Pym Technologies, a kick ass martial artist, and whip smart. She’s basically all the best characteristics of all your favorite Marvel women. When Darren Cross, the new CEO of Pym Tech, wants to use her father’s research to create a weapon and sell it to HYDRA, Hope and her father plan to break in using the Ant-Man suit and steal the Yellowjacket tech from Cross. Hank decides they need to find a guy to wear the suit and do the heavy lifting, so they find Scott Lang, despite the fact that Hope is far more capable than Scott, and doesn’t need the training he does.
Many people found it offensive, much as Hope did, that Hank wouldn’t just let her use the suit. After all, it makes much more logical sense to give the job to someone who already has the necessary skills than to train someone new. They’re not wrong. That’s exactly why Scott says, point blank, that Hank should just give Hope the suit and let her do it. In fact, this sort of thing — the “Hope is obviously better than Scott” thing — happens ALL THE TIME in the film; she can kick his ass, easily, and she’s much better at controlling the ants than he is. The movie knows Hope is better than Scott, and it wants you to know it too. In fact, the movie goes to great lengths to make you, as an audience member, want to see Hope suit up. It makes you want a secondary female character to become a superhero more than any other Marvel movie has ever done.
That’s not to say that the film made the best decisions when constructing her character and her role in the film as a whole, or that it makes great strides for female characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hope does get sidelined in the final act of the film, as Scott moves fully into his heroic role, and the fact that Hope isn’t allowed to become Wasp until her father gives her permission to do so is problematic at best, but I do think it made a few baby steps. This was the first time, for example, that a secondary female character was not only better equipped than the male hero overall, but that the hero actually recognizes this and points it out.
While it would have been cool to see Hope as the main character of what is traditionally a male story (it is Ant-Man after all), I would argue that it wouldn’t have worked for two reasons. One, Scott’s involvement added the necessary context for explaining the suit and how everything functioned, and two, Hope’s character was intentionally set up to take over the role of Wasp. Giving her the Ant-Man suit, essentially making her Ant-Man, would have actually erased an already established female character, one I am very interested in seeing in action, from the Marvel toolbox.
If the filmmakers had addressed some of these more subtle problems in the film itself, perhaps these conversations wouldn’t be necessary — just a few added scenes could have explained why Hope doesn’t just steal the suit and take matters into her own hands. I would strongly argue that Hope should have been allowed to suit up as Wasp in the final act of the film, teaming up with Scott to take down Yellowjacket in a sort of mirror of the mission that lead to her mother’s death. Saving the reveal of the Wasp suit until the mid-credits scene, while fun, undercut some of the shear badassness that would have resulted from seeing the suit in action mid-fight.
I think possibly the biggest problem though isn’t that we’re frustrated by Ant-Man’s treatment of Hope, but rather Marvel’s treatment of women. We’ve seen our fair share of standout female characters in nearly all of the MCU franchises: Black Widow could take on most of the Avengers and win, Pepper Potts stands easily next to Tony Stark, Jane Foster is a brilliant physicist that Thor brags about in AoU, and Peggy Carter was so popular she got her own show. But the biggest thing these characters have in common is the fact that they aren’t the main characters in their story. Hope, though a kick ass character that I’ve been excited about for months, is just another in this long line of Marvel women. She, and the film, are suffering not just because of the way she’s treated on the screen, but because she exists as a reminder of the thing we haven’t gotten yet: a stand alone female hero.
In the lead up to the film, no one batted an eye about what her character’s involvement would mean for the story. She was the female character, and possibly a future alternate version of Wasp, but we didn’t really expect much more than to like her in the same way we liked Pepper in the first Iron Man. It wasn’t until we saw the finished product, this obviously well written, developed, kick-ass female character, a superhero without a super suit, that we realized something: Marvel knows how to write a female hero, they just refuse to do so … at least for 3 more years.