(Warning - This article contains a major SPOILER for Marvel's Ant-Man. If you haven't yet seen the movie, then what follows will likely reveal a key plot point from the film's ending that you may prefer to have revealed to you in a movie theater - so go see it already...Don't worry. we'll wait...)
Now, over the past few years, Marvel Studios has been on the receiving end of a whole lot of criticism relating both to its portrayal of women in its movies, and the gender-skewed nature of the merchandising that surrounds their release. Much of that criticism, sadly, has been well-founded, with the theoretical equal representation of women in both Marvel movies and Marvel merchandising not holding up to a whole lot of scrutiny.
Things might just, however, be getting a little better. Y'see:
Ant-Man Just Did Something Pretty Darned Important
Specifically, the movie just (indirectly) addressed a major part of Marvel's problem, in just about the most awesome way possible.
Specifically (and this part is SPOILER-protected, just in case you've somehow managed to make it all the way down here and still not want to know what happens at the end of Ant-Man):
During Ant-Man's mid-credits scene, Hope van Dyne and her father Hank Pym, with whom she's now reconciled after the events of the film, discuss his reluctance to let her become a superhero the way her mother once did. Hank, it seems, has recognized that he was wrong, and decided to share a secret with Hope. That secret? That he and her mother (Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp) had been designing a new prototype costume. It, he know realizes, was clearly meant for Hope.
Hope's response, while clearly emotional, remains defiantly bad-ass (much like her character throughout the movie): "It's about damn time."
Or, in other words:
The final lines of Ant-Man (Before the Largely Unrelated Post-Credits Sequence) are Basically an Acknowledgement of How Marvel Has Screwed Up in the Past
Specifically, by giving Hope the chance a narrative arc in which she is held back by her father from achieving the bad-ass superheroic potential she clearly has, Marvel seems to be acknowledging the obvious comparison with how the company has, in large part, kept back its numerous awesome female characters, while putting a whole lot of male heroes front and center. Other than Black Widow (and recently The Scarlet Witch), the Marvel Cinematic Universe's female characters have largely been limited to supporting romantic roles, with even Guardians of the Galaxy's Gamora becoming a love-interest for Star-Lord.
Hope's final line, then - "It's about damn time" can then be read as both a natural end point to her journey within the film, and an open message to fans that the problematic gender-imbalance within Marvel movies is set to be carefully examined, and ultimately changed for the better.
How Much Are Things Likely to Change, Though?
Well, seeing as Marvel's comic-book side has, over the past few years, evolved from a company with many of the same problems, to one with substantially fewer of them, it's certainly not an implausible path for Marvel Studios to tread.
After all, over the past ten years Marvel comics have gone from being a stalwart purveyor of gigantic-breasted heroines with generic personalities to one of the comic-medium's greatest proponents of subtly-written, complex and diverse female heroes. The likes of Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel may have taken a lot of the headlines, but even in still-male-dominated titles (of which their remain a lot) the progress is clear to see.
If you want a prime example, read an old X-Men comic, and then go through Brian Michael Bendis' recent runs on both All-New and Uncanny X-Men. Back in the old days, there was always a tough female archetype or two, but that was pretty much where the complexity ended (and the intense objectification began). Now, by way of contrast, the variety, complexity and 'actually-representative-of-a wide-range-of-real-women' nature of the female characters is hard to miss.
Heck, once (current crossover event) Secret Wars is done, there's even going to be an-all female team of Avengers, just to highlight how many awesome female Avengers there are.
All of Which Means There's Already a Route For the Movies to Follow
Specifically, one that involves making a genuine effort to increase the number of female leading characters up to where it should be - somewhere a heck of a lot closer to gender-parity than it is now.
Much like the comics, that might well take some time (and simply adding female characters into stories doesn't solve other problems, including the nature of their portrayal, and the notable lack of female creators behind the scenes) but it's important enough that even first steps - like Hope van Dyne's kick-ass final line - deserve to be celebrated.
Now, if anyone from Marvel (for some reason) happens to be reading this, maybe we could see She-Hulk, Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel join Captain Marvel on her way to the big screen, too? I mean, honestly, who doesn't want to see the MCU get even more awesome like that?