Well, it looks like Marvel has done it again. Ant-Man hit theaters last week, and with a hugely positive reception, it seems that the powerhouse of a studio can make a movie about anything they want and make it a success.
Ant-Man is a phenomenal addition to the MCU - a heist movie with a heart, and just the right balance of humor and action. The film expands the universe without feeling like a spin-off, and sets up the viewer for more adventures to come in Phase Three. In general, it's another excellent (if slightly formulaic) Marvel movie.
Despite this, the film has come under fire since its release for one very specific thing; Hope Van Dyne. Even though she is the main (and essentially, sole) female character in the film, future Avenger, and overall badass, many feel that Hope got cheated by the writers. Despite the fact that we know she becomes the Wasp, we don't actually see this in the film. At no point does Hope put on a suit and do some pint-sized battling, and she is constantly "protected" by the men in her life.
It was a very different element of the film that had my misogyny-radar sounding, and it seems that this problem is being completely overshadowed by the idea that Hope was marginalized as a female hero.
While it may have been cool to see Evangeline Lilly suited and booted and kicking butt, it actually made more sense to have her kept out of the action as a superhero. After all, the film was not about the Wasp. Nor was it really about Scott Lang. Ant-Man was a movie about Hank Pym. The themes of the movie all center on Hank; his redemption, his regrets, his successor, his family. Even Scott's story serves to mirror Hank's, showing him to be the rightful heir to the suit. It could have easily been titled Hank Pym: Ant-Man, and seen through this lens, it simply wouldn't have worked to have Hope treated any other way.
Still, it's worth pointing out that this is actually a major part of the film. Father-daughter relationships and redemption are the central emotional focus of both past and future Ant-Man, and the deep seated desire of a parent to protect their child is an emotional hook for the audience. Hank has already lost his wife, and has only recently managed to rebuild his relationship with Hope after emotionally abandoning her when Janet died. The idea that he should happily give her a suit and send her on her way is simply unrealistic, and would make him something of an unsympathetic character. Instead, we see him struggle with the idea of letting her go, seeing her as a capable and powerful adult rather than his little girl, and finally take that leap to seeing her as a partner. This is a realistic portrayal of an older father who is plagued by grief and regret.
It's also worth pointing out that she isn't entirely left out of the game.
She is shown to the audience as more than capable, and more than Scott by far. She is a spy, working against Cross from the inside, and heavily involved in planning and training. She rails against the restrictions placed on her, and her frustration at her father's refusal to see her as a partner is a huge part of her character. This is more than just a way for the writers to show that they are aware of how the audience may react to her part (after all, there is no chance that they weren't anticipating some backlash. Just look at her final line "It's about damn time"), nor is it a sop to those who may be annoyed by it.
We know that this isn't the last we've seen of Hope, and as she should eventually become a major player in the Avengers (hopefully as part of a balanced team, including Scarlet Witch and Black Widow in the lead), I feel that this is a build up to making her a much bigger part of the MCU than Ant-Man will be.
Finally, there is the practical side of things. As it played out, Team Pym needed to bring in even more help, with Scott Lang not being sufficient addition to pull off the heist. Hope, having been working on one angle for months, if not years, isn't able to leave Darren's side for long enough to change the water pressure - how would she have been able to steal the Yellowjacket suit? If she was somehow able to play the Ant-Man part in the heist, and they found a way to steal the suit with only two people involved, then Scott Lang wouldn't have been necessary at all. The movie would have been simplified to the point of boredom; father-daughter thief team plot to steal an invention back from father's bad choice of protege. It's possible that that could have been a good movie, but it wouldn't have been a redemption movie, and the themes of the parent-child bond and the problems of hero succession wouldn't have had the same impact. Essentially, it's not a case of keeping the movie and adding Hope in the suit, it would be a completely different film.
In which case, what was the problem with Hope? Very simply, it's an issue of a single scene toward the end of the film. Battles are over, good has triumphed, Ant-Man wins and there is hope for Janet Van Dyne. All is well in the world, so obviously, the two attractive young people have to have a romantic moment.
This was such a huge frustration for me because at this point in the film, I was really impressed by the lack of romantic subplot. The writers had added the emotional element by focusing on a familial relationship (fathers and daughters) rather than a sexual one, and that's both rare and amazing. I was happy to see that Hope and Scott seemed to have grown to like each other, found a way to trust each other, and that was it. This fed into Scott's redemption arc, and allowed Hope to be one of those rare female protagonists who isn't a love interest. Until they ruined it all with that annoying and unrealistic kiss.
After all, the body of the film takes place over a period of days, possibly a week or two. This is pointed out repeatedly in the film, that they have only days, that there isn't enough time to train Scott properly, that when Scott rides into battle with his ants, he isn't entirely confident that he has had enough practice. It's also very clear that Hope isn't exactly Scott's biggest fan. She's unimpressed at being overlooked, and clearly feels that he is an interloper. She also makes it perfectly clear that she doesn't have a lot of faith in the idea of bringing a criminal into the mix, that she doesn't trust him, and that she is more than happy to hurt him if he screws up. Over the week or so that they work together, he proves himself to her. She warms to him. By the end, she even begins to like him.
It works with the characters, it echoes the motif of redemption that is present throughout the film, and it makes for some decent warm-and-fuzzies at the end. That said, I simply don't buy the idea that a smart, slightly emotionally closed-off woman could go from resenting and distrusting someone to locking lips with them within such a short period of time. Seriously? Even taking into account the idea of adrenaline and the desire for oh-my-god-we-nearly-died sex, it just doesn't make sense. It's unnecessary, and reduces a complicated character to the love interest.
Yes, Hope and Scott should probably get together. Ant-Man and Wasp, after all, are a classic pair and it makes sense that they would eventually fall for each other after working together for some time. It's not the idea of this relationship that bothers me, but the idea that it would happen so fast. We know that the MCU isn't going anywhere, and these characters are going to be appearing in films for the next decade at least. It would have actually made it a stronger movie if their relationship could build slowly over a few movies, culminating in a kiss that had the audience cheering, that could even re-use that wonderful line "it's about damn time".
Unfortunately, Marvel decided that they just couldn't make a movie without a hint of romance, so we will miss out on a slow build between two really great characters. It's a scene that would have been better left on the cutting-room floor, however, it was small enough that it didn't ruin the film, or make it frustrating start to finish.
Now we just have to wait and see where Marvel takes us; whether the Wasp will get to realize her potential and become a vital member of the Avengers, or whether she will be reduced to "Ant-Man's wife" somewhere down the line. Obviously I'll be hoping for the former, but given Marvel's track record with superheroines, I'm left crossing my fingers that Hope will turn out to be aptly named.