There are huge, relentless face-melting spoilers for Ant-Man in this article. So if you’ve not seen it yet, go no further than the poster.
The best line in Ant-Man is delivered by the best character and is the last thing you hear. It’s in the first post-credits scene and is spoken by Hope Van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly:
‘It’s about damn time.’
And when she says it, Hope is speaking for herself, a sizable portion of the audience and, with any luck, the movie studio.
While the pathologically charming Michael Pena steals every scene he’s in, Lilly is far and away the best part of the cast and Hope is easily the most interesting character. An intensely smart, professional, tough and extremely angry young woman we first meet her in act two of her story. She’s the daughter of Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, two superheroes from the 1980s and ‘90s. Her mother was killed in action, her father refused to talk about it and, unable to face his daughter, sent her to boarding school. Hope returned to her father’s life, teamed up with his protégé/adoptive son Darren Cross and bought his company out from under him. Then, realizing that Cross was dangerous and her father had been right to deny him access to the Ant-Man technology, Hope began working with her father to bring Cross down. With Pym unable to use his own technology without damaging his brain chemistry, she was the logical choice to succeed him. When he chose Scott Lang instead, she was furious but continued working with him.
The dynamic between Hope and Hank is the most dysfunctional, and therefore most unusual and interesting, we’ve seen in a Marvel movie and the fact that Lilly and Michael Douglas are phenomenally good at what they do only helps matters.
It’s also the gutsiest piece of meta-textuality I’ve seen in a mainstream movie in years. Inevitably, every piece of art is influenced and defined by the time in which it was created but every now and then you find something that uses its own narrative to comment on the historical narrative within which it’s placed. Hope’s plotline does exactly that, taking the growing anger at Marvel’s chronic lack of female representation and giving it a face, a voice and, perhaps, a conclusion.
Some brief context. Marvel have produced a dozen movies and two TV shows in a single, coherent, remarkably unified continuity. That’s an astonishing achievement and the fact that they’ve nested multiple three-act structures inside one another to create a larger story form makes my postmodernist heart swell.
But the one thing they’ve been consistently very bad at is focusing any of those movies on someone other than an increasingly familiar white male protagonist. The female characters we have met have been uniformly good and on occasion brilliant with Scarlet Johannsson’s work as Black Widow and Hayley Attwell’s superb turn as Peggy Carter acting as lynchpins for the entire universe. But the bottom line is that, especially in the movies, these characters are always relegated to supporting roles. Worse still, despite the never ending parade of female-led genre movies that have been box office successes, Marvel have only committed to a single female-led movie to date; 2018’s Captain Marvel. It’s a dispiriting note that’s become ever more difficult to ignore. Which brings us back to Hope, that line and what it seems to represent.
‘It’s about damn time.’
That line plays like the culmination of the audience’s growing unrest, Hope’s own desire to get in the field, the studio’s acknowledgement of how female characters have been treated and a very definite passing of the torch. Hope, whose name also seems to be a huge clue for what she represents, is ready. The audience knows it and her father, who represents both the past and, perhaps, the studio and its old narrative model, not only realizes this but gets out of her way. It’s an incredibly powerful, bravura moment that seems to draw a line in the sand and position Hope as a major player in the future of the Marvel Cinematic universe.
Of course it could all be nonsense. We know exactly what movies are on the slate through to 2020 and in most cases those all spotlight characters we’ve either seen before or are going to feature male leads once again. Even if Hope turns up in several of them, the absolute earliest we’ll get a second female-led MCU movie is 2021 and the arrival of Phase IV. It’s a ridiculous time to wait but Hope is presented with such confidence and focus that it seems as ridiculous to believe she won’t be a major part of the MCU from hereon out.
Plus, her mother’s clearly waiting in the wings too.
Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, is apparently killed years before the movie started. When that was announced, the internet turned even harder against a film that it was already struggling to back. Janet is one of the founding Avengers, the sole female founding Avenger in fact. To have her killed off before the movie even started was bad. To have the only female Avenger in the original line-up be the only one to not get a spotlight movie was flat out insulting.
But, post film, Janet’s absence plays very differently. The movie drops two clues, one fairly subtle one so screamingly obvious that it practically clangs as it hits the floor, that she is not only alive and well but a big part of the future. The subtle(ish) one is the manner of her death; shrinking to the quantum realm and being trapped there. As the movie closes, Scott does the exact same thing but is able to return. If Scott survived and returned it’s implied heavily Janet could still be saved.
That by itself is still a little ambiguous. Hank’s later life, and emotional development, is defined by the loss of and search for Janet so dangling that in front of him makes a lot of thematic sense. But there’s a second hint that Janet is on the way back and it’s both smaller and far less subtle. Hank’s house is crammed full of photos of his family. All the ones of Hope show her face. The only one we see of Janet very, very obviously does not. Likewise, when we see her ‘death’ she’s not only wearing a helmet but doesn’t speak. The implication is very clear; we don’t see or hear Janet because she hasn’t been cast.
Janet and Hope Van Dyne’s stories are far more central to Ant-Man than they first seemed to be and also appear to be only just beginning. Better still, they seem to be heralding the long overdue big screen arrival of Marvel’s vast array of great female characters. And, like the lady says, it’s about damn time.