Ant-Man, the latest superhero effort from Marvel Studios, and the last in its “Phase Two” slate of movies (Phase Three will kick off next spring with Captain America: Civil War) hit theaters over the weekend, and as we nerds are apt to do, we’re already talking about what the film means for what comes next. Yes, Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are winning in the film, and director Peyton Reed beat the odds and came through a tumultuous production to make a fun movie, but those of us who’ve already been through the experience are itching to see what’s next. We know that Rudd will return as Ant-Man in Civil War, so there’s that, but if Marvel plays its cards right, the most exciting thing to come out of Ant-Man might not concern Rudd at all.
To understand why, we have to wind the clocks back a bit, to a time before The Avengers even hit theaters. In an early draft of his script for the film, Joss Whedon’s major female addition to the team was not Black Widow (that happened once Marvel realized they had Scarlett Johansson waiting in the wings), but Wasp, a superheroine many comic book fans have a lot of love for. When it was revealed that we could’ve had an Avengers featuring Wasp, but lost out on that, more than a few fans were angry about the loss, and not just because fans like to nitpick about their favorite characters.
See, if you follow the history of The Avengers, Wasp (real name Janet van Dyne) is an enormously important part of the team’s history. She’s not only the first woman on the team, but a founding member, and the person who actually came up with the team’s name. During the early years of the comic, she was an equal to the likes of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America (and because Cap wasn’t re-introduced until The Avengers #4, she actually predates him as a member), and distinguished herself in battle as a brave and smart hero who never backed down from a fight. Though she’s been an on-and-off member of the team since the ‘60s, she remains an important part of The Avengers legacy, and in the 1980s she even rose to the status of team leader, a position endorsed by Captain America, who’s become the leader of the group on the screen. She fought hard, she led well, she endured countless troubles, and she even campaigned for the inclusion of more women on the team. For die-hard Avengers fans, she’s an essential, an all-timer. Hence, the disappointment that she didn’t make the cut for the movie.
When Ant-Man loomed on the horizon, though, fans got new hope that they’d finally see Wasp onscreen, because in the comics Janet van Dyne is married to the original Ant-Man, Henry “Hank” Pym. Then news came that 70-year-old Michael Douglas was cast as Pym, after years of original Ant-Man writer Edgar Wright teasing an older version of the character, and those hopes were dashed. It seemed that, even if Janet was in the film, she’d be too old for superheroics. Hopes rose again when it was revealed that Evangeline Lilly had joined the film as Pym’s daughter, Hope van Dyne, which brings us to the connections Ant-Man made that could finally give fans a big-screen Wasp they can get behind.
SPOILERS FOR ANT-MAN FOLLOW
So, it turns out that Janet van Dyne actually got to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after all. In Ant-Man, she appears in a flashback, in full costume as Wasp, fighting alongside her husband to stop a nuclear missile. Unfortunately, the only way to stop the bomb is for one of the two to shrink so small that they enter “The Quantum Realm,” a place they can apparently never escape (though Rudd’s character, Scott Lang, seems to do so late in the film). Janet decides to make the sacrifice, leaving her husband a widower and her daughter Hope constantly searching for the truth behind how her mother died. From a storytelling standpoint, in Ant-Man Janet is there to create a rift between father and daughter that is eventually healed by film’s end, but when you look at the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, she could eventually mean much more.
Remember that mid-credits teaser, in which Pym reveals to Hope that he’s had a prototype Wasp suit in storage all along, waiting for the day when she was ready to use it? Well, odds are that’s not just there so we can assume Hope will one day go off and have her own adventures. It looks like she will be our big-screen Wasp, and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige seemed to confirm that in a recent Yahoo! interview.
“It’s going to be certainly a part of our Phase 3,” he said. “It is going to be a very important moment, and — spoiler alert! — we see that suit for the first time, and her father now is finally giving it to her and realizes that he can’t hold her back from what is essentially her destiny.”
So, it looks like Wasp will get her day after all, even if she’s a second generation Wasp. Plus, there’s always the possibility that Janet van Dyne will find her way back from The Quantum Realm, because if Paul Rudd can do it, anyone can. Marvel has a huge opportunity here – in the midst of fans constantly calling for more female characters, and bigger roles for the female characters who are already there – to do something big with Wasp, something that will make her a major part of Avengers: Infinity War and beyond. In the right hands, Wasp could become the strong, smart, fearless leader comics fans know her to be. She could even lead the next generation of Avengers. Marvel’s clearly making her a priority on some level. Now, we just have to hope they make the right move.