Yeah, you read that headline right. When I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp on opening day, I laughed at all the jokes and was thoroughly entertained. But… there was something that bothered me. As time passed, I grew more convinced that the titular characters were really the villains of the movie.
If you listen to our Comics Agenda podcast, you’ve heard these thoughts before. But, if you haven’t taken the time to listen to the podcast yet (which you really should!), I decided I would put these thoughts down on virtual pen and paper for those of you looking to kill time at work or need some toilet reading.
So first, let’s take a step back. When I’m talking about “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” I’m not talking about Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne. The title of the movie surely includes these two characters, and rightly so. I’d argue there’s a double use of the title that also includes Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne. When I say the titular characters are the villains, I’m talking about Hank and Janet.
Of course, the primary villain would be Hank. At the beginning of the movie, we see the goodness of Hank and Janet in stopping the nuclear missile, which involves Janet sacrificing herself to complete the mission. This could arguably the origin story of Hank’s backslide into villainy.
After Scott goes off to help Captain America in Civil War, Hank and Hope want nothing to do with Scott. Hank seems to have this “my-way-or-the-highway” approach to how he views his friends. We find out later from Bill Foster that Hank had a history of not getting along with his work colleagues. People would eventually leave because they found Hank insufferable. The only one he could get along with eventually became his sidekick: Janet.
Since you’ve spent the majority of your movie watching time with the Ant-Man team, you’re supposed to feel more sympathetic to Hank’s side of the story. But think of it this way: Hank is more or less the Taylor Swift in this situation. You can complain about all the bad breakups you’ve had with people, but at the end of the day, there’s one common denominator in all of these stories: You.
After the events of the first Ant-Man movie, Hank becomes obsessed with retrieving Janet from the quantum realm. He is a law unto himself. Nothing can sway him from letting Janet’s sacrifice stand. Soon after tinkering with the quantum tunnel with Hope, Janet starts to get involved with this obsessive quest by first interfering with Scott Lang’s dreams and then eventually possessing his body like a demon. I was half expecting Sam and Dean Winchester to show up and shoot Scott with some rock salt.
Hank is so obsessed with his quest that he’s willing to send his own daughter into harm’s way by sending her to get the piece that’s needed to stabilize the quantum tunnel. And then when confronted with the ghosts of his past—literally and figuratively—he selfishly fights off poor Ghost to get Janet (have I mentioned she made a sacrifice on that mission?) back at the expense of Ghost dying in a horribly inhumane way. Ghost wants to get healed from her painful shifting around. Her methods MIGHT kill Janet (who, again, sacrifice), but Ghost is for sure going to die if nothing goes her way. To make a loose literary analogy, Hank is Captain Ahab, Janet is the white whale (which is a funny photoshop idea), and poor Scott is Ishmael.
Yes, Hank’s obsessive quest sweeps up Scott Lang, the guy he wanted nothing to do with because Scott sinned against him by going to help Captain America. Because of Scott’s actions, he has an ankle monitor and an FBI parole team keeping tabs on him. Ankle monitor and FBI…HANK DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT. Scott is literally days away from being free. Hank needs his connection to Janet because that’s all that matters: He wants Janet at the expense of the well-being of others.
And as my friends on the podcast pointed out (really! Go listen!), Hank Pym has a history of spousal abuse. All around not a great guy.
If Ant-Man and the Wasp are the bad guys, who is the hero of the story? Some of the best superhero movies focus on someone who is relatable in a lot of ways. They have struggles. They’re vulnerable. And when they are gifted with superpowers, they’re still ultimately like one of us. And who is the most like that in this movie? Ghost.
There was something I recognized in Ghost that I’ve seen in myself, my family members, and many others I’ve talked to who are afflicted with a chronic illness. I (and a lot of my family) have Lyme Disease. I’ve gone through the gamut of treatments that have ranged from try to completely cure me to just being able to relieve the pain. I’ve talked to other people afflicted with Lyme. One of the most harrowing stories I heard was from a woman who, at the worst of her sickness, was bed-ridden in a dark room because movement and light caused immense pain. After she improved, she told me if she was walking from her car to the store and it was raining in the parking lot, she wouldn’t pull out her umbrella or run. Why? She was grateful just to be able to feel the rain on her skin again.
Does that not sound like something Ava Starr would say? The desperation she had to be cured was incredibly relatable. And while she is arguably on her own obsessive quest like Hank is, she asked for none of this (see: Janet’s sacrifice). Her affliction is more than likely Hank’s fault anyway. Not only was she cursed with this painful phasing disease, she was then used by S.H.I.E.L.D. to become a ruthless killer thanks to—oh yeah—HER DISEASE. She is searching for a cure and for a normal life. Do we see her do actual harm to innocents throughout the movie? I’ll have to watch it again, but I don’t recall her actually doing anything evil.
Granted, Hank and Janet weren’t necessarily doing anything “evil.” However, their motivations and methods in the movie drew no sympathy from me at all. While they ultimately end up helping Ghost, they take dishonorable paths to get there. Ant-Man and the Wasp didn’t have any global or universal implications in the story, and the same could be said about whoever you think was the bad guy in the movie. The best bad guys are the ones with complicated and complex personalities, which makes Hank and Janet decent villains in the movie. By no means will they always be the bad ones, but in this particular story, I was more on Ghost’s side than theirs.