When it comes to male characters, Marvel likes keeping all its options open. So many superheroes have joined the cast of Captain America: Civil War that some joked franchise star Chris Evans "will make a cameo" in the film. Yet for some reason, Marvel keeps asking audiences to settle for just a handful of female characters in each movie.
Ant-Man, released this Friday, is the latest to skimp on women, with a frustrating backstory that makes its omissions even worse.
Of the 22 named characters in the film, five are women; go further down the list and roles like "Spanish Woman," "Pool BBQ Mom" and "Gorgeous Blonde" show up. But Ant-Man the comic book character has a 50-year history with an incredibly popular female partner: the Wasp. This missing character isn't just a fun sidekick: She's the key to the history of the Avengers franchise.
Given the $1.5 billion the first Avengers film made worldwide and the $1.4 billion Avengers: Age of Ultron grossed this spring, you've probably heard of the superhero crew. Whedon lets a quippy Tony Stark name the Avengers in the movies, but Ant-Man the comic introduces the lady who's really behind the moniker — sort of.
The Wasp, Janet van Dyne, is a flying, size-changing, energy-blasting superhero with a sharp wit and several tenures as leader of the Avengers throughout the decades. She's a survivor of emotional abuse and domestic violence. She balances her superheroing with a successful career in fashion. She both recognizes a frozen Captain America when he's discovered and bestows the name "the Avengers" on the team that rescues him.
She spends the events of the Ant-Man movie dead.
A missed opportunity: When news broke last year that the Wasp would not make an appearance in Ant-Man, fans were already aggravated by a troubled production and the departure of original director Edgar Wright. Then star Michael Douglas (Hank Pym) told Entertainment Weekly that a "tragic personal accident" had claimed van Dyne, Pym's wife, during the process of building his super-powered Ant-Man suit, which provides him with a well-trodden character arc. Fans quickly dubbed her offing a #JanetVanCrime, a hashtag that's still active:
At first, fans retained some optimism. Evangeline Lilly plays a character named Hope van Dyne, daughter of the Wasp and the original Ant-Man, but some early reviews, like this one from IndieWire, indicate that she may never take off the way fans had hoped:
"Ant-Man" frustratingly goes out of its way to ensure Hope van Dyne is not the hero of the story, even though all signs in the movie point to her being the best and most suitable candidate to suit up into the Ant-Man costume. She even trains Lang almost every step of the way; she's truly the logical choice to save the day. But the movie takes the long way home and draws a circuitous and convoluted narrative path to guarantee it's Lang that takes the mantle instead.
This isn't the first time the Wasp has been left on the cutting room floor. Director Joss Whedon, a noted fan of the character, tried to include her in 2012's The Avengers. But that would have meant sacrificing time for Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, apparently.
No excuses: Marvel knows better. From peerless spy Black Widow to Iron Man's assistant-turned-CEO Pepper Potts to pioneering astrophysicist Jane Foster from Thor, excellent women have graced the MCU from the beginning. Marvel's TV offerings especially have been delights, with ladies leading the way in every regard on Agents of SHIELD. In fact, Ant-Man features a cameo from one of the very best parts of the MCU: Captain America's Peggy Carter, played by the outspokenly feminist Hayley Atwell, who proved so popular she's about to headline the second season of her own TV show.
Marvel Studios and its chief, Kevin Feige, have taken a lot of grief for the sameness of its franchise's main cast: The leads of Thor, Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy are all white men named Chris, and the other movies star Caucasian guys named Robert, Edward and now Paul. The cast of next spring's Captain America: Civil War keeps swelling. Why can't more of its players be women?
We've been promised a female headliner in 2018's Captain Marvel, for which no casting has been announced, and Ant-Man director Peyton Reed has given bland "It would be great!" answers about giving the Wasp a hypothetical solo movie. Feige has left the door open for further development of the character and her mantle. Yet the elusive Black Widow feature for which fans have been clamoring for years, featuring a known property and beloved character, seems dead in the water — a discouraging precursor to such promises.
The Wasp founded and named the Avengers in 1963. There's no reason Ant-Man should give an original member of the Avengers — now the only one without her own movie — less agency in 2015.