Family Matters in Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp
Marvel execs faced a big decision when deciding what film to release immediately following Avengers: Infinity War—the comic book movie event of not only the year, but the culmination of a decade’s worth of MCU preparation. In a bold move that may have caused some raised eyebrows among fans, they opted for a movie about Ant-Man—their smallest hero, and one of the only Marvel superheroes not to appear in Infinity War. With a plot that very literally focuses on a topic so small it would hardly make a blip on the radar of an Infinity War-sized scope, Ant-Man and the Wasp reminds us that not every hero has to save the world, and fulfilling one’s personal calling might look insignificant to the outside world, but, ultimately, be the most significant quality of all.
If you’re unfamiliar with 2015’s Ant-Man, you might not know that the title character, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), is an ex-con—a stick-it-to-the-man burglar who was caught, spent time behind bars, and later reformed his life when he took up with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Dr. Pym’s daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Hank and Hope turned Scott into Ant-Man in order to prevent a super-soldier disaster—a perversion of Dr. Pym’s research—and in the process he reconciled with his ex-wife and her new fiance, and found a way to be part of his young daughter’s life again.In perhaps an eerily prescient move for this day and time in America, Marvel reveals the importance of intact families—wherever we might find them.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (directed by Peyton Reed) picks up three years later, with Scott Lang once again in trouble with the law. This time, though, he’s under house arrest rather than on probation (due to his involvement in the airport throw down in Germany during Captain America: Civil War). Scott violated the Sokovia Accords when he fought alongside Cap, and landed in house arrest. Despite being confined to his home, his ex-wife and her now husband (Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale), and Scott’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), love him—viewing him as a misunderstood hero and a true Avenger. But this isn’t enough for Scott, who recognizes he screwed up in his primary calling as a father. He can’t be a good dad, really, while under house arrest. Furthermore, his actions during Civil War cost him his relationship with his mentor Hank, and with Hope.
Scott’s had three years to think about his actions when Ant-Man and the Wasp opens, and he’s come to the conclusion he made in the first film: he’s a father first, and his relationship with Cassie must be his top priority.
But here is where everything goes sideways for Scott Lang, because he’s not the only Ant-Man in the movie, and not the only one with a family to put back together. Hank Pym lost his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) to the Quantum Realm thirty years prior, and now Hank believes a connection between Scott and Janet might facilitate her return. Three days shy of Scott’s sentence being up, Hope (having taken up her mother’s mantel as the Wasp) kidnaps Scott and brings him to Hank’s lab to solicit his help to retrieve her mother—and there is virtually nothing Scott can do about it. Dogged by villains who want quantum energy for their own purposes, Scott, Hope, and Hank race against time to save Janet before it’s too late—and before the feds notice Scott is no longer home.
Sometimes, it’s hard for Scott to know which decision is the right decision, especially as he’s torn between competing goods. It is good for him to be a father to Cassie, who needs him. It is also good for him to reconcile with his mentor and with Hope—even as he asks repeatedly for them to take him back to his house so he can finish his sentence. But when Scott realizes Hank and Hope need him to put their own family back together, he must make a difficult choice to do something good for his friends at the risk of great personal cost. His willingness to lay down his own needs—to give possibly everything he has left—to help them is what truly defines Scott Lang as a hero.
Elevation of family does not always make for a hero. In the MCU, we watched as one character put his family first, to the point of elevating it as a idol in his life. The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming used his love for his family as an excuse and justification for a multitude of crimes against others. For the Vulture, his family came first—they were the highest good. But this is idolatry (as Geoffrey Reiter further examines here), and to worship something—even something that is a God-given good, like family—at this level will inevitably lead to villainy. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, Scott is tempted toward this idolatry. He is in very real danger of losing Cassie forever. Yet, he pities both his mentor and Hope, and he chooses to act in many ways as an antithesis to the Vulture’s perspective. Scott recognizes that family is good, and not just his family. If he insisted on his family first, he would turn into a character like the Vulture, but he doesn’t. In perhaps an eerily prescient move for this day and time in America, Marvel reveals the importance of intact families—wherever we might find them. And that it is not us first over them, but that families should be together, even if we must risk and sacrifice our own comfort and safety to help them be so—a subject that holds major ramifications for not just our current political climate, but the state of Christianity in America, as well.
Furthermore, Scott doesn’t idolize Cassie—he loves her and cherishes her. He values her opinion and brings her into his confidence in ways both appropriate and humbling for a father-daughter relationship. When he needs to leave her to help someone else put their family back together, Scott sits and talks with her about the cost. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a movie that recognizes parents are above children in authority, while also communicating that children should be treated as human beings, as image bearers, and valuable members of the family unit. By contrast, from the first movie, Hank Pym’s failure to treat Hope in this manner after the disappearance of Janet into the Quantum Realm led to estrangement from his daughter for most of their lives.
Everyone in Ant-Man and the Wasp seems to have faith that Scott can not only balance fatherhood and being a superhero, but that he can put back together severed relationships. In this sense, Scott’s journey is an inward voyage, literally, but smaller isn’t any less important or less heroic, and it never has been. While the rest of the Avengers are off trying to save the world (and, by the way, failing), Scott is figuring out his calling. He’s figuring out that saving the world begins in the home with families and individuals and relationships. And that what is good for us must never be held by us in a closed fist.
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Sounds interesting! I only skimmed through it to avoid spoilers, but I plan to read it once I’ve seen the film.
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