Of Insects and Men: ANT-MAN's protected queen, and Marvel's man-sized problem

ant-man-teaser-007-116992“It’s about time.”

And with those three words – delivered by the significantly named Hope (Evangeline Lilly) near, even after, the end of the film’s narrative proper – Ant-Man (2015) both openly acknowledges the androcentrism of the Marvel universe, and defers doing anything about it till a later stage (Phase IV, maybe?). Earlier, the film had expressly mooted the idea of putting Hope herself – the smarter, tougher, all-round better qualified candidate who just happened to be female – into the antsuit, but instead went for Option Penis, for reasons that were, it turns out, patriarchal in the most literal sense: Michael Douglas’ Daddy (himself a former Ant-Man) laying down the lay to protect the princess from the same fate as the former queen. Hank Pym prefers to bequeath his life’s legacy to the criminal son whom he has only just adopted than to the daughter whom he has known and deeply trusted all his life.

It may be about time we got some female supers – but how soon is now? It is all very well and good to know that Marvel is aware of the gender imbalance in its film adaptations – but maybe they should stop reflecting on it, and take a big, bold leap into the present. Those ants, it turns out, are not just good at pushing sugar cubes, but also at eating cake – for here, even as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must lose stature to become Ant-Man, the gender politics remain defiantly man-sized. Even on the subatomic level, this film can’t find a woman – and where mother was braver and more capable, somehow father still, we are told, always know best. This is expressly recognised by the film as a problem, but the obvious solution, far from being introduced, is just left dangling, tantalisingly, for a future venture.

“It’s about time,” indeed – yet even as Ant-Man looks forward to a film more egalitarian than itself, the notion that the sequel may after all just return to the same old male-oriented marvels is suggested by the final four words heard here: “I know a guy.” This film’s gender politics are merely pretend-progressive. Place them under the microscope, and they come up short.

Anton Bitel