In March 2019, the Marvel will finally debut its first female-centric superhero movie when the Brie Larson-starring “Captain Marvel” hits theaters. While it’s already being heralded as a breakthrough for a franchise that has been male dominated, Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” packs its own boundary-pushing punch: The sequel to Reed’s 2015 Paul Rudd vehicle “Ant-Man” is called “Ant-Man and the Wasp” for a reason — it’s a two-handed superhero film that doesn’t just cede its leading role to Rudd, but also pumps up co-star Evangeline Lilly, as Hope Van Dyne, now known as The Wasp, to her own starring role.
It turns out that a female-fronted Marvel movie has arrived ahead of schedule.
That’s no accident. From its opening scene, Reed’s movie harkens back to the tangled comic book genealogy of Ant-Man and the Wasp, as first played by Hope’s parents, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), in Marvel lore. Reed grew up on Hank-and-Janet storylines, and their bond as a superhero duo was something he was eager to bring to the MCU.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp were a duo to me when I was reading the comics as a kid,” Reed said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “That felt like something we hadn’t seen in a Marvel movie, and it’s the logical extension of what we did in the first movie, because Hope is the one who trained Scott in the first movie. … This is cool because in this sort of modern era of hero movies and the MCU in particular, we had not really seen that dynamic, and it seemed really fun to try and do that.”
Of course, the success of “Ant-Man” — which eventually grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide — was far from guaranteed, especially after a drawn-out production process that found Reed replacing original director Edgar Wright. The first movie was saddled with an origin story that made it difficult to develop The Wasp at the same time, but Reed found a way to plant the seed.
“Even before we knew we were going to do a next one, we knew there was stuff we wanted to set up in the first movie,” he said. That included laying the groundwork for Hope to become the Wasp with a mid-credits scene in which her father offers her a brand-new prototype of the suit her own mother used to wear, back when she was a superhero. In a franchise obsessed with teasing big things in post-credits scenes, it was a reveal with actual stakes for the future.
“Being a hero is in her DNA. Both her parents are superheroes,” Reed said. “At the very end of the first movie, [when we] present the suit [to Hope], we knew it’s like, ‘Okay, this is going to be your coming out party.’ There was a time early on when there was a possibility that the Wasp was going to be introduced in ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ and we all agreed that’s no good, because there’s just so many characters to service in that movie, she needs her own thing.”
Lilly has done few interviews for the film’s release, but at a recent press conference for the film, she echoed that sentiment. “It was just fun to finally get to see her take on the mantle, because this is something that she’s been ready and willing to do her, basically her whole life,” Lilly said. “Her parents are both superheroes and she was rearing to get in that suit for an entire film. And we never got there!”
The actress was also eager to see The Wasp get some serious screen time, which the ultra-busy “Civil War” never could have provided.
“Secretly I was like, ‘Hmm, She’s not going to get an origins film,'” she said. “Then when I got a call saying they’ve we’ve decided not to put you in ‘Civil War,’ and there was this moment… and I was like, ‘No-no-no. Are they going to say what I think they’re going to say?’ And then they said what I thought they were going to say, which was, we really want to dedicate a film to introducing this female superhero and we don’t want her just to be a side note in this larger story.”
While Lilly and her Wasp didn’t appear in “Civil War” – a film that helped shape “Ant-Man and the Wasp” to the point that Reed himself has compared his own film to a sequel of that other MCU offering – that allowed Reed’s latest entry to explore her transformation into the superhero on its own terms. When “Ant-Man and the Wasp” opens, Hope has spent nearly two years getting into the role, and it’s one that fits her quite well. In many ways, she doesn’t even need Scott or his Ant-Man anymore.
“She’s not a supporting character,” the director said. “She’s a lead in this movie, and it really is her story.” Lilly invested herself in shaping the character, right down to the character’s appearance (she chose the hairstyle) and her behavior. “Evangeline and I worked really closely together from even the pre-script and story stage to all these basic questions about when she gets the suit and becomes a hero,” Reed said. “Everything from what’s her fighting style to how she moves.”
She had precise demands. “Evangeline kept banging this drum in a great way,” Reed said, recalling that she told him, “I don’t want to be overly glam. That’s not who Hope Van Dyne is. When I fight in the movie, I want to be sweaty, and in terms of my hair when I’m in the suit, I want it to be a clean, practical ponytail, because how is that helmet going to go on and off otherwise?”
Reed, who previously toyed with the constraints and expectations of the romantic comedy genre with “Down With Love,” doesn’t consider the film a rom-com. However, he did turn to some of his old standbys to help frame the dynamic between Hope and Scott, which hedges towards the romantic on occasion, without spending too much time on the lovey-dovey stuff. “I went back and looked at stuff like what I call the holy trinity of romantic comedies: ‘It Happened One Night,’ ‘His Girl Friday,’ and ‘The Philadelphia Story,'” he said. “A whole other era where there was good writing for female characters, and those characters in those movies are smart, and have this mutual respect for each other.”
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe sets its sights on inclusivity, some in the industry may be wary of the change. Rudd was unperturbed. “I imagine there are probably other male actors that play a hero in a movie, and then the second movie comes along, and they might feel threatened by this [dynamic],” Reed said. “I hope I never work with those actors.”
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” hits theaters on Friday, July 6.