I’m a little late to the table, but I finally saw Antman and the Wasp. And I think it’s my favorite movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Why? Here are three reasons: (1) It gives us a small story instead of a big one. (2) It is centered on family in a way we don’t often see in other MCU films. (3) It is the least violent MCU movie to date. Beyond that, it’s hilarious and fun, from beginning to end. Give us more of this, please.
Antman and the Wasp is refreshingly small stakes
I have often complained that nearly every superhero tale these days involves a villain bent on destroying the world, and if that’s not ambitious enough, the entire universe (or, perhaps, half of it). The ever-increasing stakes of these stories is sometimes deafening — when every story involves the potential destruction of the world (or universe), it becomes harder to care. It becomes almost a trope, a template with little resonance. Just another occasion to save the world from some baddie who wants to end it all. The details may differ, but the story rarely does.
There are exceptions, of course. Spiderman: Homecoming was another refreshing example of a small-stakes story, where the villain is merely a local smuggler who has no aspirations for global domination or destruction. He just wants to survive in an increasingly competitive marketplace and provide for his family. He just chooses unfortunate avenues for doing so, and in ways that endanger others, and so Peter Parker is forced to stop him.
Antman and the Wasp was — refreshingly — even smaller in stakes than both its predecessor (the first Antman movie) and Spiderman: Homecoming. In fact, the entire plot of this movie is driven by an intensely personal story that could have worked without villains at all: Find Hope’s mom without getting caught breaking house arrest. That’s an incredible small-stakes story, even if the stakes are huge and personal for the characters. And that’s what makes this work. You can tell stories that matter to the characters, and if you are a good writer, you can make those stories matter to the audiences too, without somehow threatening the world in the process.
Captain America: Civil War played with this as well. It gave us a story that — on the surface — looked like it was about saving the world, but it turned out to be something far more personal and local. It turned out that the world was never really at stake, but the interpersonal relationships between the characters was now fractured as a consequence of the events of the movie. That’s another example of a “small” story that is still meaningful. (Although I think that Antman and the Wasp did it better.)
I want more of this. I want superhero stories where the stakes are much more plausible, much more relatable, much more personal, than a bunch of good guys fighting a bad guys who want to destroy things. And so Antman and the Wasp wins on this account.
Antman and the Wasp focuses on family
Antman and the Wasp also gives us a superhero with a family. Most superhero movies (at least in the MCU) don’t give us this — at the most, they give us love interests. The idea of any among this pantheon of superheros — Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanov, Tony Stark, Wanda Maximoff, Carol Danvers, Peter Quill, etc. — being not merely powered individuals saving the world, but also mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, is virtually inconceivable. To date, I know of only one exception: Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye. When we were introduced to Barton’s wife and children in Avengers: Age of Ultron, it was incredibly refreshing. (And this almost didn’t even happen.)
(There are hints that Tony Stark may have a child in the next Avengers movie, but these rumors are unconfirmed.)
In contrast, Scott Lang has a young daughter, and a supportive ex-wife (and her new husband). And the movie places the emotional center of the story on those relationships. But that’s not all: Scott Lang’s love interest and superhero partner has both a mother and a father, who in former days tag-teamed (as husband and wife) as a superhero duo of their own. The movie focuses on those family dynamics as well. In a world almost devoid of family (at least among the main characters), this is tremendous step forward. And it adds personal stakes to the stories in a way that mere love interests do not. It adds not merely the thrust of “romantic love” or “infatuation” to the characters and their story arcs, but weight of duty, commitment, and familial loyalty as well.
As Latter-day Saints, we believe that family is central to God’s plan for His children. We have already a pantheon of exemplars and role models on how to be stellar single people saving the world. I would love to see more role models and exemplars of superheros learning to not only be heroes, but also how to father and mother their children, be better spouses, and build strong homes as well. Antman and the Wasp is a huge, positive step in that direction. More of this please. Gives us stories of heroes who know that the greatest work they will ever do — regardless of their powers or other responsibilities — will be within the walls of their own homes.
Antman and the Wasp might be the least violent MCU movie to date
I may be wrong, because we don’t actually know whether every single nameless henchman in the movie survived the various fights that took place, but I don’t recall a single character in the movie dying, on screen or otherwise. Not even Spiderman: Homecoming can claim a death toll of zero. But I think Antman and the Wasp can. And that was also refreshing. Sure, there’s gun fights, fist fights, ant fights, etc. But the movie — with its small stakes story — didn’t feel the need to kill anybody to make the dangers feel real. (Ok, yeah, some ants died, but that’s different.)
There were three groups of villains, who each played a role in attempting to thwart the plans of the protagonists: (1) A tech dealer and his armed henchmen, who want Hank Pym’s technology to sell. These were the most violent bunch, but they don’t actually succeed in killing anyone in the movie. (2) A “ghost” girl who wants Hank Pym’s technology to help cure herself. She and her adoptive father turn out to be far less villainous by the end, and end up becoming friends with the protagonists. (3) The FBI, who just want to catch Scott Lang breaking house arrest. These good-natured agents are just doing their job.
None of these groups pose as a threat to civilians generally. All three attempt to thwart the protagonists, but the latter two are what you might call “benevolent” villains, people who are in conflict with the protagonists but who aren’t bad people for it. They just have conflicting interests and responsibilities.
I would say that I wish there were more superhero films like this: more family, more personal stakes (and less global stakes), and less violence. Antman and the Wasp shines out as one of the more funny, fun, and sincere installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Scott Lang’s friend Luis is hilarious, and he gets plenty of moments to shine as comedic relief. The movie has some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments.
But in the end, I just want more superhero films where characters use their superhero abilities to be better fathers and mothers, better husbands and better wives, better doctors, better mailmen, better plumbers, better teachers, better anything other than fighting baddies. I’m weary of the trope that if you have some special ability above the general population, you must put that to use fighting crime or evil villains. Why not put it to use saving lives in the operating room? Or raising up the next generation of kids as a teacher? Or literally anything else.
Show us an example of heroes we can actually relate to, who have aspirations much more like our own, who aren’t (by virtue of some unique ability) thrust into a fictional battle of gods and villains bent on destroying everything. Show us that being good is more than wearing the right jersey in a cosmic battle of wills. Give kids stories of heros aspiring to be astronauts and doctors and lawyers and plumbers, who take gifts given to them to serve their community and touch lives in ways kids can actually see as within their reach, powers or not.