A widescreen look at fathers and daughtersWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
Stories about the special bond between fathers and their daughters are not the usual stuff of which blockbuster movies are made. Such father-daughter tales can be complex, dramatic, moving or even funny, and they’re ideally suited to the indie film festival circuit. However, they lack the sense of widescreen spectacle that producers of big-budget movies hope will fill the seats at the Cineplex.
Be that as it may, Marvel Studios, for one, has enjoyed enough critical and financial success to take a few creative risks. Witness Ant-Man and the Wasp, a quirky, funny, good-hearted film, and relatively small in scope as superhero movies go. In place of the typical cosmic struggle between mythic forces of good and evil, the film is built around three very different (and very human) father-daughter relationships, plus the healing love of a wife and mother connected to them all.
[Spoiler alert: this article discusses themes, plot and characters from Ant-Man and the Wasp. If you’re planning to see the film and haven’t yet, you might wish to do so before reading further.]
Searching for a lost wife and mother
The mending of damaged relationships (and people) is at the heart of Ant-Man and the Wasp, as told via the three interconnected stories of fathers and daughters. The pair with the longest history and deepest hurt – stretching back to the first Ant-Man movie – is Dr. Hank Pym, a retired superhero and scientist, and his equally brilliant and heroic daughter Hope van Dyne, the Wasp of the title. Hank and Hope lost their wife and mother, Janet van Dyne, when Hope was just seven. Janet was a superhero in her own right, and she sacrificed herself to save millions of lives, thereby becoming trapped forever in a subatomic universe called the Quantum Realm.
The tragedy left Hank a bitter and broken man who withdrew
from his daughter physically and emotionally when she needed him most, and
bundled her off to boarding school. In turn, Hope grew up to be a hardened
overachiever who ousted and replaced her father at his own high-tech company.
It took years for them to share their grief and pain with each other, and to
begin dissolving the barriers they’d erected. But beyond that, the discovery
that Janet may yet be alive and could be rescued has bonded them with a new
sense of purpose as they search for their wife and mom.
It’s to the film’s credit that it doesn’t wallow in bitterness, or demonize either father or daughter. Even Hank, who can be an acquired taste, is not unsympathetic. Both he and Hope are smart, flawed people with a strong moral compass, rebuilding their relationship and pursuing their goal with a renewed bond of respect and love. Theirs is the most mature relationship in the movie, a testimony to the fact that repentance and reconciliation are possible even after decades of hurt.
Starting over as a single father
In sharp contrast to Hope and Hank is the relationship between Scott Lang, the titular Ant-Man, and his little daughter Cassie, who’s about the same age as Hope was when she lost her mom. Scott is an easygoing guy, more of a practical problem solver than a theoretical scientist. He’s also impulsive and idealistic, and his rash choices in the past have cost him his job, his first marriage to Cassie’s mom, and his budding romance with Hope. He’s spent time in prison and is under house arrest at the start of the movie, courtesy of the FBI. Cassie lives with her mother and stepfather, and visits her dad on weekends.
But Scott, too, has been turning his life around, working hard to rebuild his relationships, to regain the trust of those closest to him, and to balance all of that with his responsibilities as a superhero. During the course of the film, he becomes a key to rescuing Janet van Dyne from the Quantum Realm, which brings him back into the sphere of Hope and Hank. And through it all, Cassie remains devoted to him with the innocent love that only a small child can muster.
Once again, the movie steers clear of easy stereotypes about families affected by divorce. It doesn’t choose sides or assign blame. In fact, Scott’s ex-wife and her husband are quite supportive of his new direction, and welcome his ongoing presence in their family, and especially in Cassie’s life.
Most refreshing of all, Scott isn’t portrayed as the standard bumbling buffoon of a parent, nor is Cassie the sardonic, eye-rolling child who’s too cool for the room. Their relationship is sweet without being sentimental. Scott is a thoughtful and loving dad who prepares creative play dates to delight his little girl. He builds elaborate cardboard forts in his living room for her, and lets her into his life at a level she can comprehend. In return, Cassie drops the occasional truth bomb on her dad with guileless, childlike insight. If Hank and Hope’s relationship is the most mature, Scott and Cassie’s is the most endearing.
Fostering a troubled daughter
The third and most problematic father-daughter pairing in Ant-Man and the Wasp is between the film’s ostensible villain, Ava Starr, and her surrogate father, Bill Foster, a former colleague of Hank Pym. Ava is an orphan who lost her parents in an accident, once again involving the Quantum Realm. The accident gave her amazing powers to become invisible and intangible, like a ghost. But the effect has also left her in chronic pain and is slowly killing her. After the accident, Bill took her in and raised her as his own, teaching her to control her abilities and manage her pain, and working to find a cure for her condition.
Ava is not evil, in fact she’s a fairly empathetic young woman, but her situation has made her angry and desperate. Learning that Janet van Dyne is still alive in the Quantum Realm, she gets Bill to construct a device that will siphon quantum energy from Janet to Ava, thereby curing her. Bill discovers this will kill Janet, but Ava no longer cares. When Bill tries to stop her, she savagely tosses him aside and proceeds with the plan.
The viewer’s heart breaks for Bill, who’s poured his life and love into this troubled child, apparently to no avail. But it also breaks for Ava, an essentially decent person whose dreadful circumstances have driven her to become something rather dark.
A mother’s restorative love
At the climax of the film, the three father-daughter stories converge on the person of Janet van Dyne, alive and still trapped in the Quantum Realm. After pinpointing her location, Hank, far past his physical prime, is the one who enters the harsh environment to rescue his long-lost wife.
But there’s an element of apprehension here. What might 30 years in the Quantum Realm, alone and in a living death, do to a person? What shape will Janet be in after all this time?
Pretty good, as it turns out. She’s older, to be sure, but strong and radiant and in perfect health. She has survived – and flourished – due to her intelligence, her ingenuity, and her unflagging hope that she’d one day be rescued and reunited with her family. In fact, when Hank begins to succumb to the effects of the Quantum Realm, Janet is the one who saves him and helps him get back to the outside world. She does, however, advise him that her time in the subatomic universe has changed her in ways that Hank cannot begin to imagine.
The truth of this becomes apparent almost immediately, when Janet encounters Ava, whose condition has become grave. In a sublime moment of mercy and kindness, Janet reaches out and touches Ava, transferring some of her quantum energy to her, stabilizing her condition and saving her life. What Ava sought to take by force, Janet gives her freely. In the wake of this grace, Ava comes to her senses, rejects her villainous ways and reconciles with her adoptive father Bill.
For people of faith, it’s hard to miss the parallels to Jesus’ ministry, particularly His healing of the woman with the discharge of blood, which the Lord described as power and virtue having gone out from Him (Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
At the same time, Janet is far more than just the key to Ava’s recovery. She’s the wife and mom that everyone in the movie has been searching for. She’s the final restorative piece whose love reconnects Hank and Hope and Scott (and even Cassie, in a sense) into a vibrant new family unit.
Rather than titanic battles between gods and monsters, Ant-Man and the Wasp offers the complex, beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking bond between fathers and daughters. In place of a megalomaniacal antagonist, the film reveals a broken woman, saved and restored by the kindness of another. At its heart, it’s a story about hope and healing instead of revenge and retribution, somewhat off the beaten path for movies of this type.
Those are all welcome additions to the thematic palette of big-budget adventure movies. One can only hope that other films of the genre will take them up and develop them in wonderful new ways in years to come.
[Note: this article does not constitute an endorsement of the movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp, by Focus on the Family Canada. Consult the full review at Plugged In to help you determine whether Ant-Man and the Wasp is appropriate for you or your family.]
© 2019 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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