Ant-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Part Two: Diversity

Hey guys, welcome to the second of three posts discussing Ant-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first post used Ant-Man to open up a larger discussion about the MCU’s villains, and this one is going to use the movie to talk about the MCU’s character diversity.

Spoilers ahead, not just for Ant-Man, but for everything that’s been released so far in the MCU. This includes all twelve movies and its three current television series.

I’ll start off with a brief author’s note: While these three posts are definitely looking at the MCU in a critical light, they’re being written by a guy who loves all of the movies (with the exception of the horrid Captain America: The First Avenger). I can watch them over and over, and frequently do (Note: I’m actually rewatching Guardians of the Galaxy while editing this). So what I’m doing here isn’t meant to read as paragraphs of hate. I just think it’s okay to love something and still recognize its faults, and discuss them. In some ways, it can give a greater appreciation of the material. And seeing what’s lacking is a great way to know what you want from the future. Some of the problems I’m going to mention here are looking to be addressed by Marvel in their Phase Three slate of films. And that’s something to get psyched about.

Let’s look at Ant-Man real quick, and be a little critical. Scott Lang, our hero, is not at all prepared for the task that’s been handed to him by Hank Pym. However, Hank’s daughter, Hope, is more than capable of doing everything Scott is being trained to do. She’s an ass-kicking, intelligent, free-thinking woman whose role in this movie is to train a man with little skills to outshine her and do what should be her job. I’m oversimplifying, of course–the movie attempts to give us an explanation about why she’s being sidelined, but it feels hollow. Lying to protect the women in our lives is a storytelling trope that is not only borderline sexist (women are weak and must be protected from men’s secrets) but supremely overused in the superhero genre (see: Arrow, The Flash, original Spider-Man trilogy). Hank’s objection to Hope using the suit because it’s dangerous is not only overdone, but it’s also boring at this point. Let the women kick some ass, too.

Black Widow’s role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of my favorite aspects of the film. She is just as much the star of the show as Cap; she plays it as less of a sidekick, more of a partner, and she dominates her many action scenes. Granted, Avengers: Age of Ultron works hard to eliminate the victories given to her character, but the less said about that the better. (Really, Black Widow is a damsel in distress? Really, Whedon?!)

Looking at the movies up til Ant-Man, our lack of women superheroes is rather glaring. We’ve got Black Widow, Gamora, Scarlet Witch, anddddd that’s it. None of these women headline their own movie. They’re all part of larger ensembles led by men. How did we get an Ant-Man movie before a Black Widow solo feature? Or Captain Marvel? And yes, I know Captain Marvel is getting her own movie…in 2018. We’re getting another Avengers movie, a third Thor film, and a third Captain America movie before we’re getting a movie led by a woman in the MCU. I mean, no matter how you view that, it’s incredibly odd. In a culture clamoring for a female led superhero film, Marvel’s seeming reluctance to put one out is foolish. DC’s film universe is still insanely premature, but they smartly announced a Wonder Woman solo flick right away, to be released only a year after their big Batman v. Superman picture.

Fortunately, we can look to the small screen if we want female led stories from the MCU. Agent Carter on ABC is gearing up for its second season, and Jessica Jones has a show coming to Netflix later this year. These are both steps in the right direction for Marvel, and I applaud them for it. But I want to see more of it!

In the mid credits scene of Ant-Man, Hope is given the Wasp costume, teasing her transition to superhero in sequel movies. Again, definitely a step in the right direction. I can’t help but feel like Hope speaks for everybody when she says, “About damn time.”

Moving away from gender, let’s look at race for a bit. Ant-Man is a white male–surprise! Did you expect anything else after eleven other movies about white male superheroes? I’m particularly fond of the way The AV Club puts it, observing that out of twelve movies, “seven movies [are centered] on white guys named Chris.”

After twelve movies and three TV shows in the MCU, we only have two black superheroes: War Machine and Falcon. Maybe three, if you count Deathlok on Agents of SHIELD…which, by the way, are we counting Agents of SHIELD? Cause Joss Whedon sure isn’t. Some people are going to want to make a case for a fourth in the name of Gamora, since Zoe Saldana, the actress who plays her, is black. I’d agree, if Gamora wasn’t, y’know, a green-skinned alien.

Anyway, back to War Machine and Falcon. War Machine is basically Iron Man’s sidekick, and he’s also an Iron Man knockoff. He didn’t even make his suit–he stole it from Tony Stark in Iron Man 2. War Machine doesn’t do a whole lot aside from being the butt of jokes and then randomly showing up at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron for an insanely left field deus ex machina–well, left field for anyone not watching Agents of SHIELD.

War Machine in a screenshot from Iron Man 2.

War Machine in a screenshot from Iron Man 2.

Falcon is introduced in the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier. CA:TWS does a lot right in terms of diversifying the MCU. Black Widow gets tons of screen time and scene stealing action set pieces, and the movie brings in Captain America’s best friend, Sam Wilson. The movie introduces Sam with a bang: by the end of the movie, he’s in the Falcon suit, flying around and fighting bad guys beside Cap and Black Widow. Unfortunately, not a lot of screen time is devoted to his character in Age of Ultron. (Sensing a pattern with AoU? Yeah, me too.)

Falcon shows up again in Ant-Man, where he battles Ant-Man (and loses) and then looks to recruit him to the Avengers. At the end of Age of Ultron, Falcon is seen as one of the new Avengers. Thank God for that, because the team was oddly lacking a single non-white member.

Falcon as seen in a character poster for CA:TWS

Falcon as seen in a character poster for CA:TWS

Right about now you may be thinking, “Hey, John, you forgot about Nick Fury!” No, I definitely didn’t…but are we really calling Nick Fury a superhero? I get that Samuel L. Jackson is the man and all, but…no. He wasn’t mentioned for the same reason Heimdall wasn’t mentioned: while yes, they’re black characters in a Marvel movie, they’re not superheroes.

So, we’ve got Falcon and War Machine in the movies, and Deathlok on TV, but none of these three characters are headlining their own movie like Thor is. Marvel looks to change that with Black Panther…in 2018, which is apparently Marvel’s Year of Diversity. Hey, fun fact about that Black Panther movie: it was originally meant to be released in 2017, but was pushed back to make room for another Spider-Man film franchise reboot. Who needs a black superhero when we can have a white superhero franchise rebooted again? I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried!

Black Panther’s character will be introduced next year in Captain America: Civil War. I’d be a lot more hyped about this if he wasn’t also sharing the movie with a gazillion other characters. How much you wanna bet his role in the film was decreased as a result of adding Spider-Man to the mix? I’d wager it’s highly likely.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to talk about Luke Cage. For years and years, a ton of black actors have been lobbying for the role of Luke Cage, trying to get a movie going. Fans have clamored for it. When the black hero later revealed to be Deathlok was shown in the Agents of SHIELD premiere trailer, the internet went bananas, thinking it was Luke Cage. Finally, Marvel announced a Luke Cage show was coming as a part of their deal with Netflix. We’d all just have to wait until 2017. Again, Marvel began their Netflix projects with a show centered on a white man, despite the strong, years-long desire to see Luke Cage as soon as possible. Some fans were excited about the Luke Cage show; others, less so. It seemed Marvel was never going to headline one of their movies with a black superhero. (Note: the announcement for the Luke Cage series came over a year before a Black Panther film was finally announced.)

Moving forward, I’m stoked for the Captain Marvel and Black Panther movies. I’m ready as hell to see Wasp battle alongside Ant-Man. I want more of the Black Widow we saw in CA:TWS, and less of that nonsense we got in Age of Ultron. I also want an expanded role for the Scarlet Witch, because her power set is insane! I can’t wait for the Luke Cage series-I hope it’s as well put together as Daredevil is (Note: let’s face it, Daredevil is the greatest thing currently in the MCU).

I’m tired of white men battling evil and saving everyone. I’m bored of women being sidelined instead of kicking ass. I’m getting a little weirded out by only seeing black superheroes play second string to their white partners. Here’s to hoping Phase Three of the MCU alleviates my fatigue.

My next and final post about Ant-Man and the MCU will be about repeated, tired, storytelling clichés. Look for it to be up within the next few days!


One thought on “Ant-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Part Two: Diversity

  1. Technically one of the first Superhero movies ever was Blade…

    I kind of give Marvel a pass for the Wasp because this project has been in the making for ages and while Ant-man had his own comic book titles, Wasp never did. The downfall of Marvel is that their most diverse characters are all tied up in the X-men rights. They also get a pass for squeezing Spider-man in, because there is a reason for it: Sony is forced to make a Spider-man movie every three years, otherwise they loose the rights. The movie has to come out in this year and Marvel had to build their schedule around it. I also don’t mind them starting out their Netflix run with Daredevil, because he simply is the hero non-comicbook readers will recognize. I am actually more worried that Daredevil itself struggled with underlying racism and sexism.

    I am currently ready to wait for Marvel’s announcement of Phase 3. It will show if the progress they made will actually pay off.


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