Ant-Man and the Wasp is a decent summer movie. It’s got great action, funny quips, and a giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser that knocks a guy off his motorcycle. Unfortunately, I left the theater disappointed. The movie focused so much on physical feats, both gargantuan and microscopic, that it forgot all about a very specific emotional arc the movie really could have used: A compelling mother-daughter relationship.
The movie focuses on Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as they try to get Hope’s mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), back from the Quantum Realm. This is both the movie’s plot and its plot device, as villains with various motives scramble to snatch the quantum technology Hope and Hank created for the mission.
However, as much as the movie cares to get Janet back, it never cares why. Hope’s relationship with her mother is not part of the movie, even though her rescue is the whole reason the movie exists. Hell, their relationship is barely mentioned—apart from the “Jellybean” nickname, we know nothing about these women, their bond, or how it felt to be separated for over 30 years. Come on, Hope has literally taken her mother’s mantle, putting on the costume Hank designed for her all those decades ago, and it’s treated as little more than a passing thought. This is not only frustrating, it’s a missed opportunity.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had some interesting father-child relationships over the years: Thor and Odin, T’Chaka and T’Challa, Scott Lang and Cassie, even Thanos and Gamora (for all its problems). But it’s never been great when it comes to its moms. Apart from Queen Ramonda and Aunt May, who we’ll consider a motherly figure in this case, most of the moms in the MCU either don’t exist or are unceremoniously killed off, with a couple notable exceptions, of course. Even though Frigga had more screen time in Thor: The Dark World, the mom we tend to remember the most is Meredith Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy Vols. 1 and 2, given her importance to the plot and Peter Quill’s emotional journey.
In fact, I feel like that’s what was missing from Ant-Man and the Wasp: something similar to the relationship Star-Lord had with his mom. She may have died within the first few minutes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, but Meredith Quill has lingered throughout the series. Not only through her mixtapes, but also through Star-Lord’s relationships with his chosen family. Star-Lord loves his mom and lets that love permeates throughout his life, and the films aren’t afraid to give him time to explore that onscreen. Why doesn’t the Wasp get the same thing? Even just one scene, giving Lilly the space to show Hope’s emotional complexity as well as her physical grace?
In the second Guardians film, we learn even more about Meredith Quill through Ego, as father and son reminisce about the woman both of them loved and lost. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, we don’t really get that kind of moment. Hank and Hope don’t sit down and have a meaningful conversation about Janet, a woman equally important in both of their lives. Hope doesn’t tell her dad how it’s felt growing up without a mother, or how she appreciates everything he’s done in her absence. Hank kind of shares his regrets about letting her go, but sort of in passing, when a deeper dive would’ve played well into the ultimate decision to have him go to the Realm to rescue her. Really, apart from the opening flashback, the only time we get anything resembling an emotional connection to Janet is when it’s filtered through Scott (Paul Rudd).
In a way, it makes sense—there needs to be a reason for him to exist in this movie—but it does lessen the impact. For example, in the only scene where Hope actually talks about Janet with another human, she asks Scott if her mom will remember her after being in the Quantum Realm for so long. That’s a legitimate question, and a scary thought. But, the more I thought about it, the less I saw it as a serious moment of emotional turmoil and more as a writing trick used so Scott could relate to her using his own experiences with his daughter, because we didn’t have anything else to relate it to. On the screen, Hope’s relationship with her mother is limited to a red wardrobe, a goodbye, and a nickname. That’s not enough. I’m not asking for much, just a few extra scenes to make us care about what’s happening and who it’s affecting. Some heart to balance the humor. Guardians did it really well, and Ant-Man and the Wasp could have, too.
I’d ask whether this would’ve happened with a male character, but we already know the answer to that: It wouldn’t. Not even in this movie. Scott’s relationship with his daughter, which repeats some of the same beats from the first Ant-Man, is given more screen time than Hope’s with both her mother and her father. Granted, it was nice to see how their bond has grown over the years—and I loved seeing Scott’s healthy relationship with his ex-wife and her fiancé—but it doesn’t have nearly the emotional weight of Hope reuniting with her mom after two decades. Or, at least it shouldn’t. Sadly, Ant-Man and the Wasp didn’t give their long-awaited reunion the time or space it needed to actually mean something.