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‘Ant-Man and The Wasp’ Has a Refreshingly Nuanced Take on Villainy

Marvel's latest action-comedy has a surprisingly nuanced take on bad guys and villainous behavior.

Danielle Riendeau

All images courtesy Marvel

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Story spoilers for Ant-Man and the Wasp Ahead, though I keep it vague.

I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp this weekend. It was fun! While the first film left me a little cold (it was fine, just not mind-blowing) the sequel worked much better for me, with better pacing, more dynamic action, and a slightly more nuanced approach to the old superhero chestnut: the villains.

There are a few antagonist figures in Ant-Man and the Wasp. One is an asshole businessman who looks a little like James Marsden if he was in an early 80s Cronenberg movie with a slightly melted head. All he cares about is money and moving weapons. Another is a mysterious figure who can phase through normal matter. Still another is a scientist who is trying to help said ghostly figure. I’ll keep it very vague, but the rich guy is a total asshole, and the other two have actual, complicated relationships to their villainous status.

A scene that made me respect this movie 100 times more than I expected to involved an exchange between the mysterious figure and the scientist. It turns out, her condition is painful and killing her slowly, and she’s desperate to find a cure. Said cure might lie with the rescue efforts of Hank Pym (the super-scientist who invented all the shrinking/enlarging technology that gives Ant-Man and the Wasp their amazing powers). Ghost, in a fit of desperation, threatens to go after Ant-Man’s young daughter.

The scientist, calmly, explains that if she goes that route, they’re done. He won’t help her find a cure, he won’t be involved. He draws a clear, immutable line between what is acceptable and what isn’t, and he stands by it. Ghost is frustrated, but she doesn’t cross that line.

So, no, they aren’t traditional supervillains. Instead, they are complicated, believable humans acting in a way that’s consistent with their morals and motivations. There is a reckoning with some of their shittier behavior later on in the movie as well, and something like catharsis.

I know this isn’t unheard of in the genre, but I genuinely didn’t expect a fairly complex moral examination from Ant-Man and the Wasp, branded, such as it is, as the lightest of the goofy action-comedies of the MCU. Ghost’s motivations are extreme, but understandable: she’s sick, she’s dying, and the pain has made her desperate. The scientist is willing to do plenty of gnarly things to make her better—but he sure as hell isn’t going to let an innocent kid get hurt. He won’t stoop so low, as awful as the situation is.

My last note on the movie: Randall Park (famous for playing the wonderfully dorky dad in Fresh off the Boat) has a truly wonderful turn as a hapless FBI agent. He steals every scene he is in, and my god, he has some of the best jokes in the movie.

Ok, readers, how about you? Is there a movie or game you’ve engaged with lately that had a pleasant surprise in terms of its treatment of villains? Sound off in the comments!