Her name is in the title. Her face is on the poster. Ahead of the MCU finally giving fangrrls a female-fronted solo adventure, Hope van Dyne seizes her fair share of the spotlight with Ant-Man and the Wasp. Thankfully, this sensational sequel to 2015's Ant-Man makes some major adjustments to finally gives us a Hope worth believing in.
Spoilers for Ant-Man and the Wasp below.
While Ant-Man was a lot of fun, Hope van Dyne was a total drag. Scott and his ex-con crew got scads of jokes, from silly one-liners to Luis' hysterical motor-mouthed stories, to a training montage that involved some hilarious run-ins with some excitable ants. Dr. Hank Pym and his former protégé Darren Cross got to play the tough guy in one snarling showdown scene after another. All the while, Hope van Dyne existed to be the wet blanket. She rolled her eyes at Scott's goofy charms. She was icy cold toward her heartbroken father. Hope was the humorless nag, a stereotype that the MCU tends to bestow on women surrounded by wise-cracking men. See also Guardians of the Galaxy's Gamora and Nebula, or the Iron Man trilogy's Pepper Potts.
When compared to the macho men of science and the capering crooks of Ant-Man, Hope came off as frigid, stiff, and not much fun at all. In the film's final moments, when Dr. Pym reveals he's made a super suit for her too, she says, "About damn time." This was clearly meant to play to fans hungry for greater female representation in superhero movies. But at the time, I cringed, wondering if this grim Hope could be a captivating heroine. In the first Ant-Man, she felt less like a complex character and more like a crudely constructed puzzle piece for its plot. They needed an inside man who'd be trusted by Cross, but loyal to Pym. And hey, since she's there and female, why not be a love interest for Scott to boot?
Despite one sentimental confessional scene about her long-lost mom, audiences weren't given much reason to connect to or care about Hope. But we were given plenty of reason to see her as the nag always dragging the dudes down. Thankfully in Ant-Man and the Wasp, we see a new Hope van Dyne. Evangeline Lilly reprises the role. But Hope's stiffness and nagging shtick are gone, as are her severe bob and blandly prim office wear. Set about two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Hope shows up on the scene with that awful hair grown out. She still favors dark clothes, but now with a casual elegance that is as enviable as it is alluring. She seems more at ease with herself, more relaxed. But she's still not up for Scott's sh*t.
Scott's jaunt to Berlin got him placed under house arrest and sent Hope and Hank on the run. So when they reunite for a new mission, tensions are high. She doesn't just forgive Scott for throwing her life into a spin, and nor should she. But Ant-Man and the Wasp lets Hope have some fun too. When the MCU goes Fast and the Furious meets Matchbox cars, she's in the driver's seat, literally. She races through the streets of San Francisco, shrinking and growing with the flip of a lever. Yet despite this insane circumstance, Hope is as at ease as Dominic Toretto behind the wheel. Scott and Luis flipping out about oversized pigeons and sharp turns plays as a perfect foil to her total chill. Suited up as the Wasp, she gives us one of the movie's most thrilling action sequences, chucking a giant salt shaker, running down the blade of a thrown knife, and taking on a fast-phasing villain with the hand-to-hand combat skills she taught Scott in the last film. Freed from her fussy businesswoman bit and grounded in the role of hero, Hope's demeanor shifts from frigid to cool.
The movie itself gives a nod to the suffocating stereotype Hope was locked into with Ant-Man. When a truth-serumed-up Luis tells the story of how Scott and Hope met and fell for each other, he describes her as saying, "Look at my hairdo! I'm all business!" It's a funny line. But the truth behind it is that Hope's characterization in the first film was woefully stiff and shallow.
Now Hope's got jokes! She still gives side-eye, but it works as a gag when Scott's bragging about his new bud "Cap." Later, when she and Scott have to break into a grade school, Hope takes a moment to razz him even as they are on a ticking clock. His regulator being irregular, Scott's the size of a first-grader. So when he can't reach the cubby where his daughter's backpack lies, instead of immediately growing to assist, the insect-sized Wasp watches him jump and scramble, teasing with a clear glee, "You can do it!"
Instead of one hasty scene where she laments her motherless childhood, Hope's quest to rescue her mom from the Quantum Realm is at the sequel's center. As such, Lilly gets the opportunity to play in turn tough and tender. As the Wasp, she's a ferocious warrior. As Hope, she's a vulnerable daughter desperate to bring her mom home.
This Hope feels like a person, instead of a sexist plot device whose main function is to "give the guys a hard time." Lilly comes alive with this new Hope. And finally, the love story between Hope and Scott works! When they kissed at the end of the first film, I remember being confounded by its lack of setup. Sure, we got a single shot of Hope leering at Scott shirtless. But one: Who could blame her? And two: They had no sexual chemistry! It just felt like every Marvel movie must have an opposite-sex love interest, so—uh—make out with Hope! But things change. A scene in a crowded janitor's closet reveals a sparking chemistry between Scott and Hope, as they exchange a flirtatious glance while she fiddles with his belt. (Get your minds out of the gutter. She's fixing his regulator!) Plus, with Hope buzzing about San Fran, kicking ass, taking names, and cracking jokes, it's easy to see why Scott would be into her (for more than the fact that she looks like Evangeline Lilly). And with Scott risking his own life and freedom to help her reconnect with her MIA mom, it finally makes sense what she sees in him (aside from the part where he looks like a muscle-bound Paul Rudd).
Hope van Dyne was the least interesting bit of Ant-Man. But with Ant-Man and the Wasp, she went from black hole to shining star. Lilly carries a cool confidence that makes her Wasp dynamic even without the one-liners and flashier costumes of Ant-Man or Iron-Man. Though still guarded, she no longer comes off as a brutally one-note bummer. Here Hope grows, coming into her own as a partner, daughter, and hero.