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Can Marvel Give the World a Nuanced Female Superhero With Ant-Man and the Wasp?

 Can Marvel Give the World a Nuanced Female Superhero With Ant-Man and the Wasp?

In the world of cinematic superheroes, women have it tough, particularly in the Marvel pantheon. The comic giant’s cultural influence has grown with the release of every interconnected movie, TV show, or Netflix exclusive, but to date, the brand’s output has been focused largely on developing its male-centric franchises. Hits like "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and even "The Avengers" may feature female characters in supporting roles, but a woman has never truly led a Marvel movie. Yesterday’s announcement of the forthcoming "Ant-Man and "the Wasp" could change all that, placing the female protagonist right in the title.

As the sequel to summer’s "Ant-Man," the film will no doubt delve back into the tale of underdog superhero Scott Lang. But the real story will be the development of Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne, who will transform into the titular Wasp. Using a combination of energy blasts and shrinking ability to take down her enemies, the character was one of the leaders within the original lineup of Avengers. With the "Ant-Man" sequel, slated for release in 2018, Marvel has an incredible opportunity to realize the full breadth of possibility for the character, and for female-driven comic fantasy.

Scarlett Johansson's performances aside, Marvel has never given female characters the kinds of nuanced arcs its males enjoy in its films. Tony Stark can evolve from amoral billionaire playboy to snarky world savior several times over, but those kinds of developments elude even its most prominent women on-screen.

Johansson’s Black Widow in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," for instance, took a formidable heroine, tacked on an unfortunate romantic subplot, and ultimately reduced her to a clichéd courtship with the team’s resident wimp, Bruce Banner.

Marvel’s cinematic depictions of female characters stand in contrast to its comic books. On newsstands, Marvel has been ahead of the curve. From the canonically gender-fluid portrayal of supervillain Loki to She-Hulk’s fourth wall–breaking feminism in “Single Green Female,” Marvel has long subverted the tropes of a genre known for pandering to an adolescent male audience.

With a woman now wielding Thor's hammer and Peter Parker love interest Gwen Stacy becoming a webslinger in her own alternate universe, the brand’s comic track record is better than most. Audiences have responded to the inclusiveness; female-led titles like "Ms. Marvel" and "Silk" have sold well. And on the small screen, where compelling roles for women are more plentiful than in film, Marvel has also broadened its representations of women, most notably with the retro-themed "Captain America" spin-off, "Agent Carter." In the taut melodrama, Hayley Atwell fights spies and dons gowns with ease, portraying a character who merges Charlotte Gray with James Bond.

The challenge for Marvel will be bringing that equality of storytelling to its larger productions. In the push toward interwoven story lines that can be tied to the magnum opus two-parter "Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 & 2," something has been lost — namely, the idea that women can do more than deliver action sequences and support their male counterparts.

Nearly half the audience for Marvel’s films, and for comic book media in general, is now female, and the Marvel archives are filled with memorable women. Given that fans have been clamoring for solo films dedicated to their favorites, the company stands to gain considerably by doing right by its female characters. With "Ant-Man" and the "Wasp," let's hope it does.

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