Ghost Was A Step Back For MCU Villains – But That’s A Good Thing For Ant-Man
Ant-Man & The Wasp has arrived, and whilst not exactly a smash hit, is still outperforming the first movie. If there is blame to be cast - if you consider catapulting Marvel Studios' total box office earnings past $17 billion worthy of blame - it can be laid at the feet of any number of combined reasons. Less-popular lead characters, fatigue after a six-month period that already included gargantuan, timely blockbusters like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War; whatever the case may be, Ant-Man & The Wasp was always going to be a smaller (no pun intended) motion picture event.
Where Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War were keenly watched by fans prior to release (either because of timely representation in the zeitgeist or the culmination of ten years' worth of Marvel storytelling), less expectation had been tied to the Ant-Man sequel. At the very least, it was to be a fun spectacle where fans could rejoice in big things becoming smaller and vice versa - a joyous palate cleanser after the draining, soul-crushing finale to Infinity War. A real back-to-basics, Marvel standalone film, unencumbered by the weight of continuity, to close out Phase 3.
This is where director Peyton Reed and co. took a misstep, however; it was actually an opportunity to continue attempting to remedy Marvel's so-called "villain problem". At best, the issue is that most MCU films present their villains as mirror images of its central hero (Iron Man/Iron Monger, Hulk/Abomination, Captain America/Red Skull, Ant-Man/Yellowjacket, Doctor Strange/Kaecilius). At worst, the villains aren't given enough screen time, which results in their characters lacking depth. These villains can't rise above the sea level of expectation without depth to begin with. Avengers: Infinity War hammered home a noticeable uptick in Marvel Villains getting their due, following Black Panther's Killmonger. The writers approached the Avengers threequel as ultimate-villain Thanos' movie.
With Ant-Man and the Wasp both jockeying for marquee space and worthwhile narratives in the movie, it's little wonder that their primary antagonist Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) found herself shuffled off to the side. Ant-Man & The Wasp is barely Ant-Man and the Wasp's movie, let alone Ghost's.
- This Page: Ghost Is An Old-School MCU Villain
- Page 2: How Ghost Can Be Improved In The Future
Ghost Defies The Villain Lessons Marvel Has Learned
In a movie where Scott Lang is trying to safely wait out his house arrest sentencing, gained from assisting the anti-registration heroes in Captain America: Civil War and atone for the guilt accrued from landing Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne in hot water thanks to the very same decision, a necessary villain would already have minor screen time compared to the hero's main narrative arc. Considering that viewers also have Scott, Hank and Hope frantically searching for wayward Wasp Janet Van Dyne in the Quantum Realm, Ghost was doubly-screwed for screen time from the get-go.
The secret to successful, engaging MCU villains in the past has been ample screen time. The key example is Loki in the first Thor; his sense of familial estrangement, abandonment and inferiority complex was palpable, thanks to the quality of the script and the constant face time we get with the character. There was time for a good few double-crosses and two thrilling final showdowns to boot. That was in the first appearance alone, not counting the four since.
Spider-Man: Homecoming's Adrian Toomes opens that movie, and his villainous alter-ego Vulture is not only tied to the actions of the Avengers in their 2012 debut but the life of its hero as love interest Liz Allen's father; all being reinforced by constantly going back to the bad guy's POV. Killmonger in Black Panther has an arc that is sympathetic and affecting, and reinforced by the fact that it runs steadily and concurrently with T'Challa's.
Ghost, the white-clad super-spy turned desperate villain of Ant-Man & The Wasp, cuts a suitably sympathetic character. It's revealed that she has a debilitating inability to remain corporeal in our dimension, thanks to her scientist father's experiment gone wrong many years prior; the blame for which can arguably be placed at the feet of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and current title holder's mentor, who supposedly betrayed her father. As absorbing as her tragic backstory is, it all takes a backseat to the search for Janet Van Dyne.
She's given one extended flashback sequence, mostly rounded out by Laurence Fishburne's exposition - and whilst Hannah John-Kamen delivers quality work, portraying her character's ongoing visible distress with believable sympathy, she's simply not given enough time to make the performance resonate; there are perhaps three interludes to her character as opposed to the rest of the film belonging to the two marquee characters.
Page 2 of 2: How Ghost Can Be Improved In The Future
Ghost Is Kept Away From The Heroes For Too Long
Ghost has around two run-ins with our eponymous hero before the grand finale, where - if anything - Ant-Man and the Wasp are trying to help the poor girl. The film goes from initial attack, to villain-capturing-hero, to the rant which gives viewers the motive behind everything, to the finale which essentially ends with the villain being spared and given a second chance of life. As much of a detour as this is for Marvel movies - the villain almost always bites the dust - it's far too paint-by-numbers to have much of an impact.
It's extremely reminiscent of Hela (Cate Blanchett) in Thor: Ragnarok. A world-class actress wasted in a role spent ranting and raving to her minions about what a great goddess she is, and how much she was wronged. She's separated from Thor and his journey on Sakaar for too long; she exists as something to be beaten rather than a whole character in her own right. Similarly, Ghost exists as an obstacle to be overcome or later an injustice to be corrected, rather than a character in her own right.
Ghost lacks repeat interactions with Ant-Man and the Wasp, just as Hela lacked repeat interactions with Thor. They're both merely interludes to a larger arc for the heroes, and that doesn't do either character justice.
Was Ghost Sympathetic Enough?
Sympathetic villains seem to be what the Marvel Studios team strive toward; they make for compelling storytelling when viewers aren't entirely sure who they should be rooting for. Loki, Killmonger and even Thanos all had points of view that didn't seem entirely crazy - it was only in their methodology that they falter. Killmonger's desire to share Wakanda's wealth and scientific advancements with the world was captivating. Thanos' argument that the universe is over-populated isn't without merit, especially when confronted with his own planet's history.
Said sympathetic viewpoints aren't always so easy to grasp for fans. Thor: The Dark World's Malekith was born into a Universe shrouded in darkness. His aim was to return it to that darkness, to find the peace his species so desperately craved, but the idea was either too abstract or not communicated well enough for anybody to really empathize with his complaints. Whiplash in Iron Man 2 was upset because his dying father was previously robbed of any credit for his scientific work. This injustice was perpetrated off-screen decades ago within the film's timeline, and instead we get Ivan Vanko spouting a few sentences about vengeance being his and then for the rest of the movie he remains largely silent and/or violent.
Ghost falls somewhere in the middle; she's undoubtedly a sympathetic character, considering she was only a child when her parents died at her feet and she was turned into a living specter. But the fact remains that she's only given one or two scenes to emote and convey her pain - then it's back to being set-dressing and an obstacle for our heroes.
At the very least, Ghost survives, with potential redemption at hand. The domino effect from Marvel's villains owning no centricity is that they then become dispensable. Just like Loki, or Bucky Barnes, she is a character that can hopefully continue to grow from one film to the next, especially with an actress as talented as Hannah John-Kamen in the role. Ghost can go from villain to anti-hero to franchise cornerstone if they really wanted her to - all they have to do is bring her into a bigger portion of the limelight next time out.