Ant-Man & the Wasp was the MCU's biggest missed opportunity. A sequel to 2015's Ant-Man, the film continued the story of Paul Rudd's Scott Lang, with Evangeline Lilly's Hope Van Dyne finally suiting up as the Wasp. Unfortunately, in a year when Marvel made history with both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, it's hard not to conclude that Ant-Man & the Wasp didn't really work out how the studio had hoped.

Ant-Man & the Wasp grossed just $216 million in the domestic box office, making it the worst-performing movie in the entire MCU Phase 3 slate, and it performed on par with Phase 1 films from before Marvel Studios truly became the powerhouse it now is. According to Michael Douglas, there's still been some talk about the possibility of Ant-Man 3, but the prospect doesn't seem to be inviting anywhere near the same amount of attention as Black Panther 2 or even Doctor Strange 2. In fan groups, Ant-Man & the Wasp's post-credits scene is the only element that's still being discussed, which clearly tied in to Avengers: Infinity War and continued the buildup to Avengers: Endgame.

Related: Endgame Theory: Ant-Man Was Digitally Removed From Super Bowl Spot

The sad truth is that Ant-Man & the Wasp appears to be quite forgettable, largely overshadowed by other Marvel blockbusters. With the benefit of hindsight, Ant-Man & the Wasp appears to be one of Marvel's rare missteps, a film that could have been so much more. But was that always going to be the case?

Peyton Reed Had A Blank Slate

It's important to remember that Marvel typically give their writers and directors a tremendous amount of freedom. When Peyton Reed first signed up with Marvel Studios to work on the first Ant-Man, he was taking over a troubled production that had lost its first director, Edgar Wright. For Ant-Man & the Wasp, though, he had a remarkable degree of latitude, and Reed has insisted that he was largely unaffected by Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Reed himself pushed for Ant-Man and Wasp to be absent from Infinity War, both because he feels a sense of ownership for them and because he wanted to save the Wasp reveal for his own film. What's more, the post-credits scene of Ant-Man & the Wasp killed off almost all of Scott Lang's supporting characters; while they're known to return in Avengers: Endgame, it's reasonable to assume they'll only have a very small role after the snap has been undone or averted. That means Reed will have had almost complete creative freedom to decide the character journeys his heroes would go on, and in particular to define how the Quantum Realm had affected Janet Van Dyne. Many Phase 3 movies have been constrained by the overarching narrative of the MCU; they had to introduce an Infinity Stone, for example, or get one to a very specific place. But Reed seems to have had the most basic of limitations.

The Characters Of Ant-Man & the Wasp Had So Much Potential

Unfortunately, the characters in Ant-Man & the Wasp all lack depth. Take Hannah John-Kamen's Ghost, a woman of color dealing with chronic pain. As author and chronic pain expert Porochista Khakpour explained in an interview with Shondaland, "The visible world of chronic illness and disability has often been very white." Race and ethnicity have a profound affect on how people struggle with chronic pain, and Marvel's decision to cast a black woman for the part of Ghost meant they had the potential to do something really special. But Ant-Man & the Wasp completely ignores the issue, blissfully unaware of how it undermines its own narrative.

Ghost is consumed by a desperate desire to escape the pain of her everyday life, and that essentially reduces her to an albeist trope of disability. The reality is that a person who is suffering from chronic pain is usually desperate to find any other thing with which to define themselves; and yet Ghost appears to have no hobbies, no interests, no desires other than to simply live a pain-free life. When Janet heals her of the pain, the audience is left to ask a simple question: Who is Ghost now? What is she free to do with her life now she no longer suffers from chronic pain? Viewers have absolutely no idea. Ghost simply isn't a real enough person for anyone to have a clue.

Related: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fixes Ghost's Confusing Backstory

And Ghost is far from the only character to be wasted by the plot of Ant-Man & the Wasp. Michelle Pfeiffer's Janet Van Dyne was more of a MacGuffin than an actual three-dimensional character, and even the emotional reunion with her husband and daughter doesn't quite ring true. This is a woman who has spent 30 years - perhaps longer, in her perception of time - living in a state of absolute isolation. She had no human intimacy, no physical contact, and only the denizens of the Quantum Realm to interact with. Her husband and daughter have changed over the last 30 years, and will be strangers to her. The world itself has changed, with technology moving on at an unbelievable rate; remember, she wouldn't even be able to recognize a modern computer. But Ant-Man & the Wasp settles for giving viewers a few glimpses of a promising character, and fails to explore the culture shock and psychological trauma of what Janet has endured. Again, it feels as though the film is simply blind to this.

Laurence Fishburne's Bill Foster is similarly wasted. In the comics, Foster is best known as Goliath, a hero who used Pym Particles to turn to giant-size and fight crime. Ant-Man & the Wasp acknowledges this, name-dropping Project Goliath in a memorable scene, and presenting a fair approximation of the comic book character. But not only is Foster no superhero, he's not even a competent antagonist. It's heavily implied that Foster's experiments with Pym Particles were all done years ago under laboratory conditions, and he never turns into Goliath to try to keep Scott Lang away from his equipment; he doesn't even show any tactical skills either, twice falling for the same trick and getting rounded up by ants. Basically, anything on the Goliath side of Foster is absent from the finished film. He could definitely have worked in the story - with Scott Lang's size regulator malfunctioning, Goliath would have been a true challenge - and concept art reveals Marvel toyed with the idea of having not one but two Giant-Men in play during the finale. But, for whatever reason, Peyton Reed chose not to go down that direction.

Page 2 of 2: The Quantum Realm Could Have Been So Much More

The Quantum Realm Was A Missed Opportunity

And finally, there's the Quantum Realm itself. A mysterious dimension that can be accessed by shrinking to subatomic size, the Quantum Realm is an unfathomable place where the laws of science - laws such as gravity, or even the passage of time - break down. In interviews, Marvel's Kevin Feige has explained that there seems to be a sort of "geography" to the Quantum Realm, and that the further in you get, the more surreal it becomes. In the film itself, Janet speaks of "the Wasteland beyond the Void," a tantalizing hint that there's an entire reality awaiting exploration. Marvel's official book of concept art, The Art of Ant-Man & the Wasp, has confirmed that Marvel toyed with so many different ideas for the Quantum Realm in this film; alien species and civilizations, even a nexus of memories exist in the Quantum Realm, through which people could peer into the past.

Related: How We Think Ant-Man Escapes The Quantum Realm In Avengers 4

But instead of exploring the Quantum Realm, Ant-Man & the Wasp settled for madcap chase scenes and wasted time with a shady but ill-defined crook who wanted to steal Hank Pym technology. It can be argued that Marvel wanted to save the Quantum Realm for Avengers: Endgame and even Ant-Man 3; after all, the Quantum Realm is generally expected to be important to the MCU's future. But if that's the case, it was a very real mistake on Marvel's part. That becomes clear when you contrast the Quantum Realm with another new location introduced into the MCU in 2018, the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Marvel drew up maps of Wakanda, and decided which parts to explore in Black Panther and which to leave for Infinity War. They could have done exactly the same thing with the Quantum Realm, choosing which parts to reserve for each film. And it's unwise to save your most creative ideas for another sequel that might not even happen.

Ultimately, it's hard not to conclude that Ant-Man & the Wasp is the MCU's biggest missed opportunity. This is a film that, in conceptual terms, is absolutely soaked through with potential. It has a superb cast, including actors of the caliber of Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas. It has fresh and creative ideas, potentially complex characters, and an entire new plane of reality just begging to be explored. But none of that actually happens, the characters are never really defined, and the stars are never given their chance to shine. Everything aside from introduce Lilly's Wasp that was important to pushing the MCU's overarching narrative forward was downplayed in order to fit within the confines of another heist story. This is, in part, because of Ant-Man & the Wasp essentially being a filler movie for the MCU, since it takes place alongside Infinity War instead of after it, as does this year's Captain Marvel (which actually takes place decades before last year's team-up movie). In the end, Ant-Man & the Wasp could have been so much more.

More: Ant-Man & The Wasp Was (Barely) A Box Office Success

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