The Avengers: No room for Ant-Man and the Wasp? Really??

How Hollywood decodes which superheroes are just unmarketable
In this film image released by Disney, Iron Man, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., left, and Captain America, portrayed by Chris Evans, are shown in a scene from "The Avengers" (AP Photo/Disney)
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from "The Avengers" (AP Photo/Disney)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or the Negative Zone as it were, you probably know that The Avengers hits movie theatres today. Heck, I even overheard a pair of hobos talking about it at Tim Hortons the other day. It’s that big.

The film is a comic fan’s dream come to life as it groups several of Marvel’s iconic superheroes – the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America–together for the first time on the silver screen. And, as if the film needed even more nerd cred, Mr. Buffy himself, Joss Whedon, directed and co-wrote it. Put all that together and it’s hard to imagine how The Avengerswon’t be good, at least to us dorks.

But there’s one troubling fact about the movie – it’s not accurate. Indeed, if we’re to go by comic book canon, Captain America, Hawkeye and the Black Widow should not be in the film, since they joined in issues four, 16 and 111, respectively. Missing from the movie team’s roster are two of the original founders: Ant-Man and the Wasp. And that’s just not right.

Now, before this comes off as whining from an indignant comic nerd purist, hear me out. My complaint isn’t about Hollywood messing with comic book continuity–lord knows nobody wants to listen to those wackos – but rather on what it suggests about the business and logic of Hollywood.

As Marvel’s character echelon goes, Ant-Man and the Wasp rank far down the list. If Spider-Man and the X-Men are A-listers, they’re G-list at best. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be the centre of a good movie. More to the point, Marvel has made films with similarly low-grade characters. Daredevil (he had some good comic runs, but let’s face it, he’s never been a major character), Elektra, even Howard the Duck have all had their chances. And how Ghost Rider got a sequel, wherein the flame-headed demon peed fire, is beyond anyone’s understanding. On the other hand, as Blade proved, it’s possible to make decent movies starring lesser-known characters.

So if lowly character status isn’t an impediment to getting green-lit, what’s the problem with the diminutive duo?

My guess is it has to do with what studios think audiences are willing to believe. And they can’t be blamed for thinking that audiences might not buy into a character who can shrink down to microscopic size and control ants through a cybernetic helmet, or a woman who gets similarly small but sprouts wings from her back.

Realistically speaking, Ant-Man and the Wasp are lame characters. Marvel tacitly admitted as much when Avengers writers quickly rebooted Ant-Man as Giant Man–his new powers being self-explanatory–in issue number two of the comic. (The Wasp, meanwhile, remained lame until the late ’70s, when she actually developed some character; reading 1960s Avengers comics is a case study in post-war sexism.)

Still, look at the some of the other Avengers. Captain America, Hawkeye and the Black Widow are essentially slightly enhanced humans, but the others are a guy who wears a futuristic metal suit that could never work because of the enormous power it would require, another is a guy who gains a ton of mass from nowhere and becomes a giant, green rage monster, and another is a freakin’ Norse God.

Is it really so hard to believe in size-changing characters amongst this group? Movie studios must have a really warped opinion of audiences’ intelligence if the answer is no.

Ant-Man and the Wasp could easily have been shoe-horned into one of the preceding Avengers set-up movies, the way that Hawkeye and the Black Widow were in Thor and Iron Man 2, respectively, but they weren’t. I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why, other than they’ve been deemed either unmarketable or too unbelievable.

There are apparently talks about an Ant-Man movie, with Shawn of the Dead director Edgar Wright involved, while the Wasp was also reportedly considered, but I’m not holding my breath. Despite the fact that seemingly every comic book ever written is being made into a movie nowadays, I’m still not confident that Hollywood will ever get brave enough to tackle these two.

Regardless of what may or may not happen down the road, I’ll be lining up with my friends today to see The Avengers, with all of us looking to recapture a little bit of our long-gone adolescence. I, for one, will be hoping that Ant-Man and the Wasp at least make a cameo. A small one, naturally.