Fifty-five years after her comic introduction in Tales to Astonish #44, The Wasp flies onto the big screen — and with her name in marquee lights — courtesy of Ant-Man director Peyton Reed’s sequel, and the MCU’s 20th installment, Ant-Man and The Wasp. The character has never had it easy, and because of the way Marvel and Hollywood work, her spotlight moment is something of a miracle.
A few months after her 1963 comic premiere, The Wasp aka Janet van Dyne became a founding member of the Avengers, alongside Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Ant-Man in Avengers #1. Though a fan favorite, and the sole female member of the group until Scarlet Witch joined the ranks two years later, Janet struggled to find her voice in the early years of Marvel history. To give you an idea: In that first issue, she spends most of the adventure lusting after the God of Thunder.
By the time Marvel Studios’ “cinematic universe” rolled around, introducing The Wasp into the mix was both a dream and a constantly out-of-reach accomplishment. In an oral history of The Avengers published earlier this year, Joss Whedon revealed that early versions of his script replaced Black Widow with the character. When Scarlett Johansson was available for the shoot, he scrapped the pages.
Reed tells Polygon that he always intended to get the Hope van Dyne version of Wasp on screen once he established Scott Lang’s Ant-Man in the first movie. That film features a brief flashback to Janet van Dyne’s turn as The Wasp and a post-credits stinger (har har!) in which Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) surprises Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) with her own set of armor. This was all setup — in fact, Janet van Dyne and the Quantum Realm weren’t even in the original Ant-Man script. According to Reed, it was writer Adam McKay (Anchorman) and actor Paul Rudd who added her backstory during their overhaul of the story.
As if to prove a point, Reed’s sequel features both pairs of Ant-Mans and Wasps: Hank and Janet, who we see warding off a Cold War-era missile crisis before Janet disappears into the Quantum Realm; plus Scott and Hope, who aren’t exactly on good terms after Scott revealed Pym Particle technology to the world during the Avengers’ airport squabble in Captain America: Civil War. As we learn early on in Ant-Man and The Wasp, Hope harbors some personal resentment, too: Why didn’t Scott invite her to the brawl?
Recounting a scene that shows just how much of the MCU is built on interoffice politics and constant communication, Reed reveals that Scott almost did call Hope.
“At one point, in the halls at Marvel, there was a day where Brad Winderbaum, who was a producer I met on my first day, was not as talkative as he normally was,” Reed says. “And I was like, ‘What’s going on? There’s something you’re not telling me.’”
Winderbaum had some news for Reed: Though he successfully integrated Ant-Man into the MCU, Anthony and Joe Russo were going to be the first to push the limits of Pym Particle power to “Giant-Man” proportions.
“I was pissed,” Reed says with a laugh. “But once I got past that, he’s like, well, ‘It could have been worse.’ I was like, ‘How could it be worse?’ They were going to get the Wasp reveal, too, at one point.”
In the end, the Russo brothers, along with their screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, felt that there was too much story riding on the backs of too many characters to do justice to Wasp. The cameo was sidelined, giving Reed the freedom to develop Ant-Man and The Wasp as a sequel to multiple movies.
“The whole idea of Civil War looms large in our movie,” he says. “It’s kind of a sequel to Civil War … so luckily [the Wasp appearance] didn’t happen.”
To break the story for Ant-Man and The Wasp, Reed and a team of screenwriters started with the threads McKay and Rudd had setup about OG Wasp Janet van Dyne in the first movie, and incorporated the aftermath of Scott banding with Captain America in Civil War.
[Warning: Minor plot spoilers for Ant-Man and The Wasp ahead.]
“Civil War really gave us an organic jumping-off point, because my first reaction was like, ‘Oh my God, Hank Pym is going to be pissed.’ The whole [first] movie’s about him trying to find a faithful steward of this particle technology. And Scott runs out and gets involved in this, where he fights and exposes the tech to Tony Stark and gets thrown in prison, and the suit’s confiscated — Hank Pym’s worst fucking nightmare. So that felt like the beginning of our movie. And not only has he ended up in house arrest, but now they’re after Hank and Hope because it’s Hank and Hope’s technology and it’s in violation of the Sokovia Accords. They’re estranged at the beginning of the movie, so that was great. So that was interesting because it is a sequel to him ... but it’s kind of a sequel to Civil War, as well.”
All that considered, the anchor, for Reed, was still Hope.
“I knew early on that there were discussions of her getting involved, but my answer was that I didn’t know if we have a movie if we couldn’t focus on Hope. We could have focused on Hope anyway, but you know, to get her hero revealed to me is one of the most — the single most exciting thing about the movie for me.”