Contrary to pretty much every other take you are likely to see on the internet right now, I enjoyed Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. It’s the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first of the sprawling canon’s fifth phase, and despite presenting a bonanza of cringe-CGI, it’s a lot of fun.
Some time after the events of Avengers: Endgame, which relied heavily on the highly fictionalized ~quantum physics~ and time travel components introduced in the Ant-Man franchise, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is living his best life before he and his family are inadvertently transported to the microscopic quantum realm and introduced to an all-powerful variant of the mysterious multiversal overlord, Kang the Conqueror. Much of Quantumania is unfortunately tedious, as it rapidly introduces one staggering concept after another, leaving audiences struggling to keep up; but in addition to Rudd’s characteristic charm, the movie is held together by his character’s rebellious young adult daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Through the time jump presented in Endgame, Ant-Man’s once-precocious child is now old enough to go to jail—repeatedly!—for protesting the police and getting caught up in all kinds of good trouble. She takes after her dad in truly heartwarming ways, while rising as a Tony Stark-level super-genius.
As excited as I am about adult-Cassie, I do have to ask: Does every MCU superhero need a child now?
Since Endgame, nearly every member of the original Avengers gang and every other superhero in their orbit has embarked on the joys and heartaches of parenthood. In Endgame, shortly before Stark’s death, we’re introduced to his young daughter Morgan. In WandaVision, the first project after Endgame, we meet Wanda and Vision’s twin sons, who also a key part in the events of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Hawkeye is all about Hawkeye’s race to make it home for Christmas to be with his family—all while he mentors and takes on a paternal role to Hailey Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop. The season finale of She-Hulk reveals Bruce Banner has a teenage son on the far-away planet of Sakaar, where he was stranded for two years during Thor: Ragnarok.
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Speaking of Thor, Thor: Love and Thunder concludes with the god of thunder adopting his nemesis’ young daughter and embarking on space adventures with her as his sidekick. And perhaps most memorably, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever features a mid-credits scene of Shuri learning her late brother T’Challa is survived by a young son who’s named after him.
As someone who’s inhaled every MCU project since covid-era shelter-in-place guidelines denied me any other form of entertainment, don’t get me wrong, I’ve formed strong attachments to some of these characters. My dog is named Bucky after the Winter Soldier himself. But every superhero suddenly, almost simultaneously spawning a mini-me reads a lot like a franchise unready to let go of its past and embrace its future—a new generation of superheroes who aren’t just extensions of a previous generation of heroes.
I also can’t help but consider more practical questions: With what time can one even be a superhero while being a parent? Even in a world as highly fictionalized as Marvel’s, I can more readily believe in aliens than the U.S. adopting well-funded universal child care programs. Or, perhaps the MCU’s big embrace of parenthood is actually a heart-warming metaphor for how parents have always been the real superheroes, this whole time??
In any case, whatever your opinions of the Avengers’ reproductive lives, I’m reminded of the legacy of Black Widow, regarded as the mother of the Avengers, even as her forced hysterectomy left her unable to have biological children. In Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Natasha refers to herself as a “monster” for being unable to have kids, a nasty, stigmatizing line I’ll probably never be able to forgive the MCU for subjecting us to.
At a time when James Cameron is spewing nonsense about Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman being less-than for not having kids, and all of the Avengers suddenly balancing world-saving duties with domestic life, it feels like we’re increasingly stretching the cultural imagination in our appraisal of what it takes to be “super.” I can only brace myself for what that might mean for women superheroes.