Full spoilers follow for both Ant-Man movies.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is often given a bad rap. Its position on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) timeline – arriving just two months after Avengers: Infinity War – and apparent lack of originality made it an easy target for naysayers. A breezy, by-the-numbers palate cleanser that retreads old ground? Thanks but no thanks, some fans say.
Dismissing the 20th Marvel movie as nothing more than a lighthearted and janky film, though, is erroneous. In fact, Ant-Man 2 takes a big creative swing – easier said than done for its tiny superheroes – with how it’s structured. Look closer and the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man actually plays out like a Dungeons and Dragons-style movie.
Roleplaying in the MCU
Yes, you read that right – Ant-Man and the Wasp is a Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) campaign in all but name. Confused? Allow us to explain.
The film’s premise is a simple one. After witnessing Scott Lang return from the Quantum Realm – something they didn’t think was possible – in Ant-Man, Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne formulate a plan to rescue Janet van Dyne (Hank’s wife and Hope’s mom) from the subatomic dimension. Crucially, Scott holds the key to tracking Janet down. So, while Hank and Hope are furious with him for his role in Captain America: Civil War’s events, they put their grievances to one side.
Just like a traditional DnD campaign, Ant-Man 2 comprises a main quest (rescue Janet) that its group of heroes (Scott, Hank, and Hope) must complete to earn their reward (be reunited with Janet).
However, the similarities don’t end there. Ant-Man and the Wasp contains multiple side missions for the team to tackle. They include building a Quantum Tunnel to reach the Quantum Realm, acquiring a MacGuffin-like component from secondary antagonist Sonny Burch, getting their shrinkable laboratory back from primary villain Ghost (more on her later), enlisting the help of a non-playable character in Bill Foster, and retrieving Hank’s old Ant-Man suit from Scott’s daughter Cassie. Hey, nobody said rescuing Janet would be easy.
Such subplots might seem like run-of-the-mill objectives to pad out a film’s runtime. Viewed through the lens of a DnD campaign, though, each one acts like a side quest to prove our heroes’ mettle ahead of their main mission.
Marvel’s penchant for humor enables Ant-Man and the Wasp to have fun with its DnD allegories, too. The movie’s second sequence, which sees Scott and Cassie undertake their own amusing ant-centric mission to retrieve a prized object (read: a World’s Best Grandma trophy), pokes fun at the imagination required to lead a DnD campaign. It’s a fun-filled tip of the hat that runs throughout Ant-Man 2’s two-hour runtime, with the movie’s overarching narrative – though glaringly expository at times – playing out as if a dungeon master (i.e. the individual who leads a DnD session) is inventing the plot as you watch along.
Like a DnD campaign, Ant-Man and the Wasp is resolute over how quickly (or, rather, how methodically) it gets to its main mission. In essence, it takes 50 minutes for Scott and company to actually begin their primary quest; a move akin to playing multiple hours (or even sessions) of Dungeons and Dragons before the main assignment is reached.
Character classes and superheroic skills
The Marvel Phase 3 film’s characters also appear to be inspired by DnD character classes. Or, at the very least, embody the unique aspects of the character class they resemble.
Take Scott, for example. The thief-turned-superhero is essentially a rogue; a DnD-like scoundrel who uses stealth (he’s an ex-con after all) and trickery (he’s a card magic trick master in Ant-Man 2) to navigate obstacles. Janet can be likened to a wizard, with her Quantum Realm abilities making her akin to a magic user who can manipulate the fabric of reality. Even Hank, a druid – i.e. someone who wields the power of nature and creatures (aka ants) – and Luis, who’s styled as a comedic bard, play into this methodology.
Hope is arguably the most archetypal DnD character of all. A representative of the fighter class, Hope is a master combatant whose expertise in this field exceeds those around her. Sure, Scott is a competent fighter. He was tutored by the best (Hank and Hope) in Ant-Man, but Hope has trained to be a superhero her entire life. Describing her as being on another skill level – another DnD reference – to everyone else, then, isn’t too much of a stretch.
The group’s different personalities also provide opportunities for one of DnD’s most beloved pastimes: humor-laced disagreements. The bickering and amusing verbal sniping that occurs between Scott, Hank, and Hope are analogous to DnD party members clashing over what decision to collectively make. Some incidents, such as Scott’s regulator malfunctioning, or the FBI arriving on the scene to arrest Hank and Hope, bear the hallmarks of making a rubbish dice roll in any DnD session.
And then there’s the DnD-like monsters and enemies that populate Ant-Man and the Wasp. Okay, there’s no demogorgon like in Stranger Things (another DnD-inspired production), but Ant-Man 2 does have Ghost – a complex, specter-style antagonist – who haunts our heroes at every turn. Sonny Burch’s crew resemble the bandit enemies that inhabit DnD sessions, while even Scott’s activation of his Gi-Ant Man abilities becomes a temporary terrifying experience, albeit for San Francisco’s civilians caught up in the film’s closing act.
Dungeon master of the arts
Ant-Man and the Wasp will always be remembered for that post-credits scene – you know, the one that ties it to Avengers: Infinity War. Save for some clever action sequences and dollops of humor, most MCU fans will say it’s a largely forgettable movie, even if it’s not the worst Marvel film out there (Eternals, Thor: The Dark World, and The Incredible Hulk, we’re looking at you).
Despite its flaws, Ant-Man 2 is an entertaining and intriguing Dungeons and Dragons-based superhero flick. Conceptually, it evokes the originality of DnD campaigns, with its storytelling structure, impulsive action set-pieces, and fantasy-based tonality giving it a unique vibe and flavor. Considering the criticisms leveled at Marvel for its increasingly imitative film formula, Ant-Man and the Wasp is refreshingly innovative. Even with the creative risks taken in Marvel Phase 4, the MCU could certainly use more of that ingenuity.
For more MCU coverage, find out how to watch the Marvel movies in order. Alternatively, read up on where Ant-Man and the Wasp placed in our best Marvel movies list or get the lowdown on everything worth knowing about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is available to stream now on Disney Plus.