10 July 2018

Nothing Can Prepare You

Longtime readers of the Gazette know many things about me, not the least of which is my love of Fort Wilderness, 20,000 Leagues, Joe Rohde, and Citrus Swirls. One thing that dedicated readers will also know is that I made a conscious decision many years ago to not talk about Disney films in the main thrust of the site. I know more about the parks, their history and storytelling methodology, than I do about the films. Of course, there has been a time or two when I felt compelled to write about how well a given film would fit into a theme park land or attraction, but on the whole I’ve tried my best to not stick my nose too far down the film rabbit hole. So, you may be as surprised as I am to find that the movie I’m breaking that tried and true formula for is none other than Ant-Man and the Wasp.

THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING! I am going to stop right now and let you know that if you haven’t seen the film, stop reading this article until you’ve had a chance to see the film. There are plenty of SPOILERS ahead.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a problem with villains as a whole, they are either a wiped out in a single film never to be seen or heard from again, don’t resonate with audiences, or are so bland it can turn the film into almost a mad lib type of scenario. Even the best of the villains, someone like Black Panther’s Killmonger, are left with nothing to do once the credits roll. There are obvious exceptions like Loki, who has gone through a rather amazing arc from villain, to arch-villain, to somewhere grey area, and then to full on anti-hero. For the most part, however, villains have proven to be the hardest thing for Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to capture appropriately.

For all the good to great villains that have appeared on screen, all the villains I couldn’t wait to see come to life on film, and my familiarity with their places in the pages of the comic books, never would I have thought that I would feel a more physical punch to the gut than I did with the character of Ghost from Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Ghost, also known as Ava Starr, is afflicted with a fictitious condition once a quantum tunnel fails and collapses. She can phase in and out of being and has the power of invisibility, but Ava’s power come at the terribly cost of her atoms being continually ripped apart and then putting them back together. She is fading away, treatments with quantum energy and a special containment suit have helped keep her grounded in this world, but she is in constant pain and is slowly dying. As someone living with a chronic auto-immune disease (Rheumatoid Arthritis) that keeps my pain and fatigue levels beyond my control and elevated to a place that even I don’t have words for, I couldn’t help but burst into tears when I saw the pain on her face, the wish for a cure, the drive to live one day more.

There are many of us out there, telling everyone that we’re fine and going about our day. We raise awareness when and where we can, but otherwise try to live the best possible life we can. However, there are days we simply can’t. We smile and fight the good fight, but there are also days when we rage into the darkness or into a pillow just wishing it would go away, that there was something to make it go away.

There are others who feel this was Marvel’s time to shine, a woman of color with a chronic condition could have opened up the dialogue about so many injustices in our world. Instead, we get the ableist tropes of wanting a single dose of medication or magic that can cure all of Ava’s ailments in a single burst. It is a fair gripe and an argument that should be explored, but it shouldn’t take away the positives that we get with Ava. Marvel may not have kicked in the door here, but they opened it, which is a far cry away from what other films and studios have been inclined to do with their mainstream, tent pole properties.

Ava isn’t bad, she is in pain and, at the end of the day, she is fighting to live. She goes about some of it in the wrong way, she can’t see the forest through the trees right in front of her, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed someone reaching out or trying to help because my pain was so great it fractured my thought processes. Yes, there were other choices to be made, but she is flawed human being, which really is the thread that binds all of the characters in Ant-Man and the Wasp together, and of all the characters in the movie Ava has the strongest case to make for her actions in my eyes.

We also have to take a moment and pull the fiction and facts apart, there is only so far that we can relate to Ava. Her condition is a work of fantasy and she, so far as we know, is the only one afflicted by it. Making her treatment plan, and possible cure, something obscure and riddled with science fiction mumbo-jumbo. It makes assembling a real-world comparison, and any subsequent argument for or against what is presented on screen, almost impossible.

What we see with Ava is personal to many people, in all likelihood to a friend or family member that you love. Here is what I saw. I saw a woman of color stand and fight when she is in grave pain, on my best day I struggle to mow my own lawn and on my worst I can barely turn over in my bed without being struck by bolts of lightning in my joints. I am in awe of Ava. I am touched by her struggles. I see myself in her. She stands up where I cannot, regardless of skin color, gender, or chronic pain level. She makes mistakes, we all do. Period. She is a brave step forward when so many are still relegating those with disabilities to some sub-set of society. She isn’t perfect, but if just one person with a disability or chronic condition can stop cowering or hiding and talk openly about how they live and what they feel, Ava is a hero.

Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a perfect film, but it was lots of fun and I encourage everyone to go and see it. If you’ve seen it once, but missed some of what makes Ava so brave, then I implore you to give the movie a second viewing. This time, try watching the movie through the eyes of the Ghosts in your own life, the ones who want to live their lives just like you do.

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