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3 Cinematic heroes — and the daughters who made them that way

ANTMAN
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The most important character in "Ant-Man and the Wasp" may not be the obvious one.

It could be argued that the most important, catalytic character in Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t, ironically, Ant-Man or the Wasp. And it might not be Hank Pym, inventor of the technology behind the two superheroes, or Janet, Hank’s wife, whom they must rescue. All these people are important, to be sure. All, indeed, are critical to the movie.

But who motivates Scott Lang — one-time crook and current filler of the Ant-Man suit — to be a hero at all? That’d be his daughter, Cassie.

ANTMAN AND THE WASP
Disney | Marvel

It’s not that Scott always deserves a “No. 1 Dad” mug. Frankly, he feels like he messes up an awful lot, and he wonders sometimes if he’s even an adequate dad, not just a good one. He’s a felon who spent a few years in jail, then another couple of years under house arrest. Even when he’s not locked up, he tends to make a mess of things. “I do some dumb things, and the people I love the most, they pay the price,” he admits.

But Cassie’s having none of it. Trying to save people is never dumb, she tells him. And later, she says, “I want to help people … just like my dad!”

ANTMAN
Disney | Marvel

The Ant-Man movies have always felt a little lighter and frothier than some of Marvel’s other superhero films, and that feels especially true in the wake of the important Black Panther film and the galactic-spanning poignancy of Avengers: Infinity War. By comparison to those two titanic flicks, Ant-Man and the Wasp feels, like its characters, a bit small.

But Ant-Man’s smallish sagas hide a big heart in its father-daughter relationships, one that took up its beat from the very beginning. When Hank Pym first queries Scott about becoming Ant-Man in the first movie, he tells him this: “This is your chance to earn that look in your daughter’s eyes. To become the hero that she already thinks you are.”

ANTMAN
Disney | Marvel

In the Ant-Man flicks, Scott wants to be a hero for a lot of reasons, but they begin with Cassie. To be the hero she thinks he is.

But that sort of father-daughter dynamic isn’t unusual in today’s movie scene. In fact, Scott has some pretty good company.

Even as Ant-Man and the Wasp plays at mall-based multiplexes across the country, you might find a much smaller movie in your local art house.

Leave No Trace doesn’t boast pyrotechnics or spectacular CGI. But this PG film has one whale of a story. The film (which I unpack in more detail here) centers on another father-daughter tale. Will, a troubled vet, lives with his 13-year-old daughter well off the grid. The dad has a hard time living anywhere else, in truth. Will’s few interactions with civilization leave him anxious and depressed, and even in the wilderness, Will doesn’t do so well. He suffers from nightmares. Sometimes, when Will doesn’t know she’s looking, Tom, his daughter, spies him cradling his head in his hands, looking like a man suffering unimaginable torment.

LEAVE NO TRACE
Bron Studios

But here’s the thing: As messed up as Will is, he’s a different person when he’s dealing directly with his daughter. He’s authoritative and loving — a smart, smiling role model. He’s the guy who knows how to collect rainwater off a tarp, how to cook wild mushrooms on reflective fabric, how to walk through the woods without making a sound. He tutors Tom in more traditional education, too — so much so that when she’s dragged into civilization and tested, counselors finds that she’s well past her grade level. And even when Tom comes to understand that her dad’s not at all well, she still does more than love him. She admires him.

“Where’s your home?” Someone asks Tom one day.

“My dad,” Tom says. And it’s true.

What would Will have been like without Tom to care for and teach? Could he be dead? Crazy? Like Scott, Will’s a better person because of his daughter. With her, he became the hero she thought he was.

In A Quiet Place, newly out on Blu-Ray and DVD, the Abbots live much as Will and Tom do, but not by choice. Their world is one filled with literal monsters that hunt by sound, which forces them to do without much of the technology and noise we take for granted. But Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) is not exactly idolized by his hearing-impaired daughter, Regan. Indeed, Regan believes that, because of an earlier family tragedy she unintentionally set in motion, her dad doesn’t even like her very much.

THE QUIET PLACE
Paramount Pictures

But she comes to realize that that’s not true. For years, he’s tried to craft the perfect aid to help Regan hear again: She sees the evidence of his labors strewn across his workshop — failure after failure, new attempt after new attempt. He never gave up hope. And he never lost his affection for her, either.

“I love you,” he signs to her at a crucial moment. “I’ve always loved you.” And then, in the movie’s most poignant turn, she shows her just how much. He shows himself to be a hero, too.

These movies hit home with me as a dad with a daughter. I’ve written before about how my daughter and I run marathons together, and even when we’re not training we see each other about every week. I’m certainly a healthier person because of my her After all, if it wasn’t for my daughter I’d probably spend my weekends eating cheese-flavored popcorn. But I think I’m a better person, too. Why? Because my daughter’s awesome. And she deserves the best dad I know how to be.

Most of us do our best to be the dads our children see in us — to be a little smarter, a little stronger, a little funnier, a little wiser. And even though their admiration of us will eventually (and invariably) be salted with an understanding of our weaknesses, hopefully a little of that admiration will linger. Maybe longer than we will.

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