Most superheroes come prepackaged. Comic book history has long dictated their origins, powers, and adversaries, and most superhero movies simply follow suit. A rare exception comes in the form of Ant-Man and the Wasp’s villain. The character’s origins are muddy and their powers are rather malleable. So director Peyton Reed used those mysteries to craft a mostly new villain perfectly suited to his film.
That villain is the Ghost and, in the comics, he’s a mysterious hacker with a powerful suit that lets him teleport things, move through matter, and shoot people. The movie version borrows a few of those traits, but for the most part, it’s a reinvention, starting with the casting of Killjoys actress Hannah John-Kamen and extending all the way down the line.
“We needed somebody who was going to be formidable against Ant-Man and the Wasp as a team,” Reed told io9. “[And] we have a very specific tone we’re doing in the Ant-Man movies. So, in general, I thought that suit looked cool, I thought the power set was potentially cool, and when we hit on the idea of doing a gender swap and tying her origin into Hank Pym’s past, it felt like it could sit well in that [tone].”
The tone was important but a strong integration into the story was the real key. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ghost’s origin dates back to when she was just a little girl named Ava. Ava’s father worked with Hank Pym’s technology and had a terrible accident. The accident killed her father and gave her the incredible power to move through objects. However, those powers are painful and potentially deadly.
By tying Ghost’s origin directly to Hank’s Quantum research, it gave the character a direct conflict with the heroes as well as a complex emotional core. She has to steal Pym’s lab before it’s too late and she dies.
“I really like the idea that these powers are really formidable but, for her, they’re more of [an] affliction than they are a benefit,” Reed said. “And it felt like there could be some poignancy to that. It [also] ties her directly to the mission. There’s a very specific reason why she’s coming to them as an absolute obstacle in their journey.”
An obstacle for the filmmakers was this: If you have this character with these largely undefined visual powers, what exactly do they look like? Finding the answer was a process.
“We played around with [the] effects and some of them felt too two dimensional,” Reed said. “There was one batch of effects that came in and was like Max Headroom from the ‘80s. [I thought] ‘This is not going to work.’”
If you’ve seen the movie, you know eventually it did work. The Ghost’s effects are among the most impressive visuals we’ve seen in a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date, especially one based on Earth. That realism was a key to getting the effects right.
“[We] played with light and made the light a little prismatic,” Reed said. “It tied into what we were doing in the Quantum Realm [and] made it feel as photographic and optical was possible, as opposed to sort of more digital.”
Once the visual language of the character was set, things actually circled back to inform the character herself. Reed pointed out a few shots in the film where the effects show how Ghost’s powers are increasing without saying a word
“There were a couple of shots that were key,” Reed said. “One is a very simple dialogue scene with Laurence Fishburne and Hannah John-Kamen, where she turns to leave and her face sort of stays behind. Another one [is] in the chase where she knocks the guy off the motorcycle and moves through the cycle. Her image precedes her and then she catches up to it.”
“There were some things that just aesthetically felt good to us and really felt different than effects we’d seen before,” Reed said. “But it couldn’t overtake that character. It had to have a certain level of subtlety to it or it would just get annoying.”
In a universe of characters who are well-defined even before they make it to the big screen, Ghost is not at all annoying. She’s fascinating.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is now in theaters.