‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’: What the Heck Is a Baba Yaga?

Kurt compares “Ant-Man and the Wasp” antagonist Ghost to Baba Yaga, a witch of folklore, and the two are similar in interesting ways

ant-man and the wasp ghost hannah john-kamen ava baba yaga kurt david dastmalchian
Marvel Studios

(Note: This post contains spoilers for the story of “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”)

Early in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the heroes encounter the movie’s primary antagonist: a woman in a gray suit who has the supernatural-seeming ability to pass through solid matter.

When Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) takes Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) to meet up with his former criminal accomplices-turned business partners for help, they’ve already heard about the woman, who they dub Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). The description of a woman with strange powers sounds more like folklore than science to Kurt (David Dastmalchian), who compares Ghost to a legendary figure called Baba Yaga.

The moment makes for a fun joke, as Kurt’s ominous talk about a frightening woman who lives in the woods comes with its own spooky music. But if you’ve never heard of Baba Yaga, the reference might have gone straight over your head, except that Kurt says she’s a witch. So who or what exactly is Baba Yaga? Apart from being a supernatural old woman of Russian folklore, who can either help people or hurt them, the comparison with Ghost doesn’t seem particularly apt at first.

Baba Yaga is a witch-like old woman who lives in deep in the forest, according to Russian legend, and she does have supernatural powers. She carries a massive pestle and goes around in a huge flying wooden mortar. Baba Yaga is described as being hunched, deformed and frightening, sporting brown claws. She also has a long nose, often a trait witches are depicted with, and iron teeth, just to make the image more unsettling

Oh, and the coolest part: she lives in a house in the woods, surrounded by skulls, that stands on chicken legs, for whatever reason.

Baba Yaga’s motivations change from story to story — sometimes she’s a villain who eats people. Other times, she’s mothering and helpful. Marissa Clifford ran down the deep and often contradictory of Baba Yaga for Vice in 2017, including the ways Baba Yaga sometimes embodies different and conflicting character aspects within the same story.

Ghost isn’t especially similar to Baba Yaga in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” at least on the surface. The witch flies around in a mortar and pestle, for starters, she’s spooky looking and powerful, and she eats people — whereas Ghost is mostly just a woman who has an affliction that is sometimes useful for stealing things or doing SHIELD-sponsored secret agent work.

Dig a little deeper, though, and Kurt’s comparison of Ghost to Baba Yaga is actually pretty telling. The villainy of both characters is often ambiguous, for a start: Ghost comes off as a bad guy, but really she’s not out to hurt anyone, she just has a goal to accomplish to save her own life. Still, she can be spooky, like Baba Yaga, and while she doesn’t eat people, Ghost potentially can be a killer. She has a dark streak in her desperation, as illustrated when she considers threatening Scott’s daughter, Cassy (Abby Ryder Fortson) to get Hank’s lab and the cure that might reside inside.

And of course, the major conflict between Ghost and the Wasp and Ant-Man — that Ghost intends to extract quantum particles from Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) in order to cure her own “quantum phasing” affliction, which runs the risk that it will “tear Janet apart” — is kind of like cannibalizing her. Most of the movie is about running from Ghost, like characters have to escape Baba Yaga, but ultimately she can be convinced to be a good person.

Kurt’s creepy mention of the Slavic legend is actually on-point in some thematic ways, even if Ghost isn’t a horrific old crone with a chicken house. Given that Ant-Man rides ants, though, a house with bird legs might not have been too out of place in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”