The woes of the Ant-Man movie have been well-documented. Development started way back in 2006, with filmmaker Edgar Wright on board to both direct and co-write. Over the years, “What’s the latest on Ant-Man?” became almost a running joke during interviews with Wright. Then, when production actually commenced by some miracle on Ant-Man, Wright was mysteriously off the project. (To this day, not a whole lot is known about what happened other than “creative differences.” Someday, this will make a good book.)
“Who is the poor sap who is going to take over that movie?” These were the words that Peyton Reed sent to a friend the day that Wright left Ant-Man, not knowing that he would become the aforementioned “poor sap.” Reed, a lifelong Ant-Man fan, is pretty much perfect for this job, but this is a that job came with some leftover Edgar Wright baggage.
When speaking to Reed, it’s hard for him to contain his excitement for Ant-Man. And I believe Reed – the director of Bring It On and The Break-Up — when he says that this is the film he’s always wanted to make. Of course, this is a film that has a lot of Reed in it, but it also has a lot of Edgar Wright’s ideas, too. Ahead, Reed walks us through what he, along with Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, added to the film and what they decided to keep from Wright’s script.
Speaking of those additions, Reed gets pretty specific about some scenes. So, take this is a moderate spoiler warning. There are no true giveaways – for example, possible cameos are addressed as “another Marvel character” – but if you want to go in completely blind, there are some plot details ahead.
After everything that society has gone through to make this movie actually happen, It’s amazing that Ant-Man is finally here.
[Laughs] Well, yeah. I know exactly how you feel. It is amazing that it’s here. It’s a miracle.
You’re a longtime Ant-Man fan, so this seems like a dream project for you, but it did come with the baggage of what happened to the first director. Was it at all a tough decision to agree to sign on?
I think I just had to really think it through in terms of, regardless of who had developed it before, was just that someone else had developed it for some time. For me, it was really only a question of do I have the time and is there a willingness on the part of Marvel to let me make this movie my own. I read all of the existing drafts that Edgar [Wright] and Joe [Cornish] wrote. It was clearly Edgar and Joe’s idea to make this a heist movie and to sort of loosely base it on Marvel Premiere “To Steal an Ant-Man” that introduced Scott Lang. It was also their idea to create this Hank Pym/Scott Lang, mentor/mentee relationship. And, also, their idea to kind of do a Marvel movie where the third act battle take place in a little girl’s bedroom. Genius. It was great.
What did you want to add?
I was a kid who grew up since elementary school reading Marvel comics. And when you’re a comic nerd, you develop your own personal relationship with these characters and that notion of like, well, this is what as a fan I want to see in the movie. So, there were definitely things that, when I came in and read the drafts that were like, this is great, but I also want to see this and see this.
What specifically was yours? The biggest thing you felt, “I have to have this.”
Well, I came on about the same time that Adam McKay and Rudd were doing rewrites. And I’ve known McKay for some time and we talked on the phone and we were both really jazzed about the idea of, in the third act, in a movie in which we will have seen shrinking a bunch, let’s take it even further in the third act and introduce what, in the comics, was the microverse, in what we call the quantum realm. Creating this moment of self-sacrifice where he has to go into the quantum realm to save his daughter, that was something that was never in those drafts that Adam and I brought to it.
That scene reminded me a little bit of the final scene from The Black Hole, all of a sudden everything is weird.
Well, there’s that. It owes a little bit to 2001, and then there’s a The Twilight Zone episode that Richard Matheson wrote called “Little Girl Lost,” where a little girl sort of falls into the wall. Something opens up and she’s in this whole other dimension. And it freaked me out as a kid, and I love the idea, so we did an inverse version of that where the dad is now in there and the daughter is back in reality. So, I love that as a science fiction concept and, of course, Richard Matheson wrote The Incredible Shrinking Man, so I love the Richard Matheson aspect of Ant Man. And Adam came up with the idea that in every heist movie, there’s a trial by fire and they’ve got everything in line for the heist, but we need this one thing. Adam pitched that idea of sending Scott on a mission for which he’s not quite prepared and he comes up against another Marvel character. That blew my mind, and particularity with that specific character.
I really liked that scene. It gives us a preview of how Scott will fit in with the other characters.
And I love the idea, too, and I was banging this drum from the beginning of like here’s the things I want of Ant-Man: I want it to be under two hours, I want it to be tight, I want it to be funny, I want it to be kinetic and move to the rhythms of a heist movie. And it had to work for someone who hasn’t seen another Marvel movie or read another Marvel comic. There were going to be elements of it that, if you know, it will enhance the experience, but it had to work as a standalone thing. That, to me, worked in a really organic way. It wasn’t like, “Oh, let’s put him up against this other guy.” It served a plot point; a purpose in our story. But the other things that we really brought to it, when we started working with Michael Pena, if Scott’s going to make this decision to turn back to a life of crime and comes in and says, “Tell me about that tip,” I love the idea of we created these “tip montages.”
Two of them.
That was something that never existed in the original drafts and I wanted to bring to it. And the production writers at the time, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, had been working with Paul, so they wrote those tip montages, which we then reprise at the end to tee up how the movie ends.
It was fun to hear the words “tales to astonish” spoken in the movie.
Yeah! That was something I think was, probably in a different context, but I know Edgar and Joe had had a nod to Tales to Astonish, but that was something I absolutely wanted to preserve. I loved it.
The helmet looked great. I’m sure it’s CGI, but it looks like it can really open like it does.
It’s really CG. I mean, the helmet is a real helmet, but there are different versions of the helmet. There are some shots where the helmet is down that it’s entirely real. For the shots where it flips open and closed, there’s a thing that was weirdly called “the cool beans helmet.” [Laughs] For some reason, that’s what visual effects called it; it’s basically the helmet without the front mask. But when he’d hit the thing on his neck and that stuff is all CG, which looks amazing.
When Edgar Wright left, I remember thinking, “I wonder who will be the poor soul who has to take over,” because he has a very passionate fanbase. I do feel people responded positively to it being you. From the outside it just seems like people have been nice. Do you feel that way?
Well, it’s a weird experience. I remember when, literally as just a bystander, when that thing happened and I was direct messaging with Jeremy Smith, Mr. Beaks at Ain’t It Cool…
I know Jeremy. He’s going to love that name drop.
Jeremy and I were exchanging messages like, “God, what happened with Edgar Wright?” And he’s like, “I don’t know, man.” I think I literally DMed him, “Who is the poor sap who is going to take over that movie?” I did that! Then, I found myself a week and a half later meeting with Marvel and I decided to do the movie. I can’t remember if I emailed or called Jeremy, but I was like, “Guess what.” He just read about it and was like, “What the f*ck?” So, it was a really weird turn of events. Listen, it’s the kind of movie I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And I knew coming in last minute that it was going to be a speeding bullet that I had to catch up on.
Or a speeding Thomas the Tank Engine train.
Yes, it’s a speeding Thomas the Tank Engine. But I knew that there was going to be this sort of energy that it would give us. Coming into any movie, there’s never enough time to make any movie. But I also knew that meeting the visual effects people, it’s counterintuitive, but I really like this Marvel system. I’ve never felt as supported as a filmmaker in terms of the visual effects team and that stuff.
Marvel unleashed that schedule that goes out to 2019, but there’s no Ant-Man sequel. Could that change?
The only thing I know about it is they released that schedule, then the Spider-Man announcement came about and they sort of adjusted the schedule to allow for that. So, listen, if our movie does well and there’s a desire for a sequel, I’d love to do it. I have no idea if or what that timetable would be. If it does happen, I’d love to do it.
You directed the live-action sequence on the Back to the Future animated series.
Well, I did all the sort of live-action intros and outros with Christopher Lloyd and, weirdly, with Bill Nye.
That was your first gig, right?
Yeah, it was. And my writing partner at the time, he and I wrote one of the episodes of the animated series. Was it “Time Waits for No Frog”? I can’t even remember, man, it’s been so long ago. But for awhile I was the weird ancillary Back to the Future guy because I had worked on the behind the scenes documentary for Back to the Future Part II and then directed the documentary for Back to the Future Part III and I co-wrote the Back to the Future ride at Universal and then I did the stuff on the animated series. You know, it because this sort of weird thing [laughs].
A lot of people don’t remember there was an animated series.
Yeah, and it ran for two seasons. I remember the second season, I think Bob Gale directed the live-action stuff. But I did all the first season episodes.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.