“We're going to show you a variety of things and I think probably the best way to start – do you guys want to see the beginning of the movie?” “Ant-Man” director Peyton Reed asks the small group of assembled journalists. “You want to watch the beginning like eight minutes?”
I'm sitting in a screening room at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) with a group of about a dozen other reporters. Reed is joined by his co-producer Brad Winderbaum to introduce footage from the upcoming superhero film, which will serve as the final installment of Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 2.
As Reed and Winderbaum walk off stage, the lights dim and footage begins to play. The opening scene (a flashback) sees original Ant-Man Hank Pym (an aged-down Michael Douglas) delivering a swift punch to the face of Martin Donovan as his colleagues Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Peggy Carter (an aged-up Hayley Atwell) look on. They are arguing over Hank's “Pym Particles,” the technology that makes his bite-size transformation into Ant-Man possible. Before angrily striding out of the room, Hank tells the trio that he will never give up the secret formula they so covet.
The next scene, now set in present day, also features a swift punch, this one to the porcelain cheek of thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Turns out the jab is an exit ritual of sorts on the day of the ex-con's release from San Quentin prison. Scott then walks through the prison gates and is greeted by his former cellmate Luis (Michael Pena), who tries to pull him in to another criminal job. Scott declines, saying he's done with his old life and will be entering the world of legit employment. Luis warns him that entering the mainstream workforce isn't an easy prospect.
He's not wrong! The following scene shows Scott adjusting to the soul-crushing life of a Baskin-Robbins worker. But don't worry, it doesn't last long. Within minutes he has summarily been dismissed by his new boss, who cites a background check as the reason behind his termination. Here we learn the Robin Hood-style nature of the crimes that landed Scott in prison (they involve, among other things, driving a Bentley into a pool).
That's the first eight minutes. The next clip we're shown depicts the moment where, in Reed's words, “Scott starts to make some bad decisions in his life.” In this scene Luis and his friends Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) inform Scott that they've received word of a rich guy in possession of a safe filled with — they assume — an ungodly amount of riches. Driven to desperation after his Baskin-Robbins firing, Scott's Robin Hood antenna goes up.
“Ant-Man” director Peyton Reed
For the next clip, we are instructed to don the 3-D glasses that have been provided. What follows is a terrific, gorgeously-rendered action sequence in which Scott, in full Ant-Man garb, shrinks down to the size of an insect for the first time.
The place? A bathtub in the apartment he shares with Luis. The situation? Scott transforms, and Luis, not knowing that a crumb-sized version of his friend is currently occupying the tub, immediately decides it's a good time to take a shower. Water cascades from the spout, chasing the bite-sized Scott like a tidal wave. The force of the flood catapults him out of the tub and into a vent, where he freefalls down to the apartment below theirs.
Scott lands on a spinning record. There is an apartment party in full swing. Scott flies off the record player and onto the dance floor, where he must dodge dozens of stomping feet. Multi-colored lights flash off a pair of clear heels. Music pounds. It is a thrilling sensory experience. After a series of further misadventures, Scott, protected by the suit's ultra-durable material, ends up on the roof of a car outside his apartment building before returning to full size.
The clip following this I have been forbidden from writing about. All I'll say is that it will undoubtedly delight the hell out of hardcore Marvel fans. It also, at one point, sees Scott riding on the back of a flying ant. The ant's name is Anthony. “Ant”-thony. Get it?
“A lot of what we did early on, I would go through all these old Ant-Man comics and just pick these…frames and things [to use in the movie],” Reed explained. “Because that was one of the exhilarating things for me as a comic reader when I was young is seeing Ant-Man flying around on an ant and how could we make that not only acceptable but bad ass in sort of the context of the movie?”
Michael Douglas in “Ant-Man”
The final piece of footage that was screened involved a fight between Scott and Darren Cross, a.k.a. Ant-Man's arch-nemesis Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll).
“The effects in this sequence were done by Double Negative, another one of our vendors, so we can show you a little bit of the before and after,” said Reed. “You can see Corey Stoll in a bodysuit.”
The bodysuit in question did indeed show up in the footage, which offered an interesting window into the process of creating the film's cutting-edge visual effects. One second, Stoll could be seen in a pre-VFX bodysuit. The next, he would be shown in his full, CG-rendered Yellowjacket costume. The fight itself had Scott and Darren transforming from big to small multiple times as they battled it out inside of a helicopter.
In their miniature forms, the two become locked inside a briefcase that freefalls from the aircraft. Inside the case, a line of dialogue inadvertently triggers a smartphone to play the Cure's 1989 song “Disintegration,” adding a comic flourish to their pint-sized skirmish. As with the other action sequences screened, it plays as an impressive blend of stunning visual effects and crowd-pleasing comedy.
Below, a few other choice quotes from our Q&A with Reed and Winderbaum:
Reed on whether we'll be seeing Janet Van Dyne (a.k.a. Wasp) in the film: “We'll say maybe and I will say that for me, again, like growing up as a Marvel kid and being a huge fan of Ant-Man and Wasp was very important to have it represented in the movie to me.”
Reed on how the Avengers fit into the plot: “It was important to me that this be the Ant-Man movie, that someone be able to watch this movie if they”ve never seen any other Marvel movie and have a satisfying experience where”s there”s a beginning, middle, and an end. That was really, really important, but it was important to Marvel too. There”s enough of it in there and enough of the sort of attitude of particularly I think with Pym”s character about his attitude about the Starks and the Avengers and their worldview and his worldview. So that”s really I think the bulk of it.”
Reed on Hank Pym's role in the action: “I think that's one of the fun things, particularly with Hank Pym is to take someone who was such a cornerstone of the Marvel comics Universe and be able to make him come to life in the MCU and to plant these little things about sort of what his history is with the Starks and with S.H.I.E.L.D. and also to create a character who has definite opinions about both of those things, and you'll see a lot of that in the movie as well.”
Reed on Hank's goal of keeping the Pym Particle from Howard and Tony Stark: “I think in Pym”s mind…Howard Stark and Tony Stark are essentially cut from the same cloth. As you saw in that first scene, protecting the world from the Pym Particle…at all cost he”s going to protect it. …we even talked about [Alfred] Nobel [who created] dynamite and then felt so bad about it he created the Nobel Peace Prize. The idea of like he”s created this incredibly powerful thing, but obviously if it falls in the wrong hands it”s a disaster. That”s something that we had I think – it gave us a lot of dramatic fodder but also comedic fodder with Hank Pym”s character and when you hear his opinions about those guys. He has a very definite idea about them.”
Reed on why they decided to use CG for Yellowjacket's suit: “Well, really it's a couple things. One it's just in terms of the way that he's able to move in the bodysuit. As soon as you start to put a lot of armor on, because you want it to be photorealistic and you want it to be tactile, but there's a point where it can just get clumsy and you don't have the ease of movement. And the surfaces are so sophisticated now that you can make them look extremely tactile. So really that was the thinking, and it was something early on that we had built pieces of little armor and stuff like that and it just was not practical to shoot and I think the finished effect feels very, very tactile.”
Michael Douglas and Corey Stoll in “Ant-Man”
Reed on Hank's relationship with protégé Darren Cross (a.k.a. Yellowjacket): “…he feels really emotionally pushed aside by Pym. I think that Hope feels the same way. So there”s sort of a little story, without spoiling too much, where these two people, Hope and Cross, are kind of bonded at first over his issue with Hank Pym. They sort of see things that have gone wrong in their own lives and they each, in a way, blame Hank Pym for that. Part of the movie is sorting that out between the three of them. [Darren] is also a guy who is, at the beginning, even before any sort of particles in the situation – he”s maybe not quite all there and he talks about that in the movie.”
Reed on the relationship between Hank Pym and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly): “They were estranged for a very long time and now there's sort of an uneasy alliance that has formed between these two characters. And that's a huge part of the movie. I mean it's got the structure of a heist movie, but it's really sort of a dual father/daughter story about these two fathers [Hank and Scott] who are trying to sort of find redemption in their relationship with their daughters and they both made decisions in their past that have alienated from their daughters and that's a huge part of the movie.”
Reed on Scott's relationship with his estranged wife and daughter: “It was really important that [the film is] at its core the story of a guy who in his past made some really terrible decisions and those decisions cost him a three-year stent. His wife left him and he's now estranged from his daughter. When he gets back like that – having a relationship with his daughter becomes the most important thing in his life. So it's really like that was the emotional problem we were working from, and then just sort of figuring out becomes the most important thing in his life. So it”s really – like that was the emotional [foundation] we were working from…”
Reed on dealing with “Captain America: Civil War” directors Joe and Anthony Russo regarding MCU continuity: “…as we were doing the movie and we were in post and they were getting ready to head out to Atlanta to do 'Civil War,' we had a lot of conversations and I actually wanted those guys to come in and look at our stuff. It was going to be a lot of sort of cross talk. And I found myself getting extremely protective over the character of Scott Lang and then talking to the guys through the writers and the Russos about 'he wouldn't do that.' …it's important because there's this continuity that has to happen in this universe.”
Brad Winderbaum on why “Ant-Man” is the right movie to end Phase 2 of the MCU: “I think that it kind of defines the new status quo for the universe. It's like at the very beginning, the genie always felt like you could get it back into the bottle, and now even for a regular guy you'll see it's like even Scott Lang is getting roped into the world. There is an implication that like no matter where you are you're affected and your life is different now, which then kind of dovetails naturally into '[Captain America:]Civil War.”
Reed on the use of flashbacks: “…it”s certainly not a flashback-heavy movie. It”s a very present-tense movie but there are a couple times where we sort of jump back and witness key moments and key things that inform Hank”s life. As you know, if you know the comics, Hank Pym is a really difficult character, very complicated character. We try some of those cases in this movie, others those cases we do not try. I think you know what I”m talking. Yeah, that to me was one of the joys of having Michael Douglas, a guy who has made a career out of playing these really sort of kind of morally ambiguous characters and these very complicated characters. There”s a lot of grey area, and he definitely – we leaned on that a lot in the movie.”
Michael Douglas in “Ant-Man”
Reed on the science behind the “Pym Particles”: “In some ways there's sort of – it's the particles, and the suit is a delivery system for that. So the suit has sort of a regulator on it that regulates the amount of Pym Particles that goes through, so Pym [has to] calculate exactly how much of that particle is to be released to shrink down to the size of Ant-Man and also to grow back to normal size. So it is a distribution system. And there are a lot of sort of, you know, we were very strict about sort of how that works, but as you see [in] the movie there are other devices that come into play regarding the Pym Particle.”
Reed on keeping Ant-Man's size consistent on screen: “…he had to be consistent, when he shrinks down he shrinks down to one specific size. And even when visual effects we were doing overs and stuff, sometimes you see a visual effect and like, 'okay he needs to be a third smaller' or 'he looks like a G.I. Joe in this one; he's too big.' 'Okay, now he looks like a Mego eight inch. And now he looks like a Kenner Star Wars figure'…like we had all these points of reference about he had to be the size of an ant. He had to be that same thing. So that was a tricky thing because it changed with almost every shot. …it was the thing that we are constantly on the lookout for.”
Reed on the nature of Scott's criminal past and his relationship with Hank: “We wanted [Scott] to have a certain skillset that would appeal to Hank Pym. When you see the movie, you”ll see he has a very specific set of skills, which I think even in that first scene he”s got his Masters in Electrical Engineering but he”s also got a lot of other skills that Pym puts to use. Yeah, it was important to sort of find that line of a guy who really is in his core a good guy, saw this injustice happening, did something about it and then went too far, and definitely made some mistakes. It was about sort of trying to bust this corporation that was robbing from people but then he just took it too far.”
Reed on whether he'll be returning for any potential “Ant-Man” sequels: “….if there”s an 'Ant-Man 2' I would love to come back for 'Ant-Man 2.' …I sort of feel real ownership over these characters. …So yes if we're fortunate enough to do a sequel I would love to come back. It was an amazing experience.”
Reed on whether there will be a post-credit sequence: “Yeah, there might be something on the end of the movie. It”s all happening so fast I can”t remember.”
“Ant-Man” hits theaters on July 17.