Peyton Reed On Completing His Ant-Man Trilogy, Doing Right By Michelle Pfeiffer, And Bringing MODOK To Life

No one will be calling Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania a “palette cleanser.” This was always the joke after the prior two Ant-Man movies immediately followed huge Avengers movies with massive stakes for the future of the MCU, then here would come Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang and his quirky cast of characters that remained, until now, fairly self-contained movies. (Self-contained on their own, obviously Scott Lang has appeared in other MCU movies. And, yes, the post-credit scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp crossed over into other events.)

But now, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is charged to set up an entire new phase of Marvel movies. (For those counting, this is the fifth.) Reed, who directed all three Ant-Man installments – only the second MCU director to do so, joining Spider-Man’s Jon Watts; James Gunn will join the club soon – is tasked with introducing the world to Kang (Jonathan Majors), who will be the major villain for the considerable future. As Scott, Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are all sucked into the Quantum Realm, where Kang awaits, this sets up a much larger role for Pfeiffer, who spent 30 years down there and very much knows her way around. But, by doing this, we had to say goodbye to the quirky people who surround Scott, like Michael Peña’s Luis, who does not appear in this third movie.

Ahead, Peyton Reed takes us through what it was like to shift from “palette cleanser” to a full-on MCU movie that will set up and have repercussions for the next slate of films. Also, he explains how he finally pulled of getting MODOK into an MCU movie.

You are, I believe, only the second Marvel MCU director to date to finish your trilogy. You directed all three.

Yes, I did. It’s exciting. Who would’ve thought when we started the first Ant-Man, when we started shooting in 2014, that there would be a third one? I’m thrilled because, like you, I’m sure, I grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy and Indiana Jones, what was then a trilogy, and Back to the Future trilogy and that stuff. And it’s great to be able to progress these characters and then get to the third movie. Part of the thing, as you get to the third movies, we’ve got to make this different and interesting and not do the same old thing – and mix it up and try and make the third movie as radically different while retaining the same characters that we know and love to see.

Well, speaking of that, of all the reactions, no one’s calling this one “a palate cleanser.”

[Laughs] Well, my job is done then. I think that sort of came about because we always would follow a massive Avengers movie, right? And I jokingly said, well, maybe not so jokingly, said at one point, it’s like, I don’t want to be a palate cleanser. I want to be the Big Avengers movie. And by that I just meant Ant-Man deserves this massive adventure. And we have this thing – particularly after Ant-Man and The Wasp – we have this big, unanswered question that we owe the audience an answer to, which is: what the hell was Janet van Dyne doing in the Quantum Realm for 30 years? She wasn’t wandering around a psychedelic void with a walking stick for 30 years. She had a whole life down there. And what if that was our entree into this big, new villain, Kang the Conqueror? What if there was a prior relationship that happened down there? But also to get to invent and create this entire subatomic world, that seemed thrilling to me.

Well also, speaking of that. I wouldn’t say the whole movie, but honestly, three-fourths of the way through this movie, Michelle Pfeiffer is the main character, which is awesome.

Yeah, we had to do right by Janet van Dyne. She was rescued at the end, basically, of the last movie. We deliberately introduce her in this movie serving pizza at the dining room table, like the most domestic content you can imagine. It’s like, oh wow, I guess that’s what Janet’s doing now back on Earth. She’s serving pizza to the family, which is great. But as they get sucked into the Quantum Realm, you start to see there’s desperation and there’s a mission at hand, but you start to see her come back to life and see how vibrant she was as a hero in the Quantum Realm. And they start to peel back the layers. And you realize all the stuff that she had not told her family about. We liked the idea of exploring family secrets in the movie.

You mentioned Kang and Jonathan Majors. Look, we all know he’s a good actor. But his first day playing Kang, what were you thinking? It’s insane what he’s doing.

Jonathan and I had a lot of Zoom calls way early on, right as I cast him. And we talked about if this is a guy who has dominion over time, and sort of doesn’t live in a straight line… And there’s a line in the movie that Jeff Loveness wrote, “You’re an Avenger. Have I killed you before?” He’s had all these experiences, he can’t even keep it straight. What would it be like being in the presence of that person? And we talked about this economy of movement and this economy of language. He’s very deliberate when he speaks, and when he speaks that way, you listen.

And then we talked about trauma. We talked about, people experience trauma in their linear life. What if this guy had experienced multiple traumas? There’s something very broken about Kang the Conqueror, right? And we liked the idea that if you live in that many lifetimes, what does forming attachments mean? Is there any attachment he’s ever formed? And we liked the idea of peeling away this backstory where maybe his attachment to Janet van Dyne is the closest he’s ever come to actually having a relationship with someone…

And then she betrays him, at least in his mind.

In his mind, he’s betrayed by her. In her mind, she’s betrayed by him. And we love that idea. And also that it’s in a superhero trilogy that’s about family and those attachments. This is something that Kang doesn’t really have, and we liked that juxtaposition.

MODOK is in this movie, because I’m under the impression it’s been at least talked about before in two other prior MCU movies and didn’t happen. And you finally cracked the code, but are you also worried about hardcore MODOK fans, “That is not the way it is in the comics.” I don’t know them, but I’m guessing they’re out there.

Yeah, I suppose there are hardcore MODOK advocates out there. I don’t know who these people are…

I bet you soon will.

Yeah, I know. I’m going to hear from them. That’s the thing with Marvel Comics, is everybody has a prior relationship with these characters as a comic book fan. So you have to make finite choices when you bring these characters to the screen, and some people are going to like them, and some aren’t. But at the end of the day, he’s still a bizarro, grotesque character who’s a giant floating head. And he is also a mechanized organism designed only for killing.

But when we talked about how we could fit him in, it seemed like the perfect movie to introduce him. And we liked the idea, his plot function. And we also like the idea of, as we reveal who MODOK is in this movie, there are ramifications for Cassie Lang. It’s actually kind of triggering for Cassie, because she mentions early on in the movie that someone came into her bedroom when she was six and tried to kill her! And for a six-year-old, that’s going to leave a mark. So all of those things sort of accrued to, okay, we have a take on him that I think could be a little scary and a little dramatic. And, ultimately, he’s got his own arc in this movie, which we were thrilled about.

I’ve always found MODOK funny. But seeing him in a live-action movie, he’s kind of terrifying.

Oh, yeah. No, he needs to be terrifying. He’s down there for a reason. He’s got a function, and conceptually it’s one of the strangest things that the Marvel Comics people ever created.

So like I said, Michelle Pfeiffer is front and center. So is Michael Douglas this time around. But it seems like to do that, we had to say goodbye to characters like Michael Peña’s, who was so great in the last two movies. And Scott Lang’s whole quirky cast of characters. I did miss them. I understand that they can’t all go to the Quantum Realm.

I think it’s just, we had done it for two movies. And I love those characters. Like you, I really genuinely love them. But there was so much story to tell on this thing, and it’s one of those things. As you start to formulate what this third movie’s going to be, there are certain things that you just don’t have room for. You may have to make these hard choices, and that was really one of them.

I do have a thing. There is, for me, a personal good luck charm, and you can’t make an Ant-Man movie without David Dastmalchian. David plays a very different role in this movie. But yeah, it was definitely a decision, like with the Ant-Man family and then Kang the Conqueror and MODOK and introducing all the Freedom Fighters, there’s only a certain amount of real estate in the movie.

It’s funny you mentioned him, because I’m from Kansas City originally, and between David and Paul Rudd, you’ve got two Chiefs fans to deal with while you do the press this week.

[Laughs] Absolutely, man. And yeah, there’s no bigger Chiefs fan than Paul Rudd.

No, I am.

[Laughs] Okay, you’ll have to talk to him about that!

I know, yeah.

Someone asked him a question about if he were able to travel through time, what would he go back in his life and relive. And it was the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl and being at the game with his son.

I went to that game, too, and you know what? That’s also what I would pick. He is right about that.

I love it.

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