Ant-Man and the Wasp director Peyton Reed seemed more relaxed than he was when he was doing press for the first Ant-Man movie. That was until the start of our interview when I broke the news to him that Anthony Kennedy was retiring from the Supreme Court. Then, Reed — who’s never been someone to keep his progressive politics personal — reacted predictably: “Oh no. Oh, God. Oh shit.”
That aside, as far as promoting Ant-Man and the Wasp, he does sound much more relaxed. At least this time he doesn’t have to answer a hundred different versions of “What did you keep from Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-Man?” Reed acknowledges now that, for Marvel, the first film was their first public “bump in the road,” parting ways with Wright and hiring Reed to replace him on the first Ant-Man. And Reed also acknowledges that the circumstances left him with a movie that wasn’t his from the ground up and with some decisions he wouldn’t have made. (Reed makes it clear he wasn’t a fan of the villain in the first movie, Yellojacket, having basically the same powers as Ant-Man. Reed explains this is more a byproduct of how long ago that first film was developed, as all the early MCU movies seemed to go that route with their villains.)
But this time it’s Reed’s movie from the ground up. And there is a sense in this movie that he’s being allowed to let his ideas have time to breathe. Of course, that still led to a lot of tough decisions having to be made: For one, how much would Ant-Man and the Wasp tie into what we just saw happen in Avengers: Infinity War? After some ideas that Reed thought were “gimmicky,” he finally decided the route to go was “not much at all,” and just tell a clever and funny movie about Ant-Man and the Wasp. Reed says he very much enjoys being the “palate cleanser” of the MCU.
And he knows that, right now, it’s a tough time for a lot of people. And that had a whole lot to do with the tone of this movie. As Reed puts it, he wanted it to be a “joy delivery device” – a way to just take a mental break.
I’m guessing you haven’t been on social media for the Kennedy retirement news.
I have not. I’ve been in Koreatown in this dark theater looking at this ScreenX version of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Oh my God. Well, on the cheery note…
You did go after Roy Moore on Twitter and he didn’t win. Can you do something here?
I don’t know. That’s a big one. That’s awful. I literally was just in this dark theater in Koreatown, they were showing this demo of this amazing ScreenX process they do where it basically fills the sides of the screen with your peripheral vision. It’s amazing. But I was literally on media blackout for the last hour and a half.
And I ruined it for you.
Yes. Thank you very much. I’m in a great mood now. Let’s do this!
The country may be going to hell, but you have a good movie coming out.
Yes, let’s laugh our way into oblivion.
Ant-Man and the Wasp does act as a good way to watch something that’s funny and has nice people and is a good two-hour mental health break from both the real world and from what happened in Infinity War.
It makes total sense in relation to Infinity War and the environment in which we find ourselves these days. It’s bleak. And one of the many things we talked about as we were starting to do this movie was maintaining that tone and expanding that tone. And specific to Paul Rudd even, in the first movie part of the big thing for us was Paul had never really played an action hero before. So it was creating a situation where if audiences were going to accept him as an action hero. In the first third or half of the original Ant-Man, he’s more laconic and more of the straight man. And this time around, we were like, well, audiences have embraced Rudd in that role so let’s go nuts and let’s unleash him a little more – let him be more aggressively funny. So that was a big part of it.
And you didn’t have to do the scenes where he first becomes small and that hijinks that can happen, like falling down drains or whatever.
There was so much setup that had to happen in the first movie: The Pym particle technology, the rules of shrinking, the history of Hank Pym in relation to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the MCU. There was so much stuff to set up in that movie. And this time it’s just, okay, fuck all that, we can just go make the movie and have fun.
When you first signed on to do the sequel you mentioned it was appealing to be able to work on it from the ground up this time. Did that make a huge difference? At least you aren’t answering, “What did the other director do before you signed on?” questions this time.
Well yes, that’s certainly nice. Yeah, it was obviously way better to be able to be involved in the fundamental early stages of, “What is this story going to be?,” all of the way through the process. And having the time to do it and hopefully progress the visual effects and do all that sort of stuff. So, that’s a big contrast to the first movie.
And part of it was this isn’t just a sequel to Ant-Man, it’s weirdly kind of a sequel to Captain America: Civil War with regards to Scott Lang. We couldn’t ignore what happened in that movie. But that was good, it gave us this organic jumping off point about how would Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne receive the information that Scott went off and was fighting with the Avengers and got caught. And the suit is confiscated and exposed the tech to Tony Stark, which is Hank Pym’s worst nightmare. So that was like, this is great, let’s start the movie where they are estranged and not in each other’s lives. And that seemed really fertile ground for both a drama and a comedy.
This is very much a standalone movie, similar to how Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok were. Even in the first Ant-Man, Scott visits the Avengers headquarters. There’s not any of that here.
Yeah, that was really fun. And I think highly encouraged at Marvel. I think we’re the 20th movie in the MCU and you just want to keep your tone intact and tell your story. They want them to be different. In 2018 Black Panther, Infinity War, and our movie are all tonally really different and different narrative ambitions, so that’s really refreshing.
Did you know what happened at the end of Infinity War when you were filming?
Yes. The main thing we knew from the beginning was dealing with events from Ant-Man and Civil War. And we knew we’d have to deal with where do we fall in the timeline regarding the events on Infinity War. And we went through early permutations with the writers of how are we going to seed this into our movie – because if you introduce it into the movie, it overtakes the movie because it’s such a monumental thing. And we talked at times about do we seed in these little Easter eggs? Like stuff on a screen in the background or whatever. And then that felt gimmicky to us and I don’t love that so much. So we finally landed on what we ended up doing: telling our story and making it self-contained with a beginning, middle and an end.
It’s interesting to watch with an audience because they come into this movie looking for clues. And at a certain point when we just don’t do any of it, they submit to the story that we’re telling and they go on this ride that is Ant-Man and the Wasp. We like the structure of telling our story and ending it in an almost too neat bow, how it ends – and then, late in the game, dealing with the events of Infinity War, in a way that is unique to our movie, tonally.
People have been tweeting at me asking how much it ties in with Infinity War and I keep saying, “very little.”
And I think it’s cool, too, it maybe suggests some of the stuff that might happen in the future of the MCU like as far as when Captain Marvel takes place. That you can have these stories that are freestanding and maybe tie in in more unexpected ways than you think setting out. It’s all this amazing thing where you’re telling these individual stories and they have to work as their own movies and weave into the larger MCU. The challenge becomes doing that in new and creative and interesting ways and not just having another hero pop by or appear in your movie.
I was thrilled no one did this time. You already have so many great characters, we don’t need Thor stopping by, or whoever…
Well, but that is the thing, we have so many characters we are dealing with, it didn’t make sense. Somewhere early on in our development someone was like, “I read something that says Hawkeye is going to show up!” And I always wonder where those rumors come from. There was never a moment Hawkeye was going to be in our movie. I suppose it’s because they are both fathers? Or both on house arrest?
Or that he’s also not in Infinity War? But obviously not.
It’s weird where this comes from.
Yeah, I love it.
Speaking of characters, Randall Park gets some great comedic moments in this movie.
Randall, man. Randall is someone I’ve watched and he’s so good at everything he does and he does so many different types of comedy when he plays these characters. And when we needed that character in the movie – basically who is going to enforce Scott Lang’s house arrest and checking up on him – we thought about one of the movies that was a big influence on this movie. And we started talking about Elmore Leonard novels and where there are all these different characters with different agendas. Or movies like Midnight Run or After Hours, where there’s a very simple goal that needs to be accomplished and the journey getting there is nuts and all of these people come out of the woodwork. And that was the basic idea, structurally, for Ant-Man and the Wasp. But Randall, it was like, who is this enforcer going to be? We went through the Marvel encyclopedia and there’s Jimmy Woo and we were like, oh, that would be great.
There’s a scene with Paul Rudd and Randall Park that keeps going and it gets funnier as it goes. The first film seemed more constrained. I get the sense because of the director change there was some internal stress with that one. Do you feel you had more room to breathe in this movie?
I mean, I suppose it was probably the biggest initial bump in the road. But there are always bumps in the road when it comes to these movies. But the other thing I think to consider about the first movie is that it’s an origin movie and there are so much that had to be set up in that movie. There was so much stuff. And for me, the trickiest thing about that movie was Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s script was cool and it had great stuff in it, but when [Adam] McKay and Rudd came on, we were talking about how there was no Quantum Realm in this. If we are doing a movie about a lot of shrinking, let’s do the third act and let’s take it further. Also there’s no mention of Janet van Dyne and we want to get into that stuff.
So for us, it was coming in and taking what was there and cool and expanding on it. And, you know, when Edgar and Joe had started that process way early on – at the time of Iron Man. So there were certain things that were baked into their stuff that was like, well, the villain has kind of the same power set as the hero. That’s not great. That has been done before but let’s make it as cool as we can make it. So definitely we had more freedom.
Right, those early movies were like, here’s Hulk and the villain is another Hulk, Abomination. The first Iron Man has him fighting Iron Monger. That’s the way it worked.
And obviously not to disparage those guys’ work, they did great work. Edgar is a very talented guy. But it was a product of when it was started really.
The first Ant-Man was released after Age of Ultron. Now this one after Infinity War. It’s kind of like watching an epic four-hour Springsteen concert, then being told to stick around for some comedy from John Mulaney.
[Laughs] Yeah! I mean, yeah, we are positioned the same way we were three years ago. Which, again, I like: coming in the shadow of this giant behemoth and then, “Hey, guys, we’re the palate cleanser! Is that what we are?” But I like that. And that’s a position I like to be in.
And it’s funny you made a Springsteen reference because, it’s no longer in the movie, but that moment in the movie when Walton Goggins shows back up and the car chase begins, he now says, “Hello, Hope van Dyne.” We had a moment when he didn’t say that, but he started singing, “Hey little girl is your daddy home, did he go and leave you all alone.” It was so nuts. It was cut for tonal reasons, but it was mostly cut for the exorbitant cost of the Springsteen lyric. It was like, well, I don’t know if we’re going to do that. But it was awesome. First of all hearing Goggins sing Springsteen is great.
I wonder how many viewers are familiar with the fourth single released from the Born in the U.S.A. album.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly. Maybe it will be the most expensive deleted scene on a Blu-ray of all time. Goggins puts a really nice redneck lilt on it, it’s really nice.
A miniature building is the MacGuffin in this movie. It reminded me of the scene in Big where Josh Baskin is complaining about the building not being fun. Well, here you go.
Yeah, “Here’s what’s fun about a building!” One of the biggest things that was another influence on us, and we screened it at Marvel before we started, was What’s Up, Doc?, the Bogdanovich movie, which I saw as a kid and just the idea of the comedic chase through San Francisco that’s so specific to the landmarks of the city. And then there are four different cases that all get mixed up. Though our movie is really nothing like it, the weird chase through San Francisco and the weird chemistry between Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand in that movie, that was something we watched and thought, okay, yeah, there has to be some of this DNA in our movie.
Well, again, I’m sorry to break that news to you earlier.
Yeah, I’m going to check it out…that’s awful. And, honestly, the corny thing would be to say… You know what, I’m going to say the corny thing because I don’t really give a shit. The idea of what Rudd and Evangeline and I were talking about, what the tone of our movie should be, it does want to be a joy delivery device. There’s got to be stakes, but we’re doing a different thing and we like what we are doing.
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