How director Peyton Reed put his own stamp on Ant-Man

“This has been the thing. Our editor Dan Lebental and Kevin Feige both got the Apple Watch, like day one.” I’m in a conference room in Burbank, and Ant-Man director Peyton Reed is scarfing down some breakfast — and talking smartwatches. “You’ll be sitting in the cutting room, and all of a sudden one of them will stand up, and it’s like, ‘Is there a fire drill?’ ‘No my watch just told me to stand up.’”

He smiles and leans forward. “And my comment was, ‘What if your watch tells you to assassinate someone?’”

If the filmmaker is feeling a little mischievous, he’s got good reason. Just a few days before we sat down, Ant-Man press screenings began, and despite the collective “meh” that followed the news of his hiring — he replaced Edgar Wright, who left due to creative differencesearly reactions are quite good. Buoyed by Paul Rudd’s performance as Scott Lang, it’s a different kind of Marvel movie, one that’s smaller in scale and not afraid to embrace the goofier aspects of the genre. I chatted with Reed about taking over from Wright and how he made the movie his own.

Warning: mild spoilers for Ant-Man below.

Ant-Man promotional still (MARVEL/DISNEY)

Paul Rudd and director Peyton Reed

Bryan Bishop: This project pretty famously had a well-known director who had been developing it for years, then stepped away in a high-profile way. How did you approach that situation when you came on board?

Peyton Reed: As a fan, I was sort of watching and reading: "I’m psyched to see Ant-Man, I can’t wait!" And then the thing happened, and all of that preceded me. But Kevin [Feige] called. I had known Kevin since 2003; I had developed The Fantastic Four for about a year at Fox, when Kevin was a junior at Marvel, and then later I came in and pitched on Guardians [of the Galaxy]. So I came in and read the drafts of the script, and there were a bunch of drafts that had been done, and then we talked about the movie. My attitude going in was that I love Ant-Man. I grew up on Marvel comics, and I have definite ideas about the character, and I’m just going to respond to how I feel about the script.

"I grew up on Marvel comics, and I have definite ideas about the character."

In Edgar and Joe Cornish’s original script, it was their idea to make it a heist movie. It was their idea to key off that Marvel Premiere issue, "To Steal An Ant-Man," about the introduction of Scott Lang, and make it a mentor-pupil story. And I think it was also their idea to build to a third act that took place in a little girl’s bedroom. I thought it was amazing!

Ant-Man promotional still (MARVEL/DISNEY)

But I also felt like there was stuff that I wanted to see from the comics that wasn’t in the movie at the time. So [Anchorman writer Adam] McKay and Rudd came on to write as I was coming on to direct. Adam and Paul were holed up at the Chateau Marmont, writing, and there was stuff that we wanted to add. I really wanted to strengthen the heist motif of the movie. There’s the section where Scott goes in to steal the suit, and McKay had called in this securities expert, and we sat with him and talked about how you would get into a safe. That whole section of Paul breaking into [Hank Pym’s house] and getting through the laser scanner, that was not in the original drafts.

Also it was McKay’s idea that in every heist movie there’s a trial by fire where everything’s set, "But we need this one element! We have to get it!" And in this movie, it sends [Paul Rudd] on a journey where he encounters another Marvel character. Particularly with that particular character, it thrilled me. That tapped into my childhood love of Marvel comics.

Ant-Man promotional still (MARVEL/DISNEY)

Michael Douglas as Hank Pym

For all of the talk about heist movies, Ant-Man really just plays as a mainstream comedy. Was that something you were thinking about intentionally, or was that just your sensibilities coming through?

I think it’s very much my sensibility, but it seemed to work with this particular character. Because I think for someone that has never seen a Marvel movie or read a Marvel comic, if you see a poster — Ant-Man! — it’s like, come on, what is that? There’s an inherent absurdity to the powers, but that to me was one of the cool things. Let’s make a movie that shows that skeptical son of a bitch what [Ant-Man] can do! We had to make the shrinking technologically, as cutting edge as possible, and photorealistic. And we had to create these ants that you really sort of bought and can invest in.

One of the first things I said to Kevin was I want this movie to be tight. I want it to be under two hours. I want it to be a repeat viewing experience, and I want it to have a strong comedic component. But I also want to get some emotion, man. In the original drafts, Janet [van Dyne, the late wife of Michael Douglas’ character] was mentioned, but she was never dealt with. So McKay and Paul and I wanted to have a flashback sequence and experience [the original] Ant-Man and Wasp, because in the comic that was everything. They were the founding members of The Avengers. So we came up with that and did it, and I love the emotionality of that. And Hank Pym in the final movie is different than those early drafts. Because we had Michael Douglas, I wanted to see a tortured Hank Pym. I like that he is a guy that is motivated in large part by guilt and tragedy.

The other aspect of that emotionality is Scott’s relationship with his daughter and ex-wife. It almost has an ‘80s Spielberg or Amblin Entertainment vibe, with the broken home front and center.

It was one of the things from the get-go I responded to, just the domestic quality of Ant-Man. He’s a hero, but he’s got a daughter. Scott Lang’s prime motivation in this movie is to get back into his daughter’s life and to be a father to his daughter. That’s it. It’s not fame or glory, or testing a suit or a scientific theory. It’s a very simple goal, and I love that about the movie. It’s a dueling father-daughter story. The intimacy of it seemed cool and different for a Marvel movie.

The best of Verge Video