Edgar Wright, Ant-Man and where next for the film

Feature Rob Leane 27 May 2014 - 06:18

Why did Edgar Wright walk away from Ant-Man, his eight year passion project? We went looking for clues...

The recent news that Edgar Wright was stepping away from the Ant-Man project came as a huge shock, and not only because he’s a perfect choice from a fan perspective and that it’s so late in the day. The British director has been so integral to getting this project into production, and has been battling for it for the last eight years, predating the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Why would he leave now? We had a look through the history of the project hoping for some answers...

It began back in April 2006 when Marvel announced that Wright would reunite with his writing partner Joe Cornish to pen the film, which the former would go on to direct. Wright’s Big Talk Productions cohort Nira Park was also attached to produce. To put that in context, the same announcement heralded the news that Jon Favreau would be working on bringing a little known property about some metal dude to the big screen. Of course, Favreau’s Iron Man project hit the ground running and made it onto our screens and straight into our hearts two years later. The same cannot be said for Wright’s long-gestating Ant-Man.

Things seemed rosy later that year though, when Wright appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con in July 2006 to talk up the film. "In terms of high concept and character, it intrigued me,” the director was quoted in IGN. "The idea of Ant-Man is how kick-ass it would be to be small,” he stressed, batting away reports that his comedic background meant he was developing a parody movie (at this point his only major feature had been Shaun Of The Dead).

The same IGN article suggests the first hints of friction in the project, reporting that Wright responded negatively to an audience-member's query about the potentiality of other Marvel heroes rocking up in his movie. "One of the things I don't want to do," the budding director had claimed, "is get into the whole Marvel history… The last thing I want to do is try to cram too much in and fail."

Now, eight years and nine MCU movies later (It’ll be eleven by the time Ant-Man hits our screens, making Wright’s former project the twelfth), could this growing universe, and Marvel’s desire to tie everything together have got in the way of Wright’s creative vision? It seems like a long shot, seeing as the Phase 2 movies so far have seemed fairly keen to keep their central heroes separate from their fellow superpowered Avengers. But at this stage, we can’t rule much out. And we do know that Wright has steered clear of sequels and overtly-shared narrative continuities so far in his career.

Superhero Hype interviewed Wright at the time, when he revealed that his passion for getting Ant-Man on the big screen predated even 2006. Around the time he and Cornish had been writing a draft of Shaun Of The Dead, approximately three years before he actually ended up in a Marvel Studios discussion, Artisan Entertainment had propositioned Wright to take his pick from their pile of lesser-known Marvel titles they had acquired (and later lost). Intrigued straight away by Ant-Man, Wright had an idea to “basically [do] a superhero film in inverted commas, in another genre, almost more in the crime-action genre, that just happens to involve an amazing suit with this piece of hardware.”

So we know that Wright had been interested in an Ant-Man movie over ten years ago, but by February 2007 the production had hit some difficulties. “Ant-Man is in a bit of a holding pattern,” Wright told IGN. “We're figuring things out with the script and we haven't initiated casting. We still have quite a bit to do. I expect I'll have more to say about it in a few months.” At this point, Wright also claimed to be deep in research for the film, investigating the science of nanotechnology to ensure his film was based as near to reality as possible.

That interview also featured an early reference to Wright’s work on Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, which again highlights how long the Ant-Man project gestated in development, with Scott Pilgrim shot, released, ‘flopped’ and become a cult favourite long before Ant-Man had even began casting. That kind of timeframe is sure to frustrate a director, but after eight years in development, surely more than impatience would be needed to cause him to walk.

Fast forward to 2010, and Marvel were pressing ahead quickly with Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Meanwhile, the cogs had slowly began to turn for Wright’s passion project. Marvel’s original Generalisimo Stan Lee spilled some beans on Twitter in February 2010, telling the world that “Marvel is prepping a movie starring– Ant-Man!” and that he “had fun discussing the tiny hero” with “cool, young director Edgar Wright.”

Later that week, Wright clarified where he was at with his adaptation of the diminutive hero, revealing that there was “no timetable” for the film. “That character isn't one of [Marvel Studios’] biggest properties, it’s not like a tentpole deadline," he told MTV. "It’s more like me and Kevin [Feige saying], 'Let's make a really good script.' We've always agreed on that — 'Let’s make a good script that works, that’s all about a great genre film, and that isn’t necessarily relying on anything else.'”

Again, despite both parties commitment to doing things right, the time spent scripting this film, and Wright’s reference to avoiding "relying on anything else" seems to suggest a conflict between Wright’s love for genre flicks and the possibly-intrusive elements of working in a tightly constructed pre-established universe. Again, that’s pure speculation, but the script and what does (or doesn’t) feature in it certainly seems to be a recurring conversation point.

At Comic-Con in 2010, Wright alluded to some further meetings with Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige, centring on the possibility of linking Wright’s Ant-Man to the 2012 would-be-hit Avengers Assemble. “We [Wright and Feige] discussed whether he would be in The Avengers,” the director told Cinema Blend. “The thing is, the script that I’ve written [...] the chronology of it or the way it works wouldn’t really fit in with what they do," he continued.

"My film is very much an introduction to that character, and so it wasn’t something where it felt right to introduce him in that film,” he added. No tell of a major problem there then, but Wright actively wanting to avoid the Avengers (at least initially) does set him apart from the other MCU directors, which could possibly have caused problems further down the line.

Returning to Ant-Man after two years of producing and promoting Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Wright told the LA Times in January 2011 that he was now actively producing a new script draft for Marvel. Joe Cornish claimed this script was handed in by April, Superhero Hype reported.

By the time Comic-Con rolled around in July they were on a third draft, with MTV picking up a quote where Wright again drew a line between his film and the Avengers’ shared screen-space. Once more he stated a desire for “a standalone genre film,” which would “create an ‘in’ for people so you don’t have to know 50 years of ‘Avengers’ history to enjoy the movie.” There are also reports in that piece that Joe Cornish’s directorial debut Attack The Block had held up script-writing advancement, too.

At the end of 2011, Marvel lost a thought-definite director for one of their tent-pole movies, with Patty Jenkins of Monster fame backing away from Thor: The Dark World citing creative differences. Unlike Wright’s film which allegedly begins shooting next month, Jenkins’ principal photography wasn’t set to begin until September 2012, giving Marvel Studios the best part of a year to find their replacement and get the production back on track.

While Marvel struggled with these Thor foibles in early 2012, the ship seemed to finally be steadying for Ant-Man as Wright was happily teasing fans with pictograms of his miniature Marvel man and beginning work on a test-reel that would later astound fans at the 2012 Comic-Con. In October of the same year, Marvel announced the release date for Ant-Man as November 6, 2015.

So everything seemed to be going swimmingly then, and a few months passed before any other news arrived. Come May 2013, Feige was doing the press rounds and explaining to Entertainment Weekly that “Frankly, now we have to re-write [Ant-Man] to put it a little bit more into the [Marvel Cinematic Universe] because it was written before it existed,” pointing to a compromise between Wright’s genre-loving action and the MCU’s intertwining continuity.

No further warning signs appeared though as Feige revealed that casting would come in 2013 followed by filming in 2014, which seemed to be pretty close to the truth until this week’s events put a question mark over the film once more.

In July 2013 Wright and Cornish confirmed to Digital Spy that they had finished the script and that Marvel had allowed them to complete their work on The World’s End before taking Ant-Man to the next level. Things had moved forward slowly with appropriately tiny steps, but they had indeed moved forward. The film was scripted, the studio happy to wait and plot compromises had been made. For all intents and purposes, Ant-Man was finally good to go.

Questioning about Hank Pym’s involvement in the creation of the cinematic Ultron allowed Wright to clarify to the Huffington Post that Ultron had never been in his script anyway and that Pym would not pop up in the Avengers sequel to create the crazed Artificial Intelligence, so he wasn’t fazed by the character's inclusion in the team-up flick.

Wright stressed his position on the Avengers once more to Indie Wire in August of 2013, claiming that "[Ant-Man] is pretty standalone in the way we're linking it to the others. I like to make it standalone because I think the premise of it needs time”.

He went on to add that “I think Iron Man really works because it's a relatively simple universe; it's relatable. I definitely want to go into finding a streamlined format where you use the origin format to introduce the main character and further adventures can bring other people into it." It does seem then, that links to the Avengers (or lack thereof) continued to prey on Wright’s mind however close the film got to finally being made. A few weeks later, the film’s release date was pushed by until July 2015. Coincidence? Who knows at this point.

In November 2013 it was revealed that the film couldn’t shoot in England as planned, due to the rejected Pinewood extension. No one seemed to flare up about this publically, though. Given his frequent interviews and seeming honesty with the press, it seems unlikely that a location change could have unsettled Wright, but again we really don’t know.

From that point forth, it genuinely seems to have been pretty plain sailing for Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man movie, until now. Everyone involved seemed jubilant when Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas’ casting was announced in the past few months. Casting has continued throughout 2014, and Wright was merrily tweeting Ant-Man cartoon pictures under the caption ‘homework’ back in January.

So what caused Edgar Wright to walk away from this eight year passion project just when everything seemed to be finally going to plan? It’s hard to say. Unlike Patty Jenkins, who departed nearly a year before shooting began, Wright has left incredibly close the start of principal photography on Ant-Man, suggesting that something rather sudden occurred, be that a new falling-out or the resurgence of an old problem.

Could LA be too much for the Brit director? Are Marvel Studios trying to shoehorn in one too many Avengers references, pulling away from Wright’s intended comic crime drama tone? Was it one rewrite too many for Wright? Has Wright received an offer he can’t refuse for another project? Has Paul Rudd been wearing Sex Panther on set?

Well, ‘differences in their vision of the film’ has been cited as the ‘creative difference’ causing this separation, suggesting that one or two of those reasons are far more likely than the others. But we really must stress that we don’t know. At this point everything is rumour and we will let you know when we hear anything else official.

As for the future of the project, all we do know is that Ant-Man is still currently scheduled for a July 17, 2015 release date and that Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas remain attached. Will Joe Cornish step up to direct or will Marvel call in someone new? Hopefully we'll find out soon.

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