This article contains a big spoiler for Fast & Furious 6. There are very, very light Ant-Man spoilers.
When Edgar Wright parted ways with Marvel Studios, eight years into production on Ant-Man, whoever took the job was fated to end up melting under the magnifying glass of scrutiny, with the sun of an angry internet shining down on them. Or something.
The man who took the job was Peyton Reed of Yes Man, Bring it On, and Down With Love vintage. Looking at the early reviews, it seems fair to say that he knocked it out of the park, presenting a fun film that blends original action, lots of laughs, and links to the wider Marvel cinematic universe.
We sat down with Mr Reed in a posh hotel room to talk about Ant-Man, his visual style, and his past Back To The Future-based jobs. We also asked him a few spoilery questions, but we’ll hold those until the film has come out. Here’s the spoiler-free interview…
When you first joined up with this project, what was it that appealed to you about the story?
I had always known both the Hank Pym and the Scott Lang eras of Ant-Man, and even the later Eric O’Grady version. I just was a kid who grew up reading Marvel. I read a couple of DC titles, but I was almost exclusively Marvel. Um, so, I’d wanted to do a movie like this – and particularly a Marvel movie – for some time.
And, so when the opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance. I always liked the Ant-Man character, and – as you probably know – he was a founding member of the Avengers in the comics. And, I like the idea of ‘okay, let’s restore Ant-Man to his proper place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.’
I loved the idea that Paul Rudd was gonna play Ant-Man and that Michael Douglas was going to play Hank Pym, and I mean… that cast is just phenomenal. So, I think I would have been foolish to not engage on it. I loved the idea of doing it.
As a big Marvel fan, did you have any specific comic book inspirations in mind when you took over the project?
Yeah, I actually had a lot of them, and some of them were single images from the comics that I had gone back through. And then some of them were just character traits that I liked, I really wanted to bring a little bit more of the comic book version of Hank Pym to this character in the movie.
I like the idea of him being a character motivated largely by guilt, and by this tragedy in his life. I like the idea that he’s a mentor in this movie, but he’s got a lot of issues. You know? He’s not the zen Yoda or even Obi-Wan Kenobi mentor, he’s got some issues that need working out in the movie.
And what movies were your touch-points? Obviously it’s a heist movie, it’s an action movie, it’s a comic book movie… What were your film inspirations?
I really went back and looked at both versions of Ocean’s Eleven, the Clooney and the Sinatra. And then, you know, looking at the original The Thomas Crown Affair. Some of the sixties and seventies heist movies…
I knew that it wanted to be a tight movie. One of the first things I said to Marvel was ‘I want this movie to be under two hours – 1. ‘cause it’s a comedy, and 2. ‘cause it’s a heist movie.’ It needed to be tight, and taut, and hopefully to be a repeat-viewing movie.
It was gonna be dense, and we were gonna throw a lot of stuff at the audience. You know, in terms of story and also visuals. It was really looking at that stuff for these heist movie tropes. Particularly when Adam McKay and Paul [Rudd] were working on the re-writes. There were things that we wanted to add, even more heist movie visual language, and plot stuff, to the movie.
Speaking of Paul Rudd, were you surprised by the casting of him as an ex-convict? He’s quite loveable normally!
I personally wasn’t surprised. I do happen to think that Paul can do anything. Action, comedy, drama… anything! But I did like the idea of… we introduce him in a way that was different to the original drafts. We decided to introduce him coming out of prison, and I really wanted, right from the first shot of Paul, to readjust the audience’s expectations of Paul Rudd.
So the first shot you see is – he’s got stubble, he’s very chiselled, he’s in a really harsh top-light, he’s in prison, he’s in the middle of a prison fight. And, then we see him get out of prison and it’s a rougher version of Paul, and a more laconic version of him, particularly in the first third of the movie.
It was important to set up that he had this skillset, you know? We see him break into that house, he has to get past this fingerprint lock, and he sort-of MacGyvers together this way in, and, um, that was really fun to do – to present this different version of Paul, at the beginning of the movie.
We’ve a lot of love here for the visual style of Down With Love, and are fond of the film…
… was time enough on your side to put your visual flourishes into Ant-Man, or was Marvel more in control of the designs?
Oh yeah! Oh, absolutely! When I came on, Shepherd Frankel became the production designer. I think Shepherd came on about a week before I did. So, Shepherd and I worked really closely and designed. He designed all the Pym Tech stuff, all that stuff.
Russell Carpenter, the cinematographer, I brought on to the movie. Russell was someone I’d wanted to work with for a long time. Obviously he shot True Lies and Titanic for James Cameron. And he was really into… like, I said ‘the shrinking stuff has to look as photorealistic as possible’… and we talked about macrophotography and all that stuff.
And Russell would just talk about, like ‘I wanna know how light changes when you’re down there!’ He really got into it and embraced it and I love the look of the movie.
And then, you know, Christophe Beck did the score for the movie – who I’d worked with on Bring it On, my first movie. And I wanted a theme. I wanted a recognisable superhero theme. To me, it felt like a long time since I was a kid and Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie had that, such an identifiable John Williams theme.
And Chris, I felt like, just knocked it out of the park. And it’s a jazzy thing, and it has a very heist-y feel to it as well. But yeah, with Down With Love, that was a thing where the design was crucial to it. We built all those sets on the movie, and I really did apply that same… uh…. OCD nature I think [laughs], to this movie. And particularly the way it moves and the transitions, and stuff.
We’ve got a lot of action movie fans here, so I must ask – even though it probably can’t be explained briefly – how did you get a handle on those shrinking fight scenes?
Shrinking fight scenes were a combination of, err… we would shoot live action when he’s full size, with the fight choreographers. We’d choreograph that stuff and we’d shoot it, and stuff. And then we’d shoot Paul, or Corey Stoll, in a motion capture suit, we would capture them digitally and stuff.
And then, one of the great things about it is being able to shrink and grow really quickly, and making that part of his fighting style, so it became very very complicated. Speed had to be a big part of it, ‘cause the Ant-Man suit doesn’t have any weapons, it’s basically a stealth technology, so his fighting style had to be his main offensive. And, that was really fun to do.
The helicopter fight was also insane. They were gonna be full size, they were gonna be shrinking, and it all happened in the confines of this thing, and it had to be terrifying the first time you saw Yellowjacket, his suit, for the first time. But we were very methodical, we storyboarded that stuff out, we pre-vizzed it, we shot it all with the actors, and just… It’s very complicated, but I love the way that it ended up.
I think it’s something we haven’t seen in a Marvel movie, or any movie, before – that’s one of the brilliant things about Ant-Man, conceptually, it allows for these action sequences that are just… they’re in a fight in a helicopter one moment, then they’re in a briefcase fighting, then they’re in someone’s backyard barbecue, and then in a little girl’s bedroom. It was just… really inventive ways to reinvent a lot these action sequences.
It was so refreshing, for a Marvel movie not to end with something massive falling out of the sky onto a population…
Of course! We directly reference that in the movie, and I think it is a fun, different tonal thing for a Marvel movie, and particularly coming out of Age Of Ultron. Um, and it was something we were very mindful of, that… it is a shrinking movie at the end of the day, and it’s a very different visual style. And even the explosions we have. That was something, originally – we don’t want to just blow up a building, it’s got to interact with these particles! These things, this movie afforded us to do differently than a normal action movie.
On your personal slate, what films were you developing between Yes Man and Ant-Man? Do you think Ant-Man might help open some doors for your other ideas?
Yeah, well, I have one big science fiction thing that I’m working on, that I’ve been developing for the last few years. And we’re close to getting a draft that’s really good. That’s something that I’m really keen to make.
I had been attached to this graphic novel called The Fifth Beatle, which was about Brian Epstein – The Beatles’ manager. Um, unfortunately I had to part company on that because it conflicted with Ant-Man, and I was going to be off for a whole year, or more, making Ant-Man, and the producers were keen to get that going, so…
And there are a couple of other things that I have in development, too. And, listen: if people respond to this movie, I would love to come back and do another Ant-Man. I feel like there’s a lot more to tell with these characters.
Massive tangent here, then – as a big Back To The Future fan, and someone who’s worked on Back To The Future, what are your plans for the anniversary year? Any big celebrations?
Again, I’m a huge Back To The Future fan, and for a time in the late-80s/early 90s, I worked on so many different Back To The Future projects. I worked on the behind-the-scenes for Back To The Future Part II, and I directed the behind-the-scenes for Back To The Future Part III, and I worked on the Saturday morning animated show, and I co-wrote the ride [at Universal Studios] – I was doing all these Back To The Future things, and yeah, there’s a couple of books coming out that I did some interviews for… I just love those movies.
The first movie, actually… we talked about Back To The Future a lot, in reference to Ant-Man. You know, that there’s this very methodical set-up in the first act of Back To The Future that then pays off, big time, as the movie careens toward the end.
And also, the mixture of comedy and science fiction concepts – this is a different film to Back To The Future, but it was definitely something that Kevin Feige and I talked about during the making of the movie that inspired us. Because I love that movie. And it’s a repeat-viewing movie. I can flick around on the TV and Back To The Future’s on, and I just get sucked in. I love it.
And also, just because I worked on those sequels, I have real affinity for them, I love those movies.
Just one final question, and a traditional Den Of Geek one at that – what’s your favourite Jason Statham film?
[Claps] My favourite… well, it might have to be Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. I mean, that’s kind of the beginning, right? Yeah, I think it would have to be. I got really exhilarated when he showed up at the end of – is it Fast And Furious 6? Not the last one, the one before that? – when he showed up at the end, it was so insane. Because that movie is so fun and over-the-top and then it’s like ‘HOLY SHIT! JASON STATHAM’S HERE?!’ and it just ups the ante, it’s something so exhilarating about that.
Peyton Reed – thank you very much!