The Marvel machine is not one known for its kindness to directors. Everyone from Joss Whedon (Avengers) to Alan Taylor (Thor 2) has decried the studio's meddlesome methods. The most explosive incident in the company's history, though, was Edgar Wright's abandonment of Ant-Man, a film he developed for almost a decade before walking off in frustration. But with Marvel unwilling to let the property go, how does a new director proceed with picking up the pieces? Peyton Reed faced just that challenge and spoke to The Globe and Mail about how he reworked a blockbuster.
Because of Edgar Wright's departure, Ant-Man came with some baggage. Was it a difficult decision to sign on?
As a kid who grew up reading comics, I've wanted to make a Marvel movie for a long time. I was developing Fantastic Four for Marvel back in 2003, and ended up not making that movie, but that's where I met [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige. I came in and pitched for Guardians of the Galaxy and didn't get that, but I've been on Kevin's radar. When this opportunity presented itself, all that drama on the movie preceded me, Edgar had already walked away – someone was dying to do it, and I was going to be that someone.
What was it like joining a film that had been in development for so long?
I came on the same time as Adam McKay was rewriting it with Paul Rudd; we all came in fresh. We read all the existing drafts, and we knew what we wanted to retain, and the stuff from the comics that hadn't found its way into the movie. I never would have made the movie if Marvel was like, "Here's the script, make this." I thought it could be funnier, I added the heist elements, added the "quantum realm," – we substantially changed the movie. Edgar and Joe [Cornish] did fantastic work on the screenplay, but so did Adam and Paul.
Did you have any conversations with Edgar after accepting the job?
Edgar and I had an e-mail exchange when I came on the movie and that was it. It never occurred to me to have a conversation with him, because he wasn't working on the movie, he had left, and it didn't feel appropriate. We had our own ideas.
Was there any pressure from Marvel about plugging in other elements of their cinematic universe?
Never. It was McKay's idea, for instance, to bring the Falcon into the movie, which was the result of us saying, "Let's increase the heist tropes, so you know they're going to pull it off, but one element is still missing, one conflict," and that's where Anthony Mackie's character comes in. We loved the idea of having the right level of hero, someone who's not going to walk away with the movie. If you had Iron Man or Thor show up, it would've been too much – Marvel didn't want to do that. The movie had to work on its own.
The movie does feel separated from the general Marvel formula, or at least like a more intimate film.
There were a handful of things when I came on that I was adamant about. First, I wanted to make a Marvel movie that was under two hours. I get exhausted by movies that overstay their welcome. And I wanted it to be a comedy, so it needs to be tight and taught. Secondly, for the shrinking effects, it had to be as photo-realistic as possible. We shot a lot of tests with macro lenses and special lenses – I really wanted to have it play with light and be able to move the camera around that small world in a tactile way. It had to be our world, but from a radically different perspective.
Aside from Edgar, some directors feel hemmed in by Marvel, and don't return for sequels. Would you stick around?
I'd love to do it – there's a lot of story left to tell with these characters. I felt a huge amount of freedom at Marvel, too. I can't speak to the other directors' experiences, but in talking with [Guardians of the Galaxy director] James Gunn and the [Captain America: Winter Soldier directors] Russo brothers, they've had fantastic experiences, and those movies are very much those guys' sensibilities. Maybe because I came on to this project squarely when it was in the disaster category, there was nowhere to go but up. But I found it a really supportive environment.
This interview has been edited and condensed.