There's no getting around the fact that Marvel's Ant-Man has had a rough go of it. After being in the works for some time via director Edgar Wright (and co-writer Joe Cornish), the film hit a brick wall when Wright opted out of the job weeks before pre-production was about to start. No small amount of hand-wringing followed his exit, with some wondering - even as the also-talented Adam McKay and Peyton Reed signed on to take over scripting/directing duties - if the film would go ahead as planned (or, more pointedly, if it should). That was a rocky couple of weeks, but eventually things settled down: a rewrite was finalized, production began, the cast remained intact, and no further calamaties befell the project.
With Ant-Man still a few weeks away from its first screening, it remains to be seen how much - if any - impact this turbulence had on the film. And to be fair, we'll never have another version of the film to compare Reed's to. But after visiting San Francisco last week to take a look at roughly 20 minutes' worth of finished (and unfinished!) footage from the film, I feel comfortable saying the following: Ant-Man looks like a worthy addition to the MCU. The footage we screened was funny, polished, and the effects themselves were super impressive. If that ~20 minutes was any indication, Marvel should be feeling very confident in the film Reed delivered. Reed was on hand at the presentation I attended, and seemed excited to show off the goods.
Note: I'm going to forgo any non-pertinent story details here and focus largely on the effects, as that's what I was there to see...and because, y'know, spoilers.
The first sequence we watched was actually a flashback sequence, and took place in 1989 at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Here we met a de-aged Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, creator of the Pym particle, in the midst of having it out with a few of his superiors. The work done to dial back the clock on Douglas here (accomplished, we were told, by the same team responsible for putting Chris Evans' head on a weakling's body for the first portion of Captain America: The First Avenger) was remarkable. The effect is convincing, flawless to my eyes; when Douglas came onscreen, some variation on "Wow!" rolled through the rest of the assembled press. He's not quite the slick, Wall Street-era Douglas, but I'd say he looks de-aged to within a decade of that look. Really impressive stuff.
Reed then introduced a segment centering on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd)'s release from prison. We met Scott's former cellie and future roommate, Luis (the great Michael Peña), and were filled in on a bit of their history: what Scott did to end up in prison, what he's hoping to accomplish now that he's out, what his living arrangements are like in the immediate aftermath of his release. This was followed by another sequence that involved Luis explaining the particulars of a, well, less-than-honorable potential gig that recently landed in his lap. All of this material was laugh out loud funny - like, Guardians funny - and the portion involving Peña's description of a telephone-style conversation between various shady characters was a particular highlight (there's no telling if this sequence was something that was always in place or if it was something that McKay brought to the script, but...look, the whole thing felt very Edgar Wright to me. You'll know it when you see it).
With that wrapped, Reed came back onstage and introduced a lengthy sequence that is apparently set to be used as part of a 4-D showcase happening at Disney. The footage involved Scott's first experimentation with the Ant-Man suit, and started with Scott activating the suit while standing in a bathtub and continued through several locations: Scott's washed down a drain, ends up careening through a nearby apartment, a dance club (where he finds himself holding on for dear life on the surface of a rapidly-spinning set of turntables), and more. The sense of scale here was impressive, as was Scott's palpable sense of panic at being bounced from one wildly dangerous environment to another.
Reed talked for a bit about how important it was that the environments, the suit, and everything else we see onscreen when Scott shrinks down be consistent and tactile ("It's gotta feel real", he said more than once). That consistency's there. Many shots sold the illusion by including something else in-frame with Scott - the plug on a drain, for instance, or the stomping feet of a group of partygoers - and so's that tactile element Reed was aiming for: carpet appears comprised of great, fibrous loops; the grooves on the DJ's spinning vinyl looked like a set of craggy, concentric speedbumps. The actual shrinking effect - which involves a sort of "echo effect" as Scott shrinks down to almost nothing - also works. The fact that we were seeing this in 3-D (3-D calibrated by ILM itself, I might add) certainly helped sell the illusion.
"We're going to show you two versions of the next sequence," Reed said, "Which I believe you saw us filming when you were in Atlanta." This turned out to be a look at a fight between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket (which I'd not seen filming in Atlanta; Devin did, though, and will probably discuss that in his set report, which'll be running soon). We started with the finalized version, some of which you can see in the trailer below:
The fight starts in the helicopter and eventually, erm, moves outside. All manner of digital wizardy's been brought to bear on this sequence, but the most impressive bit might be the work done on the costume worn by Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll). The thing's intricate and heavily-armored, with a complicated face mask that allows you to see Stoll's eyes when in closeup. Having not been on-set to see the filming of this sequence, I didn't realize that the costume was almost completely digital, with Stoll performing in a spandex body suit covered in motion-capture dots; in practice, it looked convincing enough that I thought it was some combination of digital trickery and practical effects ("We thought of Yellowjacket's suit as digital," Reed said, "While Scott's is more analog"). This was revealed in full when Reed rolled the footage for a second time: pre-viz shots were included, along with footage of Stoll standing there in his body-stocking. Again: impressive stuff!
Also impressive: the way Reed's managing the fight choreography. In miniature, Ant-Man operates "like a bullet", and by shrinking and growing at will he can use his body weight/trajectory in all manner of interesting ways. Every bit of action we saw - in the helicopter fight as well as several other sequences - was clearly staged and easy to understand, even as Scott's rapidly alternating between sizes. The next sequence we saw showed off quite a bit of this (and was also shown to us in dual formats - finalized and pre-viz/rough footage) but, unfortunately, I've been sworn to secrecy on the content of said sequence. Suffice it to say that what we saw in this footage will make MCU fans very happy, and was a complete surprise to everyone in attendance at the presentation. Even the people who were on set weren't aware that this moment was coming, and we were all delighted.
Which, frankly, was our reaction to everything we saw. My biggest takeaway after seeing all of this is that Ant-Man is in very capable hands. There doesn't appear to be anything to worry about in the wake of Wright's departure, in other words: the footage was high-energy and well-edited, the effects work ranks among the best that Marvel's put onscreen to date, and the script was often very, very funny (I cannot oversell Michael Peña's Luis enough; I hope he's a huge part of this movie). In short, it's definitely of a piece with the rest of the MCU. It'd be stupid to try and place the film amongst the rest of the Marvel movies in any meaningful way, but with a gun to my head I'd say that Ant-Man's appears to be closest in spirit to Iron Man 3 and Guardians Of The Galaxy. Speaking as a big fan of both of those MCU entries, you should consider that high praise.
Peyton Reed's Ant-Man arrives July 17th. Get excited, if you're not already.