They made an Ant-Man movie. Seriously. And they got the guy who directed the (underrated and excellent) cheerleader comedy Bring It On to do it. Again, seriously.
And it was probably a very good choice. When original director Edgar Wright left the project, Marvel Studios had to find a filmmaker, fast. They could have gone with any number of Hollywood shooters who just get the footage in the can, but they went with Peyton Reed, whose career spans Superchunk music videos and TV’s Mr. Show and the crazy underappreciated period romcom Down With Love.
“Wait,” you’re saying. “That’s a good thing? Where’s the action in his resume? Has he ever even worked with an explosion?”
Reed knows that you’re skeptical -- of him and his movie. And it turns out that’s just the way he likes it.
Q: If people look at your IMDB they’re going to see a lot of comedies, and not just comedies but comedies like Bring It On -- nothing close to the action or superhero genre.
A: A lot of my movies have been comedic, but it’s long been a goal of mine to do a science fiction or superhero movie -- that’s what I grew up on. That’s what I love. Those are the movies that made me want to get into movies -- Planet of the Apes, Star Wars.
There are guys who are strictly comedy directors, but there are also guys who love comedy but want to do more kinetic stuff. Comedy can be sort of all talking heads and it can be non-cinematic, but from the beginning melding those two has been important to me. Bring It On is a low budget movie, but it’s a very kinetic movie. It’s almost a musical without technically being a musical. Down With Love, my second movie, was very pre-planned and the visuals were very much at the forefront. When we were doing stuff like The Breakup, which is more a straightforward comedy, there isn’t as much an opportunity in a movie like that to have fun with the visuals, and it was something I really missed and wanted to get back to.
Q: A lot of filmmakers who direct these superhero movies will say they’re a nerd, they’re fans of the material, and I have started rolling my eyes at this, because I think it’s just a standard thing they say in interviews. But I know you, and I know that you actually grew up a nerd.
A: In the cinematic world there’s always this Marvel versus DC thing happening on the internet, and I have a dog in that fight: I grew up a Marvel kid. There were a handful of DC titles I read, and I certainly read Batman and I read stuff like Kamandi: Last Boy On Earth, but I was die hard Marvel. There’s a reason for that: as a kid my critical faculties led me to Marvel, I enjoyed them more. I like the world, I liked the interconnectiveness of the world. I love the Stan Lee editorial attitude. When it came time for the Fantastic Four radio show in 74/75 and Stan Lee narrated that? I loved that sensibility, and that was long before the Marvel CInematic Universe.
So when Ant-Man came up, I felt like I had a relationship with these characters. I had very specific ideas about Ant-Man, and I brought those ideas to the movie.
But it was Planet of the Apes that sucked me in. Everybody talks about world building and all that, and Planet of the Apes was the best world building for me. The only one I saw in theaters was Battle, but I was watching the show on TV, watching the movies on TV. I came of age at a time when Planet of the Apes was being heavily merchandized. I was fixated on the TV series that ran for like 16 episodes. I remember being an annoying kid who, on Fridays, when we would go visit my grandmother -- she was a two and a half hour drive from Raleigh, North Carolina, where I grew up -- I would calculate that we had to leave home by 5:30 so we could drive and make it to my grandparents’ house and say hi to them and then race to the TV at 8 o’clock and see Planet of the Apes. If my kid grows up to be like that it’ll be the most horrible, annoying thing in the world… but I was that kid!
Q: We have this vision of what a Marvel movie is, and that vision gets bigger and bigger -- Age of Ultron has a floating city that is about to destroy the Earth. Do you see Ant-Man as another giant spectacle, or is this a palette-cleanser?
A: I think in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it feels more like a palette-cleanser, and that’s by design. The idea for this movie was always something smaller, more street-level. It takes place in a grounded world, which gives us a new perspective. The structure of the movie was always a heist movie. These movies get bigger and bigger and bigger, there’s talk about superhero fatigue, but Ant-Man, at its core, is a science fiction movie. It’s a shrinking movie… with the structure of a heist movie. It also has this dual redemption story between fathers and daughters, but it also has a comedic heart. And I like that better than something with massive, gigantic world-ending stakes.
Q: I’m glad you have a vision for Ant-Man as a character, because a lot of people are asking the question: Why Ant-Man?
A: I just wrote the forward for the Art of Ant-Man book, and that’s what I led with -- he has to be the most challenging character in the history of Marvel. He’s never even supported his own comic magazine! The writers, Stan Lee in particular, never seemed to know what to do with that character, and as a result he was Ant-Man, he was Giant Man, he was Goliath, he was Yellowjacket… he was just schizophrenic.
But I like that. To me people will come into this movie thinking maybe it’s silly -- “What can he do, he can shrink and he can control ants?” -- but I also think they’re coming in with less solid ideas of who he is or isn’t. It gives me more leeway to create that character, in terms of the movie version.
And I like that he’s an underdog. My first movie, Bring It On, was a ten million dollar cheerleader movie. It was absolutely an underdog, and before it came out we had no idea how it would do… and I like having that experience again, being an underdog and pulling something out that is unexpected. Ant-Man brings me back there and, perversely or not, I like that feeling.