Paul Rudd in ‘Ant-Man’ (Marvel/Disney)
In late October, word came that Marvel and Ant-Man director Peyton Reed were in talks on a contract to make a sequel. On Tuesday, the 51-year-old filmmaker indicated that a deal to reunite him with the miniature hero was inching toward completion.
“We’re [still] in negotiations, but I think it’s looking pretty good,” the director, also know for the teen comedy Bring It On and relationship dramedy The Break-Up, told Yahoo Movies.
A shot at a sequel would be just rewards for Reed, who entered the Ant-Man equation relatively late in the game. In mid-2014, Reed took over for fan-beloved director Edgar Wright, who had been developing the project for nearly a decade, only to split up with Marvel in a highly publicized divorce. Thanks to his own history with Marvel (Reed grew up a comic book obsessive, and had some near-misses with the studio before) and a crucial rewrite by star Paul Rudd and collaborator Adam McKay, Reed was able to make the project his own. Marvel’s been known to cycle through directors — only a handful have made multiple films with the studio — but Reed’s mix of fan enthusiasm and desire for authorship makes a return too hard to pass up.
“I think one of the appealing things about coming back for a sequel is to be able to build it from the ground up this time,” Reed said. “Also, [there’s] stuff that we clearly set up in the first movie that we want to pay off and have fun with in the second movie. Since we know [the characters’] origins, we can go in some weird, unique and different territory.”
Reed’s Ant-Man was more of a heist film that superhero epic, with Rudd’s Scott Lang using his master lock-picking skills — and the super-powered suit given to him by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) — to interrupt the terrorist plans of former Pym protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). The cheapest-to-make Marvel film (a “paltry” $130 million budget) was released to some skepticism thanks to the Wright drama, but positive reviews helped it earn $517 million worldwide, a decent number for the blockbuster factory. And the sequel will likely garner more positive attention right off the bat thanks to its name alone: Ant-Man and The Wasp, which gives equal billing (and footing) to the heroine played by Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit).
Marvel movies have featured female heroes, but even when they play equally large parts (see: Black Widow in Captain America: Winter Soldier), they’ve never been name-checked in the title. Reed acknowledges that his chosen title was in part meant to help remedy that before the release of a planned Ms. Marvel slated for 2019.
“It just happened to be organic for the characters of Ant-Man and Wasp, [so] it worked,” he said. “Her last line in the movie — ‘It’s about damn time’ — [is] very much about her specific character and arc in that movie, but it is absolutely about a larger thing. It’s about damn time: We’re going to have a fully realized, very very complicated hero in the next movie who happens to be a woman.”
Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man (Marvel/Disney)
Reed can’t tell these stories in isolation, of course; everything he does has to jive with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Ant-Man, there’s an important cameo by Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and more significantly, Scott Lang will become more integrated into the MCU with an appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Reed, a fan from childhood, was more than happy to work with the Marvel braintrust. He showed drafts of Ant-Man to Civil War directors Joe and Anthony Russo, so they could understand the character’s tone. And later, Reed received their draft of Civil War so that he could make sure it fit in with his tone and plans for Ant-Man. He’s also seen the rough cut footage of the film — he calls it “fantastic” — though Reed does admit to some high school-like jealousy.
“There was definitely a point where I was a little envious,” he laughed. “I felt a proprietary thing over that character. I remember to say to Paul, ‘You’re going down to Atlanta to work with those other guys?’ It was like my girlfriend had left me for someone else.”
Reed is clearly excited to be working in the Marvel Universe, and it’s been a long time coming. He spent several years developing a Fantastic Four movie in the early part of the new millennium — he was later replaced by Tim Story, whose campy FF films garnered lukewarm reviews and box office in 2005 and 2007. But they were downright hits compared to this August’s attempt at a reboot, a darker take by Josh Trank (Chronicle) that was filled with acrimony on set and off. Reed has been a keen observer of the films, and finds the inability to make them successful troubling.
“Fantastic Four in the comics was always the pinnacle of Marvel, the crown jewel — they were the first family of Marvel Comics,” he says, lamenting their big-screen troubles. “The two existing versions did massive pendulum swings from each other. One was very pitched toward younger kids and very broad, and the second was a much darker version of it. I just personally feel like they have not gotten the tone right. And man, it’s a bummer. I think the tone has got to be one of optimism, and you’ve got to take it seriously.”
There are a million things that would have to be fixed — and Reed says he’d “love” to tackle it one day — but his quick diagnosis for the next filmmaker to try: Nail the visuals.
“I think they haven’t really gotten Mr. Fantastic’s powers right visually on screen,” the director said. “I think there’s some really badass ways to make that [character] work. I just know there’s a great Fantastic Four movie to be had. I’m convinced that it can work.
For now, though, he’s quite content making the best Ant-Man movie he can.
Ant-Man hits digital HD on-demand on Nov. 17, and DVD/Blu-Ray on December 8th.