How the 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' Director Deals With the Thanos in the Room

Hitting theaters Friday, just months after Avengers: Infinity War collectively gut-punched Marvel fans everywhere, Ant-Man and the Wasp brings audiences back into the quirky world of reformed criminal and accidental superhero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Picking up three years after the first Ant-Man, the movie finds Lang on house arrest for his involvement in the events that played out in Captain America: Civil War.

Needless to say, Lang's life has changed since we last saw him—as have the lives of the father-daughter science team of Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). As one would expect, it's not long before some unforeseen circumstances break Scott out of his government-imposed life of solitude, and back into that supersuit. But as much as Scott's journey is still a focal point of the Ant-Man story, director Peyton Reed explains to Playboy that Ant-Man and the Wasp wouldn't have any life without Evangeline Lilly's Hope.
"She really forwards the plot," Reed says. "The prologue of the whole movie is really: Here's [Hope as] a 7-year-old daughter, and here's the last time she sees her mom, which sort of sets off this whole emotional journey. It is not only Hank's story—it's her story. It occurred to us early on that she has been waiting her whole life to become a hero. Who is the sort of role model she could turn to? The obvious person is not there, and hasn't been for 30 years, which adds a sort of emotionality to becoming this hero. And it makes her miss her mom even more."

This is as much Hope's story as it is Scott's, and further driving that point home is the simple fact that, as we hit the 20th movie in the MCU, this is the first entry featuring a female character in the title. "It felt logical, not in terms of answering any lack of female heroes—although, we're hoping it does that," Reed explains. "My introduction was as a kid to the comics. Hank and Janet—Ant-Man and the Wasp—they were a duo! They're on the cover of the first Avengers, she names the Avengers in the comics and it felt like the logical progression."

A new addition to the film is Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp. This is the first comic book movie the actress has appeared in since her performance as Catwoman in 1992's Batman Returns. According to Reed, Pfeiffer was not only at the top of his list of actresses to play the part of Janet—she was the list. "As far back as the first Ant-Man, there's a flashback where we see this missile thing—the moment where she goes into the Quantum Realm—and you don't see her face when she's on the missile in that movie, but through the mask, you do see her eyes. We had to cast someone in the first movie to be her eyes! My marching orders for casting were: Find someone who looks like Michelle Pfeiffer. That's how I always envisioned what the original Wasp would be."
If we dealt with [Infinity War's events] in any more overt way early on, it would've just hijacked the movie.
Once he got Pfeiffer's attention, Reed explains it took some wooing to convince the actress to sign on. "As you might imagine, Michelle Pfeiffer's not a comic-book nerd," the Yes Man director explains. "I had her into the Marvel offices, and the two of us sat in a conference room and talked about, first of all, the legacy of the character in the comics and how important she is. She got very excited about it. She liked the idea of, obviously, a very empowered female hero, but also, the generational aspect of this movie. We have Michael Douglas and Michelle—you know, Hank and Janet—being these older heroes who aren't in their prime anymore, necessarily. She was very intrigued by that. And thank God for that, as I had zero back-up plan!"

For all intents and purposes, it's safe to call the first Ant-Man film a heist movie. Staying true to that narrative tone, Peyton Reed explains Ant-Man and the Wasp still very much exists in that crime genre. Playing out on the streets of San Francisco, the director used a handful of crime-story classics as tonal references for his film, from the works of Elmore Leonard to movies like Midnight Run and After Hours, along with the Steve McQueen car-chase staple Bullitt. "There was a little hint of The Big Lebowski in Scott Lang in this movie," Reed adds. "He's literally wearing a bathrobe the first time he comes to see Hank again." 

Another film that comes to mind upon viewing Ant-Man and the Wasp is the 1987 science-fiction comedy Innerspace. While Reed admits to rewatching the sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage while in pre-production, the Dennis Quaid/Martin Short vehicle only crossed his mind after principal shooting was completed. "Only after the movie, when we were editing, did someone mention Innerspace, and I rewatched it," Reed explains. "I had completely forgotten about the chase. Also, the thing we did in the school scene, with Rudd being like two or three feet tall, was exactly like the scene where Innerspace had Kevin McCarthy shrunken down. I had totally forgotten about all of that, and it got to a point where I was like, 'Oh, my God—did we just remake Innerspace?!'" 
I had totally forgotten about all of that, and it got to a point where I was like, 'Oh, my God—did we just remake Innerspace?!'
Whether it was on purpose or not, movies like Innerspace, and Fantastic Voyage before it, explored scientific concepts with a sense of whimsy and wonder. It's a narrative style mostly missing in today's blockbuster landscape, but Peyton Reed is doing his part to change that. "I always liked that in movies when I was a kid," says Reed, who helmed 2003's throwback rom-com Down With Love. "Let's remind people that there is a sense of wonder and curiosity in the world around us that is important to have in the movies."

By design, the Ant-Man movies have been comedic outliers in the MCU. Three years ago, Ant-Man hit theaters right after the heaviness of Avengers: Age of Ultron. With the heartbreaking events of April's Avengers: Infinity War still in the hearts and on the minds of many, Ant-Man and the Wasp breaks the monotony, shrinking the story's scope back down to focus on the themes of family and science that were first touched on in the first film. It's starkly different in subject matter and tone than Infinity War, and according to Reed, this was the plan all along.
"Along the process of coming up with the story, and then coming up with the screenplay," Reed says, "there were versions of … 'We're telling our story, and maybe there's a TV screen in the background, and we see the Infinity War events happening.' But that felt boring to us. We've seen that in other movies, and it didn't feel very inspired. Also, if we dealt with it in any more overt way early on, it would've just hijacked the movie."

The director continues: "So finally, we hit on this structure that you see in the final movie that just made sense to us. It felt like our movie's version of dealing with the events of Infinity War. And we liked the idea of sort of creating this tone and these resolutions at the end of our movie that are almost too neat. They wrap up in a bow. And then we have this fun colorful title sequence and then, Oh wait, there's a tag! We liked the idea of that structure."

While Thanos' plan of destruction may have a lasting effect on a global scale within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp dials things down for a welcome, albeit brief, respite. At its hilarious core, this light-hearted Ant-Man sequel is a story about family—more specifically, it's a story about fathers and daughters.

"Out of all this stuff, his main thing is to be a good dad," Reed says. "It can seem like kind of a Pollyanna-ish thing, especially in this day and age, and this moment in time, but it's something that's really important to me in these movies. It's this notion that heroism isn't always putting on a supersuit and doing something ... It's the little acts of heroism. And really, there's nothing more heroic in the year 2018 than a guy being a great father to his kid."


Aaron Pruner
Aaron Pruner
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