Having to follow the game-changing events of Avengers: Infinity War sounds like a daunting task for any filmmaker, but for Peyton Reed it's a familiar challenge. After all, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the second time that Marvel's tiniest heroes have had to follow those pesky Avengers at the box office. This time around, however, Reed has a 'deadly weapon' in Evangeline Lilly's Wasp — the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first female title superhero character.
So, how do you advance your characters and their individual arcs while reconciling with the aftermath of Infinity War? MTV News talked to Reed about his 'faster, funnier' approach to Ant-Man and the Wasp (his first sequel), Lilly's impact on the Wasp, and how he convinced a screen icon like Michelle Pfeiffer to join the MCU.
MTV News: Kevin Feige and Marvel are really intentional about their scheduling, so what was your reaction when you found out Ant-Man and the Wasp would directly follow the superhero spectacle of Infinity War?
Peyton Reed: I loved it because it exactly mirrored what happened to us three years ago with the first Ant-Man when we followed Age of Ultron. Maybe it's a little counterintuitive, but for me it clearly delineates us from them because there's no version where Ant-Man or Ant-Man and the Wasp are going to try and top the epic scale of either Age of Ultron or Infinity War. And we didn't set out to do that. It's a very different scale and tone of a movie.
I actually kind of like it because it reminds people — the second time around, especially — that this is a palate cleanser. It's a more intimate story of the Pym and Van Dyne family.
MTV News: It also injects a dose of much-needed levity into the MCU following the ending of Infinity War.
Reed: We know that in any version of Ant-Man and the Wasp that we're not going to out-depress the ending of Infinity War.
MTV News: In a strange way, it also added a bit of mystique to Ant-Man and the Wasp. Audiences are going to want to see this film because it is the first Marvel film to be released after Infinity War, even if it technically takes place during those events.
Reed: I always knew what the ending of Infinity War was when we were making this movie, but now that Infinity War is out and people have had a chance to see it and react to it, it definitely changes the context of our movie in a cool way. We knew that we were going to deal with the events of Infinity War at some point in our movie, but we weren't exactly sure how.
At first we were going to ignore it altogether. Then we were going to seed in little things in the background of the movie that started to clue audiences in about where our movie took place in the timeline. But when we finally came up with the structure that's in the movie now, it struck us as the most impactful way to go because it allows our story to be our story — and then deal with the events of Infinity War in a very specific, Ant-Man and the Wasp-way of doing it.
MTV News: What was your priority going into Ant-Man and the Wasp?
Reed: As a director, I had never done a sequel before. So I approached it as a moviegoer. The biggest thing was being true to the tone and characters from the first movie but progressing those characters in organic and surprising ways. With the origin stuff behind us, we were able to present Wasp as this fully formed hero. I also knew that we clearly set things in motion in the first movie, particularly regarding the Quantum Realm and Hope Van Dyne, that we were excited to deal with in this movie.
And the idea of changing up the dynamics. In the first movie, Hope and her father Hank are at odds for a great deal of the movie, and here they work together as this badass, scientific superhero team. Meanwhile, Scott and Hope start from a place where they're estranged from each other and circumstances bring them back together. I also wanted to try and make it funnier and faster paced and really go nuts with the Pym technology and the way that we used it.
MTV News: The pacing is really key to its success. The entire film takes place over the course of two days. So how did you approach its pace?
Reed: On the first Ant-Man, I had this rule: This movie has to be under two hours long. I had that same rule for Ant-Man and the Wasp. It's a comedy, and a comedy should not overstay its welcome. This thing needed to move like a bullet train because it's still in the crime genre, and there's this ticking clock, a finite amount of time in which the story takes place. Movies that were an influence to us in that regard were Midnight Run, the Robert De Niro movie; After Hours, the Scorsese movie; and Seven Chances, the Buster Keaton movie.
Seven Chances is a silent movie, but in terms of comedic action, it has one of the funniest chase scenes that's ever been committed to film. It's all about this ticking clock, but it's constantly funny. So those movies with a frenetic pace were big influences on Ant-Man and the Wasp for me.
MTV News: And, of course, Garage Band. That was an influence as well. Scott's become very good at it while on house arrest.
Reed: Yes! Very, very good. Part of the fun was figuring out all of the ridiculous things that Scott Lang could be doing to pass the time. There's stuff we shot that didn't make it into the movie. But that felt like Paul Rudd's sweet spot, too. Take the fact that he's been studying close-up magic. It's a ridiculous thing he does to entertain Cassie, and then it has a payoff at the end of the movie.
MTV News: What was something that didn't make the final cut?
Reed: There's a couple scenes. One of them ended up in a TV spot, where he's just sitting next to a fan saying weird things and making noises into it like a little kid does. There were weird versions of him working out. In these superhero movies, there's always a working-out montage, so we did a riff on that.
MTV News: At the end of Ant-Man, Hope looks at the Wasp suit and says, "It's about damn time." The Wasp is the first female title superhero character in the MCU, and she really is the star of this movie. What responsibility did you feel to do this iconic character justice?
Reed: I felt a great responsibility and a tremendous amount of excitement to be the person who was able to bring Wasp to the screen. In terms of the legacy of that character and Janet Van Dyne, there are a lot of people who know the MCU movies but don't know the comics so well. Some people get shocked when you remind them that on the cover of Avengers #1, Ant-Man and Wasp — Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne — are there. And Janet was the one who named the Avengers. She's part of the Mount Rushmore of Marvel Comics characters. So when it came time to do our movie's versions of those characters, yeah, I took it really seriously.
I had a really deadly weapon in my arsenal with Evangeline Lilly. Evangeline was really clear from the get-go about what she wanted to do and what she didn't want to do. She wanted this hero to feel very practical. She wanted to sweat when she fought, and she wanted to have her hair in a very practical ponytail so it wouldn't get caught in things. It really annoys her in action movies when women are in one giant sequence and their hair and nails are perfect and beautiful. She wanted it to have a very down-and-dirty feel to it.
MTV News: I love that she's a more competent superhero than Scott.
Reed: I would never describe Ant-Man and the Wasp as a romantic comedy, but there are certainly those elements in terms of the Scott-Hope character arc. That was important for me because you don't see that that much in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it's key to that partnership.
In the first movie, she's the face of this corporate enterprise, Pym Technologies, and she's on the inside trying to infiltrate and pull off this heist. She's also a darker character in the first movie. Evangeline was playing the long con. She had in her mind how she wanted this character to evolve if we were fortunate enough to make multiple Ant-Man and the Wasp movies. She has a strong point of view about it.
MTV News: Speaking to the other Wasp in this film, I know you met with Michelle Pfeiffer to sell her on the idea of being part of the MCU. Did you have to do much convincing?
Reed: Just the two of us met in a conference room up at Marvel. And Marvel being Marvel, I couldn't just hand her a script. So I had to lay out, Luis-style, the entire history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — but with respect to Janet Van Dyne and who that character was in the comics, who that character was to me, and what our movie's version was going to be. There's also a bit of reinvention because we were going to see Janet in her heyday and see what she was like after 30 years in the Quantum Realm. I tried to shield her from as much technical nonsense as I could.
She is the star of some of my favorite movies of all time — Married to the Mob, The Fabulous Baker Boys. She's just amazing.
MTV News: I will always be a huge defender of Grease 2.
Reed: As a Grease 2 fan, you may love knowing that when we were going to announce Michelle as part of our cast, we put together this thing for Comic-Con. It was Paul Rudd and Michael Peña directly addressing the audience and getting them up to speed on the MCU. But they're not talking to the audience; they're talking to Michelle Pfeiffer, trying to convince her to be in this movie. As we were shooting it, Paul was doing his usual riffing and referencing films from her past, and at one point he just starts singing "Cool Rider" from Grease 2. It was amazing.
I went back and rewatched a whole bunch of Michelle's stuff, and I had not seen Grease 2 since it came out. Whatever you think of Grease 2, she's phenomenal in that movie. To be an actor, front and center, following up the movie Grease had to be a tough thing. She goes in there, and she's so confident in that movie, and you can't take your eyes off her.
MTV News: Ant-Man and the Wasp was your first sequel. I could ask you if you could see yourself directing another one, but I'm more curious about whether you could ever see anyone else direct an Ant-Man movie. Or do you have to be the one to finish Scott's story?
Reed: The reason I did this sequel was because I really did fall in love with these characters. I do feel ownership over them. When Paul went off to do Civil War, I had genuine envy. I would call him and ask how it was going over there, and he'd say, "Oh man! I'm doing a scene with Captain America. Now I finally feel like a Marvel hero." It's like, you didn't feel like a Marvel hero before? Now that you're with the Russo Brothers you feel that? I really had this thing where I felt like my friend was off playing with somebody else... Who knows if there's going to be another [Ant-Man], but I'd love to do it.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is currently in theaters. For more on the superhero flick, watch our interview with Lilly below: