Ant-Man and the Wasp was born when director Peyton Reed first saw an early version of Captain America: Civil War. In that film, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is recruited to help Captain America fight Iron Man, and ends up revealing in addition to shrinking, he can also grow very big. As audience members, we can see that moment and just kind of enjoy it. But, with a new Ant-Man movie to make, Reed had a completely different thought.
“My reaction to seeing that movie was ‘Oh my god, this is Hank Pym’s worst nightmare,” Reed told io9 last week. “And, ‘Oh my god, Hope Van Dyne is going to feel massively betrayed by Scott.’ That gave us a really great starting point [for Ant-Man and the Wasp.]” Reed had never talked to Civil War directors] Anthony and Joe Russo, or writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeeley, about how Scott Lang’s decision to break the law by helping Cap would affect the Ant-Man sequel. “I’m sure they don’t give a shit, but for us it was a gift,” he said.
Whether the makers of Civil War gave any consideration to Ant-Man’s future or not, the gift of those narrative seeds set Reed and his team off on tell the continuing stories of Scott Lang, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Scott is now under house arrest for his actions, while Hank and Hope are on the run because the government knows their secret tech now exists. It was a fresh start not just for the characters, but Reed, too. On the first Ant-Man, he came to the project later in development, and was beholden to a lot of work that was already done.
“The main difference [for the sequel] was really having the time to develop the story,” Reed said. On Ant-Man one, Reed inherited Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s idea of the heist film, which he loved so much he’s using it again in the sequel, as well as the villain Yellowjacket, which he wasn’t as big a fan of.
“The villain in that movie felt like a bit of a vestige from the era in which that project was started, [which was] around the time of Iron Man one, where you have an antagonist who has a similar power set [as the hero],” he said. “I was hell bent on doing something different in [Ant-Man and the Wasp].”
The result was Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a dimension-shifting villain who is after Hank and Hope’s quantum technology. The father and daughter need Scott to help them explore the Quantum Realm, and hopefully, find Hank’s long-missing wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). But none of that can happen until Scott can actually leave his house.
“The idea that he’s one weekend away from getting off house arrest, what could possibly go wrong and then, bang, he’s somehow sucked into this thing, that seemed really fun,” Reed said. “I like the energy that that could potentially give us. And I like the ticking clock aspect of it. The ticking clock became a thing not only to set it apart but for the action and comedy of it.”
Those stories and others combine to make up Ant-Man and the Wasp, a complex, compressed, crime thriller inspired by films such Midnight Run, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and Adventures in Babysitting, all sprinkled with the work of author Elmore Leonard. There was also the added benefit that with a compressed, interweaving storyline that takes places over only a few days, questions about Avengers: Infinity War would become much less significant.
“We always knew we were coming out after Infinity War. We knew how Infinity War ended and we knew we had to be very careful about how we were folded into that timeline,” Reed said. “I remember conversations really early on about like ‘We’re telling our story, are we gonna pass by TV screens in the background with news stories?’ And my response to that was ‘UGH.’ We’ve seen that before and it felt uninspired. But we knew if you introduce the events of the end of Infinity War in our movie, it would just take over the whole movie.”
Choosing to set the sequel before Infinity War “felt right” to Reed. “We also knew audiences were going to come into this movie looking looking for clues,” Reed explained. “So we made a conscious decision not to give them any so that they kind of stop looking and submit to the story.” Don’t worry, though—the movie still contains a few clues about Infinity War.
Ant-Man and the Wasp opens Friday. We’ll have more in the coming days.