What a long, strange trip it has been for Ant-Man, Marvel Studios’ latest entry in their constantly expanding cinematic universe. It had been in development for a decade before it went before the cameras, and by then the director who had been with the project since its inception had long departed due to the dreaded “creative differences.” This has probably been the most difficult baby for Marvel to birth since The Avengers, and when Ant-Man brings Marvel’s Phase Two line-up to a rousing conclusion this weekend, we’ll finally find out if the movie has proven to be worth the wait.
I decided to trace Ant-Man‘s obstacle-fraught journey from the pages of Marvel Comics to the big screen beginning when the visionary British filmmaker Edgar Wright first signed on to develop a live-action feature based on the character. From 2010 onward, the development will be recounted as it was covered by several writers here at Geeks of Doom over the years, myself included.
In May 2000, the now-defunct Artisan Entertainment (which was bought out and shuttered by Lionsgate several years later) closed a deal with Marvel Enterprises to adapt at least fifteen of their iconic superhero properties into modestly-budgeted films made for both the big screen as well as the direct-to-video market, television series, and Internet ventures. Among them were Captain America, Deadpool, Thor, Black Panther, and even Mort the Dead Teenager. Ant-Man had also been part of the package, and three years after the deal was made, Artisan hired Wright and his writing partner (and future Attack the Block director) Joe Cornish to pen a treatment for a prospective feature film.
“We wrote this treatment revolving around the Scott Lang character, who was a burglar, so he could have gone slightly in the Elmore Leonard route, and they came back saying, ‘Oh, we wanted to do something that was like a family thing’,” Wright said in a interview with Superhero Hype conducted at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con. “I don’t think it ever got sent to Marvel.”
Undeterred by Artisan’s rejection, Wright and Cornish decided to take their treatment directly to the company most likely to respect the story they had in mind. At the 2004 Comic-Con, Wright met with future Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and powerhouse producer and Marvel honcho Avi Arad to discuss the project. As the meeting took place, Feige and Arad were in the process of establishing Marvel as an independent film production company with a $525 million revolving credit facility from Merrill Lynch. When the new Marvel Studios returned to Comic-Con two years later for their first-ever panel, they were ready to announce their initial slate of feature films based on the characters they had recently reacquired from various movie studios that had held the rights to them for many years with nothing to show for their money and efforts but a mountain of unproduced scripts.
Ant-Man was among those destined for silver screen glory, and not only would Wright and Cornish furnish the production with a screenplay, Wright would direct as well. The filmmaker promised his film would include “a prologue where you see Henry Pym as Ant-Man in action in the 60’s, in Tales to Astonish mode, and then the contemporary flash-forward is Scott Lang’s story, and how he comes to acquire the suit, how he crosses paths with Hank Pym, and then, in an interesting sort of Machiavellian way, teams up with him.” In February of the following year, development of Ant-Man stalled as Wright and Cornish reworked the script while the director was hard at work completing his second feature film, the hard-edged action spoof Hot Fuzz. Another year would pass before Wright would announce that the first draft had been finished and he and Cornish were currently at work on the second.
In May 2008, Marvel Studios’ inaugural film Iron Man premiered to ecstatic reviews and blockbuster grosses. Its surprising success altered the studio’s plans for the rest of its proposed slate of features. They immediately went to work planning out the rest of what would eventually become known as “Phase One”, and Wright’s Ant-Man would not be joining the fun. The change worked out splendidly for Wright as he had long desired to make an adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World would ultimately open in theaters in the same summer as Marvel’s second film, Iron Man 2, but would do nowhere near as well at the box office.
February 14, 2010 – Now that principal photography had wrapped on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and the film was in the post-production phase, Wright announced that work would resume on his script for Ant-Man. The director said that there was practically no pressure from Marvel Studios to get the script done because “that character isn’t one of their biggest properties, it’s not like a tentpole deadline.” He also said that his version of Ant-Man “should be a great genre film, so that’s why I did a first draft.”
May 7, 2012 – A teaser image for Ant-Man is tweeted by Wright, while Marvel Studios president Feige admitted that he still wanted to make the movie and was communicating about it with the director on a regular basis through e-mail.
June 29, 2012 – Ending speculation that Marvel may not go forward with its planned Ant-Man feature, Wright reportedly films test footage designed to demonstrate how he would apply his dynamic filmmaking style in visualizing the planned action sequences.
July 14, 2012 – Wright brings his complete Ant-Man test reel to the San Diego Comic-Con, where it receives a great response from the assembled masses with its imaginative approach to making the character an appealing big screen superhero.
October 15, 2012 – Disney sets a release date of November 6, 2015 for Ant-Man. During the previous summer, rumors emerged that the film could see a release sometime in 2014. Marvel co-president Louis D’Esposito had hinted at this possibility, and Feige had hoped the film would go into production soon to meet a projected 2014 opening.
January 26, 2013 – Feige announced that Wright’s Ant-Man was “definitely part of Phase Three”: “Like ‘Iron Man 3,’ it’s certainly set in the Marvel Universe, but it’s also through the lens of Edgar Wright — which is the only reason we’re making the movie.” Feige also revealed that he had first discussed making an Ant-Man movie with Wright when they met for lunch during the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con.
February 6, 2013 – In an interview with IGN, Wright offers an update on the development of Ant-Man and the reasons for the delayed start of the production:
“Part of it is because I wanted to make two other movies first. I wanted to make World’s End… me and Simon [Pegg] were very keen to make it and it felt like it was unfinished business and we wanted to wrap up the trilogy. The script came together really fast. Well not really fast, but it came together at a certain point where it was like ‘I really want to do this next.’”
Wright also spoke of waiting until he had directed films that were more complex and demanding in terms of visual effects before taking on Ant-Man: “It’s a big effects movie, so I’m pleased to go into it having done Scott Pilgrim and The World’s End because you’re always learning more about that side.”
May 2, 2013 – As the release of his latest film The World’s End approaches, Wright reveals in a Q&A following a film festival screening of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World that he plans to commit to making Ant-Man once he is completely finished with World’s End. Feige later praised Wright’s script as being “incredibly true to the comics”, then offered a quote that would come to ominously foreshadow future developments for the project: “Frankly, now we have to re-write it to put it a little bit more into the [Marvel Cinematic Universe] because it was written before it existed.”
August 20, 2013 – When it was announced that Ultron would be the villain of the sequel to The Avengers, Wright confirmed that the character’s origin would not be tied to his film’s portrayal of Hank Pym, despite the fact that Pym was responsible for Ultron’s creation in the comics.
October 14, 2013 – Paul Rudd and Joseph Gordon-Levitt both top Marvel’s shortlist to play Ant-Man for director Wright. The next day, Gordon-Levitt claims that rumors of his auditioning for the starring role “nothing but lies”, in essence making the job Rudd’s to lose.
December 19, 2013 – After months of speculation and negotiation, Rudd officially signs on to play Ant-Man. Which Ant-Man that is, be it Hank Pym or Scott Lang, has yet to be revealed.
January 6, 2014 – Wright teases the possible plot of Ant-Man through his blog by releasing an image from an episode of the animated series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes called “To Steal an Ant-Man.” In the episode, Scott Lang steals the Ant-Man technology from Hank Pym in order to further his criminal ambitions.
January 13, 2014 – In casting news that no one saw coming, Oscar-winning actor/producer Michael Douglas signs on to play Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man in the Marvel Universe. The purpose his character will serve in the film has yet to be revealed, and it is initially rumored that Pym could either be the villain of the story or a mentor to Scott Lang.
January 14, 2014 – Michael Pena (Crash, Observe and Report) is rumored to be in negotiations with Marvel Studios for an unspecified villain role in Ant-Man.
February 5, 2014 – Lost star Evangeline Lilly begins talks with Marvel for an unspecified role in Ant-Man, possibly that of “Pym’s daughter and Lang’s love interest.”
February 17, 2014 – Fan favorite cinematographer Bill Pope (Spider-Man 2, The Matrix), who previously shot Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and The World’s End for Wright, and the director’s composer on World’s End, Steven Price, join the production of Ant-Man.
May 23, 2014 – A day that will live in infamy. Edgar Wright departs the production of Ant-Man. The filmmaker and Marvel agreed to the amicable split “due to differences in their vision of the film,” but the full story would soon be revealed to the world in the weeks that followed.
May 25, 2014 – Latino Review reports that Wright made the decision to resign from the task of directing Ant-Man over rewrites to the script he co-wrote with Cornish by two of Marvel’s in-house scribes that were later described as “poorer, homogenized, and not Edgar’s vision.” It is reported that Feige fought for the Wright/Cornish drafts and that the decision to order rewrites that watered down their creative efforts came from a higher power, possibly Disney CEO Alan Horn.
May 27, 2014 – Wright finally breaks his silence regarding his departure from Ant-Man by tweeting an image of the legendary silent film comedian and pioneer Buster Keaton holding one of the Cornetto ice cream cones that were a signature of his “Blood and Ice Cream” film trilogy. The image is later deleted, but apparently it was meant to signal that Wright broke with Marvel over the new direction they were insisting on for Ant-Man because the amount of money he stood to make would never have been enough to repair the damage done to his artistic integrity. Keaton was put in a similar position when he signed on to make films for MGM in 1928, and as a result was forced to sacrifice his creative control and adhere to the studio’s demands. The decision haunted him for the rest of his life.
May 28, 2014 – It is confirmed that Wright left the Ant-Man project over major changes made to the script he and Cornish had written.
May 30, 2014 – A shortlist of possible directors to replace Wright is leaked, revealing that Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball), Adam McKay (Step Brothers), and Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) are all in competition for the coveted job. Since McKay worked with Rudd on the Anchorman films, everyone begins to pray for the assignment to go to him.
May 31, 2014 – McKay enters final negotiations to take over for Wright, but later that day he is forced to turn down Marvel’s offer due to prior directorial commitments.
June 4, 2014 – Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors) and Michael Dowse (Goon) are added to the roster of possible replacement directors for Ant-Man as Thurber drops out of contention and Fleischer becomes Sony’s top choice to direct Ghostbusters 3.
June 7, 2014 – Peyton Reed (Bring It On) is confirmed as the new director of Ant-Man. Despite taking himself out of the running for the directing gig, McKay will remain on board to rewrite the screenplay. Reed had come close to directing a feature based on Marvel’s Fantastic Four comics a decade earlier.
June 11, 2014 – Another rumored reason for Wright’s departure from the project surfaces in the form of Marvel’s insistence on adding product placements to the film.
July 7, 2014 – Marvel hires Gabriel Ferrari and Andrew Barrer to rewrite the script for Ant-Man.
July 26, 2014 – As part of Marvel Studios’ typically blockbuster Hall H presentation at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, the first footage from Ant-Man – an effects-heavy scene that wasn’t part of the actual shoot – is screened to an enthusiastic response from the audience. Reed, Rudd, and Douglas are joined on the panel moderated by Talking Dead host Chris Hardwick by Kevin Feige and newly-confirmed co-stars Lilly and Corey Stoll (The Strain). Marvel also releases an exclusive poster for the event.
August 15, 2014 – Rumors begin circulating that the film will feature cameos from previously established Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, including Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, Armin Zola, and even a young Alexander Pierce, further tying the story to MCU continuity. This could possibly have been one of the reasons for Wright resigning from his writing and directing duties.
August 18, 2014 – Filming on Ant-Man begins. Judy Greer, T.I., Bobby Cannavale, and John Slattery are all announced as having joined the cast. The casting of Slattery, who played an older Howard Stark in Iron Man 2, confirms that the character will be integral to the film’s back story.
August 19, 2014 – The first official photo of Rudd as Lang is released.
December 3, 2014 – Lilly reveals that she almost quit Ant-Man following Wright’s departure:
“We were excited to work with Edgar. We were fans of Edgar. So when the split happened, I was in the fortunate position where I had not signed my contract yet. So I had the choice to walk away, and I almost did. Because I thought, ‘Well, if it’s because Marvel are big bullies, and they just want a puppet and not someone with a vision, I’m not interested in being in this movie.’ Which is what I was afraid of.”
January 6, 2015 – Marvel premieres a teaser trailer for Ant-Man following the pilot episode of their new ABC TV series Agent Carter. A new poster is also released.
January 8, 2015 – Feige comments on Wright’s departure. “It is true that there were disagreements about the direction the script should take,” he said, but….
“everything was aboveboard. Everything was done with everybody else’s knowledge. There was a sense of ‘We’re going in this direction, you’re staying in this direction—maybe it’s best that we end as friends.’”
April 13, 2015 – Marvel debuts the first full trailer for Ant-Man.
April 21, 2015 – Avengers: Age of Ultron writer/director Joss Whedon states in an interview with BuzzFeed that the script Wright and Cornish wrote for Ant-Man was “not only the best script that Marvel had ever had, but the most Marvel script I’d read.” He also added, “It reminded me of the books when I read them. Irreverent and funny and could make what was small large, and vice versa.”
May 7, 2015 – Marvel releases the official synopsis and cast line-up for their May 2016 superhero event feature Captain America: Civil War. It is revealed that Rudd will reprise his role of Scott Lang/Ant-Man alongside a cast of characters that includes just about every active star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios’ press release hints at the possibility of Ant-Man being recruited to the Avengers.
June 10, 2015 – Possible plot and costume details from Civil War are leaked and reveal that Rudd will be donning an upgraded Ant-Man suit in the film that will reportedly be “more modern/techno stylish” than the classic design of the suit he wears in his first solo feature.
June 11, 2015 – Marvel releases a series of Avengers-themed posters for Ant-Man, showing the miniature hero dwarfed by some of the MCU’s most recognizable icons.
June 27, 2015 – Several weeks in advance of its theatrical release, Ant-Man is screened by Marvel for critics. Although they are likely embargoed from offering their full reviews until that date draw, the writers take to Twitter with mostly positive notices. Some of them praise Michael Pena for his undisputed ability to steal a scene and hint at a pair of post-credits “each better than the last.”
June 29, 2015 – A Japanese trailer for Ant-Man is released and features more action, humor, and a better hint of the film’s storyline.
July 1, 2015 – Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn shared his thoughts on the completed Ant-Man via his Facebook:
“Ant-Man may just be my favorite Marvel film since Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (well, maybe excluding one film to which I’m partial). Honestly, the movie is a complete blast! I was so happy after seeing it. It’s never boring for a second and it’s hilarious and warm throughout. It doesn’t get caught up in the webbing of its own science-fiction concept like so many movies do these days, remaining simple and elegant. It’s a part of the Marvel universe without being ruled by that fact.”
Gunn praised the performances by Rudd, Pena, and Douglas, and said that director Reed “did an incredible job,” and concluded with the confident affirmation “that despite Edgar Wright’s parting from Marvel, his spirit is felt through the entire project, and there is no doubt everyone owes him a huge debt of gratitude.”
July 3, 2015 – With two weeks left to go until its theatrical debut, Marvel releases a second full-length trailer for Ant-Man.
July 16, 2015 – Reed, Feige, and the cast share their thoughts on the characters they portray and what it’s like to work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for Ant-Man.
July 17, 2015 – Opening Day. Geeks of Doom’s own Adam Frazier reviews Ant-Man.
Ant-Man opens in theaters in 2D and 3D on July 17, 2015.