The big picture with Ant-Man and the Wasp
TAIPEI—“If this movie flops, it’s my fault! He’s proven that he can make a movie a success!” That was Evangeline Lilly talking animatedly about her new film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” The person she was talking about was the Ant-Man to her Wasp, Paul Rudd.
“I disagree,” Rudd responded. “There are so many things you can’t think about or worry about. The only thing we can do is put everything into the movie that we’re making and the parts we’re playing, and hope for best because there is an innate pressure if we start to think about it, and we’d collapse. Right at the heels of (Avengers) “Infinity War,” I think there are benefits to that too, because this movie has its own personality. While it exists in that world, it has a very different tone. It’s still a bit like trying to follow the Beatles in concert.”
Rudd and Lilly were in Taiwan on the first stop of their international promotional tour for the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The cast of “Infinity War” was indeed composed of rock stars of the super hero genre, turning the film into one of the most formidable box office heroes of all time.
The next MCU film after that and the only MCU film until the yet untitled fourth Avengers film in 2019? “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which opens on July 4. Talk about big pressure.
Marvel took a very big chance on a small, size-shifting character when it released “Ant-Man” in 2015. While the character was one of the oldest in the modern Marvel comic continuity, having first appeared in the 1960s, Ant-Man just didn’t seem to be up to the big-screen level of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. It was also Rudd’s first superheroic role as the thief-turned-hero Scott Lang who was equipped with a special suit that used Pym Particles to change size, first just to shrink and later to grow. He could even communicate with and control ants, famously being able to ride a flying ant.
Directed by Peyton Reed (“Bring It On,” yes, that “Bring It On”), “Ant-Man” was a surprise at the tills, confidently mixing action with comedy to become a springboard for Rudd to become his own iconic screen superhero. Ant-Man further proved his screen hero bona fides by teaming up with Chris Evans’ Captain America (and friends) in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”
Now Ant-Man is back—and he’s got company. Introduced in the first film as Hope Van Dyne, the daughter of Pym Particles inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Lilly was presented with the Wasp suit at the end of that film. In “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” Lilly is shown able to shrink, fly around with insectoid wings and fire energy blasts.
“In the first film my character was in a very difficult relationship with her father and had been since she was a little girl,” Lilly said. “In the emotional journey Hope went through in the first film she resolved so much of that emotional turmoil with her father, and so we pick up the story two years after the first ‘Ant-Man’ movie ended. There’s been a lot of healing and growth that’s gone on. We’re on much better terms and Hope is in a much better place personally, not just she’s in a better place with her father but also because her life-long dream of taking up the mantle of her parents as superheroes has come true.”
“The character’s story has evolved ever since ‘Civil War,’” Rudd explained. “Scott went away to fight with some of the Avengers. Now I’m starting this film under house arrest. Whereas in the first one, I was deciding if this was even something of interest to me—I didn’t know if I wanted to be a superhero—now, that is something that has been enhanced even more. That is very pronounced now.”
The new film takes place immediately after the events of “Civil War.” On the run, Hank and Hope contact Scott to help them as they seek to enter the subatomic Quantum Realm to rescue the original Wasp, Hank’s long-lost wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, 1992’s Catwoman herself). Meanwhile, they also have to deal with a new threat: Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen of “The Killjoys”) who uses stolen Pym technology to phase through solid objects. Scott’s crew is back, led by the inimitable Michael Peña as Luis. Reed is back as director as well.
From the trailers, one of the film’s most winning aspects is how the filmmakers have embraced the craziness that came with being able to make objects huge. Similarly larger was Rudd’s role behind the scenes, as he was credited as one of the screenwriters and clearly had a lot of creative input.
Was he the one deciding on which objects would be made gigantic? “I think that when we’re in the writing meetings, there’s usually a group of us. Sometimes we’ll throw certain things which are kind of fun, like you’ve seen in the trailer, the Hello Kitty Pez,” Rudd said. “Deciding what that Pez was going to be—there were several different versions of that. We thought, what if we threw a Captain America Pez but that seemed a little too self-congratulatory. And I think that usually with the writing, it isn’t just one person. It becomes a very collaborative effort. So many things evolve over time and eventually. We know this would be kind of a cool scene, with streets and scenes of cars getting bigger. We grow and shrink some items we didn’t see in the first one.”
Rudd and Lilly were enchanted by enlarged props on the set. “Obviously computer generated effects has developed so much, but the most exciting thing for us was seeing practical things really big on set,” Rudd said. “We do have items which were massive.” In particular, they loved everyday objects made huge, common items such as paper clips and LEGO bricks.
“A lot of our film really takes place in San Francisco and we did shoot for a few weeks in San Francisco, but a lot of the Marvel films are shot in a studio in Georgia right outside of Atlanta,” Rudd said of the shoot. “Sometimes we would be on a soundstage in Georgia and you would never know. You’d think we were in San Francisco. It just comes down to a question of cost.”
Lilly wasn’t fazed by the physical requirements of so many action scenes: “The way we shot ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ was such an incredible undertaking, that we often would have three or four different units shooting at the same time, which was often meaning there were three or four different Wasps filming at the same time. I actually got to share the load with an incredible stunt team, with an incredible special effects team who were helping with creating the tiny Hope when she shrinks and flies. And so it was a real collaboration and I didn’t have to carry the whole load. Actually, in the end, it wasn’t more demanding.”
The filmmakers also went the extra mile by researching the scientific aspects of its premise with Rudd talking a lot with Columbia University physicist Brian Greene. “It is almost unimaginable, that there are different universes, different realities possibly happening parallel to our own,” Rudd said. “That all of this stuff is not necessarily far-fetched, but genuinely scientific theory is mind-bending.” Similarly, Rudd worked with magician Blake Vogt to be able to pull off Scott’s sleight-of-hand tricks in the film.
Of course, the chemistry between the heroes in the title needed to be excellent. “It’s fun to see how this relationship unfolds,” Rudd said. “I think there are things about Hope and things about Scott that complement each other well because they are two very different people and it’s fun to see them interact. It was fun when we were doing it.”
Lilly agreed: “I think the competition between Scott and Hope is cute and really fun to watch. But in order for it to be cute and fun to watch, we can’t be in competition. We’re supporting each other, and when we’re on set, we just have a really good time together.” “And when the cameras roll the insults fly,” Rudd said with a laugh.
It could be argued that Rudd and Lilly face their biggest (yes, more size jokes) challenge and potentially their biggest opportunity with “Ant-Man and the Wasp” the only MCU film until May 2019’s “Avengers” film.
The two are tight-lipped about the connection of their MCU film with the one that came right before it. Invariably, Rudd is asked what Ant-Man was doing during “Infinity War” as he didn’t appear in it. Rudd has an answer, kind of: “That’s a great question. I remember going to see ‘Infinity War’ and they do mention I was under house arrest. I was not able to leave. (Hawkeye and I) were too busy as parents to go and save the world. I must say it was interesting when I saw the film and I thought, oh there we go, that explains it. I didn’t see that coming. There’s a lot going on.”
Lilly has her own quick answer for the Wasp: “For the record, I was there. I was just tiny.”
Rudd would not be left behind: “Maybe I was too small and you just couldn’t see me.”
The heroes who could become real small are all set to go big. Paul Rudd has one last promise: “All answers asked will be revealed.”
Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man and the Wasp” opens in cinemas on July 4.
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