“Troubled” is not a word generally used to describe the production of a Marvel Studios film. Sure, there have been some issues with the Hulk films, and yeah, there was that dust-up between Marvel and Terrance Howard, but typically, a Marvel film starts at “Reveal of Project at Comic-Con” and ends up at “Boatloads of Cash on Opening Weekend” with very few hiccups along the way.
That is, until Ant-Man.
Ant-Man is the story of con man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who must find a way to help his mentor Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), protect the secrets behind the Ant-Man technology that allows the user to shrink to microscopic levels. Described by Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige as “a heist movie,” Ant-Man is set to be the twelfth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, opening just two months after Avengers: Age of Ultron in the summer of 2015.
It’s a little ironic that Feige has also called Ant-Man a “hero passing the torch film”, because that description mirrors what happened behind the scenes. Original director and fanboy favorite Edgar Wright (The World’s End) dropped out of the film this past May despite having been connected with the project since 2003. In a joint statement with Marvel, Wright announced he was leaving “due to differences in their vision of the film,” according to Variety. Two weeks later, Marvel announced Peyton Reed (Bring It On) had been hired to direct the film.
In addition to this directors’ game of musical chairs, there has been turbulence affecting other areas behind the scenes. Cinematographer Bill Pope (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) had been attached to the picture but then departed along with Wright. Funny or Die co-founder Adam McKay (Anchorman) was in negotiations to direct after Wright, but eventually signed on only to rewrite the script from Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish. On the acting side, Patrick Wilson left the film after the delay caused by Wright’s departure. Additionally, Matt Gerald and Kevin Weisman were both attached to the project at one point, but were released after their characters were cut from the script by McKay’s revisions.
But at long last, Marvel’s team has been solidified and production started in mid-August. Reed will be working with Oscar-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic), production designer Shepherd Frankel (Horrible Bosses), costume designer Sammy Sheldon (X-Men: First Class), visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison (Thor: The Dark World), stunt coordinator Jeff Habberstad (Iron Man 3), and six-time Oscar nominee special effects supervisor Dan Sudik (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). The editors include Dan Lebental (Iron Man) and Colby Parker Jr. (Lone Survivor).
The question now is this: is Ant-Man set to be the first real stumble from Marvel Studios? Not unlike another arm of the Disney empire, Pixar, Marvel has earned a reputation for quality, releasing high-action films that pleases both comic aficionados and the general public alike. There’s a chance the handover on Ant-Man was seamless and audiences won’t be able to detect that there were any issues. But we can’t help wondering about the fact that Wright had been coming to Comic-Con nearly every year since 2006 offering updates about his film, even showing test footage of a fight scene back in 2012.
Also, because Ant-Man was hardly a character audiences were clamoring for, one really got the feeling that this was a passion project from Wright, who had been a fan of the character since childhood and even owned the comic with Scott Lang’s first appearance. Without his presence on set, will that passion and love for the story still find a way to shine through? It’s never a good sign to see so many changes happen right before a film starts shooting, but given how Marvel just made a gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree the breakout movie stars of the summer, the studio deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Ant-Man is scheduled for a July 17, 2015 release.