By 2011, Marvel were in full gear for The Avengers. But while Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were setting the stage for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Wright was finally getting back into the solo-world of Ant-Man. He told The L.A. Times that he was looking at the script for the first time in two years, but again stressed that there was no time frame for the movie, therefore it was more about getting the script right than aiming for a release date. Fans who were clamouring for Ant-Man began to worry again that Wright would get pulled away from the movie again when he also began discussions about a the third movie in his “Cornetto Trilogy”, a name given to his collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, which included Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
Wright and Cornish, who had also worked together on writing Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of TinTin by this point, announced at Kapow! Comic Con in May 2011 that the second draft for Ant-Man had been finished and delivered to Marvel for approval. Rumours of Marvel’s plans post-The Avengers were starting to circle, and many believed that Ant-Man could be part of the so-called “Phase Two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In July of the same year, Wright and Cornish announced at the San Diego Comic Con that a third draft had also been finished and delivered to Marvel. They hinted that Cornish’s Attack the Block had halted their progress, but now that the film was finished and making its own waves at Comic Con, things could be moving forward. “The way we wrote the script is for it to be a standalone genre film,” Wright told MTV, hinting that Ant-Man would not be tied to The Avengers by creating “an ‘in’ for people so you don’t have to know 50 years of Avengers history to enjoy the movie.”
At a press conference for The Avengers the following year, Kevin Feige told those in attendance that Ant-Man was “as close as it has ever been” and the following month, Wright cryptically tweeted a picture that suggested production was set to being. Finally, at the San Diego Comic Con, Marvel again officially announced Ant-Man with Wright directing. But this time, the director screened some test footage that he’d put together for the movie. Though unfinished, it was the first time we saw what Edgar Wright had in mind for his vision of Ant-Man. But, as predicted by fans, Wright took some time off from Marvel Studios and Ant-Man a couple of months later to begin production on The World’s End, the final part of his Cornetto Trilogy.
At least Ant-Man now had an official release date.
But as 2012 came to a close, Marvel’s plans needed to change. The Avengers was a monster hit at the box office, delighting both critics and fans with over $1 billion in ticket sales. Marvel Studios had hit the big time. In January of 2013, Kevin Feige said that Ant-Man was going to need to fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but assured fans that it would still be an Edgar Wright movie. But with the release of Iron Man 3 proving that The Avengers was not a fluke with $1.3 billion worth of box office, Feige would take a different approach to how he fielded Ant-Man related questions. In May 2013, just four months after saying Ant-Man would remain an Edgar Wright project, Feige told Entertainment Weekly that Ant-Man needed to be re-written to fit into the now mega-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As another San Diego Comic Con rolled around, Marvel announced that the next Avengers movie would be Avengers: Age of Ultron. However director Joss Whedon told the crowd at Hall H that this new version of Ultron would not be the creation of Hank Pym as it had been in the comics, pushing Ant-Man out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe once again. This put worries back into the minds of fans, who had already had concerns over Wright leaving the project dormant while filming The World’s End. The director put those worries to rest however while at a Cornetto Trilogy screening at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s Leicester Square, when he showed the Comic Con footage from the previous year, now fully complete. It was revealed much later on that Wright rushed production of The World’s End due to his producing partner Eric Fellner contracting cancer.
But by this point in the film’s troubled production, the cracks in the Wright/Marvel relationship were starting to show. Wright and Cornish had dropped in another draft of the script to Marvel in July and, despite what Kevin Feige was saying in interviews, Wright was sticking to his guns about where Ant-Man stood in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “In the time I’ve been working on it other things have happened in the other movies that could be affected in [Ant-Man],” he told IndieWire. “It is pretty standalone in the way we’re linking it to the others. I like to make it standalone because I think the premise of it needs time. I want to put the crazy premise of it into a real world, which is why I think Iron Man really works because it’s a relatively simple universe; it’s relatable. I definitely want to go into finding a streamlined format where you use the origin format to introduce the main character and further adventures can bring other people into it. I’m a big believer in keeping it relatively simple and Marvel agrees on that front.”
Creative differences aside, Wright ploughed on with the production of Ant-Man. He tweeted out a photo in October 2013 from a warehouse in Los Angeles of a man in the Ant-Man suit crouched in front of a camera, saying that it was “high time” he finish “a little something” he’d been working on. After relocating the filming back to L.A. after some disputes over filming in England, Marvel announced in December that Paul Rudd had been cast in the lead role of the movie.
As Ant-Man moved into 2014, Marvel also announced that Michael Douglas would be taking on the role of Dr. Hank Pym in the movie, confirming that Rudd would indeed play Scott Lang as had been teased previously. Not only that, but they had brought the date of the movie forward to July 17th, 2015. But things behind the scenes weren’t so peachy keen. Kevin Feige reportedly demanded another script to be written, prompting Wright and Cornish to pen their fifth draft of the movie. The duo also wrote a scene for Avengers: Age of Ultron, that would be the film’s post-credit scene to set up Ant-Man, just as Nick Fury had done for The Avengers back in 2008.
By April of 2014, just weeks before production was about to begin, Kevin Feige called Wright into a meeting and told him that they were going to work on a new script, only this time without Wright and Cornish’s involvement. Wright was, understandably, very upset by this. Reports at the time suggest that Edgar Wright refused to simply walk out on the project, so accepted that a new take on the draft be done. The following month, on May 22nd 2014, Edgar Wright read the new draft, and he officially left Ant-Man on May 23rd.
“Marvel and Edgar Wright jointly announced today that the studio and director have parted ways on Marvel’s Ant-Man due to differences in their vision of the film,” Marvel’s website announced. “The decision to move on is amicable and does not impact the release date on July 17, 2015. A new director will be announced shortly.”
“Kevin Feige [and his top lieutenants] run Marvel with a singularity of vision, but when you take a true auteur and throw him into the mix, this is what you get,” a source for The Hollywood Reporter claimed after the news of Edgar Wright leaving broke. “They don’t want you to speak up too much or have too much vision. People who have never worked there don’t understand how they operate, but if you trust them, they have an amazing track record.”
This was not the first time that Marvel had clashed with talent. Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnston had both worked on Phase One movies Thor and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but neither returned for their sequels. Patty Jenkins had originally been hired to direct Thor: The Dark World, but was fired and her successor, Alan Taylor, would lament later that working for Marvel was “scathing”. Edward Norton reportedly fell out with Marvel during the post-production stages of The Incredible Hulk, forcing them to replace him with Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Terrance Howard was replaced with Don Cheadle after contract disputes following Iron Man. Edgar Wright was not the first person to leave, but his departure had a massive impact on Ant-Man.
In the days that followed, Avengers director and Marvel Overseer Joss Whedon tweeted out a photo of him holding up a Cornetto in tribute to Wright. He would later say on the press tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron, that Wright and Cornish’s script for Ant-Man was “the best script Marvel ever had – and they did nothing with it”.
Marvel on the other hand were quick to act. They approached the Rueben Fleischer (Zombieland), David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer) and Peyton Reed (The Break-Up) about taking over the director’s chair and Paul Rudd approached his friend Adam McKay (Anchorman) to step in. McKay would turn down an official offer, but Peyton Reed accepted, and on June 7th, 2014 he was announced by Marvel as their new Ant-Man director.
While Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish would retain story credit for Ant-Man, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd went to work on re-drafting the script to fit into the Marvel mold. Throughout the production process, questions about Wright’s involvement came up with the actors and filmmakers. Evangeline Lilly, who joined the cast as part of an announcement at the 2014 Comic Con along with Corey Stoll, told Buzzfeed that Wright’s version, “would have been such a riot to film [and] it would have been so much fun to watch. [But] it wouldn’t have fit in the Marvel Universe. It would have stuck out like a sore thumb, no matter how good it was.” Rudd told Entertainment Weekly that, “the idea, the trajectory, the goal, and the blueprint of it all, is really Edgar and Joe, but we changed some scenes, we added new sequences, we changed some characters, we added new characters.”
So what was left from Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s Ant-Man? “I read all of the existing drafts that Edgar and Joe wrote,” Peyton Reed told Uproxx. “It was clearly Edgar and Joe’s idea to make this a heist movie and to sort of loosely base it on Marvel Premiere “To Steal an Ant-Man” that introduced Scott Lang. It was also their idea to create this Hank Pym/Scott Lang, mentor/mentee relationship. And, also, their idea to kind of do a Marvel movie where the third act battle take place in a little girl’s bedroom. Genius. It was great. I was a kid who grew up since elementary school reading Marvel comics. And when you’re a comic nerd, you develop your own personal relationship with these characters and that notion of like, well, this is what as a fan I want to see in the movie. So, there were definitely things that, when I came in and read the drafts that were like, this is great, but I also want to see this and see this.”
“We sat round a table and we realised it was not working,” Kevin Feige told The Guardian just after Peyton Reed was hired to replace Edgar Wright. “A part of me wishes we could have figured that out in the eight years we were working on it. But better for us and for Edgar that we figure it out then, and not move it through production. We said, ‘let’s do this together and put out a statement. What do we say? Creative differences?’ I said: ‘That’s what they always say and no-one ever believes it.’ [And] Edgar said, ‘but in this case it’s true’. The Marvel movies are very collaborative, and I think they are more collaborative than what he had been used to. And I totally respect that. [But] the notion that Marvel was scared, the vision was too good, too far out for Marvel is not true. And I don’t want to talk too much about that because I think our movies speak to that. Go look at Iron Man 3; go look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier; go see Guardians of the Galaxy later this month. It would have to be really out there to be too out there for us.”
Read our review of Ant-Man here.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.