"I don't want to talk too much about 'Ant-Man,' I get superstitious." These are the words of Edgar Wright, who, based on his track record, has little to be superstitious about -- considering that very few directors have as much "nerd creditability" as Wright does. OK, sure, 2010's "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" wasn't the financial success that it should have been, but there were very few critical detractors. So, between "Scott Pilgrim" and his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy -- which consists of "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and this week's new release, "The World's End" -- there's probably no director better suited to helm a potentially quirky superhero movie like "Ant-Man."
First up, however, is "The World's End," the third chapter of the aforementioned Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (so named for a particular brand of ice cream that shows up in these films). In this installment, a former high school hero named Gary King (Simon Pegg) convinces his old classmates to go on a 12 pubs, 12 pints bar crawl -- only to be interrupted by an alien invasion.
I met with a hungry Edgar Wright (his lunch was long overdue) in his Midtown Manhattan hotel room to discuss the intricacies of what makes "The World's End" work and his relationship with geek culture. And even though Wright warned that he didn't want to talk too much about "Ant-Man," that doesn't mean he didn't give some substantial thoughts on his next film, including why Ultron -- the Avengers' next foe -- was never a part of his "Ant-Man" plans.
With "The World's End" and with "Shaun of the Dead," I could watch those movies for the characters, even without the supernatural elements.
I think more with "Shaun" and less so with "Hot Fuzz," but, certainly, you want to structure the movie so even if you took away the fantastical element, you still have the structure of the movie. However, in this movie when the otherworldly element comes in, our hero, Gary King, very quickly latches upon it as an excuse to keep drinking. So, if there was a non-sci-fi version of that, I don't know how he would convince them to continue ... the thing is, an alcoholic is very organized -- so Gary King very quickly turns this invasion to his advantage, but that can only go on for so long.
Gary King is a darker lead character than we've seen from these movies in the past.
I think it's something where I'd say all of the kind of heroes are flawed -- but this one the most. Shaun is lazy and complacent and lets a beautiful girl walk out of his life because he's an idiot.
Though, we've all been there.
We've all been there! And Nicholas Angel is work-obsessed and is so obsessed with work he's kind of forgotten to be a human being. And Gary is somebody who is extremely flawed and has demons and problems and cannot come to terms with the fact that he is no longer a teenager. And he is terrified of growing up. But I think he's a character where many people know somebody like that, or it's a member of their family, or they are that person.
Where did Gary come from for you?
I think it's from a combination of people we know, people we had heard of -- or our worst traits manifested in a sort of Ghost of Christmas Past, in that "this could have been me," if I hadn't been quite so fortunate.
I never realized how disturbing a human body can look when the legs are placed where arms should be.
[Laughs] We went through three iterations of that, that were all terrifying until we settled on -- in the original storyboards, she had four arms. Like, she took the other two arms and plugged them in. And then my brother pointed out, "No, that's not surreal, but they have sockets there? Why would they have sockets there?"
You'd get heat for that.
Exactly, "That makes no sense! Why would she have sockets right there?" So, then we went with one arm and one leg. And then we did a thing with two legs and said, "That's it." And one naked and one with high heels -- and it looks terrifying.
And when the aliens open up their eyes and their mouths and it's glowing, that is legitimately scary looking.
You know, even though it's a comedy, the threat element is the stuff of your childhood nightmares. The whole film is about regression. Gary King wants to be 18 again. How is he going to get his friends to be 18 again? He's going to get them drunk -- because when you're drunk, you act more juvenile. It's time travel through alcohol ... it's a film about the dangers of nostalgia. To go back to the original thing of "How do you do it without the cosmic intervention?" is that Gary would have gotten them drunk ... and probably eat a lot of carbs at the end. The end of it would be: Get really drunk and they eat some junk food that they really regret -- and then that would be the end of their world.
I think I did that last night.
I think I did that last night as well.
You have so much "geek credibility," but going back to when you worried about why the humanoids would have four arm sockets, have you ever felt that kind of wrath before from that community? Take for instance that Star Trek convention poll that ranked "Star Trek Into Darkness" as the worst Star Trek movie. Do you ever worry about that community turning on you?
Sometimes. Listen, I'm very happy with the response for everything I've done, but, you know, sometimes you get things like, "Oh, 'Spaced' series one wasn't as good as 'Spaced' series two." Or, "'Shaun of the Dead' is not as good as 'Spaced,'" or, "'Hot Fuzz' is not as good as 'Shaun.'" Or, now, "'The World's End' is not 'Shaun of the Dead.'" Well, no, it's not. The "Star Trek" thing and the "Star Wars" thing are different. The "Star Wars" prequels, people have a very personal idea of what they think it should be. We've done three movies, but they're not sequels.
But "Ant-Man" is coming up, which people will have a personal idea of.
Yeah. Yes, absolutely. And people had a very strong opinions about "Scott Pilgrim" because it was an adaptation. And there's not much that you can really do about that. I'm sure there are people who didn't like the "Scott Pilgrim" film because it wasn't the books verbatim. And that's impossible. It's like, this is as close as it's going to get. In a weird way, you could never say this, but even at the time i was thinking, If you knew the changes that they wanted me to make, believe me...
What's an example?
I think the biggest thing that wasn't in the books at all -- and, listen, the film is pretty un-compromised and I have to give huge credit to Universal for letting me make the movie the way I made it. But I'd get things like, "You have to explain how they fight. You have to explain how they fight." And I'm like, "I really don't think we need to do that. It's not in the books and I don't think we need to explain." So, stuff like that, you know. So, I think people take this personally when -- it's usually when it's something that is much older.
Is that a nice thing about "Ant-Man"? In that people know who he is, but not really.
I think there's something in that it's a lesser known character, there's hopefully more license. For the one percent of people who are like, "Wait, Hank Pym would never do that!" there's 99 percent going, "Who's Hank Pym?" So, to me, the source material is great but it also frees you up to be like: I'm going to make a movie. The movie is not going to represent 50 years of Marvel comics because that's impossible. But I'm going to make a 100 minute movie -- or 110 minutes [laughs].
Ultron is going to be the villain in the next Avengers movie, which is coming out before "Ant-Man." In the comics, Ant-Man invented Ultron. Ant-Man is a strange enough character on his own for a movie, would it have just too much to say, "Here's Ant-Man and, by the way, he also invented this robot named Ultron"? Would that have been too much for the first "Ant-Man" movie?
It was never in my script. Because even just to sort of set up what Ant-Man does is enough for one movie. It's why I think "Iron Man" is extremely successful because it keeps it really simple. You have one sort of -- the villain comes from the hero's technology. It's simple. So I think why that film really works and why, sometimes, superhero films fail -- or they have mixed results -- because they have to set up a hero and a villain at the same time. And that's really tough. And sometimes it's unbalanced.
You know, when I was younger I used to love Tim Burton's "Batman." I was like 15 and even then I was aware, "This is really the Joker's film." It's like, the Joker just takes over and Batman, you really don't learn too much about him. Comics have years to explain this stuff and in a movie you have to focus on one thing. So it's about kind of streamlining, I think. Some of the most successful origin films actually have a narrower focus. You cannot put 50 years of the Marvel universe into a movie. It's impossible.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.