Ant-Man and the Wasp Stan Lee cameo hero
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Credit: Marvel Studios

Stan Lee's MCU cameos are a competitive sport for directors, Ant-Man's Peyton Reed explains

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Oct 2, 2018, 10:30 PM EDT

The first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to a close with Avengers: Infinity War. Years of one-liners, supervillain throwdowns, and Stan Lee cameos came to a head when Thanos invaded Earth, delivered a long-promised beatdown, and killed half the universe with a snap of his fingers.

Three months later, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) had to follow up in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Director Peyton Reed, who also helmed 2015's Ant-Man, was given the daunting task of reeling audiences back from the ledge and reminding everyone of the all-important bigger picture. Luckily, he didn't have to do it alone.

"I had [conversations] with the Russo Brothers and [writers Christopher] Markus and [Stephen] McFeely," Reed told SYFY WIRE. "As early on as the first Ant-Man… [they] looked at early footage of Paul Rudd playing Ant-Man, and I think that informed the way they wrote Scott into [Captain America:] Civil War. There's always a lot of back and forth, looking at cuts of the other movies and talking about the bigger picture of how everything [fits together]. It pays to keep the other person informed about what's going on in your movie so that they can feed off of that later."

SYFY WIRE spoke with Reed ahead of Ant-Man and the Wasp's digital (October 2) and Blu-ray and DVD release (October 16) to get to the bottom of crafting the best version of the MCU's Infinity War follow-up. That means chatting about deleted scenes — especially a potentially important Quantum Realm scene — and, of course, the all-important Stan Lee cameo. Yes, the MCU's veritable army of directors works together to keep the story straight, but they're also waging an intense, silent war to offer up the best Lee cameo of them all.

Ant-Man and the Wasp's cameo is, without a doubt, a frontrunner.

The deleted Quantum Realm scene adds a lot of additional context to Janet van Dyne's (Michelle Pfeiffer) transformation. What made your team decide to cut it?

That's one of the things that, as you get to the latter stages of editing, you want to get the movie as tight as possible just to keep the momentum going. It's a fun scene and it does give you a little bit more of a glimpse of Janet's life in the Quantum Realm, but when we really got down to the final cut, it felt like it may be actually confusing the issue as opposed to clarifying the issue.

I love the scene as a standalone scene, but it got to be a point where it really felt like it was not helping the overall narrative of the movie.

It is fun to see the Quantum Realm scene out of context. I like that in that standalone Quantum Realm scene we see Janet and Hank come up against this Quantum Creature and we see that she doesn't battle this creature. She very smartly communicates with this creature and establishes a quick sort of détente with this creature. So I like that aspect of "Oh, Janet is dealing with this in a very smart way."

It feels rare to meet a character in the MCU who pauses, takes a breath, and then makes a decision. That could be helpful in the future.

Yeah, exactly. I like that. The whole idea, really, is that... she has been affected by her environment and she has evolved and we're going to, maybe, very slowly find out how she's involved. We talked a lot about "Was it enlightening in some way? How has it really affected Janet?"

She has evolved and hopefully is a bit of a more highly evolved person.

A lot of MCU fans thought it might be a connection to Avengers 4. Have you heard anything about that chatter?

Oh, yeah. I mean, I think we were very well aware, even as we were writing Ant-Man and the Wasp, that because we were following Infinity War, people were going to come into our movie, I think from the very beginning, looking for clues and answers about Infinity War. And obviously, we don't give them any answers for a very long time. And we don't even establish the timeline of Ant-Man and the Wasp until way, way late in the movie. So I'm very aware that everybody's always looking for clues and hints about what happens next.

How do you feel about everyone constantly trying to connect the dots?

I like it. I mean, I like it as a director just because I've done a bunch of movies before the Marvel movies, and for me doing the Marvel movies is a very different [experience], because you want to make your movie absolutely work as a standalone movie and a standalone experience for an audience. But it does have to tie in to the larger narrative. So it's really fun to try and figure out — we knew if we introduced the snap or anything Thanos-related too early in Ant-Man and the Wasp, it did threaten to sort of take over the narrative of our movie.

So when we finally landed on the structure of the finished film, it just felt right. It felt like, "OK, this is the ambient way of dealing with the events of Infinity War. It feels like the right positioning in the movie... We wrap our movie up in a very neat bow. Everybody has their resolution, and then we have a really fun title sequence, and then bam, the mid-credit scene comes in and it always catches an audience off guard in the theater, which is really gratifying as a director.

We knew we didn't really want to try and outdo the drama of [what] happened at the end of Infinity War. So we knew we had to kind of just do our own twist and really sell it while still keeping the tone of our movie.

Stan Lee is king of the MCU one-liner outside Tony Stark. I know you guys cycled through a few lines for his cameo in Ant-Man and the Wasp. What made you stick with this one?

The Stan Lee cameo was the very, very first thing that we shot on Ant-Man and the Wasp, which to me felt like a good luck charm. Of course, we shot a cameo for the first Ant-Man, but I like the idea that this is the first thing we shot.

But really with Stan we wanted to come armed with a bunch of jokes and then sort of see which one felt best in the context of the movie. You really do. You never know which joke is going to play funniest with the audience. You think you know, and a lot of times you do know, but there are times… where you want to try different versions.

I think each director wants to try and top the other directors' Stan Lee cameo. So you're always thinking, "Where? Where's the best place for Stan to appear in the movie?" There are always two or three options that we talk about. So as we were pre-vising that whole chase scene, it just made sense. "Let's have a thing where Scott is swerving to avoid something and [Faith] misses and it shrinks some bystander's car… Oh, well, it's gotta be Stan Lee's car just because it's funny."

Once you get Stan out there... you give him a number of setups and give him as much time to kind of riff and have fun and do lines as much as possible.

The one we landed on that's in the movie, I love it just because it was very San Francisco-specific. He's playing this guy who was around in San Francisco in the '60s and experimented with whatever and now thinks this might be a hallucination. It felt right for our movie.

He has a whole backstory. I feel like all of his characters probably have a very intense backstory.

Yeah. I think our version of Stan Lee is a little bit of an acid casualty.