It's Friday afternoon and Peyton Reed is stuck in traffic.
"I'm going seven miles an hour," says the Raleigh-born filmmaker. "I'm really flying down the 405." It's amazing that he's staying so cool, even enthusiastic. Not only is he inching down a freeway in his home base of Los Angeles, but his new movie, the summer superhero blockbuster Ant-Man, hits theaters today.
News outlets are already touting the $6.4 million take from Thursday-night screenings as a slight disappointment compared to other Marvel films. (Ant-Man did top the first Captain America movie.)
"I have to confess I probably only know slightly more about what it means than you do," says Reed, unconcerned. "But so far, it feels like we're in a really good place."
After years of directing modest comedies, from beloved debut Bring It On to rom-com The Break-Up and Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man, Reed took on his biggest project yet in Ant-Man. With a budget of $130 million—large by Reed's standards if not Marvel's (Avengers: Age of Ultron cost almost twice as much), Reed brings the little guy to the big screen, which Ant-Man co-creator Stan Lee has been trying to do since the '80s. Cowriter Paul Rudd plays an ex-con thief who comes to possess an outfit that can shrink him to the size of ... well, you know.
"I really didn't feel more pressure on this movie than I have on any other movie I've done," Reed says. "Movies are pressure cookers by design. They just are."
Reed handles the reins quite well, especially considering that he didn't come up with the concept of making the superhero's origin story a loose, smartass heist movie. British filmmaker Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), the original cowriter, was signed on to direct for the first eight years of development, but he exited the production (keeping cowriter and producer credits) in May last year, citing creative differences with Marvel Studios.
A month later, Reed came on board. As someone who grew up buying comics at long-gone Raleigh spots, he had some ideas.
"I came into this movie as I would any other movie: There's a script that exists, or multiple scripts," Reed says. "I made copious notes on what I liked, what I didn't and what I wanted to bring from the comics that didn't exist in those scripts."
Considering Reed's love of comics, as well as his knack for placing straight-faced characters in nutty contexts (a skill he began sharpening by directing episodes of absurdist skitcoms Mr. Show with Bob and David and Upright Citizens Brigade), it's surprising that he didn't direct a comic-book movie sooner. It almost happened 12 years ago when he was called to develop the first Fantastic Four movie at 20th Century Fox.
Reed has said he showed up at the first meeting with Fox execs armed with his old Fantastic Four action figures. Alas, the movie that happened (without Reed) was a mediocre affair that even the rockin' bods of Jessica Alba and a pre-Captain America Chris Evans couldn't save.
"I just felt like Fox and I did not have the same movie in mind at that time," Reed says. When he considers the Fantastic Four reboot coming out next month, which is worrying fans with its younger cast and darker look, he once again sees the glass as half full.
"I'm still a Fantastic Four fan," he says. "I'm hopeful. I hope that movie's great."
In the movie industry or on the blood pressure-raising freeways of Los Angeles, Reed doesn't dwell on the downside. He is now officially a filmmaker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even when trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he can't get over his good fortune.
Whether or not Ant-Man launches its own franchise—though a post-credits scene hints that the hero will return in Captain America: Civil War, and the movie wound up winning the weekend with a $58 million take—Reed made the superhero movie he always wanted to make.
"I've been trying to do a movie like this for a really long time," he says. "Just as a fanboy, to finally get to make one, in the context of it being Marvel and not having to deal with any other studios, was really great for me."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Pint-sized powerhouse."