In the latest big-screen adventure from Marvel Studios, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is faced with a challenge that appears to be far out of his depth. The microscopic hero takes on an Avengers-level threat in the form of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), and even though it’s a fight that he knows he’ll likely lose, he swings for the fences anyway. A similar feeling likely gripped television and comic book writer Jeff Loveness, who in 2020 was given the daunting task of penning his first feature screenplay – the $200 million dollar blockbuster Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Tackling the third chapter of an established and beloved character is tough enough on its own, but with this being the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania also had to work as the 31st film in the overarching franchise and the kickoff to Phase 5 of the MCU story, laying the groundwork for the next major crossover film expected in 2025, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.
However, Jeff Loveness has more experience in the Marvel universe than it may initially seem, having grown up on the characters (particularly the X-Men) and imagined countless of his own stories, team-ups, and battles in his head the way any fan does. A homemade YouTube short that imagined what if Wes Anderson rebooted the Spider-Man franchise is what got him the attention of the team at Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where he worked as a writer for several years and over 200 episodes.
Since then, he’s written various comic books for both Marvel and DC, crafting new stories for favorite characters like Groot, Nova, Shazam!, and of course, Spider-Man. He’s also cut his teeth in the school of meta humor and multiverses on Rick and Morty, writing and producing acclaimed episodes like “Never Ricking Morty” and “The Vat of Acid Episode”.
Like fellow Rick and Morty alumni Jessica Gao (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law) and Michael Waldron (Loki, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), Jeff Loveness was swiftly picked up by Marvel Studios to help put together their current Multiverse Saga. Last year, it was announced that Loveness was not only going to be writing Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania but the highly anticipated fifth Avengers film as well, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. Destin Daniel Cretton (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) will be directing the highly-anticipated feature.
We caught up with Jeff Loveness to discuss everything related to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, from M.O.D.O.K. to the polarizing reactions from fans, and how he’s just planted the seed for Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.
Exclusive Interview with writer Jeff Loveness for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Besides your work on television, you’ve also written several comic books for Marvel, DC, and a couple of others. What were your feelings on the MCU and what Marvel Studios was doing before you ever came on board?
Jeff Loveness: I remember comic book movies were always pretty hit-and-miss in the early 2000s, or the ’90s. But man, I loved the great ones. X-Men, X2, and the Raimi Spider-Man movies are just wonderful. Blade rocks, I love Blade. But the MCU was this new thing that came in and I was surprised at how “comic book” it was. Because other movies before were almost embarrassed about the superheroes. Like the X-Men were wearing Matrix leather. Everyone was dressing like Blade! There always had to be this kind of shame associated with it.
Then they just flat-out had Thor looking like Thor in a movie! I remember in that first Avengers movie, fighting in New York – even the fact that they were fighting aliens! I’m like, “Oh, yeah, we just accept there’s aliens in a comic book movie.” There would be so much explaining if that was in a Bryan Singer X-Men movie or something. There’s no way they would do that stuff in other superhero movies. I also remember the color palette, and I thought, “Wow, this actually is like a comic book. This is very impressive.” Of course, it feels so trite now, but man, they really did make it feel like the Marvel Universe and bringing characters together was a big deal, step by step. It was such a tide shift. And it’s so impressive what they’ve been able to do.
Most Marvel films, including the previous two Ant-Man movies, are written by a team of several people. You were given the task of writing this yourself. What was the feeling there?
Jeff Loveness: Oh, just dread-inducing panic. But I’m so glad that they trusted me and gave me this shot. Certainly, Paul Rudd added so much of his comedy. Peyton Reed is a great writer in his own regard. Every actor has thoughts on their character and they added pieces. It’s a team sport. But man, I feel so lucky. Who knows if they regret it or not now (laughs) but I’m so happy that I got to put weird ideas in there and drive it all the way through, like M.O.D.O.K.’s character arc and death. I think this film does, hopefully, feel like it has a little more freedom or feels a little bit more like shooting off at the hip. I think that’s good for movies. So I feel super lucky that I got to do it. It’s fun writing movies, man. That’s all I can say.
With this being both its own story and as always with Marvel, another pivotal chapter to a larger story – how does that process work? Are you encouraged to ignore all that extra connectivity or lean into it?
Jeff Loveness: I guess neither? I chose just to lean into my own movie because there was enough going on. You have almost six main characters, you’ve got a villain to set up, a funny comedic side villain to pop in, and you make sure that the world is well-realized and has fun, memorable side characters. So it almost didn’t feel like you needed a cameo from Moon Knight or something, you know? It felt like we had more than enough going on to tie into other stuff.
The ending of the movie is our touchpoint of leaving on the “what now?” phase. Scott doesn’t know if he won or lost. Is Kang still out there? He’s got this dread hanging over him now. To me, that’s probably the only handoff that this movie has. It’s going to set the stage for whatever happens with Kang. I just tried to write the movie and not worry too much about how it’s going to connect to something like Blade 4 or something.
You started working on this right at the beginning of the pandemic. How do you channel the feelings, fears, and anxieties of everything going on at the time into something like a lighthearted adventure comedy?
Jeff Loveness: I wrote this when movie theaters were gone and we didn’t know if they were going to come back. It was that bleak as we all remember. We thought movies were gone, especially movies in the theater, and it made me so sad. I honestly felt like I had this weight, this responsibility. I felt like I got this insanely lucky opportunity to write a fun, playful adventure comedy, and for a movie that I would have – when I think of movies, what do I think of? I miss seeing a movie with my brother and my cousins on a Sunday afternoon. Like a fun movie with weird big jokes that also has a cool villain and it takes you to another world.
That was the joy of it. I don’t want to play it safe. I want to have big jokes, a big villain, and a joyful adventure with this likable family. So that was it going in. I want it to feel slightly like a throwback and slightly uplifted in that way. Then with Kang, that was a big inspiration, COVID. He’s trapped. He cannot get out. He has so much that he dreams of doing, so much he needs to do, and so much that was taken away from him. So I bottled all of my COVID rage into this guy who was imprisoned down there and had the world literally stripped away from him. I didn’t think about it before, but COVID is a pretty big indicator on the script.
I know technically it’s like, beyond microscopic, but I think this ending battle is bigger in scale than even Avengers: Endgame as far as the sheer number of people – and ants. You described it as an “Ant-Man Lord of the Rings,” which is what it feels like with these massive armies. When you present this kind of insane final clash on paper, does Marvel just go “Oh yeah, no problem?”
Jeff Loveness: Oh yeah, Feige called me into his office, big 1920s executive cigar, and says, “Baby, it’s page to stage, not one note,” kissed me on both cheeks, and I jumped into my convertible and did cocaine (laughs). No, no. There are hundreds of great artists from production designers, costumers, creature design, storyboards, what the visual beats could potentially be like – there are a lot of things being discussed and Peyton’s the point man on all that. He’s driving it forward. You’ve got Bill Pope, who’s the guy who created Bullet Time, as the DP for our movie. He’s just great.
So a lot goes into it and, as the writer, you try to write with specificity. But in some of those sequences, you trust that the very talented stunt coordinators are going to know how to write punches better than you are. You’re writing kind of the blueprint and the emotional flow. You write what’s going to happen, but leave it a little open for interpretation. Make a gumbo of it a little bit. You just write that stuff out in an entertaining way that drives the story and you let other people worry about, you know, if the building comes in here or there.
What I love about that final battle is that it really comes down to a fistfight at the very end, despite everything going on.
Jeff Loveness: Yeah, that was something Peyton and I talked a lot about and those were pretty early days. We wanted to get to a place where Ant-Man is stripped of his powers, because he is just a regular guy, going up against Kang, who is stripped of his technology, but he’s not a regular guy. He is a human being but there’s still a scary, scary imbalance. We wanted to have Scott Lang make the heroic call to really trap himself down there and be willing to slam the door shut on Kang because he knows he can’t beat him. “We both just have to lose,” that kind of energy. It was great. I love how that scene turned out. We had that idea of the helmet being cracked open and having Kang just out for blood.
It was very deliberate to have Kang start pretty cool, calm, and collected. Then you slowly see the frustration build. Finally, by the time Scott breaks his rings and his escape plan is kind of foiled, you see him just turn it on. He finally gets to face down with Scott and it’s just fists and it’s really heavy and bloody. We have Scott put up a fight but then show why he’s called Kang the Conqueror. That scene was just a lot of fun to write and to see them bring to life.
Some fans felt like Phase Four was a little disjointed, a little more scattered than before. I think it had a really interesting thematic cohesiveness, with the old heroes trying to figure out what to do with themselves and some passing on the torch. With Quantumania being the kick-off for Phase Five, were there any discussions about some of the themes from the film that you wanted to push through to Phase Five leading to The Kang Dynasty?
Jeff Loveness: I guess the theme that is “NDA proof” that I could talk about is we wanted to really focus on this movie and know Kang as a human, as this vulnerable, exiled human before all the craziness starts. But now, the theme here is that we’re not ready. What do you do in a world where we think our greatest battle is over, and maybe we’ve gotten a little calcified?
Maybe we’ve gotten a little like Scott, maybe we’ve gotten a bit into the Rocky III mode of our lives. “We made it out of COVID, let’s just cruise from here.” Then we forget that there’s a lot darker things around the corner and if we don’t step up to the challenge, we’re going to get swept away. Kang is a bad guy and Kang is going to cause some trouble. I think that’s the big theme. Let’s just put that on the Comic-Con screen (laughs).
What’s been your takeaway from this entire experience?
Jeff Loveness: I felt every emotion that’s been happening here. But I keep coming back to the thought of like, I’m from a town that’s truly in the middle of nowhere with like 200 people. I did not have a movie theater in my town. I’ve shared this a little bit here and there, but I used to make little home movies with my brother. James Bond movies, little parodies, all that growing up. When YouTube came around, it felt like this printing press. Like, “What? You can put your video on the internet and it can be seen by people?” I would make stuff like that and then I was able to get work from one of those videos.
I just see all the little pieces that led to it and each one is like this shockingly lucky thing that happened to me. Or because I made this one thing that made the difference that got me this next thing. Just because someone saw it that day, you know? You work really hard and you fail a lot. I had so many scripts not go and I had so many things not quite get there, or you get close and then it dies. So much of that stuff. To finally get a big swing of the bat at this and to write something like this – at the end of the day, movies are making movies, and there’s always stuff you lose. There are always a lot of darlings along the way that go but at the end of the day, man I dig the movie.
I actually really do like it and I love what Jonathan does, I love M.O.D.O.K., I love all this stuff. So you’re also in the big leagues and you’ve got to take a few punches and hey, that’s worth it. It’s worth the punches to sit there with your brother who you made all those movies with and to see him watch a movie that you made and it feels like one of those movies you would have grown up watching and making. I felt like I really went every round on this movie and it was fun just to get it there. So right now I’m in like the downhill skiing part of it, but luckily, there’s a much bigger mountain to climb next, so I’m going to jump in.
I’ve been trying to get a bit full circle on it all. Truly, this should not have happened in the most freakish unlikely way it did. Who sees how it comes out in the wash? Maybe we’ll get the Criterion Collection release (Laughs). But l really think it’s a goofy fun movie and I cannot believe that I got to make it. And now I get a swing at the bat at the biggest movie of all time with the best actor in the world as the best villain in comics. I’m just going to give it a hell of a shot, man. I’m really going to run at it.
Thank you for the socialist joke in the movie, by the way.
Jeff Loveness: I’m so glad we got that! You don’t know how hard it is to get that in. I was anti-cop and pro-socialist in a Disney movie (Laughs). That’s the takeaway. We’ll exchange pamphlets later.