Why Thomas the Tank Engine Doesn’t Kill Anybody in Ant-Man

By  · Published on July 17th, 2015

Thomas the Tank in Ant-Man

Marvel Studios

Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air in the summer movie season. It’s not an action movie, it’s more of a heist film ‐ a heist movie that just happens to be about a superhero and that cost over $100m. Ant-Man’s spectacle is driven by character and comedy, not so much explosions, although there are a few of those. Peyton Reed’s film is the kind of superhero movie audiences need right now, before they get sick of seeing superheroes running amongst massive destruction.

Ant-Man also features an ensemble cast that plays off each other incredibly well. There’s Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Michael Douglas in the mentor role, Evangeline Lily playing more than a love interest, and, of course, there’s Thomas the Tank Engine. Thomas, the iconic kids toy, plays a key role in the finale of the film, as Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket (Corey Stoll) fight in a little girl’s bedroom. Reed milks Thomas the Tank Engine for all its worth, using it as a big sight gag whenever he gets a chance.

“I believe in Edgar [Wright] and Joe Cornish’s original drafts it was a train set,” Reed recalls. “At some point in the process that predated my involvement it became Thomas. As I came on, they had not secured the rights to Thomas. We had to do this whole thing where we did this presentation for the people who own the rights to Thomas. Thank God they agreed and found it funny, but there were definite stipulations. For example, nobody could be tied to the tracks and run over by Thomas. Thomas couldn’t be doing anything that could be perceived by children as evil Thomas. Thomas had to stay neutral in the battle, which was always our intention. Like anybody, they’re protective of their brand. I didn’t know what we were going to do if we didn’t get the rights to that. There are certain things I was going to be devastated about if we couldn’t have them. Thomas was one, because… you could do any kind of toy train, but the personality of that thing and the eyes moving back and forth give it a whole vibe and took it to another level.”

Reed also would’ve been upset if Marvel couldn’t secure the rights for a song from The Cure’s finest album, Disintegration. Ant-Man may be the first movie in history to have a song by The Cure playing during one of its big set pieces. At one point Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket fight in a briefcase to the amazing sound of ‘Plainsong’. “In the briefcase battle, we knew we wanted to have an iPhone joke,” Reed says. “We had all these different versions of jokes, like, Yellow Jacket saying, ‘You’re going to end up dead!’ and then you’d hear ‘Searching for the nearest Panera Bread.’ There were some funny jokes and some not-so-funny jokes, but, at the end of the day, they were just jokes. What if he activated the music feature? What would it be? I’m a massive Cure fan. We came up with a bunch of things, but we thought we could find a joke for ‘disintegration.’ The first song on Disinigration, which is the second CD I ever bought, was ‘Plainsong’. It’s such an epic song that it transcended the joke ‐ scoring this whole battle in a briefcase. There was this weird, cold wave goth vibe, changing the character of that action scene. You have all these action scenes you want to have a different flavor. Then it became a question of, ‘Will [The Cure frontman] Robert Smith let us use his music?’ He ended up loving it, so he did.”

“I don’t want to do a movie that doesn’t commit to itself,” Reed also told us. “I have no interest in a winky-winky movie that only exists to poke fun at itself. You have to commit, or else an audience shouldn’t be expected to. I feel like we commit whole-heartedly to the concept, and it’s a weird concept.” Obviously The Cure and Thomas the Tank Engine aren’t weird, but seeing them in a big summer movie is weird ‐ and those are the kind of choices that make Ant-Man standout from the herd.

Ant-Man is now in theaters.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.