Monday, July 20, 2015

An Open Letter to Marvel Studios

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Dear Marvel Studios,

Well, it finally happened:  You had a film turn in a poor domestic opening weekend.  It wasn’t quite as bad as The Incredible Hulk in 2008, but it was a little under where Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger both landed in 2011.  I’d imagine that this has at least a few of the higher-ups, both at Marvel Studios yourself and at Disney, very nervous.

But it really shouldn’t.  After all, this was going to be a risky venture from the get-go—I mean, come on:  “Ant-Man”???  Just saying the name felt weird a few years ago when you announced that Edgar Wright’s long-in-development Ant-Man movie was going to be taking place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from such a wild concept at the time (though I warmed to it as I did further research).

And that’s another thing:  there was so much trouble in development, and it got out to the media, and the fans found out that there were problems behind the scenes.  Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate knowing what’s going on with movies that I’m planning to see.  However, after Edgar Wright had worked on a script for this movie for longer than the MCU has been around, finding out that he was leaving the project definitely raised some eyebrows.  There were a lot of Edgar Wright fans who gave up on Ant-Man entirely when the man himself abandoned his pet project, and there were even more who were simply afraid that the final product would suffer from a director change so close to the start of production.  I have to admit, I was just about ready to give up on Ant-Man last year, too—I thought it wasn’t going to get made or would fall so far behind schedule that it would get dropped.

On top of that, Ant-Man deviated a lot from the comic books.  Now, this isn’t the first time that you’ve changed things from the comics to make it line up with the MCU—Iron Man 3 (“All Hail the King” notwithstanding) and Guardians of the Galaxy are just the two most obvious examples.  However, I know that there were a lot of comic book lovers who were disappointed to find out that Ant-Man was going to introduce Scott Lang as the current Ant-Man and place Hank and Janet Pym in the MCU’s past.  And considering how important Hank Pym has been to Marvel Comics over the years, I can see their point.  After all, in the comics his “crowning achievement” is the creation of Ultron—with whom he was recently bonded—and now he has no connection to Ultron at all except a throwaway line about the Avengers being busy dropping cities from the sky.  In the comics Janet gave the Avengers their name, and at this point that does not seem to be the case (can anyone say Ant-Man prequel with Hank and Janet forming the Avengers as a super-powered S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team in the ’80s?).  It was a lot to take in for some fans.

And yet, even with everything that you had going against you, you still somehow managed to turn in a very good product.  My review of Ant-Man was positively glowing with praise for the heroes, the story, the way it tied in with the MCU, and even the villain!  And mine isn’t the only glowing review that Ant-Man has received.  Ever since it opened it’s been garnering praise from critics:  Looking around YouTube, Jeremy Jahns, Mark Ellis and John Campea, Charlie at Emergency Awesome, Hybrid Network, Comicbook Cast, and so many more all gave positive reviews—and those are just the ones I’ve seen.  In their review, called Ant-Man “the best super hero origin story since Iron Man.”  According to the same source, fans reacting to an advance showing “seem universally pleased with Ant-Man and its star Paul Rudd.”  Rotten Tomatoes has given Ant-Man a “Fresh” rating, with 79% of critics and 92% of general audiences liking it.  Even the normally-stingy-with-praise ScreenRant liked Ant-Man.  Obviously not everyone is a huge fan of it—I saw one YouTube review that was rather critical of the movie and particularly the deviations from the source material (from a reviewer who is a comic book fan first:  Variant Comics), as well as a few other reviewers who weren't thrilled with it—but then again, The Avengers even had its detractors.  The fact of the matter is that the critics like this movie and audiences that have seen it are positively in love with “the man in the anthill.”

So what should you do about Ant-Man’s less-than-stellar box office figures?

Nothing.  I would just calm down and give the movie a few weeks and see what happens.  Ant-Man already has a good word-of-mouth reputation, and as the word spreads about how good it actually is, more people will decide to check it out.  On top of that, Ant-Man has already made about $120 million when you include international markets.  I don’t think Ant-Man will have too much trouble covering its budget (at a minimum).

Long story short, I don’t think there’s any reason to worry about Ant-Man.  Between the production delays and losing a director, there was a lot that went wrong behind the scenes.  Considering the subject matter, selling the movie to general moviegoers not already familiar with the character was going to be a challenge.  And coming out the same year and only 2 ½ months after Avengers: Age of Ultron, it had a very difficult act to follow.  Yet for all that, Ant-Man is still a very good movie, and is almost certainly going to turn you a profit.

That’s another thing:  You can afford a couple of critical darlings that don’t turn much of a profit.  How many?  A lot.  Just looking at The Avengers, it cost $220 million to produce according to Wikipedia, and according to the same source the box office alone brought in over $1.5 billion.  Now, we know that that’s not all profit for the studio, but the figure I hear bandied around a lot is 50%, so let’s just roll with that.  50% of the box office total for The Avengers is just under $760 million.  Take out the movie’s $220 million budget, and the profit alone is more than enough money for you to produce four movies with the same budget as Ant-Man ($130 million according to Wikipedia) and just flush them down the toilet without ever releasing them or even seeing a dime of revenue from them.  Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron each give you another 3+ films to throw away, meaning that the three highest-grossing MCU films give Marvel Studios roughly a ten film cushion to work with!  And that’s not even counting your profit from the other 8 MCU films!

As far as Ant-Man’s future in the MCU, I really think the future is bright for Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne-Pym, and Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym.  You’ve already got Scott Lang showing up in next year’s Captain America: Civil War, which is guaranteed to break all kinds of records.  And after that you’ve already announced that Hope will be suiting up as the Wasp sometime in Phase 3.  On top of that, Hank gives you an excellent opportunity to explore more of the MCU’s past, as you have been doing with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark.  All three of the actors you cast for those roles really stood out and made the part their own.  If I were you, I would not go the Hulk route of recasting after a commercially-meh solo film and shelving plans for a sequel for the foreseeable future.

In fact, I would even go so far as to suggest that you bring back Peyton Reed and Adam McKay for the (inevitable) Ant-Man sequel.  Considering that they were able to put together such a cohesive and fun script in a week, I’m very curious to see what they could do with a whole year to work on the script before filming!  They did such a good job of capturing the heart of Scott Lang’s redemption story and embracing the inherent weirdness of a tiny man who talks to insects that I think their sequel would be even better than the first one.

In conclusion, Ant-Man is a very good film which will most likely turn a decent profit for you.  Not every film can be a Guardians of the Galaxy surprise hit, and you can’t really expect that, anyways.  Don’t give up on your Mite-iest Hero just yet!

Respectfully yours,

The MCUReviewer

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