Monday Morning Critic – Ant-Man, Marvel Studios, Edgar Wright and The Lucasification Of The Comic Book Film

MMC

The big news this Memorial Day weekend in cinema, outside of Blended flopping hard in the fanboy rush to see X-Men: Days of Future Past, was of Edgar Wright’s removal from Ant-Man. An interesting pick to direct a potential franchise from the start, with a star in Paul Rudd that was an interesting choice with Wright behind the camera, Marvel Studios has parted ways with the Scott Pilgrim auteur. The speculation has begun on who’ll replace him, of course, and normally I’d be leaning that way with one of my usual lists (including Tyler Perry in a dress somehow becoming the new villain) but I’m going in a different direction this week.

It was announced in Variety on a Friday afternoon, to try and bury it of course, and come sometime in the next 24-48 hours or so I expect a replacement of equal or lesser value to be named in his stead. It wasn’t surprising they’d announce it on a Friday afternoon; sports teams and leagues do this stuff all the time. The prevailing thought is that it’ll be old news, with the weekend and whatnot, and forgotten by Monday. In this case it’ll be Tuesday, of course, but the fact remains that this was a story leaked at the right time to make sure it didn’t cause a huge firestorm. Stories like that come out during the week, when people have nothing but time to stew. On the weekends we have things to do, especially holiday ones, and by the time Tuesday comes around (and a new director is perhaps announced) this will have blown over.

Sports teams do this to prevent it from being the talk of the town for long when it’s a profoundly unpopular decision. You cut a popular player during the off season on a Friday so that way you don’t go torched too badly on talk radio, for example. You don’t do it on a Monday because it’ll be a story for the whole week. On Friday afternoon there’s a small well of outrage … but it blows over. It doesn’t stay in the news … which is what Marvel Studios wanted for the Wright story. And it’ll finish blowing over soon, too.

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They wanted it to blow over and they wouldn’t announced Wright’s dismissal from the project on a Friday afternoon if they didn’t have someone either under contract (or insanely close to it) to replace him. Hollywood works a lot like professional sports franchises and leagues do in a lot of respects. Both release unpopular news at the usual times and are top heavy in salary, among other things. But it leads to something interesting that the Marvel films are starting to develop into the more of a regular tentpole genre they’ve become in the past couple years.

Marvel Studios is now worrying about its films as franchises and money makers, not as great films. Or, as I like to call it, they’re Lucasfying their films.

By that I mean they’re worrying about the ancillary money streams (which can far exceed box office/DVD revenues) in a way that is now starting to directly affect their films instead of being a nice secondary stream that can prop up a film that didn’t make nearly as much money as it could. It’s why Marvel will reboot the Avengers franchise down the road, as long as all of its other properties, once the current crop of actors outlasts their welcome. There’s more money to be made with Iron Man bed sheets and toys (among other things) over a 30 year span than there will be with a handful of films with the character.

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Or, to put it more succinctly, more parents are going to spend $100 or more on Iron Man toys over a year than they will spend on an Iron movie between tickets to it in the theatre and then eventually on DVD/Blu-Ray. The merchandising is an equal consideration to the actual film; it’s the same reason why George Lucas managed to involve so many of his older characters into the prequel trilogy. Chewbacca made no sense as part of the Wookie rebellion … until you realize that a new Chewbacca action figure would pay for the costs involved.

It’s a long game and that’s why Marvel and Wright, as you read through the tea leaves on why Wright and Marvel parted company. Rumors of the film being behind schedule, and losing money, are also coming out and still unverified as well. Part of playing the Hollywood tea leaf game is seeing what comes out, rumor wise, and there’s arguably some truth to it. The film is still in pre production and Marvel wants to get into production quickly, as they’re targeting a July 2015 release date. Fourteen months isn’t a lot of time for a film that’s going to be a $1-200 million production and anchor part of the Marvel/Disney summer lineup.

Ant-Man is finishing up its script, which is right on time for a production start relatively soon, is a must and Wright wants to make one great film before anything else. Marvel wants a handful of characters it can market and keep on board, that people want to pay to see and pay to own their likeliness on some object. Its different priorities as Marvel is looking at the film as something they’re going to make money on as both a film and as a property.

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Thusly, hence the rewrites from Marvel’s in house staff and why what was his vision of the character, and their version, didn’t mesh on enough levels to keep Wright on the project. Wright’s an artist and wants to craft his own quirky masterpiece. Marvel Studios is looking beyond Ant-Man, wanting to turn Paul Rudd’s comic abilities and enough marketing pizzazz to develop Ant-Man from a second tier comic book character to a first tier comic book film character ala Iron Man.

You don’t position the film for a July release date in a crowded summer without having certain expectations. Throw in a budget that’s been estimated to be in the usual range for a Marvel film, in the $1-200 million range with a substantial marketing/publicity & advertising budget for a film of this size, and there are bigger forces at stake than Edgar Wright’s view of a character.

It’s something every studio learned from George Lucas when he took Star Wars toys and rode them to the ability to be a one man studio.

Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

I reviewed Blended, which I really liked. It’s also the first film in theatres I’ve reviewed in a month, too.

On DVD I got sent something about those hillbillies from Duck Dynasty, which you can read here. And Revenge of the Nerds is on Blu-Ray but is exactly the same as the DVD release seven years ago.

Travis tackled the newest X-Men and overrated a little bit, I think. I would’ve gone closer to two stars but I can see why he liked it.

Mike Noyes pissed a lot of people off with his review of Godzilla … and he was right.

This weekend was my last on the Inside Fights staff. I resigned my charge and wrote about it in my final piece here.

And now on MMC … we get the CLAP!

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This week’s DVD – Oblivion

Humanity has destroyed Earth in a war with an alien species many years ago. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is the last man remaining as humanity looks to colonize elsewhere. Tasked with wiping out the remnants of the aliens, who are attacking the rigs, Jack finds out that the world he knows is not the world of actuality.

I reviewed it when it came out in theatres and my opinion’s still the same. It’s an interesting choice when stacked up with his last couple of films, especially with Edge of Tomorrow about to arrive in theatres this spring.

Cruise is getting one final run as an action star in, it seems. Genuinely enjoyed the film, too, as it’s as good on DVD as it was in theatres. Strongly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

Maleficent – Angelina Jolie stars as some fairy tale I have no clue about.

Skip it – I like Jolie but this looks like Snow White and the Huntsman all over again.

A Million Ways To Die In The West – Seth MacFarlane does a comedy western

See It – So far it looks good … but this looks like a film you walk out of thinking “all the best scenes are in the trailer.”

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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