Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige should be running victory laps right now, dropping the mic in front of anyone who doubted he could turn Guardians of the Galaxy into a colossal hit and instant-new-franchise. Instead, I imagine any such joy he feels is tempered by on-going concerns over next summer’s big risky Marvel film, Ant-Man. All he has to do is look in-house and around at the competition to realize most of next summer’s big releases are all wrapping production right about now, heading into lengthy post-production, while Ant-Man still has yet to actually start filming.
Let’s back up a bit, though. Here was the scene in Hall H during Marvel’s Ant-Man panel at last month’s San Diego Comic Con: the film’s director Peyton Reed, or as fans might otherwise know him “Not-Edgar Wright,” took the stage to a rather muted response only to be followed by euphoric cheers for the forever lovable Paul Rudd.
The Edgar Wright Backlash
Actually, hold on. Let’s go back even further to set the stage for how much was working against Reed prior to Comic-Con. To begin with, he can’t take any credit for fan enthusiasm over Rudd being cast in the title role because he wasn’t around when that happened. That was Edgar Wright’s call, who left in a very messy divorce. The man who Kevin Feige once said was the sole reason Marvel Studios was making Ant-Man either left or was fired because they disagreed whether or not Wright had been hired to make a distinctly Edgar Wright-like film (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) or if he was simply aboard to be bring some quirkiness to an otherwise studio formula film.
All of this went down a little over a year prior to Ant-Man‘s announced release date, and the ensuing batches of rumors and insider reports all painted Marvel in not only a negative light but also a deeply embarrassing one, with director after director reportedly declining to take any part in the freak show of replacing Wright so close to production. So, when Peyton Reed signed on to direct he instantly transformed in the minds of Edgar Wright loyalist Ant-Man fans from the guy who’d made mildly enjoyable films like Yes Man, Down With Love, and The Break-Up to the new Brett Ratner, some hack shooter hired to come in and toe the company line. Sure, his hiring coincided with Anchorman director/writer Adam McKay joining to re-write Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man script, but McKay gets a pass from everyone because we assume he’s doing his old Anchorman cast member Paul Rudd a solid.
The PR Damage Control
So, back to Hall H, with Reed showing up at Comic-Con looking like this:
Come on, he looks like he could be brother to Community‘s Dean Pelton (Jim Rash). This is a guy we nerds should clearly recognize as one of our own. He instantly led off his Ant-Man panel by announcing that this was actually his 20th Comic-Con, first attending back in 1984 the year that Jack Kirby passed away. Did you hear that? He’s not only been to 20 of these things, but he mentioned Jack Kirby’s name. Jack Kirby! Everyone else seems to always just revert back to praising Stan Lee.
But, wait, there’s more. Reed revealed that he was also once a drummer in a punk band called Johnny Quest, and in the flyer released for his band, he drew the cover as an Avengers-style drawing and made himself Ant-Man. Beyond the Ant-Man panel, in various interviews Reed re-inforced the idea that he is not some hack coming in to turn in a film on time, but someone who’s always wanted to make an Ant-Man movie but never thought he’d get the chance since Edgar Wright had marked it as his territory for around a decade. Moreover, Kevin Feige also revealed that Reed almost got the gig to direct Guardians of the Galaxy meaning Marvel has been looking for the right project to work with him on for a while.
It’s PR damage control, and it’s working to the degree that since Marvel insists on still making this movie we have to ask ourselves if we should seriously be rooting against it. Yes, we’re not getting an Edgar Wright Ant-Man movie, and that stinks. Plus, when Kevin Feige says things like “Ant-Man is still very much in the spirit of what Edgar’s original pitch was” it does call to mind the 4th season of Community when the guys Sony hired to replaced Dan Harmon as showrunner mostly attempted a well-intentioned but poorly executed impression of Harmon’s signature style. Still, you don’t have Wright leaving a project because the studio was tinkering with his artistic vision only to then have the studio hire people to come in and somehow return it closer to what Wright had wanted in the first place. Can we at least settle for a relatively enjoyable Ant-Man film with Anchorman-like jokes instead of Wright’s signature flair for visual comedy via brilliant editing?
The Rushed Production
Maybe, but the biggest enemy to the Ant-Man team is not skeptical fans but instead time. It might have misled some, but the Ant-Man scene they premiered at Comic-Con did not actually feature any live-action. It was fully CG-rendered footage showcasing Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) testing out the Ant-Man suit while that suit’s inventor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), provides instructions via an earpiece. The actors provided their voices to the scene, but not their bodies, the visuals instead most likely originating from pre-visualization work likely begun by Wright. According to Variety, the actual cast doesn’t go in front of the cameras until principle photography kicks off in Atlanta next week. Heck, as of Comic-Con Evangeline Lilly hadn’t even seen the script yet.
As a point of comparison, next summer has two other big comic book movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron (due 5/1/15) and Fantastic Four (due 6/19/15). Well, Avengers just wrapped yesterday, and Fantastic Four at the very least is far enough along into its schedule that its new Invisible Girl (Kata Mara) is done filming. Those aren’t the only big 2015 releases who’ve called it a wrap. You can add Terminator: Genisys (due 7/1/15), Jurassic World (6/12/15), Mad Max: Fury Road (5/15/15), and Tomorrowland (5/22/15) to the list. Heck, even a lower-budget rom-com like Amy Schumer’s Train Wreck has at least been filming for a while now in advance of its 7/24/15 release. The only other other live-action, big budget release (i.e., those which typically require lengthy post-production) for next summer which is still officially considered to be in pre-production is Michael Fassbender’s Assassin’s Creed (due 8/7/15), and it at least comes out 3 weeks after Ant-Man.
I have not nor will I ever likely get the chance to work a film on the level of any those I just mentioned. So, I have no working knowledge of how much time they really need to finish post-production. However, it appears obvious that as of right now in Hollywood the average for that kind of thing for movies of this scale is 10-12 months.
Considering that it’s to be focused on a man who can shrink down to teensy tiny and use a helmet to psychically control ants it stands to reason that a considerable amount of Ant-Man will be CGI. So, we don’t really know how much live action photography is required, or how much of the CGI work has already been completed or is at least well into the process. As such, it’s perfectly possible that Ant-Man is in better shape than we have any way of knowing, but, still, just doing a scoreboard check reveals that they appear to be behind pretty much every other big summer 2015 movie right now.
Can They Pull It Off?
Can they really finish a big budget summer movie they only start filming a little over 11 months prior to its release date? Well, let’s look to the oft-beleaguered X-Men franchise to see how this kind of thing played out in the past.
X-Men: The Last Stand – Matthew Vaughn was hired to direct in March 2005, given around 14 months lead time on the film’s announced May 2006 release date. He quit two months later, unhappy with the rushed production and prospect of leaving his family to film in Vancouver. Within a week, Brett Ratner was hired as Vaughn’s replacement, coming into the process late enough that his only real contributions were that he moved the Golden Gate Bridge sequence from the middle of the film to the end, and he cast Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde. The production schedule roughly ran one year from the start of pre-production to the end of post-production. They started filming 10 months prior to their release date.
X-Men: First Class – Bryan Singer developed the project for several months with the idea that he would direct, but he left in March 2010 to direct Jack the Giant Slayer. Matthew Vaughn was hired as his replacement in May 2010, and was given a June 2011 release date. He had enough time to re-write the script, and complete pre-production in time for filming to start 9 months before the release date. They officially wrapped in December 2010, yet continued completing additional photography into April 2011. That left them with a 6-week post-production cycle.
It would appear as if Ant-Man might actually be in slightly better shape than both of us, and, holy crap, how the heck is First Class so dang good given how rushed it was?
The Kevin Feige/Marvel Studios Variable
It’s not really a direct comparison, though, because the visual effects work for something like Ant-Man likely differs from the X-Men films. Plus, Ant-Man has Kevin Feige. What does that matter? Well, he’s pretty much the unofficial co-director of all 10 Marvel Studios films, at least that’s what THR recently indicated:
While on most movies the power resides with the director and top stars, at Marvel those players have little influence. “They view the director as executing their vision,” says an exec involved with the company. Another says Feige monitors filming so closely that rather than wait for dailies, he’s often on set and “sees the takes as the directors see the takes.”
Not just Feige, though. Victoria Alonso handles effects and postproduction for Marvel Studios, and is very hands-on:
Another distinctive Marvel trait is the assumption that a film can be shaped in postproduction, which is Victoria Alonso’s domain. “If you’re a director and 75 percent of the script is good, you have to rely on them to finish and complete the movie,” says this observer. An exec with experience on Marvel movies concurs: “The approach is more like animation than live action — ‘We can tweak it.’ “
Despite Peyton Reed’s nerd credentials and all-around nice-guy demeanor, it appears as if Ant-Man, if it works, will be less of a testament to him and more to Marvel’s method of filmmaking-by-committee (okay, technically, all big movies are filmmaking-by-committee). They haven’t left themselves nearly as much room for error (for the record, the similarly troubled Thor: The Dark World started filming 14 months before its release date), but if they not only deliver Ant-Man on time but deliver a thoroughly enjoyable Ant-Man movie it’s not hard to imagine them high-fiving each other after the first screening, in a “Damn, we are good, aren’t we?” fashion. If this turns into a X-Men: The Last Stand disaster it will likely vindicate Edgar Wright, but while that’ll feel good to Wright loyalists we’ll ultimately be left with a regrettably bad movie. You don’t want to see Paul Rudd fail, do you? Why would you – he’s a gosh darn delight!
Let me know what you think about any of this in the comments section.
Ant-Man is due to hit theaters July 17, 2015. In addition to Rudd and Douglas, it will star Evangeline Lily as some version of the Wasp, and Corey Stoll as the villainous Yellow Jacket. Patrick Wilson was cast in a mystery role by Edgar Wright, but walked after Reed took over.