Why I’m Worried About Ant-Man

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I’m an unabashed fan of the Marvel movies, or what’s commonly known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I loved the original “Iron Man,” and I remember sitting in the theater in 2008 being captivated by Robert Downey Jr.’s total and complete embodiment of Tony Stark. While I was less taken with “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor,” I thought “Captain America” was fantastic, and when I heard that Marvel was planning on bringing all of those heroes together for “The Avengers,” I was thrilled. Marvel took characters that were not household names the way Superman, Batman or Wolverine were, and made them into global megastars. When “The Avengers” set the box-office record for biggest opening weekend ever, it was a referendum both on the success of Marvel’s insight and its marketing machine.

“The Avengers” marked the end of Marvel’s “Phase One,” and its “Phase Two” slate, on the whole, has performed well, both critically and at the box-office*. “Iron Man 3” might be the best entry of the series, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the best Marvel movie they’ve made, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” took Chris Pratt and a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and made an entertaining, profitable movie out of them.

*The less said about “Thor: The Dark World,” the better.

Marvel’s movies, to date, have an astounding box-office performance. The worst performing movie, “The Incredible Hulk,” made $134 million in 2008, and since the release of “The Avengers,” no Marvel movie has grossed less than $200 million, with “Guardians” bringing in over $330 million, “Iron Man 3″‘s total haul nearing $410 million and this summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” approaching $445 million. (Note: these are just domestic totals.) The average Marvel movie makes $309 million, and while that number is substantially aided by both “Avengers” films, that speaks to Marvel’s ability to deliver what mass audiences want to see.

Which leads me to my concerns with “Ant-Man,” the first movie of Marvel’s “Phase Three.”  While I said that I was an unabashed fan of Marvel, I’m an even bigger fan of Paul Rudd. I loved him in “Clueless,” think he’s the best part of the very funny “Wet Hot American Summer,” and has been invigorated by his frequent collaborations with both Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and David Wain (“Wet Hot,” “Wanderlust,” “Role Models,” “They Came Together.”) Here are just a few of my favorite Paul Rudd scenes, but believe me, there could have been dozens more added:

(This next one’s not safe for work…don’t watch, Mom and Dad!)

It’s impossible not to like Paul Rudd. It is. If I could watch one roving reporter all day, it’d be Brian Fantana. If I could choose one heir to a candy fortune to hang out with, it’d be Bobby Newport. But you know who may not like Paul Rudd as much as I do (and I hate to even say this)? Moviegoers.

Look at Paul Rudd’s box office resume. His highest-grossing movie is “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” a forgettable animated movie where he played the fifth lead. After that is “Knocked Up,” (third at best on the call sheet), “Anchorman 2” (arguably second banana), “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (again, arguably second banana), and “Anchorman” (ditto). The highest-grossing movie of his career where you could call Rudd the lead is “Dinner for Schmucks,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the sentences, “You know what movie I loved? ‘Dinner for Schmucks.'” said out loud. “Dinner for Schmucks,” “I Love You, Man,” “Role Models,” and “This is 40” all grossed between $67 million and $73 million; that seems to be the range of a typical, Paul Rudd-led vehicle, at its best. I love Paul Rudd. Everyone I talk to seems to love Paul Rudd. But so far, moviegoing audiences don’t love Paul Rudd. I imagine this is how I might deal with various movies of mine underperforming at the box office:

Now, of course, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and even Robert Downey Jr. weren’t all box-office kings before the Marvel machine got ahold of them. And Chris Pratt, who has just had the best 16+ months ever, as far as box office is concerned, wasn’t printing money for studios before “The Lego Movie,” “Guardians” and “Jurassic World.” But Paul Rudd’s been around for twenty years now; if he were going to be a huge box office success story, wouldn’t it have already happened?

The other, major concern that I have for “Ant-Man” is the fact that it’s had the most troubled production of any of the major Marvel movies. Usually, a director is hired, Marvel OKs the script (to make sure that there are no inconsistencies, and to make sure that each movie intertwines with the rest of the cinematic universe to build to future movies), and months or years later, a gigantic blockbuster is released. This has been a proven formula, even with material as quirky as “Guardians.” But “Ant-Man”? “Ant-Man” has been in trouble for a while now. This Vulture article spells it out pretty well, but the most important thing is to realize is that this is the first Marvel movie where the director (who also wrote the script) was fired off the project. And this is after the movie languished for the better part of eight years in development hell.

So…what does it all mean? Not much, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Ant-Man is the first Marvel movie not to cross $100 million (which I think the studio would see as a major disappointment). You have a star who people seem to love, but who don’t rush to see his movies. You have a movie that’s been rewritten on the fly, with a troubled production for years. And there also may be a sense of superhero fatigue. This summer already had an “Avengers” movie; there will be a new “Fantastic Four” in August, then “Batman vs. Superman” next year and “Captain America 3: Civil War” soon to follow.

And yet…if there’s one studio that can pull a rabbit out of its hat, defying conventional wisdom, it’s Marvel. And I think if there’s one actor who has the temerity to prove me wrong, while at the same time not caring whatsoever about his prior box office fortunes, it’s Paul Rudd. After all, when life hands you lemons…

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Oscar Picks 2015

My reaction to the Lego snub

My reaction to the Lego snub

As I do every year, I try to make my Oscar picks as soon as the nominations are out, so that I’m not biased by any campaigning. In recent years, that’s gotten more difficult as more and more awards shows have become televised, and clear-cut front runners become locks earlier and earlier. That said, here’s who I expect to win. Also, please note that the fact that “The Lego Movie” was snubbed from the Best Animated Feature category makes me question why I will even bother watching this award show. (For the record, I also think “Gone Girl” deserved many more nominations, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, and I would have loved “Skeleton Twins” or “Obvious Child” to have gotten a screenplay nomination). Continue reading

The Winter of My Content

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Just over two months ago, I lamented the fact that 2014 was shaping up to be a poor year for movie quality. In fact, 2014 was churning out much stronger drama on television than at the movies. But, as Rustin Cohle noted, without time, nothing grows, nothing changes.

And time changed the entertainment landscape. Gone were “True Detective,” “Masters of Sex,” “The Leftovers,” and “Mad Men.” In their place? “Saved by the Bell: The Unauthorized Story” and a plethora of fall TV offerings that looked mediocre at best. And the best drama? Back to where we expected it: the big screen. Continue reading

Best of the Rest

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Especially in the summer blockbuster season, it seems that the only movies released are giant, action franchise tentpoles. Just this summer, we’ve had a new X-Men movie, Trans4mers, Godzilla, and Spider-Man, and we’re only two days into July. And I’m not alone in thinking that the good, mid-range movie has gone the way of the dodo (or, flocked to AMC and FX and HBO to become the next great miniseries. See: Fargo. See also: True Detective. See further: Mad Men.)

Vulture interviewed Billy Bob Thornton in advance of the premiere of Fargo, and this is what he had to say about television versus cinema:

It’s been a long time since you’ve done series TV. Why come back now?
It’s where we are headed. If you’re going to make something for adults, the mid-level movies the studios used to make, they’re gone. TV is where you do it. This is where actors get to actually do the kind of acting we used to do. If you’re going to do an independent film like I’m known for, now they give you $2 million to make it, and they want you to have 12 movie stars so you can get the foreign value, so we’re really restricted in a lot of ways in movies. Meanwhile, the studios are making big event films or real broad comedies or action movies, and that’s really not my bag.

While I would never disagree with Sling Blade (mmhmm), I happen to think that there are some solid, mid-level movies that have come out in the last few years. So, with that in mind, I wanted to highlight some of my favorites. Outside of Star Wars, the Avengers, and countless Lego movie sequels (I hope), we’ll just call these the best of the rest. Continue reading

Summer Movies I Want to See

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In exactly eight days, I’ll be sitting in a movie theater watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With that, it’ll in (in my mind) officially be summer movie season. (Not sure the weather in NYC will agree with my categorization of “summer,” but that’s a discussion for a different blog). You’ll note this is pretty sequel-heavy, but that’s the industry today.

Continue reading

Just Because, Ron Burgundy

So excited for the new “Anchorman” movie – had to share the trailer. December 21 can’t get here fast enough!