Friday, June 06, 2014

Where Have All the Good Ant-Men Gone? Send in the (Corporate) Clowns

No, not Aunt-Man, Ant-Man.  Yeah...
Last week, a bomb was dropped in the Marvel cinematic universe even larger than FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER.  It seems that the upcoming ANT-MAN movie based on nobody's favourite (sort-of) superhero is short one director now that maverick British director and beard connoisseur extraordinaire Edgar Wright parted ways with the Marvel juggernaut over "differences in their visions of the film."  And because in the official press release it stated that the split was "amicable," we can be all but assured that the opposite is in fact true.  It's one of those things that we'll never know all of the details about even though we actually do know all of the details.  Like when that nice couple from next door whose yelling and arguing you've tried not to eavesdrop on out of a sense of propriety finally breaks up and you feign ignorance to be polite.

Besides having one of the stupidest names in the history of comic book superheroes (which have a pretty long history of stupid names), Ant-Man also seems like a a second-rate Iron Man.  He's a troubled, egomaniacal science whiz whose powers include shrinking down smaller than the tip of a Q-tip bloodied after having been jammed too far into your ear and puncturing the ear drum and being able to control ants.  Even in the context of comic books where some pretty ridiculous-sounding super powers seem to be a lot easier to swallow, this sounds pretty shitty.  Out of Marvel's entire pantheon, Ant-Man seems like one of the least likely to be turned into a full-length, live-action, panty-wetting feature film, especially if the end goal was profit on a massive scale.

Nobody was chomping at the bit to get this film made, not even Marvel.  It was only through Edgar Wright's sheer determination and impeccable British poise that the project even got off the ground to begin with.  Like a lot of people outside of a very select breed of comic book geeks, I couldn't give two shits about an Ant-Man movie.  The one and only reason I (and, I suspect, most people) managed to muster any interest in the project at all was Wright's involvement and the short "sizzle reel" he shot to impress Marvel execs and tantalize the general public.  

At first glance, this seems like yet another in a long line of examples of Corporate Profitability vs Artistic Integrity.  This is kind of a convoluted dichotomy, especially in the movie industry where the primary indicator of success has become (and perhaps always has been) money.  The simple fact is that nobody working within the movie industry on a certain scale can really cling too tightly to whatever lingering threads of artistic integrity may or may not be dangling from their battered psyches without appearing to be--and actually being--disingenuous.  This is not a David and Goliath story where Goliath stomped David’s ass into the dust and curb-stomps that motherfucker until his head splits apart like a ripe cantaloupe.  This is more an example of Goliath vs Slightly Smaller Goliath.

Let’s face it; Wright is in the money-making business as well, and making movies within The Industry requires maintaining some kind of balance between both the artistic and business aspects.  From what I've seen, he appears to be making movies because he genuinely enjoys both movies and their making, but this dude ain't makin' this shit for free, yo.  There's no way around the business aspect either, so claims of artistic integrity get a little more than muddled when talking about big-budget movies.  So instead I will argue for the quality of Wright's artistic vision.  With his excellent repertoire of projects from Spaced to the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and THE WORLD'S END) to SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, it cannot be denied that Edgar Wright has a distinct cinematic syntax.

The most relevant of Wright's filmography in the case of comic book movies is SCOTT PILGRIM seeing that it was, in fact, a comic book movie.  Like all of his work, SCOTT PILGRIM seems on the surface to be an effective comedic interlude, but is actually a layered, emotionally engaging, extremely nuanced film dealing with relatable, real-world issues, albeit in a very roundabout way.  And it's that last caveat, perhaps, that had the folks at Marvel worried.  Edgar Wright's artistic vision is far too off-kilter and unique, and while that makes for some amazing movies for those willing and able to follow him down the rabbit hole, it's got to make the Marvel brain trust anxious, because they're looking at all of their properties now through the feverish gaze of the hardcore junkie; they have become hooked on success (whether deserved or not is another question), and even the slightest suggestion of anything less than Pure Financial Heroin sends them scuttling like highly excitable rats.

The thing is, Marvel has come up with a formula for success, and any new variable could upset the banana hammock cart.  One of Wright's gifts as a filmmaker is his ability to take something seemingly straight-forward and attack it from an angle that not only had other people not seen but didn't even know existed.  But the thing is, the current line-up of Marvel movies does not--cannot--allow for a unique perspectives at this point because The Plan has already been laid out.  They don't want somebody to rock the boat; they're looking for somebody to help them keep the boat stocked with cocaine and high-priced hookers who've had all their shots.
And while for some (myself included) Edgar Wright's stamp on a project elicits a must-watch response, his movies haven't exactly been shaking up any Top Ten lists money-wise.  Which is a shame, because the dude makes fucking great movies and is talented as all hell (imagine if financial remuneration were proportionate to talent, especially in Hollywood...).  I think that SCOTT PILGRIM showed that Wright was a Man of Vision, but Marvel is a Creature of Profit.  Which isn't to say that there can't be an equitable balance struck  between vision and profit.  We all have to take a shot in the mouth sometimes to get ahead, the question really becomes how much dick are you willing to suck to get what you want?  It looks like for Edgar Wright, in this particular case, Kevin Feige and the long list of dicks at Marvel was too steep a price to pay.  Everybody's got a price, and I'm glad to see that we haven't discovered Edgar Wright's yet.  Cheers.


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