Why Is 'Ant-Man' So Important to Marvel Studios?

When Edgar Wright departed the long-gestating Ant-Man that was scheduled to be the first part of Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Marvel Studios' "Phase Three" film slate, many fans were left wondering whether the film would be delayed or possibly canceled outright. Instead, Marvel began looking for a replacement in the short time between Wright's departure and the scheduled start of filming later this summer.

The search seemed largely fruitless as first Adam McKay (director of The Other Guys and the "Anchorman" films) and then Rawson Marshall Thurber (We're the Millers, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) passed on the director's chair. It was finally announced over the weekend that Peyton Reed (Yes Man, Bring It On) would direct from a script that McKay will contribute to.

Given that filming is scheduled to start soon and the movie is still slated for a mid-July 2015 release despite just getting a new director and writer, it begs the question of why Marvel is so insistent on keeping the film on track.


Tales to astonish
Ant-Man and Marvel's apparent do-or-die attitude toward making the film gives us a rare glimpse into the business behind the studio. It also showcases a possible weakness in Marvel's business model that Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) rival Warner Bros. studio doesn't yet have with its DC Comics-inspired fare. Marvel is pushing forward with Ant-Man because its entire film structure hinges on it.

According to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, the studio has a film slate planned that extends to 2028. This includes the currently announced films like Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron, unscheduled but in-development projects like the "Doctor Strange" movie, and a few mystery films that have had dates reserved but have not been officially announced. The slate consists of two films per year, with a strong film leading the summer and a new or smaller film coming in blockbuster season. With a few exceptions, the films play into larger story arcs that culminate in crossovers (currently, the "Avengers" films).

This structure provides consistent releases (and revenue) for the studio, but it also provides very little padding for when things go wrong. Marvel's next three films are Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man. Beyond that, we have Captain America 3 and an unannounced movie (possibly the aforementioned "Doctor Strange" film). Of those, Guardians is fixing to hit theaters and Age of Ultron is currently filming. Captain America 3 doesn't have a script yet, and star Chris Evans is currently busy with Ultron anyway. "Doctor Strange" isn't even that far along. To maintain its schedule, Marvel needs a movie to start filming soon ... and Ant-Man is all that it has.


Ants vs. bats
Given how rigidly Marvel's film slate is structured, delaying Ant-Man simply can't be done without a significant impact. Not only would it leave a gap in the studio's release schedule, it would require other projects to be rearranged and possibly for an unannounced film to be scrapped entirely. If there hadn't been so much work done on the film already with a cast ready to start work, it's possible that Ant-Man itself might be the property that got tossed aside (assuming that it wasn't too deeply ingrained in the Marvel mythology to be removed).

Warner's upcoming Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn't have this problem. When potential delays arose, the studio was able to push the entire project back 10 months; this not only gave the studio extra time to work on the movie, but it also moved it into a different year than the release of Age of Ultron. The film will lead directly into the studio's upcoming "Justice League" team-up, and additional single-character films may then spin off from there. While the various films will all take part in the same cinematic universe, the spin-offs won't bear the same burden of building up to a massive crossover since the crossover event actually spawned them. Moreover, with what is currently a sparse release schedule, Warner has a lot more room to maneuver.

The Ant-Man cometh
The departure of Edgar Wright and the scramble to find a replacement has shined a spotlight on Ant-Man, and it remains to be seen how the cast and crew will handle the added pressure of changing directors so late in the game. There are several elements at play that will need to come together in a relatively short period of time, and if they don't then Marvel might have a highly publicized flop on its hands. A single flop won't derail Marvel's cinematic plans, but it may shake the faith of some fans in Marvel's overall franchise (which could be dangerous, since Captain America 3 is still currently slated to debut on the same day as Dawn of Justice). 

If nothing else, the studio will have to put more work into promotion to show fans that Ant-Man is worth seeing than it would have otherwise ... especially since it would have been all but guaranteed another post-"Avengers" bump from Age of Ultron. Instead of being a surefire hit, the film now has to prove itself in a way that few Marvel Studios films have.

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  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 3:53 PM, CalvinballPro wrote:

    But DC still has to use one franchise to launch all its others, and it forces DC to use 'Justice League' movies as introductions for new characters, potentially taking away from the actual plot of the movie. Marvel's approach to building franchises and then promoting the winners to 'The Avengers' makes more sense than DC's opposite strategy. Marvel's non-Avengers movies will build twice the franchise interest, once for the character and again for 'The Avengers'. DC is left hoping that fans liked a character in one movie enough to follow them to their own franchise. Marvel's not taking any chances, focusing on the independent franchises first.

  • Report this Comment On June 12, 2014, at 8:29 AM, Phadreus wrote:

    An interesting article concerning the up coming Ant-Man film from Marvel. Mr. Casteele makes some interesting points especially if one is considering things from the point of view of whether of not to invest in Marvel. But let's take a different look. Apparently people in the know or those of us who like to think we are in the know become concerned when the director leaves a project. As a fan, "...who is Edgar Wright?" though I do understand how this might wreck havoc with a production schedule but that would depend it I would think on how far along the movie was already and if the next director could be egoless enough to take advantage of another person's efforts in order to get the movie done.

    As to Marvel's model of course I am no business man and I don't even play one on TV but I am of the opinion that this constant looking for weakness in Marvel is distracting and besides the point. What would an established Marvel project have to do a the box office to be considered a flop? What would a new project have to do? How many of these would Marvel have to have before they could be in trouble which means that their "model"

    has become the failure that I'm sure some people out there are hoping for. You must remember, or think about, another of the many things Marvel has done is to make Avenger's 2 about something else and Avenger's 3 about the debut of Thanos. This has the fans all the way into 2016/17. I intend to see every Marvel film made for the rest of my life whatever it is. They can make a version of "Millie the Model" I'm going to see it because I want to see how they translate the comic material to film given the available technology which should improve even as these years fall away. Another thing I wish people would stop doing (I know they won't though because for the most part America is stuck in this mentality) and that is comparing Warner Bros (and 20th Century Fox) to Marvel as if all the studios are in some kind of race. It would be good if all of the creative people involved could approach each movie project as an opportunity to do something fine if not great and if all of the business people would stay out of the creative people's way and let them create (albeit within the model designed by the studio). A big question in my mind and one Mr. Casteele neglected to answer is why Edgar Wright left the director's chair in the first place. Did he think it would be a good idea to you know add some Klingons to Ant-Man battle with Lex Luthor on Titan while they both are trying to escape from the Eternals? It's already dicey in my opinion not having Hank Pym become one of the main players since it is he who actually formed the Avenger's and his wife Janet Van Dyne gave them their name. Although I like Michael Douglas's attachment to the film I think he is too old for that role Pym being a contemporary of Tony Stark, Reed Richards and Bruce Banner which has all sorts of implications not exploited properly in the comic books themselves. I also understand that there is a possibility Johnny Depp is being considered for the role of Dr. Strange which I certainly hope is true. That would be as big a move as Robert Downy Jr. as Tony Stark. And then there is Thor 3 which Mr. Casteele didn't mention probably because it hasn't been announced officially yet and so we don't know that there will be a "Thor 3". Well I hope so and I hope it will have more to do with the return of the mythology to the dimension of the Earth this being one of the effects of the Tessarac which I hope also we have not see the last of. The cartoon, Avengers Assemble picked up the thread when they intimated that when the Red Skull disappeared at the end of Captain America 1 head had not died he simply was translated to where Thanos is. Thanos himself prefigures the introduction at some point of the Eternals: StarFox

    Sersi, Ikaris et al which is as Patti Labelle would say a whole 'nother movie. But if Marvel is committed more or even less to a projection out to 2028 an entire new era in motion picture entertainment could be upon us. I think it is.

  • Report this Comment On June 12, 2014, at 9:37 AM, Garageband66 wrote:

    Ant-Man is a lesser character so what would it say to DC if Disney could pull off huge numbers to a second-tier character? DC and their potential movie franchise had better hope the problems continue at Disney. DC cannot continue to keep rebooting Batman and Superman as established stars "age out" of the roles and have to contend with Brandon Routh and the misfires DC has suffered. Perhaps Marvel has forgotten the epic failure of Daredevil a decade ago?

  • Report this Comment On June 12, 2014, at 10:56 AM, PAJohnDoe wrote:

    While it's by no means a great movie, I hate when people refer to Daredevil like it was a huge bomb or something, as the Daredevil movie itself made over 100 million bucks when the superhero oboe boom was still in its early days. Being a hit and being good are two entirely different things, and I'm sure that a direct DD sequel may have done a lot less business, no matter how much of an improvement it could have been, simply because many of the people that came out for the first one didn't like it. Elektra kind of tested the waters there, and THAT did pretty badly (and was actually a bad film on top of that). Still, if you want to talk "epic failure" on all fronts, you need look no further than DC's Jonah Hex.

  • Report this Comment On June 12, 2014, at 5:18 PM, msorrentino wrote:

    Actually, Phadreus it was the Hulk's friend Rick Jones who came up with the name Avengers.

    Anyway, Ant-Man if done right will be great. My guess is that the creative difference was that Edgar Wright wanted the movie to be standalone, he said so in an interview, Marvel meanwhile wanted it more tied in with the rest of the MCU.

    Hopefully, the Ant-Man movie will be a more true to the comics adaption than what Wright wanted to do, it was heavily implied that the Ant-Man film would have been comedy heavy under his direction. Now, we may see more of a scientist trying to make the world a better place with his inventions approach.

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John Casteele

John Casteele is a freelance writer, editor, and occasional web cartoonist. He prefers long-term investments, largely in retail, medical, and tech.

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