The first teaser trailer for Marvel Studios Ant-Man premiered Tuesday night and overall reaction could fairly be described as mixed. Newsarama Senior Editor Michael Doran and The Hollywood Reporter's Heat Vision and occasional Newsarama contributor Graeme McMillan viewed things a little differently and in "Point-Counterpoint" style debate the merits (or lack thereof) of the footage and what it may or may not mean for the final product hitting theaters in July.
First check out the trailer again, and then determine who you agree with more...
Michael Doran: So Graeme, I was doing some browsing Wednesday afternoon and stumbled across a very pointed criticism of the Ant-Man trailer at The Atlantic, then found my way to The Daily Mirror's collection of random critical tweets about it (though why the tweets they chose were significant was lost on me), and then to your piece for The Hollywood Reporter which was pretty damning as well. As we've worked together for years, I admit I was somewhat surprised you had such an adverse reaction.
Not to reiterate your entire piece, which people can read here in its entirety, but I have to ask, you don't think the narrative of "Marvel's first bomb" that we both know the entire Internet is waiting with baited breath to latch onto is influencing response to this first two whole minutes of footage of Ant-Man?
Graeme McMillan: While I'm sure it plays some part in the response – people are actively anticipating Marvel's "first flop" at this point, I think, in part because everyone forgets about the Incredible Hulk (Sorry, Ed Norton) – it's not solely to blame. Before the first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, that was the movie that people were declaring was a risk too far and the "inevitable" flop to be... and then "Hooked on a Feeling" and Chris Pratt turned the majority of them around.
The problem with the Ant-Man trailer is, to be blunt, it's a pretty dull trailer. It's offering nothing that we've not already seen in other movies (aside from the footage of Ant-Man riding a flying ant, but even that is just thrown in at the end, after the audience has watched flashes of generic action shots or people looking grumpy while Michael Douglas delivers a speech that sounds like it's written via Superhero Movie Mad-Libs), and it lacks the spark that we've come to expect from Marvel trailers. They're normally much better at doing this, you know? I think that's what's behind the response more than anything: surprise and disappointment that this doesn't live up to the previous teasers Marvel itself has released.
Or, to put it another way: Were you as excited about the Ant-Man trailer as you were by Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: The Winter Soldier's first trailers? Or did you think, "Well, Marvel hasn't let me down before..."?
Doran: I honestly can't say I remember either Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer in great detail, other than having a very positive response, which perhaps answers your question somewhat. I think Age of Ultron is a unfair comparison, but that’s a topic for another day... But let's talk about Guardians of the Galaxy, which is probably the most apt comparison.
First of all, I actually remember reacting "huh" to the first Guardians of the Galaxy trailer, because it was sooo obvious an attempt to breed familiarity with the concept for people who didn’t know who the hell they were. It was an outright "Who Are These Obscure Characters For Dummies" wiki primer. Worked like a charm, but I could see behind the curtain.
[Check out the trailer with alternative scoring]
The second most distinguishing feature as you identity in your The Hollywood Reporter critique was the music – but we know now that was not trailer editing room chicanery. The funky music not only reflected the spirit of the film, it was lifted directly out of the film. So as we dissect the Ant-Man trailer, are we dissecting the execution of the trailer, or what we think its two minutes might tells us about the film?
McMillan: You know, I have no idea how to answer that, because I think the answer is really "both." I mean, the entire point of a trailer is to tell us about the finished film, so don't we have to take it as read that that's what it's doing? We won't know until the movie's released whether or not this trailer was botched, although historically, Marvel's trailers have been relatively spot-on in terms of pitching the finished product's tone. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if the reception of the trailer leads to some edits and/or reshoots to tighten things up. I mean, didn't they just finish shooting this a month or so ago? A lot can change in the editing room, should they want it to.
But my point about the music was back to the "Marvel normally does this better" line of thinking. The music in Guardians of the Galaxy's trailer(s) totally set the tone. The same with the Avengers: Age of Ultron "I Got No Strings." Going back to generic orchestral scoring for Ant-Man, especially when put with the lack of any visual spectacle and pretty dull dialogue, just emphasizes how unexciting the trailer (and, by extension, the movie) feels.
It's funny – when everything with Edgar Wright went down, I was convinced that Ant-Man was fairly screwed because, no matter how good the movie was, it would become "The Movie That Could've Had Edgar Wright Direct." Watching the trailer, I didn't find myself thinking of Wright once, which was a good thing – because that would've made the trailer seem even more of a letdown in comparison. Instead, my primary feeling was a sense of surprise that something quite so underwhelming was put out there at all. This was subpar when compared with any Marvel trailer to date, never mind the first trailer for a movie that a large part of the audience was already expecting to be a disappointment. This was the movie that Marvel should've pulled out all the stops on to get a trailer that knocked everyone's socks off!
Doran: But here's the thing – maybe there isn't anything in Ant-Man to knock anyone's socks off that can be distilled into two minutes.
And is that necessarily a condemnation?
Isn't that really the elephant in the room? That Marvel has raised the bar sooo high that as opposed to just allowing another film to finish under the Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy bar, we're all overly and perhaps even eager to overreact to the first thing that doesn't clear it, and in the case, the first trailer that doesn't?
Marvel has made it clear they're using formulas and genres to distinguish between films. They played the 70s political thriller/Three Days of the Condor comparison to Captain America: The Winter Soldier early and often and had the old-timey space opera thing in their pocket for Guardians of the Galaxy. They've made it clear Ant-Man is at its heart a heist ... or a caper movie. Maybe there isn't a two-minute “wow” factor to be extracted from that, at least without giving up the pay-off of a heist movie – the last act?
Pardon the pun, but maybe Ant-Man will be "smaller" … on purpose.
Maybe it won't redefine the superhero genre or be some quirky auteur expression. Can Ant-Man just be a potentially finely-tuned caper movie happening in the corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without it being a crushing disappointment?
McMillan: Well, that's the question... Or, really, it's one question, because there was also little in the trailer to suggest it'll be a finely-tuned caper movie - instead, it looked like another in the line of "man gets superpowers, finds personal redemption through doing good" movies, which we've seen a bunch of already. The fact that the trailer plays down the very differentiator that Ant-Man's supposed to have is another sign that it's not going to live up to expectations, surely?
There's definitely room for Ant-Man to be a movie that does what it does without redefining the genre or being the work of an auteur. The problem is, at this point, Marvel's brand is such that I'm not sure it can offer up something like that without it seeming like a crushing disappointment. Without buying into the hype, I think part of Marvel's brand is that it doesn't offer the kind of run-of-the-mill superhero movie that you're talking about, that it's, if not better, then at least different enough to tweak and play with the genre somehow: doing it bigger, doing it funnier, doing it... different. If Ant-Man's just a solid, comfort food, kind of superhero movie, is that enough for fans?
(And that's not going near the fact that, up until last summer, Ant-Man was being hyped as "some quirky auteur expression"...!)
It really all comes down to expectations. The fact that there's such upset about this trailer being... well, okay - it's not that it's bad, certainly, it's just not very good, either - suggests to me that the audience is expecting something to knock their socks off. The real story here might be not that Ant-Man's trailer disappointed people, but that people's expectations of a Marvel movie have become such that there's no room for something like your version of Ant-Man to exist successfully inside them.
Doran: Which brings us full circle. That does seem to be the point here – the expectations fans now have for everything "Marvel Studios." It’s the same reason Thor: The Dark World is now looked upon in hindsight in some circles as some sort of major misfire when the film was perfectly well-received during its release.
But to back-up a second: We know it's a heist movie, so does the lack of that narrative signature in the first trailer suggest it isn’t a heist movie at all, or that perhaps the second trailer we know is coming will cover that ground? We still seem to be teetering between critiquing the editing of a two minute trailer and making assumptions about the nature of the film.
Anyways, back to the macro point – Marvel is going to eventually falter. It's not a matter of if, but when. Who knows if it'll be for Ant-Man? Could very well be. But then Guardians of the Galaxy defied a lot expectations, didn’t it? The point is, shouldn't, in fact, the more reasonable expectation be to allow some wiggle room for something less than "OMG" ... or as you put it – "socks off." Aren't we just all reading aloud from previously-written script to jump all over the first thing that maybe looks like that disappointment we all know is coming one day?
As I say, I wasn't surprised the trailer didn't "wow" people. I agree, it wasn't a "wow" trailer ... maybe even by design. What I was surprised at was how quickly the bandwagon filled up with people wanting to get out in front of the "Marvel stumbled" narrative. We're seven months away from Ant-Man. Just four months away from Marvel almost inevitably owning the fan world again when a new trailer and an Avengers: Age of Ultron post-credit scene could make all the difference in the world.
I'm not even going to ask "hasn't Marvel earned our trust?" But I will ask what is the margin of trust they've earned?
Is a potential "it was okay" – either for the trailer or for the film – really as bad as all that?