Ant-Man and Scale
This is not a movie review. I did see Marvel's new Ant-Man movie this weekend with my youngest (the other boys being at Summer Scout Camp) and enjoyed it very much. I'd give it 4 stars out of 4, an 8.2 out of 10, a thumbs up and pronounce it among Marvel's best. It's worth seeing, entertaining, unique, and a small bunch of good fun for the whole family.
In my opinion we are firmly in the Third Age of Cinema. The first age was the Studio Age, the rise of the studio based system and the control, from the egotistical base of studio heads, of what we watched. Then along came the Artist Age, the control swinging around to powerful Directors and Actors, the egotistical base of artistically focused creatives that eventually led to the rise of the summer blockbuster. It is often forgotten that creatives, and not studios, essentially brought us to the current blockbuster mentality of Hollywood. Artists like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas among the more note-worthy examples. The sheer amount of money involved and the risks associated with potential failure, helped usher in the latest age of Hollywood - the Corporate Age.
The Marvel/Disney and DC/Warner examples are obvious Corporate Age products. But let's not forget Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, the "reboot" resurgence, The Hobbit, and pretty much every other large "franchise" of the last decade or so. All of which are "product" as much as, or more than, just films. We live in a time when schedules are worked out years in advance, when product drives development. All based on consumer demand. If people didn't consume, the product wouldn't exist. Although we could argue the cyclic nature of product driven demand, and there are valid points to be made in that argument, that isn't what this post is about.
I find it funny when people say the "SuperHero" glut is here and eventually it will destroy itself. I find that funny because the "SuperHero" film has always been here. And while Bruce Willis didn't wear a costume (or did he? He certainly ended up in white t-shirts a lot in the Die Hard movies) he was a super-hero. In fact, one could look back across the history of cinema and see clearly that the super-hero story, has essentially always been with us. The current costumed versions may be more blatant, but they owe a huge debt to those heroes that came before them. Harry Potter is a super-hero. Katniss is one. James Bond, duh. Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, yadda yadda.
If you've gotten this far you might be inclined to think this is yet another negative essay about how horrible all of this is. How we are doomed and how much better the artistic age was. I must warn you now that is not going to be the case. I love film. I enjoy all the various styles, states, sources, and subject matter that film gives us. And I celebrate small successes as much as large ones. But I also appreciate a good "comfort food" meal now and again. Entertainment. An expectation of entertainment. And I find nothing truly negative about it.
It is all evolutionary. This might be the Corporate Age, but it is also the age of demand. As consumers we can consume products in the comfort of our own homes pretty much on demand from an increasingly wide array of choices. Netflix, RedBox, Amazon, Hulu, Apple, HBO, the list grows almost daily. Cinema is not immune to this trend. In fact we've spent the last decade being told over and over how cinema is probably doomed. People aren't going to the movies like they used to. Theaters are closing left and right. Attendance is down. The predictions were always gloom and doom. All of which is dictated by us, the consumers. As always, we ultimately drive what, where and how products are developed. They chase us as much as we chase them.
The current corporate control is simply a direct response to those trends. Content is now king and the need for better content, predictable content, is higher than ever. This is why the "Franchise" is now king. Why the "re-boot" resurgence has happened. Franchises and re-boots provide comfort food, a predictable and assured statement of predictability that consumers can count on. And that, hopefully, results in butts in the seats. And butts in the seats around the world, not just in the US. Because cinema, like everything else now, is a global product. Not only a domestic one.
The brilliance of Ant-Man is that it bucks the trend of bigger is better. It is, much like Guardians of the Galaxy was, a proof of concept. A test to see how flexible that predictability is or isn't. How much lee-way do we have here? With even stranger and more off the wall films on the horizon, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Ms Marvel, Suicide Squad, this flexibility is important.
As for me I continue to enjoy a good story well told. It can be Ex Machina or it can be Ant-Man, it doesn't really matter to me.
Keep them coming.