I don’t hit this point very hard in my Hollywood Reporter recap of the marketing campaign for Ant-Man and The Wasp, but it’s important to remember that the first Ant-Man in 2015 shouldn’t have been, and wasn’t expected to be, a box-office hit.
While the character has a long and rich history over 50+ years of comics stories, the name is kind of silly, a product of the 1960s when push-button technology was just starting to break out of the realm of science fiction. So trying to make a big-screen action adventure starring him was a gamble, not to mention how the casting of Paul Rudd in the title role very clearly identified the movie as a comedy, something that was still unproven despite the success of Guardians of the Galaxy the year before.
Also working against that first movie was the behind-the-scenes drama, namely the last-minute exit of writer/director Edgar Wright, who’d been involved in developing the movie for years only to leave just before production started citing disagreement with the studio on the tone and vision. That’s the kind of thing that has scuttled other movies, putting a persistent cloud over the release that shades all further coverage and even impacts reviews.
It was successful, though, even if it didn’t hit the heights of other Marvel Studios releases. Rudd reprised his role in Captain America: Civil War and now has costar Evangeline Lilly finally suiting up as his partner in crime-fighting, Michael Douglas returning as Hank Pym and Michelle Pfeiffer joining as his lost wife Janet Van Dyne.
Online and Social
There isn’t much happening on Marvel’s official website for the movie, which just has the usual collection of trailers, posters, stills and links to both promotional partners and the social profiles established for the film. It’s alright, it’s just not going to blow anyone’s doors off.
Media and Publicity
A series of stills, including a photo showing Lilly in full hero costume was released by Disney during D23 last year. Rudd spoke briefly about the film on other occasions while promoting other projects, including while at Sundance for the premiere of The Catcher Was a Spy.
During the Avengers: Infinity War press cycle Lilly also talked about this film, explaining that the story revolved around the search for Janet Van Dyne. After that movie was released Disney/Marvel started shifting the focus and began explaining, to clear up audience confusion, that this one takes place during the events of Infinity War and that’s why neither Scott nor Hope are over there fighting Thanos.
The press tour started a couple weeks prior to release as Lilly showed up on “Kimmel” and then went on to call out male actors for being too used to comfortable fashion. Rudd has shown up on TV several times to talk about the movie specifically as well as his career in general.
The movie’s premiere allowed Reed to talk about the story and what approach he took with gender-swapping Ghost, a topic explored more in-depth in a feature story with comments by everyone from John-Kamen to the movie’s writers to the creators of the character’s comic incarnation. Reed also mentioned how much stronger Lilly’s work ethic was than Rudd’s. A later interview allowed the director to share how he was able to convince Pfieffer to return to comic book movies.
IMAX offered a few more exclusive videos, including a TV spot, a goofy video featuring a tiny Paul Rudd and an interview with Reed in addition to what they’d already released. Marvel also promoted the animated shorts featuring Ant-Man that were produced for Disney XD.
What struck me from the outset of the campaign is how much the studio has worked hard to position this as a movie starring The Wasp just as much as Ant-Man. She played a big role in the very first trailer and has been a big presence throughout the push, especially on the publicity circuit and in the TV ads. Marvel Studios obviously wants to play up her role, presumably as another example of how it really does want to bring more female heroes to the forefront.
Taken in whole, the movie is being sold more or less in the same way the first one was, which is a good thing since that worked. If there’s anything about it that makes me scratch my head it’s that the attitude taken toward how closely to tie this release to Infinity War seems inconsistent and a bit confusing, moving from “Nope, it’s totally its own thing” to “Oh yeah, there’s lots of connective material.” That likely won’t impact its success to any great extent, but it is a bit questionable.
I also question why there wasn’t more of a focus on the search for Janet in the Quantum Realm. That seems like it would give the story a more personal appeal, making the stakes for everyone more real and concrete than whatever vaguely-defined scheme The Ghost has. Mostly I just wish there were more Michelle Pfeiffer, or that there were more of an effort to tie this into her recent wave of high-profile releases that signal a return to prominence in the movie world.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs