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The placement of the first trailer for Marvel’s Ant-Man at the end of the broadcast of the first episode of Marvel’s Agent Carter seemed, on first blush, to be something along the lines of self-counterprogramming: Wouldn’t the excitement for Carter risk drowning out the excitement for Ant-Man? Upon watching the trailer, however, a secondary thought came to mind: Maybe that was the point.
The most surprising thing about the Ant-Man trailer — or the teaser, as Marvel is referring to it — isn’t the sight of a man shrinking to minuscule size, nor Paul Rudd playing a superhero; instead, it was how unsurprising it was. Formally, it matches the Avengers: Age of Ultron teaser (dialogue playing as narration over slow fades of shots from the movie), but with two jokes that barely landed replacing the visual spectacle of seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in action again — that second joke, noticeably, repeats the central joke of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s first teaser, wherein the name of the hero is held up as ridiculous.
Lacking the chills of Ultron‘s creepy Pinocchio reclamation or the zip of Guardians‘ irreverence, the Ant-Man trailer ended up feeling curiously un-Marvel-like. On social media Tuesday evening, fans likened it to a Warners/DC project, but more than anything, the trailer matches the tonality of Sony’s Spider-Man movies for me — something that tries to balance the sentimentality of family motivation with snappy (if toothless) patter, creating a weirdly off-kilter, uneven movie that isn’t as fun as it wants to be. If Ant-Man is the light comedy that we’ve been expecting, then this teaser did its best to hide that from audiences.
One of the more obvious missteps was the soundtrack. Guardians of the Galaxy proved just how important music can be to a movie like this — that first teaser was dominated by “Hooked on a Feeling,” with all the oogaa-chakas even before you got to the chorus — and the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer suggested that Marvel had learned that lesson; the use of “I’ve Got No Strings” adds as much to the sense of foreboding as anything you see on screen. So what happened with the Ant-Man teaser, which is laden with an entirely generic, forgettable orchestral score?
Patrick Willems — the filmmaker behind Aquaman: The Teen Drama, among other things — recut the trailer with different music (and a few added title cards) to make the version he’d hoped to see, and the difference in energy is very clear:
(Note that the change in music at the 1:16 mark makes Rudd’s “Huh” line land harder and gives the teaser a pivot that it otherwise lacks; again, it’s genuinely unexpected that the real trailer lacks something along these lines.)
It’s not only the music that’s the problem, of course; thematically, we’ve seen everything in this trailer before. Schlubby lead that everyone underestimates? Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Peter Quill. A man trying to prove his worth to his family? Thor. A redemption story in general? Iron Man. Visually, too, there were moments that recalled other Marvel movies: Oh look, it’s a scientist tinkering away, just like Tony Stark! Guys in suits being beaten up, just like when Cap beat up those undercover Hydra agents! A woman kicking a dude, just like Black Widow! and so on. The genuinely “new” moments — Ant-Man shrinking, riding around on a flying ant — seemed almost afterthoughts, hidden at the end of the trailer as if they were embarrassments.
The Ant-Man trailer isn’t bad, per se; it is, however, impressively underwhelming, which almost seems worse. Thanks to the last-minute exit of original writer-director Edgar Wright and the subsequent struggle to find a replacement (Peyton Reed eventually stepped up), Ant-Man has become the movie that people are expecting to be Marvel’s first failure, in critical if not financial terms, at least; this trailer, which fails to convince and gets by on goodwill for those involved and the Marvel brand as much as anything else, doesn’t do enough — or anything, really — to persuade audiences that that’s not the case.
Maybe releasing it at the end of Agent Carter, where the audience’s affection for Marvel is at a peak, was a smart move after all. At least that way, those who weren’t so excited by it would have something else to rave about instead.
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Jon M. Chu