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Stop Judging Movies Off of Production Stills

Stop Judging Movies Off of Production Stills

“Ant-Man” started shooting Monday, and already Marvel has released a first-day photo of…Paul Rudd wearing a hoodie under the Golden Gate bridge. Nothing terribly exciting, but Marvel’s publicity machine still has fans talking about the film, which is exactly what they’d want after the director shake-up that brought on Peyton Reed in place of Edgar Wright, who started developing the project long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was even a thing. Meanwhile, Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” recently completed principal photography and has plenty of teases out there to help pre-sell the film (not that it needs it).

But next year’s other-other big superhero movie, the as-yet untitled Fantastic Four reboot, finished shooting this month as well, and nary a pip’s been heard about it or shown from production. No Michael B. Jordan catching fire, no Miles Teller stretching, no Jamie Bell transforming into the Thing, no Toby Kebbell wearing a Dr. Doom mask, not even an empty photo claiming that Kate Mara’s Invisible Woman is standing there. That’s a refreshing break from the mania that surrounds most superhero films long before their release, but apparently some see that as a sign of bad things to come.

On Twitter, Spencer Perry of SuperheroHype and ComingSoon.net made a neutral observation: “Ant-Man: Officially filming one day, releases photo. The Fantastic Four: Finished filming, no photos.” But SlashFilm’s Germain Lussier thinks the writing might already be on the wall that the film is a turkey:

Germain Lussier: “Speaks volumes.”
Samantha Fisher: “Why?”
GL: “Most superhero films these days release something early. Even if it’s just a slate or whatever.”
Jeff Sneider (of The Wrap): “That’s why what Josh Trank is doing is refreshing. Who cares about a fucking slate?”
GL: “I care because the film has huge question marks in fans’ eyes and hiding it keeps them there”
Larry Wright: “maybe that’s a good thing? God forbid we go into a film with question marks”
The Playlist: “Ugh to this whole original sentiment.”

I’m with Sneider/Wright/The Playlist on this one. We’re already at a point where there are too many teasers, promo photos, and previews of event movies, to the point where it’s hard not to get sick of them before you even see them. I want to see Peyton Reed (the talented director behind “Bring It On” and “Down with Love”) succeed as much as the next person, even if he’s working in the Marvel Machine, but the early still for “Ant-Man” doesn’t give much of any indication about anything. Ditto for the early shots that confirm that, yes indeed, J.J. Abrams’s “Star Wars” sequel will have an X-Wing in it. Neither of these cases have told us anything cogent about the shape the films are in (especially difficult given that they’re not done shooting and not coming out this year), so arguing that a movie that’s not playing the same pre-release overkill game might be in trouble is absurd.

Josh Trank has only made one movie prior to his big budget superhero movie, 2012’s found footage horror/superpower film “Chronicle.” Part of what made that film so exciting, aside from Trank’s skill and the standout performances by Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan, was that it seemingly came out of nowhere even though it, like the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, was produced by 20th Century Fox. Most of the posters only gave a glimpse of the action, while the trailer (released only a few months before the film’s February 2012 release) mostly focused on its heroes goofing around and pranking people with inexplicable psychic abilities, only giving teases to the event that caused it or DeHaan’s Carrie White transformation.

There’s no way of knowing whether Fox and Trank have chosen a similar approach for “Fantastic Four.” It is a much bigger movie, and it’s rebooting the franchise after a pair of little-loved entries, the latter of which was a huge financial disappointment, so odds are they’re going to shoot for a slightly higher profile marketing scheme. But right now all we know about the film is that it’s directed by a talented up-and-comer and it stars five very good (if awfully young) actors in the principal roles.  

Here’s the other problem with assuming something’s wrong unless we’re given context-free teases: it could affect movies that aren’t near-guarantee $500-million grossers as well. Directors are already having trouble funding projects that don’t immediately appeal to wide audiences, especially if they’re not well-known yet. Crafting a narrative that every film needs to keep potential audiences updated that they’ve got a big star or big selling point in it is unhealthy, as if we’re entitled to know every little detail about a film before it even sees release and anything that doesn’t immediately grab us shouldn’t be given coverage. And even on projects from major directors, would it really help the new Coen Brothers movie if we got ten stills that showed Channing Tatum is in it?

Maybe “Fantastic Four” will be a dud. Maybe casting twentysomethings as scientists isn’t a great idea, though both Chris Evans and Jessica Alba were younger than any of the new cast members when they were picked for the 2005 version, and their age had nothing to do with the fact that Evans was the sole bright spot (pun intended, god help me) and that Alba can’t act. Regardless, it’s time to stop pretending that lack of knowledge about a movie equals knowledge, because frankly, right now we know about as much about how good “Ant-Man” will be as we do about “Fantastic Four”: zip.

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