Posted on Wednesday, May 28th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
Last week, Edgar Wright suddenly departed from Marvel Studio’s big screen adaptation of Ant-Man, with an official statement citing “differences in their vision of the film” as reasons for the “amicable” split. Marvel Studios says they still plan to have Ant-Man in theaters for the announced July 17th 2015 release date, and Marvel has already begun a search for a new director. The movie will have to begin filming this Summer to make that date, so an announcement will likely come soon. So who should replace Edgar Wright to direct Ant-Man? I explore this question in the article below.
Anatomy of a Marvel Studios Director
It would be easy to list off ten of our favorite filmmakers for a list like this, but Marvel Studios seems to have a criteria when choosing their filmmakers which is much more specific. We wanted to include realistic suggestions, not a dream wish-list. So in order to make a reasonable list, lets dissect what it takes to be hired to direct a Marvel Studios movie:
Marvel Studios is notoriously cost-conscious. They don’t need a huge big name director — the name brand of the character and the Marvel brand is enough to sell the movie. I wouldn’t expect to ever see an big name director hired for a Marvel film, even though it does happen. They often go after talented filmmakers with something to prove.
Television is experiencing a renaissance, and there are many great creative talents working on the small screen. Marvel has already mined filmmaking talent from the television world. Before The Avengers, Joss Whedon was best known for Buffy and Firefly. Thor: The Dark World‘s Alan Taylor was a director on Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Sopranos. Captain America: Winter Soldier‘s Joe and Anthony Russo had feature experience but they were best known for their episodes of Arrested Development and Community. Marvel head Kevin Feige called them in to pitch notably because of a Community episode.
B. Interesting Choices
Marvel Studios loves to hire interesting and sometimes unexpected risky choices. This is true not only in filmmakers but also in the casting.
While Kenneth Branagh was an established director, most of his films were smaller-budget Shakespeare adaptations, which made him an interesting choice for Marvel’s Shakespearean fantasy sci-fi superhero film. One common thread is picking a filmmaker who is best known for directing one genre of films to help apply that sensibility to the big budget superhero film.
The Russo Brothers always wanted to direct action films but found themselves stuck in the comedy genre for a decade. James Gunn comes from a horror and comedy background, and is probably not the person many people would have imagined for a big-budget space opera.
C. Something To Prove
Marvel Studios often hires filmmakers and actors with something to prove. (And because of this, finds people who fit point A). Casting Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man seems like an obvious choice now, but at the time it was a big gamble (see B) and Downey was in “actor’s jail” (stuck mostly within the indie world).
Iron Man director Jon Favreau had made some good indies (Made) a crowd pleasing comedy (Elf) and was set on a career trajectory towards fun big-budget action films. He directed the special effects-filled family action adventure film Zathura: A Space Adventure in 2005, which was his least-liked movie thus far. Favreau didn’t need a big paycheck (see A), was an interesting not-so-obvious choice (see B) and yes, had something to prove.
Joe Johnston started his career at ILM creating Boba Fett and many of the Star Wars effects, his critically acclaimed efforts (October Sky) earned him a spot directing Jurassic Park III, which was met with a poor reception. He has recently became a director for hire (The Wolfman) and Captain America was his chance to prove himself again with a period-set military story (like October Sky and The Rocketeer).
Joss Whedon was acclaimed by critics and fanboys but his recent television efforts failed to stay on the air (Firefly, Dollhouse). While Whedon’s love/knowledge of Marvel and his gift of crafting ensemble sci-fi character dramas made him a perfect choice, Avengers was his big chance to break away from the small screen.
Slither proved that James Gunn has a great visual eye and a unique sense of tone and humor, but his two feature directorial efforts (Slither and Super) failed to make money at the box office. Like Whedon, Gunn’s imagination is constrained by the budgets he is able to work in and Guardians of the Galaxy is his chance to prove himself with a much bigger opportunity.
While a big name filmmaker is probably out of the question (due to A), there are some name directors in other genres who might take a pay-cut to prove they can do something different, a big superhero movie.
D. Acclaimed Writers Turned Directors
Marvel has been known to have tight creative control (their meddling with Iron Man II is notorious), but they also SOMETIMES relinquish some of this control to hire acclaimed writer/directors — hoping their involvement will help elevate their superhero stories to a higher level.
This is definitely true of Joss Whedon, and also of Shane Black, who was one of the highest-paid screenwriters in the ’90s. His scripts sold for millions of dollars (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero). The critical success of his 2005 directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang brought him back from the shadows. Downey Jr’s performance in that Bang Bang was what put him in the mix for Iron Man. Black became an uncredited advisor on Iron Man, and when Favreau left the series after Iron Man II, Shane got his chance.
James Gunn his career as a writer for Troma Entertainment (you know, the guys who made Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke Em High?), earned screenwriting credits for the Scooby Doo movies and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead before directing Slither and Super. Edgar Wright would have also fit into this category if he had directed Ant-Man.
E. Creative Filmmakers Who Are Willing To Work Within The Marvel System
As mentioned previously, Marvel has been known to be very controlling of their brand and while the company seeks creative filmmakers, they often seem to look for people who are willing to work within their strict creative boundaries. Not only are television directors affordable (see A) but they also are great at getting the job done on time and under budget while staying between the lines presented to them.
Marvel sometimes give up more control when working with writer/directors (see D above). Whatever the truth behind the Ant-man rumors might be — When it came to Edgar Wright and Marvel/Disney, the official announcement even stated that the split was “due to differences in their vision of the film.”
And of course, some people I probably would’ve included on this list like Jonathan Levine, Colin Trevorrow, Wes Ball, Dean DeBlois or Dan Trachtenberg are busy and are unavailable for a summer shoot. There are other filmmakers I wanted to include on this list like Ruben Fleischer, Noam Murro and Craig Gillespie that didn’t make the cut. Its also possible that Marvel count hire internally and have Louis D’Esposito, who directed the One-Shot short films, direct Ant-Man.
So with all that in mind, lets take a look at ten directors who we would want to direct Ant-Man now that Edgar Wright has exited the project.