Everything you need to know about what’s happening with Marvel’s Ant-Man
Regular readers of The Monolith will be aware of my opinion on Marvel Studios. I think that despite a couple of dud films in their repertoire, they are by far the best studio at making comic book movies that not only respect their source, but also build towards something that is both incredibly ambitious and extremely organic. Because they have taken the time, and taken risks by building a cohesive universe at a time when no other studio thought it possible, they are well and truly ahead of the pack, and now every other studio is rushing to catch-up, cramming countless numbers of characters into single movies to make up for all the time they spent twiddling their thumbs.
Whenever Marvel would make a casting announcement, more often than not the person chosen would be a slightly left field, but otherwise perfect fit for the role. There has been very little controversy over any actors they have chosen to portray important roles, unlike some of the other studios and their stunt casting antics (*cough* Warner Brothers *cough*). As such, fans were very unprepared for controversy when it hit early last week with the announcement that Edgar Wright had parted with his beloved Ant-Man project due to creative differences with the studio.
Edgar Wright is of course, an incredible filmmaker that has created beloved geek properties such as Spaced, The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End), and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, so his departure made a large impact on the Marvel fanbase, who have been ruminating about the incident for the past week. Ant-Man is not the easiest property in the world to make, as it’s the kind of superhero that will likely cause many people not on board with the genre to roll their eyes and assume that “Hollywood” has gone too far (if not Ant-Man, then perhaps Bananaman will do the trick?). I mean, who cares about a goofy scientist with the powers of an ant?
If anyone had the power to make audiences take Ant-Man seriously, it would have been Edgar Wright; the man with the (so far) impeccable track record. What’s more, he’d actually been campaigning Marvel to allow him to make the film since 2006, which is what made it all the more shocking that he chose to quit after investing eight years of his life into the film.
Of course, this has caused a lot of scrutiny to be aimed at Marvel, with a lot of people even claiming that they will boycott the final film, regardless of its quality. While the execution of such a threat is rather unlikely, there’s still an incredible amount of pressure on Marvel to choose an appropriate successor. One that will not only do the job well, but also inspire confidence in the audience.
Why did Edgar Wright leave?
This is a question that will never truly be answered, and frankly, it’s not one that we deserve. There is nothing to be gained from either party by Wright or Marvel airing their dirty laundry, and more than anything, the reasons are probably far less dramatic than most people are imagining.
Let’s look at the facts, Ant-Man is not just an original film designed to introduce a previously unknown character to the masses, it is also the twelfth film in a series and is the follow-up to the The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The Marvel universe is constantly evolving and unfortunately, as each film is completed, the studio will have to enforce changes on all subsequent films, to ensure that they are cohesive with the rest of the universe. As such, there has to be a certain amount of give and take between the studio and the director’s they work with.
Wright isn’t the first director to run into issues with Marvel Studios (just the most high profile one), and he likely won’t be the last, as the universe expands in size, it also has the knock-on effect of reducing the overall narrative potential of subsequent installments, which will bring with it its own set of restrictions for any incumbent filmmakers. Unavoidably, along the way Marvel have upset a series of filmmakers, writers, actors and even composers including Louis Leterrier, Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk), Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2), Joe Johnston, Hugo Weaving (Captain America: The First Avenger), Patty Jenkins, Natalie Portman, Alan Taylor, and Clint Mansell (Thor: The Dark World), to name a few.
However, other filmmakers have thrived working with Marvel including Kenneth Branagh (Thor), Drew Goddard (All Hail The King), James Gunn (Guardians Of The Galaxy), Anthony & Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America 3), Shane Black (Iron Man 3), and of course, Joss Whedon (The Avengers, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron). So, what’s the difference between these two groups of people? Well, it seems that the latter group are nerds first, and filmmakers second, in that they understand and love the comic lore and want to make it function as a cohesive world. The exception to the rule is of course, Jon Favreau, who got on well with the studio on the first Iron Man, before their relationship deteriorated on the set of Iron Man 2, which is understandable, considering that Marvel were still working out the kinks on how to build a seamless universe.
Because of this, fans had long assumed that Edgar Wright and the studio would get along famously, due to his massive nerd status and his unique filmmaking style. Clearly if anyone could have made Ant-Man work, it would be Wright. Apparently, Wright swiftly exited the film after a new script was proposed by Marvel executives – in terms of timeline, it certainly makes sense. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is currently shooting, and so for the most part will have its script relatively set in stone, meaning that the studio can make changes to Ant-Man based on events that will occur in that film.
Clearly, Wright sensed that this may be the beginning of the end in terms of his own creative licence, and chose to leave the project. It’s a sad thing to happen, but it makes perfect sense when you consider his incredible track record. Wright is the type of director that likes to control every frame of his movies, which is what has lead to him constantly producing quality output. I imagine that he was concerned he would be forced to create a film that wasn’t entirely his own work, and that was something he couldn’t sacrifice.
It doesn’t mean that Marvel is evil by any means, or that they “don’t understand”. If you’d like to see a long running comic book film franchise that passes from one writer/director team to another without the quality control of a studio architect, then please look at Fox’s X-Men films and all of the countless continuity errors that exist within them (X-Men: Days Of Future Past has of course gone someway to fixing these, but that’s another story).
All in all, it’s meant to be a partnership, and unfortunately for everyone, it didn’t work out. Nobody is happy about it. Not even Marvel. Joss Whedon posted this fitting tribute to his twitter feed after the news broke:
And James Gunn perhaps said it best when he announced:
Sometimes you have friends in a relationship. You love each of them dearly as individuals and think they’re amazing people. When they talk to you about their troubles, you do everything you can to support them, to keep them together, because if you love them both so much doesn’t it make sense they should love each other? But little by little you realize, at heart, they aren’t meant to be together – not because there’s anything wrong with either of them, but they just don’t have personalities that mesh in a comfortable way. They don’t make each other happy. Although it’s sad to see them split, when they do, you’re surprisingly relieved, and excited to see where their lives take them next.
It’s easy to try to make one party “right” and another party “wrong” when a breakup happens, but it often isn’t that simple. Or perhaps it’s even more simple than that – not everyone belongs in a relationship together. It doesn’t mean they’re not wonderful people.
And that’s true of both Edgar Wright and Marvel. One of them isn’t a person, but I think you get what I mean.
In contrast, Wright had only one word to say about the matter when he tweeted “selfie” along with an edited picture. While the tweet has been deleted, here’s the picture that he used.
This is an edited picture of Buster Keaton holding a Cornetto cone. The relevance is that in 1928 Keaton made the self-described “worst mistake of his career” when he moved from being independent to working for MGM. Clearly, Wright was implying that while he’s sad about the split, he’s happy that he’s maintaining his independence and that he will not compromise his vision. That’s great for all of us Wright fans, because hopefully we’ll get something new and awesome from him soon. But where does that leave Marvel and Ant-Man?
The Next Step…
Marvel has been hard at work trying to find a suitable replacement for Edgar Wright. They are said to be looking for somebody with a comedic background, but that has their own unique style. Currently, they’re looking at four different directors, who I’ll take the time to outline below, but first, a quick word about comedy.
Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be well aware of the fact that Marvel’s films tend to include a lot of comedy, certainly more than many of their contemporaries, who over time have become increasingly focused on being “dark” and “gritty”. As such, a Marvel film containing comedy elements is not going to surprise anyone, but specifically looking for a director that has a “comedy background” may be a little disconcerting for some.
The problem with a lot of modern American comedy is that it has abandoned the art of visual comedy. Contrary to popular belief, great comedy is extremely hard to pull off, as it requires an unbelievable amount of precision and planning. Most modern comedy is reduced to two “funny” people talking to one another, taking the framework of a joke and essentially talking it to death. It’s basically improvisational, and it’s missing a major piece of what makes classic comedy work.
Edgar Wright is a master of the art of visual comedy, which is why the prospect of Ant-Man in his hands was such a damn exciting one. Here’s a must watch video about visual comedy and how Wright uses it in his films. Digest it, and then let’s take a look at who’s potentially going to replace him on Ant-Man.
Originally, it was reported that Marvel were considering four different directors to replace Wright, and so what followed were various publications doing their best to try and land an exclusive, which basically meant claiming that they had an “exclusive source” that said one director was in more advanced talks than the other. As of right now, no director has signed on the line with Marvel, but here’s a quick rundown of who’s being considered:
Most of you will know Adam McKay because of his work with Will Ferrell. Whether it’s The Other Guys, the Anchorman films, or even through their website Funny Or Die, McKay has become one of the premier names in American comedy – certainly on a producer level at least. The Other Guys proves that he can handle action relatively well, and his work on the Anchorman films has seen him work well with Paul Rudd, the star of Ant-Man. He’s not the worst choice in the world, but he’s not exactly an inspiring one.
Over the weekend it was announced that he was in advanced talks with the studio to take the film under his wing, but then he quickly announced that he had dropped out of the running and was no longer interested in the film. Could this be because of Marvel’s proposed changes to the script? Or was he not willing to work to such a tight production schedule?
Ruben Fleischer is best known for his horror comedy Zombieland, which was a massive hit upon its release. He’s been less successful with the average comedy 30 Minutes Or Less, and the risible Gangster Squad. Stylistically though, Fleischer is probably the best choice of the current four, as he has proven that he has an eye for strong visual comedy, as well as the ability to handle action drenched in style. Gangster Squad‘s faults laid largely on a script that Fleischer didn’t write, so he can’t be entirely blamed for the poor quality of the film. Zombieland is pretty much one big tribute to Wright’s own Shaun Of The Dead, told on a larger, American scale, so he would seem like a natural, if somewhat uninspired choice to replace him.
However, it has recently come to light that Fleischer is the current frontrunner to helm the long gestating Ghostbusters 3 project, which, if true, will likely hamper his chance of landing the director’s chair for Ant-Man.
Jonathan Levine is far and away the best filmmaker on this short list. He began his career with the cult horror film All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, before moving into dramedy territory with The Wackness and 50/50, which are both great films. The thing that makes Levine the most interesting choice on this list is that he also directed Warm Bodies, the zombie romantic comedy, that could have easily been a terrible Twilight clone, but instead became a charming film full of personality and style. Levine has a track record for taking unconventional concepts and turning them into powerful comedy/dramas. He’s more than capable of balancing the two sides of the spectrum that Ant-Man will need to embody, as well as imbuing the odd concept with reverence and charm.
Levine is currently filming a Tv movie called Rush, about an independent doctor that has his fair share of issues. Due to the fact that Ant-Man needs to begin production almost immediately this may, sadly, impact his chances of making Ant-Man.
Rawson Thurber is a young comedy filmmaker that only has two feature lengths under his belt – Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and the more recent We’re The Millers. Both are pretty generic and braindead comedies situated around ridiculous concepts. In fairness, Dodgeball was rather funny (although that inspirational scene with Lance Armstrong has taken a much darker meaning since then), which makes it rather perplexing as to why Thurber hasn’t had a more successful career.
Frankly, this is a time when Marvel should be making choices that inspire confidence in them. The hiring of Thurber would feel like a massive trade-down, rather than just switching gears. We don’t need a director to come in and try and emulate Wright – we need someone who is going to put their own spin on the film. Of course, this is also unfair to Thurber – when The Russo Brothers were originally announced as the directors for Captain America: The Winter Soldier there were a lot of naysayers and snorts of derision. After all, they had only previously directed comedy tv episodes for Arrested Development and Community – surely they weren’t ready to tackle an enormous action blockbuster? For all those who have seen the film, you know that they succeeded beyond expectations, creating one of the best films the MCU has to offer.
So, if Thurber was chosen (and if speculation is to be believed, that certainly looks like the case) it wouldn’t be impossible for him to make a good film, it would just take a lot for Marvel to win people over – right at a time where Marvel really needs a win to put this all behind them.
So, what do you think?
There’s no doubt that fans will always lament for a time that was never meant to be. We’ll always wonder what Wright’s vision of Ant-Man would have looked like, and we’ll likely be pretty unfair to whoever takes the job next, but hopefully they’ll be able to overcome it and deliver a great movie. Marvel needs to find a replacement quickly, as Ant-Man is due for release in 13 months. It’s not an impossible task, as pre-production is pretty much done, but they need to find a director that can restore public trust, and pick up the pieces that Wright left behind.
Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Patrick Wilson, Michael Peña, Corey Stoll and Matt Gerald. It is currently scheduled to open in U.S. theaters on July 17th, 2015.