Edgar Wright, a director with the superpowers Marvel Studios need

Posted on June 3, 2014

It seems a little unfair to criticise Marvel Studios, given the Disney-owned production unit’s spectacular success over the past decade. And yet in among the remarkable $1bn-plus box-office returns and critical fervour for movies such as Iron Man 3 and The Avengers, there has been the odd rumbling of discontent from those who have worked with the company.

The replacement of Oscar-winner Terrence Howard with the (apparently cheaper) Don Cheadle for Iron Man 2 was an early signal; the departure of Monster director Patty Jenkins prior to Thor: The Dark World was another. This week’s revelation that Britain’s Edgar Wright has walked away from Ant-Man, a superhero movie the director had been working on since 2006, only confirms that studio kingpin Kevin Feige can be as ruthless as anyone in Hollywood when it comes to maintaining his unique vision for Marvel’s movies.

Wright has made no public comment on his departure, other than to briefly post a picture of a sad Buster Keaton holding a Photoshopped ice cream – a reference to the British film-maker’s “Three Cornettos” trilogy of comedies with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and the silent-era star’s travails within the old studio system. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the straw that broke Ant-Man’s tiny back was Marvel’s decision to commission an independent rewrite of the screenplay Wright had developed for the best part of a decade with Joe Cornish.

The paradox here is that Marvel has won huge plaudits for championing exactly the kind of maverick film-makers who might once have struggled to pick up major Hollywood gigs. Iron Man 3’s Shane Black had previously directed only the superb indie comedy noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Marvel’s own Robert Downey Jr; The Avengers’ Joss Whedon had only the poorly-performing cult favourite space-opera Serenity in his big screen back catalogue prior to being handed the keys to what became the third-highest-grossing movie ever.

Wright is in many ways a similar type of figure, a film-maker who writes his own screenplays rather than a talented gun for hire in the Zack Snyder mould (which Disney’s rival Warner Bros has preferred for its own DC comics-based superhero movies). One has to wonder exactly what Feige et al expected from the creator of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. Wright is the very definition of quirky and idiosyncratic, the closest thing we have to a British auteur director of fanboy fare. His last major big budget Hollywood affair was the leftfield, visually splendid box-office turkey Scott Pilgrim vs the World, so it is hardly as if there were not warning signs.

The concern is that Marvel is becoming more conservative as it grows into middle age. After betting the house on film-makers such as Whedon and Black, Feige turned to TV’s Alan Taylor, a tried and trusted hand on Game of Thrones, as Jenkins’ replacement on Thor: The Dark World. The result was probably Marvel’s weakest movie since The Incredible Hulk, a cheery yet bland film that felt a little interfered with. Christopher Ecclestone, who played villain Malekith, mentioned frequently during publicity appearances that the evil space-elf had originally been given a far richer back story – one that clearly ended up on the cutting room floor.

The Russo brothers, who directed this year’s excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier, turned out to be a rather better pick. Yet they were little more than hired hands for the project, working from someone else’s screenplay. Wright might just have brought something unique and original to the Marvel universe that the studio could have incorporated into its wider world of superheroes. Feige has admitted the studio would not even have made Ant-Man had the British director not expressed an interest; now it finds itself committed to shooting a movie about a minor comic-book character with a distinctly ropey biography minus the very creative architect who might have made it worth realising.

There have been no public rumblings of discontent from the film’s impressive cast, which includes Paul Rudd as Ant-Man and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, but you have to wonder how they feel about Wright’s departure. Both Whedon and the director of Marvel’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film, James Gunn, have expressed sorrow that the Briton is no longer involved.

Ant-Man now moves towards a supposed 17 July 2015 release date with a heck of a lot of negative hype surrounding it. Frankly, Marvel would now struggle to generate excitement if it were to suddenly announce that Whedon himself was taking charge.

Worse still, the fear for fans of Wright must be that we will never get to see him behind the camera for another major Hollywood movie. That would be a dreadful shame for a film-maker with such a rich and vibrant understanding of cinema’s history, and with so many splendid ideas for taking the next step. Let’s hope it’s not another eight years before he gets the chance.

Sourced from theguardian.com