Marvel, Ant-Man, and the ongoing search for a director

With Edgar Wright gone, is the Ant-Man director's chair the one that no major filmmaker wants?

Since it got The Incredible Hulk out of its system, it’s hard to think of a blockbuster movie studio that’s ever had fandom so much on its side as Marvel Studios. Appreciating that it has a catalogue of beloved characters to work through, it’s nonetheless embraced fandom, respected it beyond the simple boundaries of lip service, and taken risks. It also has a canny knack of delivering movies that, whilst of variable quality, continue to respect their source material. The substantial icing on this cake is the fact that Marvel’s films – every one of them – have all been hits.

Yet in a matter of weeks, a seemingly bulletproof studio has come under the closest scrutiny it perhaps ever has. Regularly praised for avoiding the stock book of blockbuster directors, and giving nine figure budgets to the likes of Jon Favreau, Shane Black, the Russo brothers, Joss Whedon and James Gunn, the studio has given a mainstream home to leftfield filmmakers. The whispered trade off is that Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige is very hands-on with the films, not always to the pleasing of said directors. But still: Scott Derrickson given the reins to Doctor Strange? Yes please.

However, two weeks ago, it was announced in a joint statement that Edgar Wright and Marvel Studios were parting company on their long-mooted Ant-Man project. In fact, it’s more than long mooted. Edgar Wright has been developing the film with the studio for the best part of a decade. He’s co-written the script with Joe Cornish, he oversaw test footage. He was working on an Ant-Man idea for years before Marvel took interest. And he ultimately took it to the point where Marvel had to decide whether to give Wright the go-ahead to make the film. The go-ahead was duly given.

Wright then went off to make The World’s End, and since then, he’s been assembling his Ant-Man cast. Paul Rudd has signed up for the lead role in the film – and we’ll come back to him in a minute – with the likes of Michael Douglas in the supporting cast.

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From the outside, all looked to be going tickety-boo. But then, very suddenly, came the news that Edgar Wright had walked away. Eventually, the details were filled in. Marvel, it seemed, had had a wobble.

The Hollywood Reporter has put forward that Kevin Feige had ordered a new rewrite of the Ant-Man script. Furthermore, a set of rewrites were done by writers other than Wright and Cornish, and changes were said to be made “without Wright’s input”. Wright – the man Feige had once announced was “the only reason we’re making the movie” – understandably walked. He’d presumably sold Marvel on the film he wanted to make, and it’s hardly news that he’s an individual director bursting with ideas of his own. But at the last possible moment – arguably at the moment it mattered the most – Marvel lost confidence. Wright was gone. The June start date has gone with it, and it’s reported that several crew members have moved onto other projects. Even if Marvel wanted to start production tomorrow, it doesn’t seem that it can.

We should spare a thought in all of this for Paul Rudd. The actor signed up for the lead role in the film, presumably off the back of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s screenplay, and with the knowledge that Wright was going to direct. He’s stuck now, having to accept whatever the final draft of the script turns out to be, and whoever takes the director’s chair.

But it leads us to the big question here: who is going to direct Ant-Man?

Last week, Adam McKay, Rawson Marshall Thurber and Ruben Fleischer – a trio of directors who have done well in the comedy genre – were all linked. Since then, they’ve either publicly distanced themselves from the job, or are said to have passed. It’s like a game of pass the parcel that nobody wants to win.

But then why would a good, established director want to take this on? Appreciating the benefit of having a Marvel film on your CV, and appreciating the popularity of the movies, this is someone else’s passion project. This is a project that someone’s invested nearly a decade of their life to get to this stage. Whoever takes the job on has a matter of weeks to prepare and at least try to make it their own – unless the film is delayed – and will already face the hostility of a fan base wondering what on earth is going on. It’s not so much a poisoned chalice as a cup lifted directly from the set of Game Of Thrones, backed up by lots of angry people with swords.

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Could there, as Neil Alcock suggested on Twitter, be a degree of solidarity amongst directors in those turning the job down? Maybe, maybe not. But we’re long past the first choice list of candidates to take on such a bold movie, and it beggars belief – again from the outside looking in – that it’s Marvel Studios that’s got itself in such a muddle (although those who have followed its director rumblings over the years are, in truth, less surprised).

So what can it do? From the fan side of the fence, there are two plausible options. Number one: get Edgar Wright back on the phone. Right what has gone wrong. Commit to making the film that presumably Marvel signed up for in the first place. And get on with it.

Option two: delay it, possibly can it. The thought now that Marvel will gallop to get Ant-Man in cinemas for anytime in 2015 – yet alone that original July 17th 2015 release date – is troubling. It’s not that there isn’t the possibility that this will all turn out well, it’s just the odds are incredibly slim. Any quality director will surely want a few months to at least get a handle on the material and put a stamp on it. And if Marvel does drop Ant-Man from its 2015 roster, it’s not like it doesn’t already have a huge film set for next summer.

But then the third option, the least fan preferred, is clearly in the running. Marvel is said to be actively seeking out a new director and pressing ahead with what it has. The news stories that have dropped over the past week seem to corroborate that. It’s also, even though it’s staying mum on the issue, having to face undertaking its search in plain sight. It’s no secret that, as things stand, Marvel is in a major pickle, and its policy of absolute silence until it has something to say, whilst probably the right path, instead fuels the discontent.

These does seem to be an absolute certainty though: Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man is dead, and Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man is the one we’re going to get. It just seems odd that if Marvel ultimately didn’t have confidence in what Edgar Wright and his team were doing, it left it so ridiculously late to do something about it.

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