Not so Marvel-ous: How walkouts, unpleasantries are tainting the brand

  • Rohan Naahar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 04, 2015 15:47 IST

When Edgar Wright dropped out of directing Ant-Man, a film he had essentially nurtured since 2005, the internet exploded in outcry. Wright had been a fanboy favourite for years with his supremely exciting Blood and Ice Cream trilogy. His decision to do a Marvel movie, that too one featuring such an unlikely hero promised great things. And now, in what is becoming regrettable commonplace for a studio that once boasted an unblemished record, we learn that Selma director Ava DuVernay has also dropped out of directing the upcoming Black Panther movie.

In what would have been a first for Marvel, and Hollywood in general, DuVernay’s hiring on Black Panther (or Captain Marvel) would have marked the first time a woman, furthermore a black woman would have been given charge of a movie of this magnitude.

Ava DuVernay on the sets of Selma

After Marvel head Kevin Feige admitted that they had been having conversations with DuVernay for the job, today the director released this statement to Essence: “I’m not signing on to direct Black Panther. I think I’ll just say we had different ideas about what the story would be. Marvel has a certain way of doing things and I think they’re fantastic and a lot of people love what they do. I loved that they reached out to me.”

“I loved meeting Chadwick and writers and all the Marvel execs. In the end, it comes down to story and perspective. And we just didn’t see eye to eye. Better for me to realize that now than cite creative differences later,” she continued.

What DuVernay says makes sense, especially since only last week Thor: The Dark World director Alan Taylor had some decidedly bitter words to say about his Marvel experience while out doing publicity rounds for his latest film Terminator: Genisys.

When asked about how his time on Thor compared to his Terminator experience, the Game of Thrones veteran said to Uproxx, “They were very different. I’ve done two and I’ve learned that you don’t make a $170 million movie with someone else’s money and not have to collaborate a lot. The Marvel experience was particularly wrenching because I was sort of given absolute freedom while we were shooting, and then in post it turned into a different movie. So, that is something I hope never to repeat and don’t wish upon anybody else. This was not like that. The story we started telling is essentially the story we finished and are bringing out into the world. But there was a lot of collaboration, as there is going to be on something this big.”

Chris Hemsworth takes directions from Alan Taylor

And such ‘wrenching’ experiences are becoming far too common with Marvel. Once lauded for being a studio that appreciated the talents of auteur filmmakers, giving them the liberty to leave their stamp on material that had thus far been treated with patronizing indifference, Marvel is turning into an operation that has become too wrapped up in its own success, concerned more with crafting an overall universe than stand-alone movies.

Before Taylor was hired in what seemed like an inspired choice considering his experience with sword and sandal fantasy, Marvel courted yet another GoT alum for the gig: Brian Kirk, who passed soon after citing ‘contractual sticking points’. Next on the list was Monster director Patty Jenkins, whose appointment was confirmed not too long after. But, she dropped out dangerously close to the start of production. Once again, blame was hurled at ‘creative differences’. Said Jenkins to The Hollywood Reporter, “I have had a great time working at Marvel. We parted on very good terms, and I look forward to working with them again.”

Watch the B-roll for Thor: The Dark World here

The façade of a utopic studio where talent is nurtured and collaboration encouraged, much like the heroes of their films, was breaking.

The final straw came with the Ant-Man debacle last year. For years it had been one of the most highly anticipated films on the studio’s roster, simply because of director Edgar Wright’s unique vision, a sentiment that was strengthened when he released extremely well-received test footage and even began tweeting pictures of early production and sets.

Latino Review offered explanation: About 3 months ago, Marvel had notes. The meat of the notes were about the core morality of the piece, must include franchise characters. etc., These notes came from the big four at Marvel. Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright did two drafts to try and answer the notes without compromising their vision. 6 weeks ago Marvel took the script off them and gave the writing assignment to two very low credit writers. One of the writers was from Marvel’s in house writing team. Edgar stayed cool, agreed to stay on the project, and read the draft. The script came in this week and was completely undone. Poorer, homogenised, and not Edgar’s vision. Edgar met with Marvel on Friday to formally exit and the announcement went out directly after.

Edgar Wright's Ant-Man test

But it wasn’t always like this. Iron Man sported all the humour and bravado of a Jon Favreau film. Kenneth Branagh elevated Thor into a modern retelling of Shakespeare. Joe Johnston brought his Lucasfilm expertise into Captain America: The First Avenger. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was an eccentric blast and, looking back, it seems that Shane Black was given somewhat unprecedented freedom in making Iron Man 3 his own. Joss Whedon, untested in the choppy waters of big-budget filmmaking, culminated the ambitious Phase 1 with the giddy highs of The Avengers. The film was widely considered to be the best of them all, giving Whedon significant pull in the business after it grossed $1.5 billion at the wordwide box-office. But even their new godfather wasn’t spared with the sequel.

Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr on Iron Man

Talking about the difficulty he had with convincing the heads of studio that the entire farmhouse sequence and the dream sequences were vitally important to the film, Whedon lamented in the Empire Podcast, “The dreams were not an executive favourite. The dreams, the farmhouse, these were things I fought [for]. With the cave, they pointed a gun at the farm’s head and ‘Give us the cave’. They got the farm. In a civilised way – I respect these guys, but that’s when it got really unpleasant. There was a point when there was going to be no cave, and Thor was going to leave and come back and say, ‘I figured some stuff out.’ And at that point I was so beaten down, I was like, ‘Sure, okay… what movie is this?’ The editors were like, ‘No no, you have to show the thing, you just can’t say it.’ I was like, ‘Okay, thank you, we can figure this out!’ You can tell it was beaten down, but it was hard won.”

Lone wolf: Joss Whedon is master and commander

Whedon left Marvel following the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, like many before him. And just like the new team that takes over from the original group in the Avengers, a new crop of directors has been handed the reins of the multi-billion dollar franchise. What remains to be seen is if the series can escape from the shadow of the growing generic nature of their movies and reach higher.

The author tweets @NaaharRohan

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