Over Memorial Day weekend, Marvel Cinematic Universe fans got hit with a one-two punch of disappointing news.
First, it was announced that Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) would be stepping down from directorial duties on Marvel’s upcoming Phase Three movie “Ant-Man” due to “differences in (Marvel and Wright’s) vision of the film," as reported by Deadline.
Then, less than 24 hours later, Latino Review broke the news that the creative mastermind on Marvel Television’s Daredevil series for Netflix, showrunner/director/writer Drew Goddard (“Cabin in the Woods”), had jumped ship, as well, apparently to direct the “Amazing Spider-Man” spin-off “The Sinister Six” for Marvel competitor Sony.
Either one of these announcements on its own would have been bad enough.
Wright’s last-minute departure, in particular — mere weeks before filming on “Ant-Man” was scheduled to begin in Atlanta — has led to unconfirmed reports and speculation of basically everything movie fans fear most: studio interference, unnecessary rewrites, a compromised creative vision, a disgruntled auteur, etc.
However, while there will always be that question of what Wright’s “Ant-Man” or Goddard’s “Daredevil” might have been like, there’s no reason to think that these personnel changes will really hurt Marvel’s onscreen universe — or they won’t be for the best in the long run.
As one anonymous source told the Hollywood Reporter, commenting on Wright’s decision to step away from “Ant-Man,” “(Marvel Studios president) Kevin Feige (and his top lieutenants) run Marvel with a singularity of vision, but when you take a true auteur and throw him into the mix, this is what you get. They don’t want you to speak up too much or have too much vision. People who have never worked there don’t understand how they operate, but if you trust them, they have an amazing track record.”
And that’s key. Eight movies in, with its ninth and most ambitious film to date (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) already generating tons of positive buzz just on the strength of its trailer, Marvel hasn’t had a box-office dud.
That isn’t because its films have all been amazing.
Despite an overly generous 73 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the studio’s first sequel, “Iron Man 2,” is generally regarded as a creative misfire. Likewise, “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” — three of the movies that laid the foundation for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe — all had major issues of their own.
Only “Iron Man” (93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), “Marvel's The Avengers” (92 percent) and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (89 percent) have been as successful with critics as they were with audiences at the box office.
In other words, even more than quality, Marvel’s success speaks to its consistent brand identity, and a big part of that is the ability to tie all of its films (even the mediocre ones) into a larger, cohesive picture, creating an incentive for audiences to go and watch something no matter who the director or star may be.
In the case of Wright, specifically, although his quirky, irreverent sense of humor and unique directorial voice would probably have made for a great Ant-Man movie, they might not have made for a great Marvel movie.
Based on comments by Wright and Feige from the last several years (Wright has been unofficially attached to “Ant-Man” since 2006 — before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was even a thing), at least part of the “differences in their vision” may have stemmed from how much, if at all, Wright even wanted his “Ant-Man” to tie in to the Avengers universe.
As quoted on Den of Geek, in 2010 and 2011, the British director made several statements to the effect that his movie would be a “standalone genre film,” one “that isn’t necessarily relying on anything else.”
Whether or not Marvel was ever on board with that idea, as part of a 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Feige mentioned that that would have to be fixed, saying a rewrite would “put (‘Ant-Man’) a little bit more into the (Marvel Cinematic Universe).”
Even though losing a director of his caliber and reputation might wind up costing Marvel some potential audience members, and granting that his version of the script might have actually been the better movie, there’s still an argument to be made that producing an "Ant-Man" that’s consistent with the studio’s long-term vision for its universe is ultimately more important, both for them and for audiences. In that sense, the separation might end up being a good thing.
As for “Daredevil,” a replacement has already been found for Goddard in the form of a fellow “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” alumnus (and Joss Whedon pal) Steven S. DeKnight, according to an announcement from Marvel (via the Hollywood Reporter).
Although not as famous among film buffs as either of his former writers' room collaborators, Goddard or Whedon, DeKnight is in ways a more solid choice than his predecessor, having previously worked as showrunner on the Starz series “Spartacus” and as a writer and executive producer on WB's "Smallville."
Generally speaking, though, Goddard’s departure doesn’t seem to have left as big an impact on “Daredevil” as Wright’s has on “Ant-Man.” Goddard’s finished scripts for the first two episodes are still being used, and he’s reportedly going to stay on as an executive producer.
On top of that, just last week, Latino Review revealed that the show’s first major cast member had been signed: British actor Charlie Cox (“Stardust”), who will step into the red tights previously worn by Ben Affleck.
In other words, production has continued with barely even a break in stride — not exactly what one would expect if Marvel were losing control of things the way some have feared.
“Ant-Man,” starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, is scheduled to hit theaters on July 17, 2015.
“Daredevil” will be available to Netflix subscribers sometime in 2015.
Jeff Peterson also contributes to the film discussion website FilmInquiry.com.