Marvel's Ant-Man Dilemma
Ron Seifried | On 29, May 2014
Seven days in on Marvel Studio‘s Ant-Man PR fiasco, production on the miniature superhero cinematic debut is in serious peril that may push back the July 17, 2015 release date indefinitely. The success of Ant-Man never rested on Paul Rudd’s starpower but on the geek favorite director Edgar Wright’s vision of bringing to life Marvel’s next phase of unlikely and mainstream unknown fictional characters to the big screen. This summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy is to be Marvel’s first attempt to branch away from the more familiar Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers and Fantastic Four franchises and milk their bottomless pit of intellectual properties for and endless array of trilogies, crossovers and sequel mania.
Make no mistakes, this was as much Edgar Wright’s vision as it was Marvel’s character history. At 40, Wright has proven he was the perfect choice to bring Ant-Man to reality. Along with Simon Pegg, the irreverent Brit helmed the Cornetto ice cream trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. For those not in on the Easter egg secret, each of these films had a flavored reference to the beloved U.K. ice cream. He has also directed arguably one of the best comic book films of the last decade, the visually arresting, fast-paced Scott Pilgrim vs.The World. The Universal film bombed probably because it went up against the massive starpower of first Expendables film, but it doesn’t take away from its cult status.
Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige reportedly has their slate of films plotted out through 2028, so Ant-Man was an eccentric but daring choice. Despite the studios insistence the film will hit its release date, production is slated to start on July 28 and without a director and a dubious rewrite. The Hollywood Reporter has also stated that key department heads have departed because it appears production will be delayed. Ant-Man may become Marvel’s biggest failure since the long forgotten unreleased original Fantastic Four film from the early 90’s.
Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish were put in a precarious position of several rewrites and a delayed start-date. The latest rewrite was done without either writers input forcing the director’ hand and walking away from the project. For the past eight years, Wright has been working on the story about a scientist who can shrink to the size of an ant, so it must of been incredibly tough to depart so deep in the creative process.
Marvel has been printing money for over a decade, and have meticulously planned out their cinematic slate for years to come. Despite the independence of Wright, Marvel head Feige and his corporate henchmen assumed the auteur would meet their demands based more on the Marvel brand then from a creative standpoint. Marvel played chicken with Wright and the director blinked. Now Marvel is cruising down a road of uncertainty, scrambling for a director wiling to take on the project.
Memories of Bryan Singer’s late departure from the third X-Men film and Brett Ratner’s late arrival on the scene led to the most disappointing entry of that franchise, a film practically erased from that cinematic canon. Sure, the X-Men was produced by 20th century Fox and the Ant-Man is owned by Disney, but both are still comic book lines originating from Marvel.
This is not the first time the corporate studio heads at Marvel has had a tough time with the creatives. Both directors of the first Thor and Captain America films, Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnston did not return for their respective sequels, reportedly over creative differences. Even original Thor 2 director Patty Jenkins got the axe early.
On the actors front, Edward Norton successfully rebooted the Dr. Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk character only to walk away from The Avengers franchise because of disagreements during post production on The Incredible Hulk. He was ultimately replaced by Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers. And Terrence Howard was replaced by Don Cheadle between the first two Iron Man films, although Howard has admitted that was partly due to his own personal issues.
And this unshuffling is not limited to the big screen. Marvel currently has four original series in production for Netflix to debut in 2015. One is based on Daredevil, an already failed feature film. The series original showrunner Drew Goddard has been replaced by Steven S. DeKnight. Goddard is now working on another Marvel film, Sinister Six, but that is over at Sony and away from the Disney-controlled Marvel Studios.
Feige told MTV in 2013 that Wright’s vision “is the only reason we’re making the movie.” But somewhere along the line, that “vision” took a different direction and the honeymoon between Feige and Wright is now officially over.
According to The Hollywood Reporter: “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,” says a source. “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.”
Ant-Man has a stellar cast that cannot remain on standby for long. In addition to Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Patrick Wilson, Evangeline Lilly, and Corey Stoll are also in the cast.
What this looks like is Marvel’s attempt to stay more mainstream with the Ant-Man film and navigate away from the more eccentric Guardians of the Galaxy. This attempt may backfire late in the production cycle, with rumors swirling that Guardians director James Gunn was in the running to replace Wright, only to be shot down by Gunn himself on Twitter.
Wright’s Ant-Man legacy may be his script, their revisions and one telling tweet he sent out soon after Marvel’s announcement: an image of Buster Keaton holding a Cornetto ice cream cone. The reference to Keaton relates to the silent filmmakers loss of his independence after the disappointing ticket sales of his 1926 film The General, which led to the worst decision of his career-taking a job at MGM and the expediency of the end of his career.
The Ant-Man fiasco will not affect Edgar Wright’s career, but it may be sometime before he will recover from eight years of hard work on a passion project.