By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 29, 2012 at 1:39PM
Why He Could Do It: While received wisdom has often made studios nervous to entrust big tentpoles to helmers without major effects experience, that's becoming increasingly less true, and particularly at Marvel, who've employed a number of first-time feature directors. As such, a genre sleeper-hit is enough to get you on some of these lists, and the latest director who might follow the career path of Christopher Nolan, Rupert Wyatt and Gareth Edwards, who turned "Memento," "The Escapist" and "Monsters" into "Batman Begins," "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" and "Godzilla," could be James Watkins. The helmer started off by writing low-budget horrors "My Little Eye" and "Gone" before making his directorial debut with "Eden Lake," starring Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly, in 2008. But it was the start of this year that really put him on the map with "The Woman In Black," his period horror starring Daniel Radcliffe, becoming a serious sleeper around the world, with well over $100 million in the bank on a pretty small budget. It's the kind of performance that turns heads, and you can certainly expect to see Watkins headed toward bigger studio production down the road. Indeed, he's been attached to the action-adventure "Methuselah" for a few years now, suggesting he's looking to move away from the horror genre fare on which he made his name.
Why He Might Not: Of all the directors here, this would be the biggest step up, with 'Guardians' promising a bigger size and scope. And while folks like the directors above have transitioned easily, not everyone can make that leap. Marvel might also be a little nervous about handing over something like this to a director with mostly horror experience, and he's not shown a ton of facility for comedy, which is said to be the key part of the script. And he may simply be unavailable: "Methuselah" recently got a new writer involved, and he's also attached to athletics drama "Second Is Nowhere" for BBC Films.
Why He Could Do It: Given that some of the prospective characters for "Guardians of the Galaxy" include Rocket Racoon, a walking-talking anthropomorphic -- yes you guessed it -- raccoon, and Groot, who is a, um, tree, having a director with a background in animation might not be the worst idea in the world. And with the lines between Disney and Marvel becoming increasingly close (take yesterday's announcement of an animated version of Marvel property "Big Hero 6"), it might make sense to bring in someone from within the parent company's stable. One strong possibility would be Rich Moore. A veteran animator, Moore was one of the key directors on the golden age of "The Simpsons," helming solid gold classics like "A Streetcar Named Marge," "Cape Feare" and "Marge Vs. The Monorail," as well as working on shows like "Futurama," "Drawn Together" and "The Critic." More recently, he returned to Springfield as sequence director on "The Simpsons Movie," and is currently making his feature directorial debut on Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph," which opens this November. Disney are by all accounts very high on the film, and what we've seen of it seems to make him a strong candidate for something like 'Guardians,' with a mixture of out-there spectacle and humor. And with that film hitting theaters in November, he'd have plenty of time to work on the Marvel project.
Why He Might Not: Animation helmers Brad Bird and Phil Lord & Chris Miller have had great success in the last six months with "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" and "21 Jump Street" (both could be great choices for this too, but are likely too expensive and/or unavailable), but don't forget that it didn't work out so well with "Jonah Hex," from "Horton Hears A Who" director Jimmy Hayward, or with "Gulliver's Travels," from Rob Letterman, who made "Monsters Vs. Aliens." And Disney, having been burned on a major space epic from a Pixar vet with Andrew Stanton's "John Carter," may not be too eager to repeat the experience. Moore might not repeat Stanton's mistakes -- he'll be kept on a much tighter leash -- but the studio may be after a more experienced live-action hand. Could definitely be an interesting pick, though.
Why He Could Do It: Perhaps the key to Marvel's success in the last few years comes from their willingness to add a hefty dose of humor to their pictures. Would "Iron Man" have become such a success without Robert Downey Jr.'s wisecracking? Would audiences have bought "Thor" without its tongue-in-cheek tone? It likely says something that the company's least successful film to date, "The Incredible Hulk," was the most straight-faced, and their biggest was the one with the most comedy. "Guardians Of The Galaxy" looks to be no exception, and as such, they may be after a helmer who can balance the weirder elements (again, talking raccoon) with some knowing humor. One good candidate might be Akiva Schaffer, best known as one-third of the Lonely Island. Schaffer cut his teeth as director with many of the videos for the group (which also includes Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccome), and regular digital shorts on 'SNL,' before making his feature debut with "Hot Rod." That film was something of a flop, but he's back in the saddle this summer with "The Watch," starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill. The film looks increasingly promising, and also sees Schaffer working on a bigger scale, with a pretty sizable budget, and a plot involving plentiful effects including an alien invasion. Assuming it's as effective as it looks, Schaffer might well be a candidate for something even bigger. After all, the Lonely Island work and the Digital Shorts have already established his nerd cred.
Why He Might Not: Schaffer is admittedly something of a wild card. For one thing, "The Watch" might turn out to be terrible. For another, it does look to be a comedy first and foremost -- more Adam McKay than Barry Sonnenfeld -- and it remains to be seen how much Schaffer is able to play it straight, and keep within the rules of a pre-established universe. A talking raccoon and a human tree are probably best introduced with some degree of self-deprecation, but they also need to be proper characters, and it'll fuck the whole thing up if "Guardians of the Galaxy" turns out as "Laser Cats: The Movie." And while the films have all been funny, there haven't been a lot of established comedy directors involved. Plus, while "The Watch" has action and sci-fi elements, it seems to be relatively low on set pieces and effects, which 'Guardians' will surely be stuffed with. Could be a very interesting choice, but we suspect Schaffer would have to push hard for it (the Russo Brothers, to be fair, are principally known for comedy, but pursued "Captain America 2" with presentations and pitches until they got the gig).