By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist December 15, 2010 at 12:45AM
As has been long expected, news broke today that Jon Favreau won't direct the third film in the "Iron Man" trilogy (and Favreau just confirmed the news himself on Twitter). After creative and financial wrangles on "Iron Man 2," it's not entirely surprising, particularly as Favreau signed on for Disney's "Magic Kingdom" recently. But even without the former Swinger, the film will move forward, and Vulture reported that the search for a director has already begun.
So who could it be? The recent flurry of signings has seen big names like Darren Aronofsky and Zack Snyder join other rival superhero projects, while potentials such as Ben Affleck and Neill Blomkamp, have made it quite clear that they want to march to the beat of their own drum. But there's plenty of rising directors out there, and Marvel has shown with the picks of Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon (and, indeed, with Favreau, who was by no means an obvious pick for the original "Iron Man" at the time) that they're more than capable of thinking outside the box.
So with no further ado, five plausible names, as well as the usual brace of honorable mentions, that could possibly end up being hired by Marvel to direct "Iron Man 3." As with our comparable lists for "Superman," "Spider-Man" and "The Hobbit," we've gone for available, likely inexpensive names, that feel right -- we know you'd love David Fincher to do it, but it's just not going to happen. Although, we said the same about Aronofsky and "The Wolverine"... Check the list out after the jump.
Why He Could Do It: Ever since Espinosa's Swedish--language thriller "Snabba Cash" premiered abroad (it'll likely see US theaters sometime in 2011), he's been on the tips studio executive tongues -- the drug-running thriller was swiftly snapped up for a remake, set to topline Zac Efron, and the 33-year-old Espinosa's name was mentioned in connection with "X-Men: First Class." Instead, he's going to make his US debut on the Black Listed, Hit Listed, generally buzzed about espionage thriller "Safe House," which will star Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. That hits theaters in February 2012, which would give him (just) enough time to finish "Iron Man" on schedule for its May 3rd, 2013 release. Assuming he pulls it off, he'll have proven he can handle action, and two superstar egos together, and he'll be just hip enough.
Why He Might Not: Well, to many, including this writer, Espinosa's an unproven quantity (although the editor-in-chief dug the intense energy of "Snabba Cash" in Toronto this year). Marvel would need to hire him before "Safe House" hit theaters, and only last week, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck proved that acclaimed international directors don't always hit a home run with their first Hollywood outing, on "The Tourist." Plus, both "Snabba Cash" and "Safe House" seem fairly dour -- will he have the same ear for offbeat humor that Favreau had, undoubtedly one of the reasons for the franchise's success to date?
Why He Could Do It: We're not sure anyone's had as acclaimed a directorial debut this year as Gareth Edwards had with his film "Monsters." The former visual FX artist made his indie B-movie for a miniscule sum, and made it look megabudgeted, mostly by doing the CGI with Adobe After Effects. For the notoriously tight-fisted Marvel, that's got to be an appealing prospect -- even if, obviously, Edwards would be likely to use a more traditional set up in the future, he's likely to maintain his resourcefulness, and be able to wring the maximum production value out of whatever budget he's given. Plus, he demonstrated with his debut an admirable facility with character and emotion -- "Monsters" is as much an indie romance as a creature flick. Who better to finish off the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts love story?
Why He Might Not: Edwards, like Neill Blomkamp before him, seems to be fiercely independent, and he may well be more interested in following his own path. For one, he's working with Timur Bekmambetov on an original project, and it's very unlikely that he'd be done with that in time to roll on 'Iron Man' a year or so from now, and doubtful that he'd be willing to put it aside. Would he even be that interested in finishing up someone else's trilogy?
Why He Could Do It: Since his underseen debut, "Interview with an Assassin," Burger's been making consistently interesting films, if never entirely successful ones. "The Illusionist" is still his best known, proving to be something of a sleeper hit back in 2006, although his soldiers-on-leave drama "The Lucky Ones" was seen by almost no-one. He's shown a good visual eye, however, and a talent with actors, and may be about to step up to the next level with offbeat thriller "Limitless," which stars Bradley Cooper, alongside Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish, as a man who becomes hooked on a drug that improves aspects of his life. The film's got every potential to be a real sleeper, and people are already taking note -- Burger was also attached to a new version of "Bride of Frankenstein," although there's been little to no movement since.
Why He Might Not: As of right now, Burger isn't particularly hot, and he doesn't currently have the same buzz behind him as others in the running. As we said, "Limitless" could change that, but word is fairly quiet on the film; three months from its release, all we've seen are some amusing viral ads. Burger might be a strong fit, and he's certainly someone we can see being mentioned for tentpoles in years to come, but it still might be a little early. Plus, is he too dark? He certainly hasn't displayed the same lightness of touch that Favreau brought to the franchise.
Why He Could Do It: Wyatt is another director who's far from being a household name -- his debut feature, the prison drama "The Escapist," which starred Brian Cox, Dominic Cooper, Damien Lewis, Joseph Fiennes and Seu Jorge, barely saw a US release, grossing just over $13,000 in the States, and being buried by its distributor in its native UK. But, importantly, it was also terrific, one of the best British debuts since Danny Boyle's "Shallow Grave," and it made an impression on the right people -- Wyatt was snapped up by Fox to helm their 2011 tentpole, "Rise of the Apes." It's a risky project, to be sure, but if Wyatt can survive the machinations of Fox executives, and deliver a decent film, than he can deal with Marvel, no problem. He's easily got the visual chops to handle something like "Iron Man 3," but there's substance behind him as well.
Why He Might Not: Well, it all relies on "Rise of the Apes," which at this stage is probably the biggest unknown quantity of next summer. We have a feeling (based mostly on our faith in Wyatt) that the film could surprise its doubters, but even if it does, that's no guarantee of commercial success, and it's looking like the diciest financial tentpole prospect of 2011, particularly considering the marketing campaign hasn't yet started. And if Wyatt does pull it off, there's no guarantee that he'd want to move across straight to another franchise.
Why He Could Do It: In only a year, Liebesman's jumped from being the guy who directed the killer tooth fairy movie ("Darkness Falls") and the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" prequel, to being one of the hottest directorial prospects in town, being handed a high-profile sequel, and making it on to the shortlist of "Superman." This is all down to his next film, "Battle: Los Angeles," a visceral sci-fi war movie about a Marine platoon battling an alien invasion. The buzz has been steadily building since Comic-Con, the trailers have been almost universally well-received, and Warners were confident enough to give him the director's chair on the sequel to "Clash of the Titans" (which may or may not be called "Wrath of the Titans"). He seems to have a decent eye for destruction and mayhem, but, even after "Clash 2," he's unlikely to be too expensive. Plus, that's released in March 2012, which again gives Liebesman just enough of a gap to get moving on "Iron Man 3."
Why He Might Not: Well, we don't want to seem negative, but "Battle: Los Angeles" could turn out to be a giant pile of shit. Liebesman's previous films don't exactly inspire confidence, and we're still concerned that the whole experience could turn out like watching someone else play "Half Life 2." And being chosen to direct "Clash of the Titans 2" doesn't necessarily mean much more than your quote is than that Louis Leterrier's. And, on the flipside, if both his upcoming films do land, Liebesman may not want to jump straight to another franchise, particularly when it comes to picking up the pieces from someone else.
Honorable Mentions: A number of plausible names only missed the list because we wanted to keep it to a manageable five, and all could well end up in the chair. Carl Erik Rinsch, for instance, is a hotly tipped sci-fi tentpole name, having only just missed out on the "Alien" prequel in favor of father-in-law Ridley Scott. However, his feature debut "47 Ronin" isn't due for release until November 2012, which probably leaves him with too tight a window for 'Iron Man' (the same goes for another hotly-tipped commercials helmer, Rupert Sanders, whose debut on "Snow White and the Huntsman" hits in December 2012). Nimrod Antal, meanwhile, is something of a fan-favorite, and is likely to make the leap to tentpole territory sometime soon. But we think he's still seen as a horror guy, and "Predators" was neither good enough, nor successful enough, to elevate him to the next level just yet.
Chris Gorak is basically unknown at this point, but a year from now could well find himself a hot prospect -- he made his debut with the decent thriller "Right At Your Door," and he's currently helming the alien invasion thriller "The Darkest Hour" for producer Timur Bekmambetov. If anyone's poised to break out like Blomkamp or Edwards in 2012, it's him. Meanwhile, Joseph Kosinski has an imminent event picture hitting with "Tron: Legacy." He's been working on a couple of other sci-fi pictures, "The Black Hole" and "Oblivion," but he's a favorite at Disney, who will, after all, be putting out "Iron Man 3" -- if they want him to do it, we're sure he'll do it. Having said that, this writer isn't sure that "Tron" will crack $100 million, and if it doesn't, on top of the mostly savage reviews, Kosinski might find himself in director's jail for some time.
We're sure bigger names like Peter Berg and Guy Ritchie will be batted around, and both make sense, but we can't see either signing on, particularly as they're on the expensive end of the scale. Matt Reeves, director of Playlist favorite "Let Me In," has been linked to both "The Wolverine" and "Superman" in recent months, and could be a plausible candidate, while "Animal Kingdom" director David Michod is working his way on to many shortlists, although, again, we think both may lack the lightness of touch that Favreau had. Joe Carnahan got the right kind of tone on "The A-Team," but that film's under-performance may hurt his cause.
Seth Gordon and Craig Gillespie are both helmers based more in the comedy world, and both are edging towards event movie territory in 2011, with "Horrible Bosses" and "Fright Night" respectively, but even Favreau had demonstrated he could handle more than comedy before he was given "Iron Man." After "Due Date," we suppose Todd Phillips merits consideration, on the comedy side of things, but he's probably too expensive for Marvel, and there's the worrying possibility that he'd replace Gwyneth Paltrow with Juliette Lewis.
From the indie world, the versatile Richard Linklater's never been given the chance to take on something as big-scale as this, but then, that may be because he's never wanted to. Nicholas Winding Refn is a distinct possibility, but if his Hollywood debut "Drive" is as... distinctive... as we've heard it might be, Marvel may shy away from him -- their tendency has been to hire craftsmen, rather than auteurs. Plus, Refn may want to hold out for "Wonder Woman," which he's been talking up for some time.
"Iron Man 2" writer Justin Theroux has directed in the past (the underrated indie drama "Dedication"), and in theory could step up, but considering his script was the weakest link in the sequel, that seems unlikely. This writer's personal favorite idea, albeit in a it'll-never-happen way, is David Gordon Green, who looks to be taking on his biggest scope yet on "Your Highness," and has shown an equal capacity for comedy, action and drama. Even so, we think it'll be too leftfield a choice, unless Danny McBride is announced as replacing Robert Downey Jr.
But the very best idea we've heard, courtesy of @houx , is Spike Lee -- the man could use a hit, he showed on "Inside Man" that he can play nicely in the mainstream world, and he'd make it feel as fresh as Favreau did the original. Go on Marvel. We dare you. We double dare you.