So, Marvel are done with Kenneth Branagh, or possibly Kenneth Branagh is done with Marvel: if you missed it earlier, "Thor 2" has been officially announced for a July 26, 2013 release date, with star Chris Hemsworth returning (which people seem to think is news: like all the superhero leads, the Australian actor signed an expansive multi-film contract that makes him Marvel's bitch for the next decade or so), but Branagh not sitting in the director's chair, although he may stay on a producing role of some kind.
It's the second time in six months Marvel have had to find a new helmer for one of their characters: Jon Favreau bailed on "Iron Man 3" after falling out with the studio on the second film, eventually being replaced by Shane Black. As usual when a vacancy arises for a juicy gig, our thoughts turn to the poor out-of-work directors who might be able to fill that position.
It's important to say upfront that anyone hoping for a fanboy-pleasing option like Black or Joss Whedon, or even a leftfield one like Branagh, is likely to be disappointed. The model here is, say, Louis Leterrier on "The Incredible Hulk" or Jonathan Liebesman on "Clash of the Titans 2" -- rising directors with action and effects cred who aren't going to cost the earth, and aren't going to rock the ship. With some likely candidates already tied to late 2012 or early 2013 releases -- Len Wiseman, Joseph Kosinski, McG, Justin Lin, Robert Schwentke -- we've picked five names who could (note, not should) end up with the gig. Check them out after the jump.
Why He Could Do It: We might not have liked the British director's last few films, but he's proven his action chops before, and most recently with a bit of swords-and-sorcery in "Centurion." He's been tipped to step up to the tentpole world for a while now, being linked to films like "Predators," "Dune" and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and, while he's got at least three projects circulating -- 3D horror "Burst," cannibal chiller "Underground" and a self-penned WW2 alien invasion flick -- none seem to be close to production. He's likely to be cheap, and relatively pliable, and he's a fanboy favorite -- we've already seen his name mentioned on Twitter more than once.
Why He Might Not: Marshall doesn't exactly have the theatre training to make stage veterans like Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston feel at home in the same way as Branagh did. He's primarily been a horror/gore guy so far, and to push a PG-13 superhero flick on him won't necessarily play to his strengths (although the same could have been said about Sam Raimi before "Spider-Man"). He'd likely be a popular choice with the geek crowd, but a rather dispiriting one for us.
Why He Could Do It: Gavin O'Whonow? The 47-year-old New York-born director made his debut a decade ago with the indie flick "Tumbleweeds," landing lead Janet McTeer an Oscar nomination, and since then he's had one big hit, and one big flop: the former the Kurt Russell hockey picture "Miracle," the latter the Edward Norton/Colin Farrell cop thriller "Pride & Glory." But O'Connor's firmly on the up at present: his MMA fighting flick "Warrior," with Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, has been picking up great buzz since it started screening in the spring, with some even talking about Oscar as a possibility (we're yet to be convinced, but still...) It's undoubtedly the buzz from that film that landed him on the shortlist for "The Wolverine," even if James Mangold bagged the gig. But he's got action cred, and enough decent performances on his CV to not make us concerned that the actors would ride roughshod over him. There's a certain sibling rivalry-theme to his career to date that would fit in well for a "Thor" sequel, assuming Loki's back again.
Why He Might Not: Again: Gavin O'Whonow? Even we have to look him up every time his name crops up in a story and, if "Warrior" tanks, which it could well do, it's likely to stay that way, unless he books something first. He's certainly not worked on something of this scale before, and hasn't really shown a particular love for sci-fi/comic book fare. His work's also been fairly sombre, and considering the thing that mainly carried the first "Thor" along was its sense of humor, that's a concern.
Why He Could Do It: The French helmer, a former cinematographer, had a cult action success with his first time at bat, with "District 13," and then followed it up with a global success, the Liam Neeson vehicle "Taken." He's already been deemed worthy of tentpoles before, having been hired for "Dune," and considered for "Ouija," so he's clearly been able to impress studio execs in the past. And working with Neeson suggests he's won't be walked over by a heavyweight like Hopkins.
Why He Might Not: For one, he's attached to the Sam Raimi-produced sci-fi flick "Earth Defense Force," although there's been no public movement on that since he signed on. Otherwise, studios seem to have cooled on Morel somewhat since his "Taken" follow-up "From Paris With Love" tanked -- he departed "Dune" not long after, and eventually lost out on "Ouija" in favor of McG. A year ago he would have been in the top of this list, but he's slipped a bit in the intervening time.
Why He Could Do It: Having your sole feature credit to date being the underwhelming Dennis Quaid/Ellen Page semi-indie "Smart People" doesn't necessarily bode well for being hired for a project like this. Except that Murro spent the intervening time doing what he did before, shooting award-winning commercials, most notably for the "Halo" series of videogames and, like so many ad helmers, it's helped his big-budget cred: he was hand-picked by Bruce Willis and attached to "Die Hard 5" back in February. Unless that goes any time soon, which looks unlikely, he's the kind of visual-friendly name that would work for a film like "Thor 2," and, again, won't break the bank.
Why He Might Not: Well, only a few days ago it was reported that Murro was in the running to direct "300" prequel "300: Battle Of Artemisia." We suspect that rival Jaume Collet-Serra will land that gig, but if he doesn't, Murro obviously wouldn't be able to make a July 2013 release for "Thor" (although, by the same token, it would free up Collet-Serra, who's been on a couple of shortlists this year already). And there's still "Die Hard 5" looming as well. He's not a name that would make the fanboys particularly happy, in the way that Joss Whedon did on "The Avengers," although we're sure they'll get over it.
Why He Could Do It: The Norwegian helmer made something of a splash with his Nazi-zombie flick "Dead Snow," and he's followed it up not just with another Norse tale, "Kurt Josel Wagle And The Legend of the Fjord Witch," but also a Hollywood debut, "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," with Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, and prouduced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. It's the perfect kind of stop-gap to precede a big superhero flick, showing he can work in the system, and with effects. The tone doesn't seem to be a world away from "Thor," he's got a better sense of humor than most names on the list, and his Scandinavian heritage could be seen as giving him a boost as well.
Why He Might Not: For one, 'Hansel & Gretel' could turn out to be terrible, or a flop, or both -- "Dead Snow" wasn't all that hot, if we're honest. Like Marshall, he's from more of a horror background, so "Thor" might not be quite the right fit. Furthermore, "Hansel & Gretel" isn't due out til next March, giving him 16 months to turn around the Marvel film: not an impossibility, as Matthew Vaughn showed on "X-Men: First Class," but perhaps a factor.
There's two debut directors who would certainly be on this list were it not for scheduling conflicts: Rupert Sanders, who's working with Hemsworth on "Snow White and the Huntsman," and Carl Erik Rinsch, who's currently helming "47 Ronin" with Keanu Reeves (and who could play "Thor" if Hemsworth ever hung up the hammer). Both films look to be firmly within the "Thor" wheelhouse, but 'Snow White' isn't out til June 2012, and 'Ronin' til November of the same year, which puts them both out. "Battle Los Angeles" helmer Jonathan Liebesman could be a candidate, but he'll be coming straight off someone else's sequel, "Clash of the Titans 2," so might not be keen, while Juan Carlos Fresnadillo came to mind, but it looks like he'll be busy with "The Crow."
There are vaguely A-list names who might be plausible, people like Alex Proyas, Chris Weitz, George Miller, Mike Newell, Tony Scott, Stephen Sommers, Wolfgang Petersen and Doug Liman, but we suspect Marvel will want to go cheaper than that lot; a name like D.J. Caruso, Scott Stewart, Sylvain White or Breck Eisner would make more sense, even if the thought is fairly depressing.
Jose Padilha and Antoine Fuqua were both on the shortlist for "The Wolverine," and might find their way in here, while we're sure that fans would like the idea of Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish or Duncan Jones, but it's never going to happen. Similarly, names like Gareth Edwards or Daniel Espinosa are at about the right point in their career arc, but don't seem like they'd be interested, particularly.
So that leaves a handful of other plausible candidates. André Øvredal, director of "Troll Hunter," is a possibility along the lines of Wirkola, although he's developing a pair of projects with Chris Columbus. Paul W.S. Anderson hasn't worked on a film of such high profile for a long time, but could be considered here, although he's meant to shoot "Pompeii" next year. Christopher Smith is sort of the thinking man's Neil Marshall, but we think it's too big a leap for him from "Black Death" to this, and the same probably goes for "Ironclad" helmer Jonathan English. Hemsworth worked with Dan Bradley on "Red Dawn," but that film's time in MGM limbo might make the veteran second-unit director seem like tainted goods; someone like "V For Vendetta" helmer James McTeigue, who's just finishing up "The Raven," is more likely. And finally, two possible names from abroad with early 2012 releasese that might be done in time for them to move on to "Thor 2" --- Asger Leth, who's directing Sam Worthington in "Man on a Ledge," and Baltasar Kormakur, who's working on "Contraband" with Mark Wahlberg.