In a move that came as a huge surprise, Brooklyn's dapperest filmmaker, Darren Aronofsky, today walked away from the film that was set to be his tentpole debut "The Wolverine," the second "X-Men" spin-off to star Hugh Jackman's titular character.
After the critical savaging meted out to "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," Jackman had courted his friend, and "The Fountain" director, to take the reins of its sequel, which has a widely-praised script from "The Usual Suspects" scribe Christopher McQuarrie, and takes the mutant hero to Japan, in a story based around a famous arc from the comic books. However, with a year long shoot planned to take place in Japan for all but two weeks, Aronofsky just couldn't make the schedule work particularly as he is now a single Dad to his young son he had with Rachel Weisz (the couple split last year).
So, with the clock ticking, who's likely to fill his shoes? The film was intended for a release next year, and Fox are unlikely to let that slip without a fight -- losing a potential tentpole could effect the company's stock price (for real), and Jackman's schedule isn't infinite -- he'll have promo commitments to "Real Steel" in September/October, and is meant to be appearing on Broadway at the start of next year in Danny Elfman and Aaron Sorkin's "Houdini" musical. So once again, we're looking at a situation not unlike recent similar issues on "X-Men: The Last Stand" or "The Wolfman" -- with a completed script in place, and pre-production presumably underway, Fox are likely to chase someone who'll get the film made ASAP, without wanting to tear up whatever's in place already in order to put their own stamp on it. So, below are five helmers who we think could well end up filling Aronofsky's shoes on "The Wolverine."
Why He Could Do It: Matt Reeves' sophomore feature "Let Me In," the remake of "Let The Right One In," might have tanked at the box office, but it proved the haters wrong by proving to be a better take on the story than the original, and firmly announcing the arrival of the TV veteran as a filmmaker to watch. Even before the film was released, the buzz saw Reeves land on the short-list of potential directors for the 'Wolverine' sequel (he was also on the "Superman" shortlist before Zack Snyder got the gig), and while Aronofsky landed the job, Reeves remains as strong a contender as ever before. He's worked with weighty producers, and with tricky source material before, and he's proved adept at working with special effects, and at wringing maximum value from a budget (his first film "Cloverfield" looks far more expensive than the $30 odd million it cost to produce), and we're confident that character and theme wouldn't be overwhelmed by explosions and idiotic plotting with Reeves at the helm. Plus, he's well-respected enough that Jackman would presumably approve, and he doesn't currently have a project, so his schedule seems to be clear for him to jump on board. If we were Fox, he'd be our first port of call.
Why He Might Not: It depends on how far down the road Aronofsky's version was -- Reeves seems to be a careful, meticulous helmer, who works best with a personal connection to the material, and might well want to start from scratch. If Fox are happy for the start date to be delayed, that's no problem, but if, as in "The Wolfman," the studio want the new director to pick up where the old one left off, we can't see Reeves (or indeed, any director worth their salt) finding it a tempting proposition. Last we talked to him, he seemed fairly committed to getting long-time passion project, the period drama "The Invisible Woman," made, and if that looks close, he's unlikely to give that up (although, by the same token, if the financing hasn't yet come together, taking a job like "The Wolverine" would potentially give him more cachet for his own projects).
Why He Could Do It: Former music-video helmer Lawrence was launched right into the big-budget world with his debut, the comic adaptation "Constantine," and while the film is pretty messy, there are enough eccentric flourishes in there that we've always held out a smidgen of hope for a soul in him. For the most part, however, Lawrence seems to be firmly from the Brett Ratner school of directors -- competent, if uninspired, doesn't piss off the talent, and toes the line. "I Am Legend" wasn't much cop, and we're not than enticed at present by "Water for Elephants." But again, he's someone seen by studios as a safe pair of hands, and with Fox's hopes for the imminent R-Patz vehicle being fairly high, they may be keen to keep Lawrence in their camp. He delivers on the visuals front, and has more than enough appearance with effects -- plus, having dealt with Will Smith, superstar egos presumably don't intimidate him so much these days. And let's not forget, he's no stranger to jumping into troubled productions have been hired in the very late stages of "Jonah Hex" to try and salvage something, anything, out of that fiasco. His is a name that crops up on director wish-lists relatively often ("Tales From The Gangster Squad" being the most recent), and it's likely that he'd turn out a film better than either "The Last Stand" or "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," if the buzz about McQuarrie's script is accurate. But he also wouldn't turn out a particularly inspired one.
Why He Might Not: Two main problems here (aside from the fact that we hope it doesn't happen). The first is one of scheduling. Lawrence is presumably all-but-done on "Water for Elephants," which opens in a few weeks, but has a number of other projects circulating: the WW2 drama "Unbroken," a futuristic sci-fi take on the Biblical tale of "Samson," and the kung-fu fairy tale "Snow and the Seven." The latter seems most likely to move forward, having recently hired "Toy Story 3" writer Michael Arndt to do a script polish. But it's temporarily lost its star (a pregnant Natalie Portman), and with two other rival Snow White projects virtually certain to begin filming before it, may well end up on the scrapheap. The other is Jackman. After the critical brickbats unleashed on the first film, the star/producer seems committed to making the sequel a more worthwhile enterprise. Would he go for someone like Lawrence, who to date hasn't won the critical plaudits of some of his contemporaries?
Why He Could Do It: Another music-video and commercials grad, Collet-Serra isn't exactly an overnight success, but one who's gradually built up some steam over the last few years. His debut feature, "House of Wax," was probably better than any Dark Castle-backed remake of a William Castle film starring Paris Hilton deserved to be, although that shouldn't really be read as an endorsement. Follow-up "Goal II: Living The Dream" was no great shakes either, but it was 2009's "Orphan" that suggested that Collet-Serra might be more interesting than originally given credit for. On the surface yet another psycho-child movie, "Orphan" was elevated by superior performances from Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga, a sure sense of tone, and the most ludicrously glorious third-act plot twist in years; a modest success on release, it's developed quite the cult following since. This year's "Unknown" was just as ludicrous, but Collet-Serra seems to have a preternatural sense of how to sell that kind of silliness, and we left that film feeling that it would have been far less enjoyable with anyone other than him at the helm. The action scenes were well handled there as well, and there's always a sly sense of humor, and strong visual skills, at work. And he's unlikely to be too expensive -- having just lost out to Jon Chu for "G.I. Joe 2," he's making these kind of shortlists.
Why He Might Not: He's currently directing a pilot for ABC, "The River" which will tie him up for the next couple of months, so he'd be unable to jump straight across to "The Wolverine." He's also another name who may not fit Jackman's more high-minded ambitions for the project -- as affectionate as we feel towards him, the idea of him taking over from Aronofsky is a little odd. And that's the bigger problem -- the more grounded, straight-laced approach on the sequel, as much a samurai flick as a superhero movie, doesn't seem to play to Collet-Serra's strengths. In a way, he'd have been a better choice for the mess of the original 'Wolverine' than for the sequel.
Why He Could Do It: Blakeson is probably the least well known on this list, but that's unlikely to last for too long. The director (and yes, he just uses his initial, which is a little affected) is following the Christopher Nolan/Duncan Jones route, making a tight, well-received genre piece -- in this case the taut Gemma Arterton vehicle "The Disappearance of Alice Creed" -- and using that as a springboard to Hollywood. The film may not have penetrated the consciousness of that many, but it caught the attention of the right people: Blakeson is currently attached to helm "Hell and Gone" for Warner Bros, a "Titanic"-style big-budget romance set during the Chicago fire of 1871, with a script from "The Dark Knight" co-writer Jonathan Nolan. Despite the limited means of his debut (three actors, one location), if one studio thinks that Blakeson's capable of handling a big budget, why wouldn't another? He'll be cheap, more pliable than anyone else on this list, and has enough critical plaudits from his first film that it could be a palatable hire in Jackman's eyes. We sound negative, but Blakeson's certainly talented -- indeed, any weaknesses in 'Alice Creed' derive mainly from the script, rather than his direction, which was pretty top-notch.
Why He Might Not: In theory, "Hell and Gone" might be all ready for the greenlight, although with no word on the film in months, we find it unlikely. More seriously, it's that he's the least experienced of all these names, and the franchise was already burnt on that front with Gavin Hood on 'Origins.' Indeed, Hood had both an Oscar and a moderately-budget star driven thriller ("Rendition") behind him before he took on the tentpole -- Blakeson has neither, and is a proportionately bigger risk as a result. With time to prepare, maybe Fox would give him the chance, but with what'll presumably be a shortened pre-production process, they might need a steadier hand.
Why He Could Do It: It's important to remember that, in its present form at least, "The Wolverine" doesn't seem to be your average superhero flick -- all signs point to it being a ninja/samurai film in essence, with Jackman likely to be the only Caucasian cast member. So why not hire an Asian director, preferably someone with form in the action arena? Japan has, at present, few names likely to fly with Fox (we'll come to this below), but Korea has an incredibly vibrant genre film scene, and Ji-Woon Kim seems as good a name as any. Kim is starting to make a serious impact on the global marketplace, and it does appear that his strength lies in action pictures: even if you were to watch "The Good The Bad And The Weird" on mute, you would find a noted thrill in Kim's keen eye for shot composition and action choreography. His latest, "I Saw The Devil," is a serial killer thriller drawing raves, and the savage, twisty nature of that film seems like a good fit to a Christopher McQuarrie script. Plus, he was already heading towards making his English language debut with a big action star...
Why He Might Not: Kim is currently attached to "The Last Stand," a Liam Neeson actioner set at the Mexican border, but with recent news suggesting Neeson was choosing "Taken 2" over a short vacation (Luc Besson won that round), Kim could definitely be available to showcase the clawed X-Man in all his bloody glory. However, Kim doesn't exactly fit the profile of helmers Fox have considered for the director's chair already, as he's a dynamic visualist who would be new to Hollywood. Fox has a lot riding on the relaunch of both this and the core "X-Men" franchise, suggesting this would be the wrong time to take a risk -- the last time they hired an inexperienced foreigner with arthouse cred, it was (again) Gavin Hood. Furthermore, he's never had the kind of breakout international hit that, say, John Woo delivered before he headed to the States. We'd love him to do it, but it seems like a leap.
Honorable Mentions: There's a number of Asian directors who could knock a samurai-tinged "Wolverine" tale out of the park, but most are either tied up or unlikely to pass muster with Fox. Takeshi Kitano would be amazing, but has never expressed much interest in Hollywood (and, by the same token, they've never expressed interest in him). Takashi Miike's "13 Assassins" seems to be his most straighforward, commercial picture in a while, but we're sure that the fear that he'd turn around and deliver a superpowered "Ichi The Killer" would prevent him from ever getting past the studio's security guard.
As for Korea, both Bong Joon-Ho and Park Chan-Wook would be wonderful picks, but the former is prepping the sci-fi train picture "Le Transperceneige," and the latter's about to make his English-language debut on "Stoker," so they're both likely to be unavailable, even if the studio wanted them. Which they won't. While we're on leftfield choices, Cary Fukunaga's firmly in the Aronofsky mold, and has successfully stepped up a level on "Jane Eyre," however, we can't see him playing ball here.
The Australian connection with Jackman could see "Animal Kingdom" helmer David Michod come into consideration -- he was another one who was in consideration for "Tales From The Gangster Squad" at one stage. But again, Fox may find him too much in the Gavin Hood mold to hire here. Brazilian helmer Jose Padilha is fast-building a reputation as one of the most exciting action directors around, but he just signed on to MGM's "Robocop" reboot, and it'd be a bad career move to jump ship so quickly. Doug Liman could do a decent job, but his chaotic reputation probably precedes him, even if Fox have a better relationship with him than most studios.
We're almost certain than Duncan Jones will be offered the gig early on -- he's now proven that he can play nicely within the system on "Source Code," and was also in consideration for "Superman." But we're also almost certain that he'd turn the film down -- he's done one for them, now he wants to do one for himself. Update: Our prediction is correct, Jones has already taken himself out of the running for the film over Twitter.
Joe Wright would also be on the classier side of things, and he's now flexed his action chops on "Hanna," but he's heading to "Anna Karenina" with Keira Knightley this fall. David Yates is probably on a wishlist somewhere, but he's probably still recovering from his five-year Potter marathon, and in no mood to take on another franchise picture so quickly.
And then, there are the more studio-friendly names: Shawn Levy seems to have developed a good relationship with Jackman on robot-boxing flick "Real Steel" -- the pair are developing an action-adventure film together. But Levy's doing "Fantastic Voyage" for Fox and James Cameron, and they probably don't want to pull him off that so soon. Tony Scott was in the running for the film at one point, and none of his other projects seem to have materialized in the meantime, despite the success of "Unstoppable," so he could be a real contender. Fellow shortlisted name Robert Schwentke, however, probably isn't -- he's set to shoot "R.I.P.D." with Ryan Reynolds this summer.
Louis Leterrier might have been in contention at one stage, but has already been through the studio-interference route on a superhero flick once before, on "The Incredible Hulk," and may be reluctant to do so again, particularly with "G" and "Now You See Me" in the pipeline. Justin Lin has looked ready to graduate from the "Fast and the Furious" series for some time, and is probably seen as a safe pair of hands, although if his "Terminator" film materializes that would probably rule him out. Antoine Fuqua is a possibility, but his Tupac Shakur biopic, something of a passion project, is finally set to film in a few months.
Finally, The Hughes Brothers made something of a comeback with the modest hit "The Book of Eli," which might put them in the running. They're meant to be getting underway on "Akira" in the next few months, but the film seems to have hit some casting bumps -- if it falls apart, they could well move across. Finally, Wolfgang Petersen hasn't made a film in half a decade and, while he might once have been too expensive for a film like this, he could use something like this to put him back on the map, even if he strikes us as wrong for the material. And, as we said in our original piece, David Slade, who was only just beaten out by Aronofsky in the first place, is now on another Fox superhero franchise, "Daredevil," so he's not getting in here.
Gabe Toro & Oliver Lyttelton