The wind got knocked out of the sails of the comic community in a big way late last week as it was announced that Darren Aronofsky -- seen as the savior for the on-the-ropes spinoff franchise for Wolverine -- had left the project, which was gearing up to start shooting this spring/early summer. In a joint statement with 20th Century Fox, the director cited the lengthy shoot in Japan as the reason he was bowing out with Deadline initially hinting that custody issues with Rachel Weisz over their son played a role in his exit. However, a different tune is emerging.
In a "second thoughts" piece by Deadline over the weekend, the site spins a different scenario about another possible reason Aronofsky left the project. The way they see it now, when Aronofsky first signed on to direct "The Wolverine" he had just locked "Black Swan" -- a film he made independently for peanuts -- and it seemed like a financially viable move. However, as "Black Swan" became a surprise box office hit and major awards season horse, suddenly directing a tentpole sequel (although, it should be noted, since day one the film has been called a "one off") he longer needed the cachet a franchise would bring and according to Deadline, Aronofsky's heart wasn't in the project anymore.
For anyone who has even remotely followed his career, they would know that this isn't the first time the helmer has gotten his hands dirty with non-arthouse fare. As nearly every fan knows, prior to Christopher Nolan's Batman films, the helmer put together a pretty adventurous concept for "Batman: Year One" that ended up not flying with WB brass. And then of course, there was his development of a "RoboCop" film over at MGM that was stalled due to the studio's money woes. Simply put, Aronofsky has made it no secret that he wouldn't mind making a big-budget film. However, with the clout of "Black Swan" now in his arsenal, it would seem a few more doors are open and he doesn't need to hang on to "The Wolverine" to knock them down.
However, with "The Wolverine" it was almost a perfect storm of every element being firmly in place for a great movie. With fans hugely disappointed with "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," Hugh Jackman has been pretty much overseeing nearly every aspect of the film to make sure it's done right. The script by Christopher McQuarrie is said to be top notch, the film will be tackling a hugely popular story arc from within the Wolverine universe, Aronofsky was bringing along his celebrated collaborator, cinematographer Matthew Libatique not to mention that he was working Jackman, the actor who helped get "The Fountain" (finally) made. Most directors would kill to have the kind of supportive setting Aronofsky was receiving, not to mention that Fox inked him to a two-year deal clearly signing off their faith in the helmer. Will he get the same kind of support with a similarly sized project elsewhere? It remains to be seen.
However, it appears that Fox is in no rush to find a replacement. According to sources who've spoken to EW there is no shortlist of director's yet and the events in Japan have certainly stalled out any chances of shooting in the region this spring. “I think we’re going to let it air out a bit before we approach another director,” says the source. “The one good thing, after losing Darren and what’s going on in Japan, is that we have a great script and the star attached and ready to go.” So while it won't get rolling as soon as they would have hoped, it could still lens as early as this summer but what means for the release date remains to be seen. A 2012 release was in the cards and taking $400 million in box office off the table -- that was the worldwide haul of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" -- is the kind of move shareholders don't take kindly too. While the studio might not be in a rush, we'd guess they still want a 2012 bow if they can help it even though their calendar next year already has some potential megasize hits in the cards ("Prometheus" and "Ice Age 4").
The big question right now is: who takes over? We have our own suggestions and while David Slade seems like an obvious choice -- he was basically lined up for the gig until Aronofsky decided to take on the project -- he recently hit Twitter to say, "Wolverine, there have been no discussions about this project to date."
So, lots still to be answered about "The Wolverine" and there is still a lot to play out in this story. Updated: Cinemablend alleges that Aronofsky bailed on the project because post-Oscars he asked for total control of the picture -- he apparently hadn't signed on the dotted line yet, but was attached -- and the producers bristled at the idea and then asked him to walk which he did. Who knows if that's true, but considering Fox's track record with super hero films outside of Bryan Singer's "X-Men" films (and really only, "X2" is great), we wouldn't be shocked if this was true. There's essentially a reason why Deadline did an about face on their original report and all signs point to something much more than Aronofsky simply not wanting to be away from his family for a year.