It’s called the news dump. You don’t drop news on a Friday at the end of the day, just hours before the Memorial Day weekend because you want people to read the news. In fact, this strategy hopes that by Monday you’ll have forgotten and life will go on.
On Friday evening, Marvel Studios and filmmaker Edgar Wright “jointly” announced, citing creative differences, that they had "amicably" split on the director’s version of “Ant-Man.” Wright would step down and move on, the movie would still arrive on July of 2015, and a replacement director would be found. But again, you don’t dump news like this because you want it to circulate; this is a calculated damage-control-like move (a relative one, of course) that attempts to mitigate whatever fan blowback will mushroom in the fallout of this rather major news.
No sooner did the Wright-has-exited news hit that whispers rose among journos and bloggers about what happened (see some tweets below), but regardless, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand at least the basics of the narrative considering the backstory.
Wright had been developing “Ant-Man” for eight years. The Cornetto trilogy filmmaker became attached to the project in 2006, two years before the Marvel Studios flagship movie “Iron Man” would hit theaters, become a smash hit and pave the way for their current tentpole hegemony. Wright wrote a stand-alone crime caper comedy, co-written with Joe Cornish (“Attack The Block”), and it took several years of development, because at some point, stand-alone or not, it had to fit – at least somewhat – into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (presumably its tone wouldn’t work if it was in another galaxy).
Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige talked up the project for years, and consulted on it closely in recent years as they finally got the screenplay to the place where he could comfortably sign off on it (this meant one last round of rewrites). That was last summer, and after seven years, “Ant-Man” was formally announced at Comic-Con. A release date came a few months later, originally November, 2015, and then was later pushed up to summer 2015.
All set to go with a cast that included Paul Rudd as Ant-Man and a supporting cast featuring Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Patrick Wilson and Corey Stoll, right? Well, certainly something went amiss, and whatever the trouble was has been brewing for some time now if Marvel is already in negotiations with (but has not announced) the replacement director.
What went wrong? Well, Latino Review has the alleged scoop on what we’ve been hearing too: a recent script rewrite that was a dealbreaker for Wright. What did Marvel want? Well, you can probably imagine, more integration with the current Marvel Universe, issues with the “core morality” of the characters (Ant-Man likely being a thief, at least at first), and the inclusion of MCU franchise characters. Wright and Cornish evidently did a rewrite to address these concerns, but Marvel pulled a dumb move: giving the script to low-level in-house Marvel writers to move the screenplay closer to the studio's wishes.
Evidently that homogenized version of the script just came in, Wright hated it and almost immediately announced that he was leaving (allegedly he met with them yesterday and the announcement that he was leaving occurred just a few hours later).
Latino Review hints that the issues came from the brass higher up than Kevin Feige, and this makes sense. Feige worked with Wright for many years to get the screenplay to the right place. And having been there all along, it’s doubtful someone who had shepherded the script would all of a sudden do an about face.
Think of the release date though and what's at stake there. “Ant-Man” eventually took the July 2015 summer slot exited by “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” which probably make the demands on that screenplay much higher than your average movie. As a standalone project, with only vague or small ties to the MCU (maybe a tag at the end and some mention of franchise characters throughout), Wright’s version of “Ant-Man” may have been too much of a risk for a summer 2015 tentpole (perhaps if the film would have stayed at its original November date this would have been less of a problem).
There have also been rumors that this decision came on from Disney and Alan Horn, the owners of Marvel Studios, and that might make sense given the fact that Marvel has been on board with Wright’s vision, which they helped shape for years now. Theirs was akin to a symbiotic relationship with the same goal in mind: getting an Ant-Man film to the screen. It would make sense that an outsider looking in from the outside would place demands on the screenplay that hadn’t been there before. Of course this is all speculation at first (though we've also heard Feige went to bat for Wright and lost), but more will come out, we’re sure.
As for the cast, well, they’re already locked in, so they’ll be part of “Ant-Man” whether they like it or not. What is disconcerting is the news that Marvel already has a new director lined up. If Wright just bowed out on Friday, presumably they’ve been preparing for this D-day; that Wright wouldn’t go for the script and they’d need a back-up person in place and ready to go (“Ant-Man” shoots later this summer) in the event that he split. If you want to go further conspiracy theory with that, one could speculate that Marvel wanted Wright gone (hence a back-up plan already in the works). That his version was too “weird” for a summer blockbuster and Disney or Marvel higher brass wanted something in keeping with the MCU, which is enjoyable, but rather safe these days.
Marvel has increasingly been following a TV model: the showrunners and producers are king, the writers are their lieutenants and the director is simply the person who comes in and executes the already-established vision. Only with Marvel, it’s the producers and studio that is king and the writers are basically foot soldiers. “Thor: The Dark World” was directed by a “Game Of Thrones” filmmaker accustomed to executing for his superiors and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was helmed by the same type of guys: two untested blockbuster filmmakers who had done a decade of TV work and wanted a shot at some major-league filmmaking.
What better way of controlling who you work with when “you’re giving them a chance”? Wright, on the other hand, is a writer/director who creates his own vision and world, and it seems that the one Marvel eventually wanted was a safer and more familiar version. Given “Guardians Of the Galaxy” is 2014’s summer “risk” (which seems as though it’ll do fine), perhaps Marvel thought they should continue bridge-building between “Avengers” films as they have been, rather than release a stand-alone at the peak month of July. More will be revealed soon, we’re sure, because so many writers are invested in this one. 'Avengers' director and Marvel braintrust Joss Whedon tweeted out some solidarity for Wright on Friday, holding up a Cornetto wrapper with a bowed head.
What I'm hearing about the divorce is very interesting & not in the least bit surprising.
— Umberto Gonzalez (@elmayimbe) May 23, 2014
Been hearing things were, uh, less than hunky-dory on "Ant-Man."
— Kristopher Tapley (@kristapley) May 23, 2014
— Joss Whedon (@josswhedon) May 24, 2014