Are you an up and coming Hollywood director with nothing going on for the next thirteen months or so? If so, you might want to send Marvel your résumé: They really, really need someone to direct their Ant-Man movie. Be forewarned, however, that you might be asked to put in a bit of overtime; the film is already slated for release in July of 2015.
After original director Edgar Wright walked away from the film, Marvel cited the usual “creative differences” spiel and went on the hunt for a replacement. They first courted Adam McKay, who immediately turned them down. They next offered the gig to director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who also passed. And the third name on Marvel’s rumored short list is Ruben Fleischer, who’s probably not the “just right” director in this particular Goldilocks scenario, as he may already be gearing up for the long-delayed Ghostbusters reboot.
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Perhaps Marvel should take this as a sign: It’s probably for the best to give up on making an Ant-Man movie completely, and here’s why:
1. A director taking over for another director almost never works out.
Sure, there have been a few examples of films where a new director took over late in the game and the film still turned out well: The Wizard of Oz (Richard Thorpe replaced by Victor Fleming), Gone with the Wind (George Cukor, also replaced by Fleming), Jaws (Dick Richards was the original choice), and if you want to be charitable, Superman II (but only because Richard Donner’s original vision probably wasn’t that different from the movie Richard Lester made).
But more often than not, a director stepping in at the eleventh hour is a recipe for failure. Making a quality film necessitates a strong vision, and no matter what you think of his movies, it seems Edgar Wright had a clear vision of what he wanted Ant-Man to be. And a studio can’t simply appropriate one director’s vision and pass it over to the next guy and expect to get the same results.
And history has shown what happens when studios try: We get movies like The 13th Warrior (Michael Crichton taking over for John McTiernan), The Island of Dr. Moreau (Richard Stanley replaced by John Frankenheimer), Waterworld (Kevin Costner finished it after Kevin Reynolds walked away), or the dueling Exorcist prequels of a few years back. All of them bland-to-terrible movies apparently made by committee once they lost the one person steering the ship.
To replace Wright, Marvel will most likely find a director who’s, shall we say, more amenable to their “notes”. And considering the quickly-looming deadline for a potential Ant-Man movie, it’s even more likely that studio execs will assert more creative control in an attempt to get the film finished on time. This is never a good thing.
2. Nobody likes Ant-Man anyway.
Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Ant-Man? If you’re a typical moviegoer, your reaction is probably, “What, does he turn into an ant? Sounds pretty stupid,” but if you’re aware of the character from the comics, you’re probably thinking of the time Ant-Man/Yellowjacket/Hank Pym smacked around his wife, the Wasp. Or maybe the time he was court-martialed by the Avengers, had a serious mental breakdown, and eventually ended up in prison.
Sure, Pym also created Ultron, a constant foe for the Avengers, as well as the villain in the upcoming Avengers sequel. But that’s irrelevant as far as the cinematic universe is concerned, because there are no plans to tie the Ant-Man movie into Age of Ultron.
So essentially, the most notable moments in Ant-Man’s entire fifty-year history are when he slapped his wife, and when he went to jail. This is a superhero that needs a movie?
And I realize that the film features Pym as a secondary character, and is really about Scott Lang, the second guy to take up the Ant-Man name. Which may be even worse, because we’re now talking about a film focusing on the obscure superhero’s even more obscure replacement.
You could argue that people were saying the same things about Iron Man before he got his own movie; the character was always a bit of a second-stringer, and Tony Stark had plenty of his own faults in the comics. But without a talented filmmaker at the wheel, there’s no guarantee a movie can make a dull, unlikeable character interesting. And even if that was a foregone conclusion, aren’t there literally hundreds of C-list Marvel heroes who deserve a boost more than Ant-Man? I mean, this is a guy who communicates telepathically with ants.
3. Wright walked away over a weak script.
There’s been no real explanation for why Edgar Wright quit the movie, but reading between the lines of what’s been said by various parties on social media, it most likely comes down to Marvel wanting a safe, homogenized product, just like all of their other movies (let’s face it, “edgy” is not the first word that comes to mind when describing the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Reportedly, producers had the script rewritten at the last minute to dumb things down, which mostly seems like a passive-aggressive tactic to get Wright to quit. (Was Marvel/Disney suddenly terrified of another Scott Pilgrim-style flop?)
So even if they do find a new director to take over this thankless job, he won’t be starting off with a well-constructed screenplay, but rather a lukewarm rewrite. Which will again be rewritten to suit the new director’s tastes. Do we really need another superhero movie based off a patchwork script credited (or not credited, as the case may be) to seven or eight different writers?
4. Superhero comedies are usually terrible.
Judging by the directors they’re pursuing, it’s clear Ant-Man is going to be more comedic in tone than other Marvel movies, and perhaps veer into straight-up comedy. And from Howard the Duck to Meteor Man to Kick-Ass to Green Hornet, superhero comedies have a pretty spotty track record.
And for many of us, the dark days of the ‘90s are still fresh in our memories. It wasn’t that long ago that superheroes were treated as mindless nonsense mainly meant to sell Happy Meals. Will fans of the genre be able to deal with a new foray into outright silliness?
In all honesty, I don’t mind a lighter take on the material, and the recent attempts to Nolan-ize every superhero are increasingly becoming a bore. But comic book movies, like action movies in general, are best when they strike a balance. The first Iron Man was a film that was able to successfully combine both the serious and the lighthearted. But those kind of tonal shifts require a deft touch, and is that really how anyone would describe the director of We’re the Millers? Or Anchorman 2? Even if you liked those movies (opinions vary), applying a similar approach to superheroes hasn’t exactly worked out all that well in the past. (And it remains to be seen just how comedic Guardians of the Galaxy will be, and if it can buck the trend.)
Overall, Marvel can afford to take a bath on this one; whatever they’ve spent on preproduction and salaries for Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, they’ll likely make up on the billions they stand to rake in from Age of Ultron. And even if Ant-Man was meant to set up plot threads in other Marvel movies, is that really such a great loss? After all, no movie did more to set up The Avengers than Iron Man 2, but would anyone have missed all that groundwork/exposition if it never existed in the first place?
The best move for Marvel at this point would be to scrap their planned Ant-Film and come up with a more interesting hero to focus their energies on. And if they’re handing out movies to third-tier characters unknown to the public at large, is it too much to ask that maybe instead they could take a chance on a superhero who’s not another white guy? I think we all know that Black Panther is the movie they really should be making.