Regardless of what Marvel’s upcoming Ant-Man adaptation becomes, we’ll be forever reeling over what it could have been. For the past eight years, director Edgar Wright has been working on bringing the niche property from page to screen, with heavy fanbase support and ceaseless anticipation fueling the director’s persistence and dedication. Before Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was even a thing, giving birth to the now free-flowing Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man was in early, early development, eventually being postponed so that Wright could go on and direct the concluding chapter to his bromantic “Cornetto Trilogy” – The World’s End – and his video game-y take on another famed graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. As Wright helmed these two brilliantly funny features, the Marvel Cinematic Universe evolved into The Avengers, which, thanks to one-of-a-kind work from Joss Whedon, showed what Marvel could really do with the intertwining properties, especially following the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy.
As Marvel president Kevin Feige rearranged the developing pieces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man gave way to fellow super strange property Guardians of the Galaxy, the studio’s newest Phase 2 tentpole, putting Ant-Man on the backburner until July 2016. This would make it the centerpiece of Marvel’s Phase 3/post-Avengers 2 lineup. In the end, a full decade would have passed between Wright’s initial interest in the project and the film’s big screen debut. Fans didn’t mind, however, especially when Paul Rudd was cast as protagonist Scott Lang and Lost’s Evangeline Lilly nabbed the female lead along with the legendary Michael Douglas on board as elder Ant-Man, Hank Pym. Things were shaping up wonderfully for a long while, and Marvel’s support in their risky adaptation was surprising.
And then the roof caved in.
Last Friday, at the start of Memorial Day weekend, word hit the Internet that Edgar Wright had exited his long gestating Ant-Man. With production set to begin in the fall, Marvel’s press release stated that the divorce was amicable, but fans knew better than to take the mega-studio’s word for it. Rumors have since spread that the higher-ups at Disney bypassed Kevin Feige (who went to bat for Wright’s vision) and dropped Wright’s Ant-Man screenplay – co-written by Attack the Block filmmaker, Joe Cornish – to a lower level Marvel in-house writer and scrubbed clean the duo’s unique take on the character in order to fit it into the larger universe at play. Issues with the ‘core morals’ of the script, as well as the supposed lack of MCU crossovers didn’t make the Disney execs too happy, and when Wright got hold of the re-written script, he abandoned the project, integrity intact. Whether or not this is all true, fans are outraged and rightfully worried about the future of the project. Kevin Feige himself has yet to comment on the issue outside of the vague press release, but Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn did show support for his friend – treading extra lightly – and Joss Whedon tweeted a hilarious photo wishing farewell to his filmmaker friend. These creative visionaries can’t do much to help Wright back into the fold, but it’s good to know that the supposed ‘amicable’ separation between Wright and Marvel was sad news all the way around.
In the aftermath, fans are curious about who will fill Wright’s very sizable shoes. Unlike the directors of recent Phase 2 endeavors, Wright is a matchless filmmaker who is keen to work on projects that are entirely his own. Outside of Scott Pilgrim, Wright’s other three films are original premises that he wrote and directed himself, while Scott Pilgrim he adapted himself to direct. With Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel picked up Game of Thrones rotator, Alan Taylor, and Community alums Joe & Anthony Russo to step into blockbuster territory. In short, one failed and two succeeded. Guardians’James Gunn is the only wild card in Marvel’s wheelhouse, and early trailers proudly present an exciting experience unlike anything else in the MCU. Wright is of the Gunn type – flashy, high-spirited, comic-inspired hyper-reality – but something about what Gunn was going for didn’t wrinkle the Disney overlords like Wright’s intentions. So whether we like it or not, there is a replacement director to come and take over Wright’s former title as the director of Ant-Man.
While we get zero say in the final decision, here are five filmmakers that possess their own fantastic styles, some of which are friends with Wright, who we would love to see take over directing duties on the film. While Wright will always be the ideal choice – the dream always seemed way too good to be true – we’d be happy if one of these five gentlemen took the call.
Brad Bird – Bird is strangely enough a director who I could see mating with any pre-existing property and doing awesome work anywhere he went. When Star Wars Episode VII was still director-less, I was hoping Disney and Lucasfilm would dial in Bird’s digits. When Jurassic Park was moving forward with another installment, I was hopeful for Bird to be involved. Even the recently released X-Men: Days of Future Past, when it lost Matthew Vaughn to Kingsman: The Secret Service, seemed like a great outlet for Bird to unleash his cinematic strengths. However, the director is hard at work at his second live-action feature, Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney and has been deep into it since wrapping Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Even though that film still has a year before it gets released, Ant-Man would be an awesome property – the best of the previously mentioned franchises – for Bird to get his hands on. Let’s not forget The Incredibles, one of Pixar’s coolest and most fascinating films that Bird directed following his immaculate debut, The Iron Giant. With a grasp on superheroes and finding emotion in strange places, not to mention his gift for staging and composing big action set pieces (M:I-IV is the best of the Tom Cruise-fronted series), Ant-Man is arguably more up Brad Bird’s alley than it ever was up Edgar Wright’s.
Rian Johnson – Johnson only has three films to his name, but they are three varied films each successful in different ways, and all of them equal, though incomparable, in ambition. Next to the sci-fi time-warper Looper, his whimsical con men caper, The Brothers Bloom, and his opus – the neo-noir Brick – Johnson also directed three of the best episodes from AMC’s Breaking Bad, proving that while the filmmaker has his own voice on paper and behind the camera, he’s quite malleable and willing to taper his style to a precedent. Breaking Bad was no easy show to jump into, but it was attractive to blossoming filmmakers like Johnson because of its cinematic tendencies and its desire to take visual risks. His work there is nothing like his big screen work, which is also a far cry from standard studio fluff. And when it comes to working within budget constrictions, Looper did more with $30 million than other films do with over $100 million, and with a Marvel-sized budget, I think Johnson could really deliver some magic. Given the test footage that Wright brought to Comic-Con, I would love to see Wright hand over the reigns to a friend that he also has confidence in.
Frank Oz – The Muppet CFO hasn’t directed a movie in seven years, and even when he did it was the original Death at a Funeral. Before that, it was the clunky remake of The Stepford Wives, and then middlebrow peculiars like The Score, Bowfinger, and In & Out. However, Oz is also behind What About Bob?, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Little Shop of Horrors. While his heyday is decades in the past, and his days of playing Yoda in George Lucas’ Star Wars films are also about ten years old, Oz still has a legacy of practical effects and puppeteering that would make him a fascinating director for the size-shifting superhero. Maybe this is a hopeful shot in the dark (let’s face it…it is) but I would love to see what Oz could do with this character. Script depending, it could be something for the ages.
George Miller – This Australian filmmaker has been around the bend, overseeing projects for so many demographics and studios that it’s strange he hasn’t been offered a superhero property. The creator of the Mad Max films, the person responsible for Mel Gibson’s start as an actor, plus the creator of Babe, and an Oscar winner for Happy Feet, Miller has worked with family-friendly, franchise material and eerily violent, dystopian action. He might not be the ideal choice for Ant-Man (and frankly, he’s busy revamping the Mad Max franchise with Tom Hardy in the lead role), but he would be undoubtedly interesting. Given his work with animation, he might revel at the opportunity to expand and shrink Scott Lang and have him kick some serious ass. And if the script is really looking to make the material more digestible, it might take an audience-primed thespian like Miller to turn something squeaky clean into a product acceptably dirty.
David Yates – After helming more films in the Harry Potter franchise than any other commissioned director between 2001 and 2011, David Yates has been strangely project-less (sans a pilot for FX’s upcoming show, Tyrant). He’s waded into certain material only to back out soon after, and those who admired Yates’ work on Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and both parts of The Deathly Hallows have been very interested in what the director will tackle next. If the opportunity arises, I think Yates would do a fine job with a quirky, effects-driven Marvel film. Abiding by J.K. Rowling’s world was already a task, but Yates made the back half of the franchise his own, providing the entire franchise with an overarching tonal and aesthetic vibe that was on the opposite side of the visual spectrum than Chris Columbus’ made-for-ABC-family originals (though I, personally, like the early films quite a lot). Working with cinematographer Bill Pope (given that he, like the cast, is contractually abided to stay on the film despite Wright’s exit), Yates could compose a beautiful superhero feature, the ideal follow-up to Rowling’s wizardly epic.
And in the chance that none of those directors are provided Wright’s now empty director’s chair, here are five other filmmakers with the abilities to do Ant-Man some justice:
Joe Carnahan – The hit/miss writer and director got his Stretch pulled out from under him by Universal – a low budget experiment provided at minimal expense by producer Jason Blum – but after wowing with The Grey and showing charismatic style in both the heavy Narc and the cooky Smokin’ Aces, Carnahan might be an inspired choice for Marvel to lean on.
Neill Blomkamp– Yes, Elysium was hardly District 9, but Blomkamp’s got a knack for action and visuals, regardless of the budget size. He’s more aggressive and definitively R-rated by comparison to most others listed here, but with the completion of Chappie opening up his future, maybe Ant-Man could find its way onto Blomkamp’s desk.
Matthew Vaughn – Of Vaughn’s four features – including the upcoming Kingsman: The Secret Service – three of them have been adapted from comic books (X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass). However, unlike his former counterpart Guy Ritchie, Vaughn’s got a real tangible style that fits into something digestible and vibrant. Kick-Ass is too violent for Marvel’s liking, but he’s no longer harnessed in by Fox since giving X-Men back to Bryan Singer, plus if Ant-Man still maintains the heist element that Wright previously teased, the Layer Cake director would be returning to some very edgy roots.
Robert Rodriguez – This flakey auteur is basically Quentin Tarantino’s grimier, lone wolf doppelganger. Despite his disposable Spy Kids series, the films do have a jolt to them, the same kind found in his rabid Mexico trilogy and in his visionary opus, Sin City. While Ant-Man might not require the stylish overtones of Sin City and its upcoming sequel, a proper focus and nothing short of the opportunity itself would grant Rodriguez the best work possible for his sinuous career.
Andrew Stanton – Many of us can forgive John Carter because Finding Nemo and Wall-E are modern animated masterpieces. Also, there’s no Taylor Kitsch involved here, so things are looking better already. Brad Bird’s live-action debut swam laps around Stanton’s, but Ant-Man seems begging for someone from the Pixar roster. If Bird can’t be reached, we urge Disney to bury the hatchet, and give Stanton a second chance.
With Wright out of the picture, which of these directors do you think could be the best possible replacement? Is there someone we forgot? Are you still excited for Ant-Man despite all of the backdoor drama?
Article by Mike Murphy