It seems that comic book movie firings can make for great soap opera, as further sordid particulars regarding the divorce between Edgar Wright and Marvel Studios spill out into the open. While some have inexplicably been backing the corporation (just look at the comments on Latino Review’s initial breaking of this story and then the ones on my own reporting), the rest of us who care about our cinema not being completely homogenized have been wondering if this is a case of Marvel going too far in terms of creative meddling. A new story over at The Hollywood Reporter has some pretty damning insight, all but directly confirming that the comic book entertainment factory couldn’t care less about “vision”.
The most condemnatory quote in the article comes from an unnamed “source”, who describes the rather Gestapo-sounding Feige regime:
“Kevin Feige [and his top lieutenants] run Marvel with a singularity of vision, but when you take a true auteur and throw him into the mix, this is what you get. They don’t want you to speak up too much or have too much vision. People who have never worked there don’t understand how they operate, but if you trust them, they have an amazing track record.”
The “amazing track record” the source speaks of is the same one fanboys point to when attempting to side with a big company squashing an individual’s expression (note: this is likely the saddest sentence I’ve ever had to write): that of a commercial juggernaut (nearly $3 Billion in Domestic B.O. if you count Ang Lee’s Hulk*) whose critical assessment is just “acceptable”, with an average 77% Rotten Tomatoes Score (and a D Average from “Top Critics” at 66%). Creating a quality product isn’t valued as much as churning out a disposable distraction. Marvel’s become the McDonald’s of the movie house — digestible, low-grade consumables meant as a quick fix of fantasy before returning back to the reality of the everyday.
And this suppression of strong artistic visions doesn’t seem to be a new policy, as the article goes on:
“The company “Marvel-izes” its projects, as a source with ties to the company puts it. That sometimes leads to clashes with filmmakers who have strong points of view, as Kenneth Branagh found during the making of Thor. He did not return for the sequel, nor did Joe Johnston for Captain America. Patty Jenkins, who directed the 2003 Charlize Theron hit Monster, was hired for Thor 2 then fired. Edward Norton clashed with Marvel during post on The Incredible Hulk and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for the character’s return in The Avengers. Terrence Howard similarly was replaced by Don Cheadle in the Iron Man sequels. And on May 24, Drew Goddard was replaced as showrunner by Steven S. DeKnight on Marvel’s upcoming Netflix series Daredevil (though Goddard is working on Sony’s Marvel movie Sinister Six).”
Now, in an effort to sprinkle a bit of balance into the story, it’s my turn to defend Marvel. Some of these disputes the story details aren’t necessarily over core artistic issues. Joe Johnston walked off of the Captain America set because Marvel told him his budget was too high and he’d have to take a cut in pay (though that does definitely explain why he wouldn’t want to work with them again). Terrence Howard blames Robert Downey, Jr. for “pushing him out” of Iron Man financially. And Drew Goddard left because he was previously committed to the Sinister Six movie at Sony.
Still, that leaves us with three other critically acclaimed directors having their visions interfered with or taken away altogether. Patty Jenkins was fired without notice from The Dark World (which again relegated Marvel to being a “boy’s club” creatively, as she would’ve been the first female director of an MCU picture). The story over Kenneth Branagh’s decision to not return for Thor 2 has always been hazy** (though Branagh, ever the class act, will never say anything besides “scheduling conflicts”). And Norton very famously clashed with producers over the final edit of The Incredible Hulk.
This is a disturbing trend for any studio to create, but is also further proof that Marvel really aren’t about creating anything resembling art at all. They’re about selling tickets and intellectual properties; pimping t-shirts, toys and other upcoming films via feature-length trailers. Hopefully the studio will bounce back and shed their meddlesome modus operandi, but that major move forward remains to be seen.