With The Avengers set for release a little over a month from now Marvel Studios has good reason to celebrate. A decade ago the idea of getting Earth’s mightiest heroes together in one movie was laughable given that the film rights to the various characters were owned by different Hollywood studios who weren’t exactly receptive to the idea of a collaboration that would force them to share the potential wealth with their Tinseltown rivals. It wasn’t until Marvel formed their own movie division and started financing blockbusters like Iron Man and Thor that the company could finally take control of their celluloid destiny.
But ever since the first Iron Man was released to great success back in 2008 Marvel Studios has become infamous in the industry for failing to maintain healthy creative relationships with the directors and actors who helped make these movies as great as they were. Terence Howard was denied the opportunity to don the War Machine armor when Marvel’s brutal contract negotiating tactics kept the actor from reprising his role as Col. James Rhodes in Iron Man 2; the studio replaced him with Don Cheadle. Edward Norton’s clashes with the studio and director Louis Leterrier over the final cut of The Incredible Hulk were so intense that the Oscar-nominee refused to do press for the movie; when The Avengers came up Marvel replaced him with Mark Ruffalo. Jon Favreau almost didn’t return to direct Iron Man 2 due to the pressure on him from Marvel to rush the sequel into production without a completed script; for next summer’s Iron Man 3 Favreau, who had long expressed a desire to do a trilogy of Iron Man movies before bowing out, was replaced in the director’s chair by Lethal Weapon scribe-turned-filmmaker Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).
Both Favreau and Leterrier had long harbored the desire to call the shots on the eventual Avengers movie, but once again Marvel took a sharp left turn and handed the lucrative assignment to Serenity writer-director Joss Whedon, in keeping with their well-established talent relations. Meanwhile Kenneth Branagh was not invited back for the Thor sequel, beginning an never-ending revolving door march of directors that so far have included Brian Kirk, Patty Jenkins, and currently Alan Taylor.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that when the sequel to Marvel’s other 2011 superhero smash hit Captain America: The First Avenger goes into production in the next year or so Joe Johnston, the former visual effects whiz whose transition into directing has included beloved movies like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and The Rocketeer, will not be in the director’s chair. Instead Marvel Studios has compiled a shortlist of directors they want for the sequel, which screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have said will mostly be set in modern times and may pit the Sentinel of Liberty against the Winter Soldier, and Johhston’s name did not make the list.
The studio has narrowed their potential choices down to three names: F. Gary Gray, the former music video director whose resume includes such action-heavy flicks as The Negotiator, The Italian Job, and Law Abiding Citizen; George Nolfi, the writer of The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean’s Thirteen who made his directorial debut last year with the Philip K. Dick adaptation The Adjustment Bureau; and Anthony and Joe Russo, the filmmaking team specialize in modest comedies like Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me, and Dupree and writing and producing for acclaimed television shows like Arrested Development and Community.
With the exception of the Russo brothers, the Captain America sequel candidates have extensive experience in staging and shooting action sequences and would do fine work bringing the iconic hero into contemporary times. Yet only Nolfi seems capable of having a particular vision and filmmaking style. Gray is much more than competent when it comes to directing big screen action but he has yet to do a movie that makes him stand out from the pack of accessible B-movie helmers. Frankly Marvel’s list of preferred directors isn’t exciting me much. I really like the work these guys have done in film and on television. Unfortunately none of them seem appropriate for taking on a modern shield-slinging adventure with one of the best known heroes in the Mighty Marvel Bullpen. Then again that would explain why Marvel Studios is so interested in them. Since the success of Iron Man they have become notorious for showing the directors of their big ticket blockbusters the door once the opening weekend grosses are in rather than let them accumulate some clout and start making some actual demands when development on the sequel begins. So rather than take a cue from DC and Warner Bros. and their approach to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy Marvel is treating these talented filmmakers like nothing more than hired help, and that is a lousy way to do business. Sadly that has long been the order of things in the film industry, with certain rare exceptions.
We can expect Marvel to select a director for the Captain America sequel soon if they expect to start production by the end of the year. Who do you think should be calling the shots on this movie?