We laughed and we cheered when a fully-fledged Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) leapt into action for his 2015 solo movie and again in Captain America: Civil War. However, as plenty of fans will know, it was a rocky road getting there. Acclaimed director #EdgarWright had been committed to bringing Ant-Man to the big screen for many years, until he departed the movie shortly before filming began. Now on the promotional trail for his film Baby Driver, Wright was asked about those turbulent times and he’s spoken in more detail about the infamous split.
Edgar Wright Dishes On His Departure From Ant-Man
Just how much of what we saw in Ant-Man was Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright’s work? And, if fate had been a little kinder, what would their version of Ant-Man been like?
It’s safe to say that the latter question is one that’s wistfully pondered. After all Wright isn’t just beloved for to his collaborations with #SimonPegg and Nick Frost on the Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy; Wright's also well regarded because of his intelligent and dynamic directorial style. However, it seems that his film making practice just wasn't compatible with the #Marvel movie machine, and in his interview with Variety, Wright reveals that tensions began in the scripting process:
“I was the writer-director on it and then they wanted to do a draft without me, and having written all my other movies, that’s a tough thing to move forward. Suddenly becoming a director for hire on it, you’re sort of less emotionally invested and you start to wonder why you’re there, really.”
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with what Wright says here. Plenty of directors are heavily involved in the scripting process of their films, so Wright’s desire to write Ant-Man’s screenplay doesn’t necessarily demonstrate any despotic tendencies on his part. It’s just the way that Wright works and, looking back on his excellent track record, it’s an approach that he’s had great success with.
Indeed, things seem to have eventually turned out OK for both Marvel and Edgar Wright. Peyton Reed’s version of Ant-Man did well enough both critically and financially; plus Wright’s #BabyDriver has had praise heaped upon it, currently sitting with an eye-wateringly high score on Rotten Tomatoes. Even so, Wright’s final and tactful verdict on the affair is a telling one:
“The most diplomatic answer is I wanted to make a Marvel movie but I don’t think they really wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie...”
These new words certainly emphasize what was said in the official statement of his departure back in 2014. So it wasn’t just that Wright and Marvel couldn’t agree on his role, it was that they weren’t able to marry up their views on Ant-Man. This isn’t the first time that we’ve heard about clashes within #Hollywood, yet the case of Edgar Wright and Ant-Man pertains to an issue that we’re hearing plenty about at the moment: creative control.
The Recurring Conflict Over Creative Control
The dreaded grouping of the words “departing,” “project” and “creative differences” that are used when a director or star leaves a film is one that we’ve accepted as a fairly transparent code for “we weren’t getting along.” On the one hand, this kind of disagreement is understandable. Even with movies that end up being successful, debates about the inclusion or omission of certain parts of a film are likely to become heated when passionate, creative people come into contact during the arduous movie making process.
But whether it’s the growing influence of the internet, or the fact that instances like Edgar Wright and Ant-Man involve such high profile names, franchises like that of the #MarvelCinematicUniverse seemingly continue to breed these types of situations. And whilst we must bear in mind that many of these cases are only telling one side of a story, these scuffles between artists and studio execs seem to center on the clash of a director’s methodology versus the demands of a franchise’s pre-established framework.
Certainly, the appointment of Matt Reeves as The Batman’s director was a touch-and-go affair, until Warner Bros. reportedly backed down and agreed to defer to his creative decisions. But as it was for Edgar Wright and Ant-Man, these things don’t always end in a satisfying way for those involved. Josh Trank’s tussles with 20th Century Fox over Fantastic Four are the stuff of internet legend, especially after his pre-release tweets condemned the final cut of the film as an inferior shadow of his original vision.
Plus cinema fans are well aware that this issue isn’t unique to #superhero films. #StarWars fans were also shocked by recent developments on the #HanSolo movie; directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced by Ron Howard, due to concerns arising behind the scenes over the tone and direction of the movie. Tellingly, these also come in the wake of Gareth Edwards’s similarly troubled production on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It would be very easy for us to point fingers and either demonize the domineering studios, or the overabundant ego of the artists involved, yet in reality, things aren’t that simple.
The Collaborative Nature of Pop-Culture Cinema
In his interview with Variety, Edgar Wright enthuses about how important realizing the “original voice” is to a filmmaker, and overall this kind of notion is great and should definitely be encouraged. Moreover, the history of movie making is peppered with similarly committed film makers such as Stanley Kubrick, Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino, all of whom meticulously crafted their own individual, inspirational styles. Yet this only works depending on the type of movie at hand; if it’s an original picture like Baby Driver, then free reign is to be expected. But high concept, tent poles releases are different beasts.
Indeed, though filmmakers may have strong notions about which aspects they’d like to emphasize in these types of films, studios and producers already have entrenched ideas about how to protect their brand and ensure that it’s consistent and marketable. Sure, this kind of reasoning may sound quite artificial and cynical to us, but it is a logical and relevant point of view. At the end of the day, these movies are trying to make money after all. Plus, this makes even more sense when we consider Evangeline Lily’s evaluation of both Edgar Wright’s plans for #AntMan as well Marvel’s preferred script. When asked how she would have felt it Edgar Wright’s vision had become reality, Lily had this to say:
“It would have stuck out like a sore thumb, no matter how good it was. It just would have taken you away from this cohesive universe they're trying to create. And therefore it ruins the suspended disbelief that they've built."
Here, the dilemma at the heart of Ant-Man and other movie franchises is revealed. Do you sacrifice a good, innovative film that’s different and risky? Or play it safe for the sake of the #MCU for constancy and profit? Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Yet this desire for both innovation and caution is something that studio executives will need to begin addressing soon, especially if the industry continues to develop multitudes of franchises and shared universes. We’ve seen time and time again how news about troubled film productions creates an ill-feeling among cinema goers, especially in the modern era of the internet. Moreover, the 2017 box-office has already proved that a respected brand and cast can’t save a film if bad word-of-mouth sabotages it first.
Check out the trailer for Edgar Wright's Baby Driver below:
So what’s to be done? Well, Warner Bros. looks set to try and combat this problem by reportedly eschewing opinionated auteurs so that their movies can be kept closer under their control. Then again, if Warner only chooses safer options and repeated directorial methods, surely their films will eventually become repetitive and stagnate?
There’s never going to be a clear-cut or easy answer to the issue of creative control, since film itself in an inherently collaborative process, meaning that there will always be a conflict of ideology somewhere down the line. However, where tightly-controlled pop-cultural releases are concerned, perhaps directors, producers and studios should strive to clearly communicate their expectations before any binding deals are made. Only then can we start to find a happy medium for both film makers, and film watchers.