Fans convinced that Joaquin Phoenix becoming our Doctor Strange is all but a done deal might want to put away their Eye of Agamotto. According to Badass Digest, Phoenix is still very much in the running, but is balking right now at the finish line for two reasons: One, the traditionally lengthy Marvel contract, which could tie down the eclectic actor more than he'd like. And two, Phoenix isn't sure he can pull off a role in the Marvel system, with its massive green screen and VFX, its huge scope and scale of productions, and its extensive reshoots. Remember, this is an actor used to doing much more intimate, smaller films, so it's a testament to him that he can recognize that he would not be as comfortable in this type of production.
It also explains why there was no [Doctor Strange](movie:559685) casting announcement at SDCC 2014 as so many people thought there would be, myself included. Phoenix balked at signing on the dotted line, which is perfectly within his rights - any actor or actress who signs up with Marvel gains a lot, but essentially becomes an indentured servant of sorts for anywhere from 3-10 films.
Still, Marvel hasn't created the groundbreaking Marvel Cinematic Universe that we know and love by letting a few road-bumps stop them. With a project as insanely ambitious (and ambitiously insane) as the MCU, there are bound to be a few snags that pop up from time to time. Think the path was always smooth for Marvel? It wasn't. Not even a little, actually...
EDWARD NORTON AND MARVEL CLASHED WHILE FILMING HULK
Fans may not realize Louis Leterrier's 2008 The Incredible Hulk is MCU canon, but it is, with a passing nod being made to it in [The Avengers](movie:9040) ("Thanks, but the last time I was in New York I kind of broke...Harlem"), and in an Ant-Man Easter egg. Which is also an underrated film (seriously, give it a second watch).
The movie largely got a bad rap due to the enormously publicized falling-out Bruce Banner/Hulk actor Edward Norton had with Marvel Studios. Norton was painted as the bad guy, but the blame was really on both sides. See, when Norton was cast as Bruce Banner, it was with the promise that he could have a lot of creative control over the project. He even went so far as to completely rewrite the script, which, as you might understand, was a lot of work. But the head honchos didn't like Norton's darker story and ultimately decided to work with Zak Penn's original script. Tempers flared, and unfortunately, the media caught wind of it and turned it into a much bigger deal than it actually had been at the time, fuelling the rift between Norton and Marvel. In the end, it was decided it was better for both parties that the role of Bruce Banner/Hulk be recast, leading to Mark Ruffalo putting on the shredded pants of the big, green rage-monster and Marvel denying the existence of The Incredible Hulk for a decade, much like the rest of us try to pretend Spider-Man 3 never happened.
TERRENCE HOWARD BLAMED RDJ FOR HIS EXITING OF IRON MAN 2.
Terrence Howard isn't exactly known to be the easiest guy to work with in Hollywood, so it was no surprise that things quickly went south between the temperamental actor and Marvel in the lead-up to Iron Man 2, leading to him being replaced by Don Cheadle (who, let's be real, was a definite upgrade).
At first, Howard took shots at Marvel directly and the back-door clause built into their contracts that allowed the studio to come to him for the second film and ask him to take a steep pay cut. Marvel claimed it was because he'd been difficult to work with and his performance was sub-par, with Howard's camp claiming it had never been brought to his attention.
But last year, Howard went full OH-No-HE-DIDN'T mode on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live and directly blamed Robert Downey, Jr. as the reason he was replaced:
It turns out that the person that I helped become Iron Man, when it was time to rev-up for the second one, took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out...They came to me with the second and said 'look, we will pay you one-eighth of what we contractually had for you, because we think the second one will be successful with or without you.' And I called my friend, that I helped get the first job, and he didn't call me back for three months.
And when asked how his relationship with that "anonymous" friend was, Howard replied ominously:
Oh, I love him. God's gonna bless him.
I understand sour grapes. We've all been there at a point in our lives. But if Howard wanted to call RDJ out, playing coy just made him look catty - especially when everyone knew he was talking about Marvel's $50 million man.
CHRIS EVANS DIDN'T WANT TO BE CAPTAIN AMERICA
It became clear earlier this year that Chris Evans is tired of playing Captain America, and wants out after [The Avengers 3](movie:738027). Totally understandable, as the massive Marvel contracts can chain an actor or actress in some fairly rigid ways. And while Evans has embraced the role and it's hard to imagine anyone else taking up the Cap's shield (at least by the Steve Rogers version), there was a time he wasn't so sold on the idea. In fact, he came very close to passing on the opportunity, and has been the most vocal Avenger about his initial doubts. Originally, his deal was for nine movies, but Evans put his foot down, as he told Variety a few months ago:
Initially, it was a nine-movie contract. And they said, if these movies take off and do very well, and my life changes and I don’t respond well, I don’t have the opportunity to say, listen, I need a f–king break. That just scared me.
They called back and they tweaked the deal. It went from nine [films] to six. I said no again. My family was even going, ‘Are you sure you’re making the right decisions?’ It started to feel like maybe this is what I'm supposed to do.
Luckily, as he went on to say to a group of movie bloggers in March, he got over the initially "terrifying" experience of putting on the Captain America suit for the first time:
Terrifying. I think the first time I saw it was back when I was still pretty insecure and a little apprehensive about taking the role. So it was a real dichotomy. There was simultaneous joy, but at the same time, a deep fear. That’s eroded over time, and now it’s very familiar. It feels very comfortable. It feels great now, and damn, if I had said no, I would have been the biggest fool on the planet.
I don't think any of us could seriously imagine the first two phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe working quite as well as they have with even one different actor or actress, so let's all be thankful Evans' family and friends convinced him to become our Star-Spangled Avenger.
THE AVENGERS 2 CAST HAD MASSIVE CONTRACT DISPUTES AND ALMOST QUIT
One knock against Marvel that's well-known in the industry is its reputation for being stingy. Seriously stingy. The cast of The Avengers got an up close and personal taste of Marvel's "keep it cheap" business model when it came time to renewing contracts for [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035), and...it didn't go over so well.
In the wake of the insane success of [The Avengers](movie:9040), negotiations quickly went to hell. After it was revealed that Robert Downey, Jr. had pocketed an unprecedented $50 million for The Avengers while some of his castmates only had contracts for $200,000, the rest of the cast was understandably in a world of "WTF?!" But Marvel allegedly threatened to sue or replace the actors who challenged their contracts, to which the cast of The Avengers said, "Bring it. We'll walk out." The stand-off got pretty damn ugly, pretty damn quick.
Luckily, RDJ was there to back up his teammates, taking it upon himself to act as the "Big Brother" in the situation. Marvel wasn't too pleased that he hauled in $50 million for The Avengers, but, as he had pointed out cheekily, "I'm what is known as a strategic cost." And at the time of cast negotiations, Marvel hadn't quite locked Downey into a new contract - and he was willing to go toe-to-toe with Marvel for his castmates, knowing full well that he was the only fully bullet-proof member of the cast with serious industry sway, said an insider to Deadline:
He’s the only guy with real power in this situation. And balls of steel, too. He’s already sent a message that he’s not going to work for a place where they treat his colleagues like shit.
Marvel blinked first, and the cast eventually worked out individual deals that made everyone happy. Could you imagine what would have happened had the cast publicly walked out on negotiations? Goodbye Phases 2 and 3. Luckily, that's a story for an alternate universe storyline, and we don't have to worry about it. Let's just hope Marvel is a little smarter about things when it comes time for the [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073) cast to re-up with the studio.
PATTY JENKINS WAS FIRED FROM THOR 2 AND NATALIE PORTMAN WAS PISSED
Most savvy Marvel fans know that [Thor: The Dark World](movie:206462) was directed by [Game of Thrones](movie:817617) vet Alan Taylor. But what a lot of fans don't know is that the original director was a woman named Patty Jenkins who was fired due to creative differences.
And Jane Foster actress Natalie Portman was none too happy about it, as she had lobbied hard for Jenkins to get the job and become the first woman to helm a big budget superhero flick. Portman was reportedly shocked and furious when Jenkins was "fired without warning." Other sources, however, say it was an amicable parting of the ways due to creative differences, whether it was that Jenkins didn't have a clear vision for Thor 2 or Marvel was the one without focus for the sequel we don't know.
Whatever the real story, the result was that Portman felt blindsided, and the event caused her to want to drop out of acting for a while to spend time with her new son. Allegedly, the only reason her interest in Thor 2 had been renewed was because of Jenkins' involvement, so her departure left Portman questioning what she wanted. It isn't too hard to believe this was the case, considering Portman's completely phoned-in performance and obvious disinterest at being in a superhero movie in the first Thor. While it's almost certain we're getting a [Thor 3](movie:956858), what's less clear is whether or not Portman will be reprising her role as Jane Foster.
EDGAR WRIGHT LEAVES ANT-MAN AFTER DEVOTING YEARS OF HIS LIFE TO IT
When we first heard that Marvel was planning an [Ant-Man](movie:9048) movie, many of us went, "Er...why, exactly?" But then we heard that beloved Cornetto Trilogy director Edgar Wright was attached, and our disinterest quickly turned to "F**k yeah! I'm in!" And fans were definitely on board about it - or at least, as on board as they could be about a dude who communicates with ants. The cast was chosen, with Paul Rudd landing the lead and making fans feel even more confident in the fantastic Wright-Rudd team-up that was sure to happen.
But then came the news in May that Edgar Wright had left Ant-Man, with the director and Marvel parting ways due to the ever-present "creative differences," which is the equivalent of "irreconcilable differences" in the Hollywood version of divorce (Or maybe it was a "conscious uncoupling"). This set off a revolving carousel of directors being attached to the film as Wright's replacement, only to just as quickly exit stage left, leaving fans to wonder what the hell was going on with Marvel. There were rumblings that maybe Marvel was losing its grip, and multiple "Is this the beginning of the end for Marvel?" articles written.
A few weeks later, Marvel finally settled on Peyton Reed as Wright's replacement, but fans were still mostly indifferent to a director that most were unfamiliar with and which had the feel of a guy who just got asked to Prom because all the other guys already had dates. This is no slight on Reed's abilities, but simply where the fan base was at the time.
And then San Diego Comic-Con happened, and the first [Ant-Man](movie:9048) footage was shown...and the audience was blown away by what they saw, with lucky con-goers reporting the footage was edgy, visually stunning, and balls-to-the-wall awesome. To which Marvel probably leaned back, lit a cigar, and said, "This ain't our first rodeo, kids."