For many of the comic-book fans frequenting this site, I can imagine they can think of no greater honor than being asked to direct a Marvel movie. However, in recent years we've been increasingly hearing about friction developing between Marvel/Disney and some of the bolder directors of their movies.
Let's take a recap of some of the directors who've clashed swords with Marvel and Disney.
Until recently, Joss Whedon was thought of as the golden protege of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers director has had an involvement in nearly all Marvel movies since 2010, and he's frequently relied on to act as a script troubleshooter. However, since finishing his final Marvel movie, Whedon has let it be known that working with the studio was not always a picnic in the park, especially when it came to exercising creative control over his movie.
It turns out several of the scenes in The Avengers: Age of Ultron which developed more subtle character elements were a point of contention between Whedon and Marvel. It seems scenes, such as Hawkeye's farmhouse scene, they were not popular with the studio who felt they slowed down the action. Instead, he was only allowed to keep them if he also included the cave scene in which Thor has a vision of the Infinity Stone. He later told the Empire Film Podcast:
"The dreams were not an executive favorite either — the dreams, the farmhouse, these were things I fought to keep … With the cave, it really turned into: they pointed a gun at the farm’s head and said, “Give us the cave, or we’ll take out the farm,” — in a civilized way. I respect these guys, they’re artists, but that’s when it got really, really unpleasant."
This is certainly, to my mind, one of the more disappointing disputes between directors and Marvel. Wright had been working on Ant-Man since 2006 and had delivered what Whedon himself referred to as the "best Marvel script ever." However, somewhere down the line it seems Marvel became dissatisfied with his vision, which is surprising when you consider they went out of their way to originally frame Ant-Man as an 'Edgar Wright movie.' Faced with unmovable creative differences, Wright preferred to keep his independence and left the project.
As it turns out Ant-Man is a solid, if fairly formulaic, Marvel movie. One does wonder, however, what Wright would have done differently.
Patty Jenkins, the director of the Oscar-winning Monster, originally signed on to direct Thor: The Dark World after scheduling conflicts prevented Kenneth Branagh from doing so.
However, not long after winning the job, she was forced to leave the project once again citing those always ambiguous "creative differences." Luckily, it didn't seem that all the bridges were irreparably destroyed. According to reports at the time, the feeling was she would eventually direct a superhero movie, just not a sequel.
Although she was never officially signed on, Selma director Ava DuVernay did have extensive talks with Marvel about directing the upcoming Black Panther movie. In fact, it got to the point where some news outlets confirmed she had taken the job.
In reality, she passed on the offer after she realized she did not "see eye to eye" with Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios. With this in mind, she decided it was "better for [her] to realize that now than cite creative differences later." She told the 2015 BlogHer conference in New York:
"For me, it was a process of trying to figure out, are these people I want to go to bed with? Because it’s really a marriage, and for this, it would be three years. It’d be three years of not doing other things that are important to me. So it was a question of, is this important enough for me to do?"
Clearly she decided it wouldn't have been a happy marriage.
Why Can't Some Directors Work with Marvel?
So what's going on here? Well, firstly, I think we need to remember that Marvel movies are not films in the traditional scene. They did not originate from a screenwriter with an original idea, and they were not then developed over a long period by an auteur director. They are simply portions of a large over-arching franchise meaning executive control is usually held by the studio in power. Once an idea has been deemed financially viable, it is only then that they attempt to find a director to helm the project.
This is where the difficulty often lies. As comicbook movies have become more popular (and, to a certain extent, more respected), more skillful directors have been approached to helm projects. However, in reality, these might be the worst people to direct a franchise movie - especially one which must link up with two or three other movies directed by other directors.
Listen to Joss Whedon talk about directing The Avengers: Age of Ultron below:
Auteurs, like Wright and Jenkins will invariably want to put their personal stamp and style on a piece of work bearing their name. Unfortunately, since Marvel aims to also maintain an element of uniformity and homogeneity between their titles, they will only tolerate a certain amount of personal directorial flair. This is further hampered by the fact Marvel movies are often delivered with conveyor belt-like regularity, preventing directors from working for long periods on a particular title. This might be why many leave the film half-way through production, to be simply replaced by another. For example, it seems the replacement of director for Ant-Man barely affected the scheduling of that movie at all.
The above certainly seems true for movies which tie most closely into the central Avengers mythos, although it might be less marked with Marvel movies which stand more on their own two feet. For example it could be said Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy showed off slightly more originality primarily because they were less bolted to the wider franchise.