Like a lot of people, I was surprised when the news broke a few weeks ago that Edgar Wright and Marvel’s Ant-Man movie had parted ways. The Shaun of the Dead director had been attached to the film almost a decade at that point, prompting more than a few outlets to start referring to the project as Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man in recent years.
However, rather than cursing the unfairness of it all and shaking my fist at Marvel’s apparent inability to recognize true genius when they see it, I found myself responding to the news by feeling, well… a little relieved.
Now, before you sharpen your pitchforks or light those torches, hear me out: I love Wright’s films. I can honestly say that every project with his name on it is – and has been since Spaced and Shaun of the Dead – absolutely must-see material for me. Simply put, he’s one of my favorite filmmakers.
And that’s just one of the many reasons I was happy to see him depart Ant-Man.
It wasn’t always this way, though. When Wright was first announced as the director and cowriter for a movie based on Ant-Man, the Marvel cinematic universe was still a glimmer in studios president Kevin Feige’s eye and the superhero movie landscape was very, very different than it is now. There was little (if any) talk about weaving Ant-Man (or any other Marvel movies, for that matter) into the unified web of superhero storytelling we have now, and the project was, simply put, just a surprisingly perfect combination of filmmaker and subject matter.
Over the years, I watched Ant-Man continually pushed to the back burner as Wright developed various other projects (planned well before Ant-Man came along, in most cases), and saw Marvel’s cinematic universe began to take shape – first with The Incredible Hulk and then, more definitively, with 2008′s Iron Man. It didn’t take long for Marvel’s movies to become interconnected chapters in a much larger narrative, and as that evolution occurred, they resembled less and less the stand-alone stories that Wright was best known for telling. Inevitably, the line of questions regarding Ant-Man that were directed at Wright became less about his plans for the character and more about whether he was even still interested in the project.
At times, Wright himself seemed uncomfortable talking about Ant-Man, and the director’s reluctance to discuss the project often seemed less like the product of studio-imposed secrecy and more the product of, well… the sort of cagey, awkward response someone would give if asked about his partner when he’s secretly having relationship troubles.
Heck, during the press tour for The World’s End, I remember joking with a colleague that it was starting to feel like we’d get a Superman vs. Batman movie before we’d see Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man. (I wish I’d had that on record now.)
Sure, there were little pieces of hope doled out over the years, from Stan Lee’s tweet about having lunch with Wright in 2010 to that brilliant test footage shown at San Diego Comic-Con that eventually made its way online (as all cool things do). Most recently, when Ant-Man got an official release date and an official grouping within Marvel’s “Phase Three” batch of films, all the years of uncertainty surrounding the project suddenly seemed a little less, well… uncertain. And admittedly, as a fan of Wright’s work, I couldn’t help but hope to see his vision for the character be realized someday.
And then, just last month, the other shoe finally dropped.
While the news of Wright cutting ties with Ant-Man set nearly everyone I know to gnashing their teeth and doing their most anguished, fists-in-air “NoooOOOoooOOO!” I couldn’t help feeling like a weight had finally been lifted from the project. It’s not that Wright’s presence was a burden on Ant-Man, though. The real anchor dragging everything down had become the obligation to make the project known as Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man after so many years of hype, speculation and discussion.
So, when Wright and Marvel finally decided to part ways (citing creative differences), I couldn’t help seeing it as both parties regaining the freedom to get back to doing what they do best.
To stretch that human-relationship analogue a little further, the last few years of Ant-Man drama felt like watching two friends who are wonderful people individually discover that they are completely dysfunctional together. And when they finally decide to stop being a couple you feel bad for them, but you know deep down that they’re better off this way. (But you don’t tell them that, of course.)
As I see it, recent events have created a win-win scenario for everyone involved – especially the fans.
Freed from the Ant-Man quagmire, Wright can make the movies he enjoys making and we love watching, without the pressure to fit the round peg of his vision for a film into the square hole of a studio’s plans – especially a studio like Marvel, which has rigid requirements for its films in order to preserve the continuity of its cinematic universe. Sure, it would’ve been fun to see Wright’s vision for Ant-Man realized on the screen, but it was beginning to seem like that’s not what we were going to get even if he stayed on the project – so what’s the point?
Wright’s departure also has a silver lining for Marvel and its fans, as the change up in director has made it possible to start fresh with a filmmaker who’s well aware of and comfortable within the confines of the Marvel moviemaking process. Feige and the architects of the Marvel cinematic universe are now able to lay out their requirements upfront, and the filmmaker – in this case, the newly appointed Peyton Reed, director of Bring It On – comes into the project knowing what to expect as far as what he can and cannot do. Marvel is able to give us a film that (hopefully) fits seamlessly into its existing universe, and we get more of what’s clearly working well for Marvel thus far.
There’s also something to be said for what the change in Ant-Man directors means for the filmmakers involved. Where Wright has become a relatively well-known director at this point with a particular, well-defined style, Reed is an unknown commodity of sorts for most audiences. Instead of watching Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man and getting distracted by elements that don’t jibe with what we’re accustomed to from Wright, audiences get to see Marvel’s Ant-Man through fresh eyes, unbiased by what we expect from a particular director.
And what’s wrong with that?
When it comes right down to it, the fact that we’re even talking about an Ant-Man movie is reason enough for celebration, isn’t it?
Question of the Week: What are you hoping to see in an Ant-Man movie?
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He’s been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and his personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org. You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.
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