It might be time for Marvel to rethink the strategy for its smallest superhero.
In less than two weeks, Marvel has gone through two directors for its 2015 superhero flick “Ant-Man.” British director Edgar Wright walked away from the project on May 23, and on Saturday, “Anchorman” director Adam McKay dropped out of negotiations to replace him. Marvel still hopes to hit the July 17, 2015, release date, but without a director lined up, why not dump “Ant-Man” for something more exciting?
For starters, the Ant-Man title has never been one of Marvel’s most popular characters. The title and power to shrink down to the size of an ant has belonged to three different men (Hank Pym, Scott Lang and Eric O’Grady) at various times since 1962, and all of them have been primarily known as supporting characters in the Avengers comics. You don’t typically build a blockbuster out of a size-changing second stringer, but Edgar Wright was the one man who could have made it work.
“Ant-Man” was always Wright’s passion project, and his idiosyncratic British comedies “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” show he could have done right by the offbeat character. Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish first wrote a treatment for an Ant-Man film more than a decade ago and in 2003 presented it to Artisan Entertainment, who then held the rights to the character. “Ant-Man” was finally ready to begin shooting July 28 after years in development, but Wright walked from the film after Marvel made a number of revisions to his script without his permission, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
McKay, who directed and produced “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights” and “Eastbound & Down,” was next in line, but he also passed on the project Saturday due to constraints in his schedule, THR reports. Now, there are rumors that “We’re The Millers” director Rawson Marshall Thurber may end up taking the reins. But while Wright and McKay have found financial success crafting offbeat, creative films, the best anyone can say of Thurber’s oeuvre is that “We’re the Millers” is a comedy film that made a profit.
At this point, Marvel is left with a little-known director on a project most fans only cared about because of Wright’s involvement. The best thing Marvel can do is cut its losses and squash “Ant-Man” in favor or something -- anything -- else.
Marvel has no shortage of properties ripe for the screen. The Marvel Comics universe boasts more than 35,000 named characters, and while obviously not all of those are cut out to carry a major motion picture (sorry, diehard fans hoping for an Ego, The Living Planet feature), that number is a testament to the depth of characters Marvel Studios can draw on for a new film, many of them more diverse than the current crop of superheroes.
While the Marvel films have taken a number of risks already (this summer’s space-bound comedy “Guardians of the Galaxy” features Bradley Cooper as a talking raccoon), Marvel has chosen for its stars a remarkably homogenous group. Every main protagonist in a Marvel film has been a straight white man, and if Marvel wants to once again redefine superhero movies the way it did with 2008’s “Iron Man,” it might be time to get with the program and give audiences something different.
The most obvious choice is Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. The superspy has shown up in “Iron Man 2,” “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but has never carried her own feature, and why not? Fans have responded positively to Johansson’s character, especially after she was given a crucial role in this summer’s “Captain America” sequel. Sending her off on her own noir-tinged spy adventure seems like an obvious choice, especially given Johansson’s popularity in other projects.
If Marvel ultimately does decide to keep Black Widow a supporting character, though, they have the opportunity of introducing an all-new female superhero with Captain Marvel, whose identity has been fluid for decades. The Captain Marvel name has been wielded by a handful of other characters (partly due to wonky copyright issues over an identically named character from the 1950s) over the years, but it now belongs to former Air Force pilot and current spacefaring superhero Carol Danvers -- formerly known as Ms. Marvel. Her origin story may be a little convoluted for the screen, but if Marvel streamlines things, Captain Marvel could be the perfect companion to the spacebound theme the studio is exploring in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
There are a host of other Marvel heroes with big screen potential. Black Panther is Marvel’s oldest black superhero, and as king of the African nation of Wakanda, he could also become Marvel Studios’ first non-American hero to hit the big screen (if you don’t count Thor, who is technically a godlike alien from Asgard). The sorcerer Dr. Strange could provide Marvel with the opportunity for a supernatural action comedy in the vein of “Ghostbusters.” Luke Cage could provide solid street-level superheroics, though he’s set to appear in a coming Netflix series.
A Captain Marvel movie seems like the most likely option, after Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige announced his love for the character in a March interview with Coming Soon. But based on Feige’s statements, it could be years before Marvel actually puts a Captain Marvel film into production, and with a month and a half until “Ant-Man” officially enters production, it seems unlikely that Carol Danvers will step into Hank Pym’s place. It’s a shame, too. With the exception of Spider-Man, insect heroes in action comedies like “The Green Hornet” haven’t exactly crushed it at the box office.