Last week was not a good week for Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) Marvel Studios. First, it was announced on May 23 that director Edgar Wright was leaving the long-gestating Ant-Man film due to "creative differences." Then, the next day, it was discovered that showrunner Drew Goddard (of the upcoming Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) series "Daredevil") was leaving the show in favor of his commitments to Sony's (NYSE: SNE ) "Sinister Six" Spider-Man spinoff.
These back-to-back losses could potentially put the studio in hot water since both of the projects involved were set for release next year. Let's take a look at how these departures might affect Marvel and whether they're a sign of larger problems within the studio.
Despite only being officially placed on the Marvel release schedule in 2012, Edgar Wright had been associated with Ant-Man since 2006; he was hired to co-write and direct the film around the same time that Jon Favreau was hired for Iron Man. This means that as a project, Ant-Man predates much of the shared Marvel cinematic universe that it needs to fit into. This could have had something to do with the problems between Wright and Marvel.
Ant-Man's development predates all of the films that have come before it release-wise, and that creates a lot of cinematic universe backstory that the film needs to be aware of. This is especially relevant in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as the events of that film had major impacts on the rest of the Marvel universe (as seen with how directly the film affected ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."). With the changes to the universe that occurred in Winter Soldier (and will likely occur in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron), it's likely that Wright's original vision for the film and Marvel's universe no longer meshed.
Unlike Wright, Goddard's departure from "Daredevil" doesn't seem to be a result of conflicting visions for the property. It was announced in April that Goddard was in negotiations to direct Sony's "Sinister Six" film, though Sony and Marvel had revealed in December that Goddard had been tapped to write the screenplay. There were some concerns at the time that it might be too much for him to work on both "Sinister Six" and "Daredevil," though the timing of the projects would be the deciding factor.
However, the ending of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seemed to set up "Sinister Six" in a big way; this hinted that the film might be on the fast track to be the next entry in the "Spider-Man" franchise. Goddard's exit from "Daredevil" seems to confirm this, indicating that he'll be in the director's chair for the film sooner rather than later.
It makes sense that Sony would be moving forward with its plans to expand the "Spider-Man" universe as it is the company's only remaining Marvel property and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is currently sitting at a $676.1 worldwide box office. The sooner the studio can deliver on the setup from that film, the more likely it will be to bring in bigger numbers (especially domestically, where it has only earned $187.1 million).
Is there trouble brewing at Marvel Studios?
While the loss of those in charge of two high-profile Marvel Studios projects coming to light in a single weekend is shocking, it doesn't necessarily indicate that there's a problem within the studio. Goddard's departure is simply the result of a scheduling conflict, while Wright's exit is likely the unfortunate result of the interconnected nature of Marvel's big-screen and small-screen properties.
So far, both projects are still expected to maintain their original release schedules and there has been no word that any other departures are imminent from either property. Both the film and the series were in early production, and Ant-Man already has several cast members attached; both properties should be able to move forward with filming as originally planned, provided that there are no difficulties in replacing Goddard and Wright. (Marvel has already announced a new showrunner for "Daredevil," though a replacement for him as director of the pilot is still needed.)
Even with these losses, it's likely that both projects will continue moving forward without delays. Stephen S. DeKnight has been announced as the new showrunner for "Daredevil," and the search for a director to replace Goddard is under way. Likewise, Marvel's official statement on Ant-Man states that "a new director will be announced shortly," so it's possible that a search was under way well before the split became official.
Of the two projects, Ant-Man stands a higher risk of being affected. DeKnight is best known as the creator of Starz' "Spartacus" and has also worked on Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." His work on "Spartacus" has many people hopeful about the direction that "Daredevil" will take. Ant-Man, however, had a lot of people looking forward to it simply because it was an Edgar Wright project.
With any luck, the studio will be able to find a director with the sort of style that befits a film that Wright worked on for so many years. If too much work is needed to prep the film after Wright's departure, it's possible that it will be pushed back and another "Phase 3" film will be fast-tracked. More likely, though, the film will shoot as scheduled and will hope for a post-Ultron bump to elevate its box office and make up for any fans that were lost when Wright departed.
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