Yet another Marvel movie has lost its director. This time, Bassam Tariq has left Blade, which was on track to start filming in November. That leaves the studio scrambling for a backup plan while audiences have questions.
Officially, Marvel attributes Tariq’s departure to scheduling conflicts, but this is happening more frequently, and it could point toward a larger issue looming behind the scenes. Tariq marks the third director to split from a Marvel project in recent years. Scott Derrickson, who directed Doctor Strange, was initially tapped to helm the sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, before he left the project. More recently, the Spider-Man: Homecoming trilogy’s Jon Watts left Fantastic Four after being announced as the film’s director.
Obviously, Marvel and Disney downplay any issues, but the pattern suggests there’s a problem behind the scenes, and it could be tied to the comedic themes of Phase Four.
BETTER TO LAUGH THAN TO CRY
Much has been said about the MCU’s Phase Four. While the movies and streaming series remain financial successes, fans have been less receptive. On the surface, the issue would seem to be Disney/Marvel leaning heavily into satire. So far, it has amounted to an entire slate of films and shows that follow the comedic formula of a work-based sitcom, and that may not be working for everyone involved.
You can’t blame Marvel; the studio has struck mainstream gold with its forays into the absurd. Depending on the property, some franchises lend better to comedy than others. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man were legitimately funny, and they earned fortunes at the box office. With Phase Four, Feige has gone headfirst into more comedy, and it’s not worked out so well. By Marvel standards – which is still highly successful compared to practically every other studio – the latest slate hasn’t been as well received. Thor: Love and Thunder is just the latest in a string of disappointing outings that also includes Black Widow, Eternals, and Multiverse of Madness.
As the latest divisive MCU project, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, heads into its home stretch, it would appear that Feige has more superhero silliness lined up. Werewolf By Night looks like it will be a spoof on the classic Universal Studios horror movies, specifically 1941’s The Wolf Man.
Phase Five doesn’t seem to move out of full-fledged comedy territory, either.
There’s Kang the Conqueror’s proper introduction in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which will no doubt be another romp into absurdity. The D23 poster reveal for Thunderbolts puts it in line with the maligned Phase Four outings. We can expect Fantastic Four to be another satire as well after Marvel announced that comedy writers Jeff Kaplan and Ian Springer will pen the script while WandaVision’s Matt Shakman will direct.
In fact, the only upcoming movie so far that doesn’t appear to be a comedy is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Odds are, Marvel wants yet another action-comedy with Blade, which fans of the R-rated Wesley Snipes films would bemoan.
DID ETHAN HAWKE LET THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG?
Whether or not all the comedy antics play a factor in the directorial issues, I can only speculate. With now three directors having left major Marvel projects, it stands to reason that something is going on behind the scenes, and actor/director Ethan Hawke may have given us a hint in a previous interview.
Speaking with IndieWire, Hawke, who played Arthur Harrow in the Moon Knight streaming series, remarked that actors are given much more freedom than directors, which could help explain the increasingly ridiculous performances we’re seeing in the MCU projects.
“That group of people is extremely actor-friendly. They might not be director-friendly, and that could be what Scorsese and Coppola are talking about, but they love actors,” he said.
“I think Kevin Feige had a great thing happen with Robert Downey, Jr., and he understood that Downey’s passion was a large part of the success. When actors are excited by a part, audiences get excited about watching them. Feige understood the algorithm there, so they’re extremely respectful toward the process. The best thing about Moon Knight for me was Oscar’s performance. It’s a gonzo thing that happens to have a giant budget – a pretty out-there performance.”
That last sentence should stand out to you. A “gonzo thing that happens to have a giant budget.” That’s basically all of Phase Four, and an argument could be made that the entire time heist in Endgame was fairly “gonzo” as well. That could explain the copious amounts of satire and silliness we’re seeing in the current MCU products.
Based on Hawke’s comments, it would seem the actors are having much more fun and get much more creative freedom than the directors, and that could be a large, neon sign pointing to the string of departures. It might also explain why the MCU has Hollywood’s elite actors lined up for years to come but high-profile, notable directors are not.
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