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The success of Marvel Studios has allowed it to operate by its own rules, so perhaps it’s not surprising that its top executives neither knew nor cared that dropping Patty Jenkins as director of its Thor sequel would shock Hollywood. While the parties spun the Dec. 6 parting as an amicable split over creative differences, sources say Jenkins was dropped without warning from a job that would have made her the first woman to direct a superhero tentpole.
If Marvel was troubled by anything, it was the fact that the news was out before anyone had told star Natalie Portman, who had strongly urged Marvel to hire the director of 2003’s Monster, which won Charlize Theron her Oscar. Portman is said to be deeply unhappy with Marvel over Jenkins’ dismissal but is contractually obligated to stay with the project.
A source with firsthand knowledge of the production says Marvel became concerned that Jenkins was not moving decisively enough and feared the film might miss its November 2013 release date. Exactly how Jenkins should have acted more decisively is unclear since no script was in place. Marvel had commissioned one from Don Payne before Jenkins came onto the project in October, but the studio wants a rewrite. Still, the source says the company felt she showed “a lack of overall clarity in her choices,” which led to concern that the process would be “difficult.”
“Marvel had certain things they needed to achieve,” says a source in Jenkins’ camp. “There were constraints on what she could do creatively.” These sources say Jenkins respects Marvel’s imperatives and still wants to work with the company. She doesn’t want this to be seen as gender-related, though that may be inevitable given a recent Annenberg study showing women directed only 3.6 percent of the top-grossing movies of 2009. The directors Marvel is now considering — including Game of Thrones vets Daniel Minahan and Alan Taylor — are all men.
Sexual politics aside, Marvel has a reputation for calling its own shots. This is the company that offered Scarlett Johansson a less-than-princely $250,000 for Iron Man 2 (that was negotiated up to something north of $400,000). The Disney-based studio has said in the past that it doesn’t mean to be disrespectful, just budget-conscious. But with certain exceptions — say, Robert Downey Jr. for the Iron Man series — the company is happy to lowball talent.
But as long as Marvel movies pull in those big global audiences (like $448.5 million for Thor), it has no reason to change course. “There’s a real arrogance,” says a film agent. “But in this environment where everybody’s struggling to stay employed, their behavior is amplified.” And agents can’t combat that. “We don’t have leverage,” he says. “The movies are the stars.”
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