Why 'Ant-Man' Director Edgar Wright Exited Marvel's Superhero Movie

Antman Edgar Wright Kevin Feige - H 2014

Antman Edgar Wright Kevin Feige - H 2014

Wright's quirky superhero pic made the studio's Kevin Feige nervous as a dispute over script changes and key crew exits leave a 2015 release date in question.

This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

After the  abrupt May 23 exit of Edgar Wright, the geek-favorite filmmaker behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, from Marvel Studios' long-gestating Ant-Man movie, the studio has insisted the Paul Rudd film will be finished in time to make its July 17, 2015, release date.

But while a source close to the studio says a search for a new director is underway, some observers believe Marvel president Kevin Feige will have a hard time pulling together the risky film in such a short time frame.

The challenges are clear in finding a director who can pick up a project infused with Wright's vision for years. In addition, sources say the film's key crew -- its heads of departments -- departed when it became clear production would not begin as scheduled July 28. Rudd's reps say he's still in, and a source close to the production says all key crew positions will be filled shortly.

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Wright, 40, is an irreverent British filmmaker, and sources say Marvel had been unhappy with his take on Ant-Man for weeks. Originally set to begin shooting June 2, the production had been put on hiatus while Feige ordered revisions of the script that was co-written by Wright and Joe Cornish. According to sources, Wright had been willing to make revisions earlier in the process. But the new rewrites took place without Wright's input, and when he received Marvel's new version early during the week of May 19, he walked, prompting a joint statement announcing his exit "due to differences in their visions of the film."

The move came as a shock because Wright had been working on the project -- about a scientist who can shrink to the size of an ant -- since 2006. Feige told MTV in 2013 that Wright's vision "is the only reason we're making the movie." But Marvel and Wright were different entities when they began their relationship. Marvel was an upstart, independent and feisty as it began building the Marvel Studios brand with the first two Iron Man films and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Now owned by Disney, Marvel has established itself as a reliable maker of hits. Feige essentially is the showrunner on $150 million episodes in a Marvel universe that expands in phases. The company "Marvel-izes" its projects, as a source with ties to the company puts it. That sometimes leads to clashes with filmmakers who have strong points of view, as Kenneth Branagh found during the making of Thor. He did not return for the sequel, nor did Joe Johnston for Captain America. Patty Jenkins, who directed the 2003 Charlize Theron hit Monster, was hired for Thor 2 then fired. Edward Norton clashed with Marvel during post on The Incredible Hulk and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for the character's return in The Avengers. Terrence Howard similarly was replaced by Don Cheadle in the Iron Man sequels. And on May 24, Drew Goddard was replaced as showrunner by Steven S. DeKnight on Marvel's upcoming Netflix series Daredevil (though Goddard is working on Sony's Marvel movie Sinister Six).

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"Kevin Feige [and his top lieutenants] run Marvel with a singularity of vision, but when you take a true auteur and throw him into the mix, this is what you get," says a source. "They don't want you to speak up too much or have too much vision. People who have never worked there don't understand how they operate, but if you trust them, they have an amazing track record."

Ant-Man's tone might have been too quirky for the Marvel universe. Insiders say Marvel feels it already might have gone outside its comfort zone with August's Guardians of the Galaxy, a space adventure heavy on odd humor and featuring a talking raccoon. In 2011, Sony's similarly comic The Green Hornet with Seth Rogen failed to launch the franchise for which the studio hoped.

Wright declined comment, but he tweeted, then deleted, the word "selfie," followed by a sad-faced Buster Keaton holding a Cornetto ice cream cone (Wright's trio of genre movies is known as the Cornetto trilogy). Keaton famously lost his independence after his ambitious 1926 film The General didn't perform well. He took a job at MGM, which he later called the worst decision of his life. Avengers director Joss Whedon also tweeted a photo of himself appearing dejected and seeming to salute Wright with a Cornetto.

Wright's first studio experience also was fraught. He directed 2010's acclaimed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which bombed for Universal, grossing $31.5 million domestically. Now his second studio film has been taken away. James Gunn, director of Guardians, might have said it best. He wrote on Facebook that Wright and Marvel "just don't have personalities that mesh in a comfortable way."