It is not unusual for directors in Hollywood to cite “creative differences” when they depart a project. That’s usually code for: “The studio is too controlling.” Edgar Wright, who left Ant-Man, and up-and-coming directors like Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa, who both left The Flash, listed this reason. Now Ben Affleck has stepped down as the director of the next Batman film. Even though he said it was because he couldn’t direct and act simultaneously, it has once again led to talk of the superhero genre being plagued with director issues.
When compared to Marvel, DC has had a bumpy start to their Cinematic Universe. All three of their films took a beating critically. While they tried deflecting it by releasing Director’s Cuts of the last two films (of which, Zack Snyder’s cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice felt slightly improved), the fact remains that the originals were a jumbled mess.
It hasn’t been all hunky dory for Marvel also. Joss Whedon has gone on record to say he will never direct another superhero film due to the toll it took on him. His battle with Marvel executives during Avengers: Age of Ultron where he fought to retain certain sequences involving character development over scenes that set up the future universe was probably the catalyst.
Directors of superhero franchises have a lot on their hands and sometimes, this can lead to unforeseen off-screen tension as in the case of movies listed below:
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The first Iron Man film was a smashing success that gave the fledgling Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) its wings. Soon Disney bought Marvel and was keen on speeding up the Avengers Initiative.
By the time Iron Man 2 rolled out two years later, Marvel had begun meddling in development and production. Originally conceived to follow the “Demon in the Bottle” storyline — in which Tony Stark battles with alcoholism — Marvel pushed director Jon Favreau in a kid-friendly direction. The final plot of the film focuses less on Stark’s inner demons than on him upgrading his arc reactor and a rivalry with Ivan Vanko. Mickey Rourke, who plays Vanko also protested the final cut of the film, claiming that a good deal of his scenes ended up on the editing floor in favour of setting up the forthcoming Avengers film.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The first film opened to strong reviews and impressive box office receipts. Director Mark Webb had planned the series as a trilogy but then things went south.
With the MCU making billions, Sony hoped to use their lone superhero property to spawn a similar franchise. The studio ordered Webb to include a bunch of new villains in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to spin-off into other films. Sony also wanted a lighter tone, which resulted in the villain Electro becoming more cartoonish than the version in the Spider-Man Playstation game. Webb tried to move ahead telling the story as he’d planned it, but as footage piled up, Sony forced Webb to focus more on the expanded universe angle than the character evolution of Peter Parker. The final result? A bad mish-mash that looks like a cross between a children’s show and a video-game. The Amazing Spider-Man 3 was cancelled in 2015.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Warner Bros, in response to criticism surrounding Batman v Superman, feared that David Ayer’s dark Suicide Squad would turn off audiences with its tone. The studio ordered extensive reshoots to add more humour and reduce the violence. Upon viewing director Ayer’s preferred cut, the studio panicked, handing final edit duties to marketing company Trailer Park. After screening both Ayer’s and Trailer Park’s edits, the director and studio combined a mix of the two which was the disappointment that was the theatrical release.
Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, Daredevil would have retold the famous “Elektra Saga” story arc from the Daredevil comics and would’ve been a gritty adaptation of the source material, not unlike The Dark Knight trilogy.
But after Sony’s success with the more family friendly Spider-Man in 2002, Fox became wary of taking an adult approach to the film. The studio forced Johnson to rewrite and re-edit the film, removing an entire subplot, toning down the violence and placing new emphasis on Daredevil’s romance with Elektra. The final film opened to mediocre reviews from fans and critics alike.
Fantastic Four (2015)
After the success of 2012’s Chronicle, director Josh Trank signed on to direct an adaptation of Marvel’s First Family but the production was troubled from the start. The studio cast certain actors over Trank’s objections. Displeased with the initial cut, producer Simon Kinberg stepped in and reshot several scenes, once again disregarding Trank’s voice. The final outcome was heavily altered from the original. Trank disavowed the project via his Twitter account a day before its release and said that his version was far superior. The film was a misfire both critically and commercially.