Which Marvel Directors Sold Their Souls to IP Filth?
Marvel money can be a tool for good or a depressing dead-end
In the olden days of Hollywood yore, there was a little phrase known as “one for them, one for me.” The quote, which describes the practice of taking a lot of money for one shit film in order to then make a good if not somewhat personal one, is often attributed to Martin Scorsese, who is himself guilty of such practice, having funded The Last Temptation of Christ with the money from The Color of Money.
It’s almost funny now to think of The Color of Money as a cash grab, but the film is, after all, a sequel and that’s where all the money is these days. Particularly in a media culture hyper-saturated with big-budget superhero movies. I was curious to the extent that Marvel’s directors are, if at all, operating with a “one for them, one for me” work ethic. Have any of them gone on to make a real film after, or are they stuck in the muck like that one part of Candyland with the molasses guy?
For the purpose of respecting my own finite amount of time on Earth, this study only includes Marvel’s Infinity Saga AKA Phase 1-3. If you have no idea what that means, I am so happy for you and I wish I was you. What this means, in essence, is that this study eliminates movies like Black Widow, which doesn’t exist, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, and The Eternals (literally too many guys in the movie).
Jon Favreau directed the first two Iron Man films and in doing so also gave himself the role of Happy Hogan, Iron Man’s intern, thus appearing in several other iterations of the property. Favreau, a boisterous and often charming director, was probably best known prior to his Marvel appearances as the writer of Swingers and that one really great episode of The Sopranos where he’s disrespectful to our sweet boy, Christopher Moltisanti.
After directing Iron Man 2, he went on to work on Cowboys & Aliens (‘memba her?), live-action The Jungle Book, and “live-action” The Lion King. His one shining star of auteurist filmmaking is the 2014 film, Chef, in which Favreau stars as a guy who discovers how to make cubaño sandwiches out of a truck and then posts about it on Twitter. The movie is about how it’s okay to do a bad tweet as long as you are making good sandwiches (I think — 2014 was like 25 years ago). Most people remember this film because Favreau cast Sofia Vergara as his ex-wife and Scarlett Johansson as his love interest. Back then people would have dunked on this (and did); now it’s sort of “goals”? Apparently Favreau also made something called The Chef Show which is like a reality television show of his movie that aired on Netflix. He’s proven himself a studio guy through and through, willing to shill out at any opportunity. Good for him.
Joe Johnston directed the first Captain America film (Captain America: The First Avenger, which I don’t recall having a post-colon when I first saw it but memory is a tricky thing). The most notable thing he’s done in his post-Marvel tenure is directed one of the most deranged holiday films in recent history, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms in which a sugarplum fairy Keira Knightley eats some of her own hair (made of candy floss).
Kenneth Branagh is one of the craziest mfers in the game and way too many of you showed way too much respect for “enough champagne to fill the Nile” and not enough respect for Belfast, which he claimed (on a podcast I fell asleep listening to) “made him cry in the edit bay every day.” Branagh is an insane freak weirdo who possibly plays himself in the Harry Potter movies, which is why he was the obvious first choice to adapt Thor. Taika Waititi gets a lot of credit for “reviving” Thor, erasing all the work Branagh did to point out that Thor is kind of just Shakespearean nonsense. Alas!
In the years since his Marvel one-off, Branagh has oscillated between for-hire studio flicks (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella, and Artemis Fowl), his Hercule Poirot features (“one for mes” if I ever saw them), something that doesn’t exist called All Is True, and his aforementioned and now Oscar-winning Belfast. Good work, Sir Kenneth!
LOL. Don’t worry about it.
It wasn’t so much that Shane Black made a Marvel movie but that Marvel allowed one of their films to be a Shane Black movie. Black took a break from writing his snappy crime flicks like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Long Kiss Goodnight to make the somewhat maligned but profoundly underrated Iron Man 3, before going off to make what might be the most artistically sound film of the post-Marvel entries in this blog, The Nice Guys.
Alan Taylor, who directed the dull and exhausting Thor: The Dark World, is one of the most successful and acclaimed television directors working almost exclusively with everyone’s favorite channel, HBO. He directed some of the best episodes of The Sopranos, the pilot episode of Mad Men, and a handful of the actually good episodes of Game of Thrones (remember Game of Thrones?). Since directing his iteration of Thor, Taylor has directed two films: Terminator: Genisys and The Many Saints of Newark. IP for life! <3
The Russo Brothers
Imagine being brothers and sharing a Wikipedia page. It must be hell. Such is the fate of the Russo brothers (first names unknown) who directed the second and third Captain America movies (Winter Soldier – the one that’s very “1970’s” on account of having Robert Redford in it – and Civil War – the one with too many guys) as well as both The Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Statistics tell me that they’re the second most successful directors of all time after Steven Spielberg. Congrats to the brothers!
Outside of the Marvel entries, they directed Tom Holland’s much-maligned adaptation of Nico Walker’s novel Cherry and the forthcoming Netflix original The Gray Man, a movie so expensive that they had to get rid of Tudum. Bleak!
James Gunn directed both Guardians of the Galaxy movies before jumping across the comic lines to direct DC’s new Suicide Squad (not the bad one; the one with Pete Davidson). Gunn’s career – a steady crescendo of goopy, violent anti-superhero superhero flicks – have made him the perfect type of non-satirical director to give these films a winking, snide tone that pretends to be criticizing something they’re actually a part of. Company shill.
Edgar Wright left Ant-Man before filming over disputes with Marvel’s vision, but his touches are all over the film with its rhythmic joke landscape and warm tone. Since leaving the Marvel project, it’s possible that Wright’s subsequent films – though distinctly his own – have felt the most “Marvel”-ish (not a compliment). First there was Baby Driver, well-received with successful enough box office for a non-IP production, starring two different now-#MeTooed celebrities, Ansel Elgort and Kevin Spacey (and Flea, actually, now that I’m remembering). Perhaps feeling some guilt over that, Wright went on to make last year’s Last Night in Soho, a movie about discovering that the world is bad for women. Wright’s love for film as a medium, and his years of championing smaller films and filmmakers, have made him something of a favorite within the industry, but his growing pains post-Marvel have shown there’s a lot he still needs to learn.
Peyton Reed has now become the “Ant-Man guy,” taking over for Wright on the first feature, before working on the second and third entries. Prior to those films, Reed worked on beloved comedies: Bring It On, Down With Love, and The Break-Up. If only the industry still made those kinds of films, we wouldn’t have to lose Reed to stuff like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Okay, maybe actually the most artistically-sound post-Marvel directed movie by a one-off Marvel director is The Black Phone? Just kidding, but the movie did give me nightmares.
This guy only directs Spider-Man movies and, as far as I know, otherwise does not exist in modern society. NEXT!
Considering the current critical loathing for Waititi’s latest entry in the Marvel universe and his own smarmy press tour, it can often be easy to forget what a likable everyman he appeared to be following the success of his smaller, funnier features. Waititi’s most notable “one for me” post-Marvel flick was Jojo Rabbit, an anti-hate (bad) “satire” that won him, like Branagh, best original screenplay at The Oscars. I guess that just goes to show that if you make a halfway decent Thor movie, you, too, can win an Oscar for a script of a movie that has absolutely nothing to say. Beyond that, he has a shelved soccer movie that had to recast Armie Hammer, and so many projects lined up that he has to forgo raising his kids.
Coogler followed up his searing debut, Fruitvale Station, with a Rocky redux and then 2018’s record-breaking and often moving Black Panther. He’s spent the better half of the past two years directing its extremely cursed sequel, but sue me for being nostalgic for Coogler’s earlier films. Get that money, sure, and start a production company, why not, but Fruitvale Station was both prescient and Creed was the first movie to suggest that Sylvester Stallone would look cute in a pair of Warby Parkers.
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
It’s so weird to me when two people direct a movie and they’re not siblings. The Captain Marvel directors went from Brie Larson’s possibly brain injury-inducing turn as a superhero to FX’s Mrs. America, a show I watched 1.5 episodes of. From here, they’re working on another Tom Hanks executive-produced HBO x WWII miniseries, this one starring Elvis from Elvis. Might be kind of brilliant, if not at least worth watching? Every generation gets the Tom Hanks executive-produced HBO x WWII miniseries they deserve.
I know what you’re thinking: is Bradley Cooper involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? I’m inclined to forget this, but every single day of my life, I am forced to remember, one way or another, that Bradley Cooper voices the little raccoon who hangs out with Groot. (For the sake of my time and yours, I’m not googling the name of the raccoon. I wanna say he’s called Scout? Scruff?) But for all intents and purposes, Cooper is a director involved with Marvel. And what has he done with that? Oh, not much, just direct a perfect little movie called A Star is Born and then adapt the life of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein into a biopic succinctly titled Maestro. Every day he puts on a fake nose and speaks in a nebbish New York accent, and if he used his cut from Marvel’s soulless enterprises to do so, well, who am I to blame him?