Say what you like about Marvel Studios, it’s definitely not a place that likes to play it safe when it comes to their directorial choices. Case in point, Shane Black being picked as successor to Jon Favreau with the Iron Man franchise. If you’re saying “Shane who?” then it’s possible you might be making my point for me. So what’s the deal?
Consider who Marvel has chosen to direct each of its movies to date: Jon Favreau, back when his biggest movie was Elf. Louis Leterrier, who was known as the man behind The Transporter. Kenneth Branagh, a man not known for his big-budget blockbusters, Joe Johnston and Joss Whedon, two well-regarded but not entirely financially successful genre directors. There’s not a single bankable name among them, and if nothing else, Black follows that trend by having exactly one other directorial credit to his name (The wonderful, if hardly well known, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Clearly, Marvel is a company that believes in talent over fame, then, right?
I admit, there’s a lot of me that wants to believe that – for one thing, none of Marvel’s choices have been bad directors (with the potential exception of Leterrier, but that’s based more on the mess of Clash of The Titans than his Incredible Hulk), and in Favreau’s case, the studio definitely saw some potential that hadn’t been tapped before. There’s definitely undoubtedly an element of that in there, I’m sure; Favreau’s rise to prominence as a result of Iron Man definitely gave the studio a certain cache as reputation-maker that I’m sure it’d be eager to maintain, if nothing else. And yet… And yet…
If there’s one thing we know for a fact about the inner workings of Marvel Studios, you see, it’s that it’s cheap. Actors are signed on for nine movie deals at the very start, to ensure that there’s no expensive re-negotiations down the line that could force the studio to dump the actor in order to keep costs down (a la Terrence Howard being replaced by Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2), after all (Not to mention the longstanding rumor that comic writers aren’t writing the movies because it’s more lucrative to work in comics than write for Marvel Studios). So of course it makes sense for Marvel to pick directors from relative obscurity and put them in charge of their blockbusters, instead of waiting for JJ Abrams, Michael Bay or whoever to become available: they won’t cost that much. That they’re also good directors? Just a lucky accident.
There are lots of reasons to be cautious about Black directing the third Iron Man movie, just as there are lots of reasons to be optimistic (Seriously, ignore his Lethal Weapon writer past; go watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). But just because Marvel have hired him doesn’t automatically translate into his being another Favreau-level success waiting to happen, or Iron Man 3 being a foregone conclusion depending on whatever bias you may have. It merely means that, like Whedon and Johnson, he had a certain level of name recognition and was available at the right price at the right time.
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