So, Jon Favreau won't be helming Marvel Studios' third Iron Man film. Unsurprisingly, the internet is already up in arms about the news, but let's face it: Is it really bad news?
Exhibit A in the case for why a new director for Iron Man 3 won't be the end of the world: Spider-Man 3. That was, honestly, one of my first thoughts on hearing that Favreau had pulled out of directing this Iron Man movie in favor of directing The Magic Kingdom for Disney: At least we won't see him either going through the motions or, worse yet, going off the rails because his heart isn't in it. You could tell from his recent MTV interview that he wasn't into the direction Marvel Studios seemed to want to take for the third installment of the series - "In theory, 'Iron Man 3' is going to be a sequel or continuation of 'Thor,' 'Hulk,' 'Captain America' and 'Avengers.' This whole world ... I have no idea what it is. I don't think they do either, from conversations I've had with those guys," he said, which is more than a little worrying - and so, surely it's better for him to work on something he'd enjoy more?
The problem with that, of course, is that Favreau is, so far, the figurehead of good Marvel movies. Yes, Kenneth Branagh is working on Thor and Joss Whedon is working on The Avengers, but neither of those movies are out yet - or, in the case of Avengers, even shooting yet - and so the only Marvel Studios movies we have to go on are the Iron Man movies (Good) and Hulk (Not so good). Favreau's original Iron Man set the tone for what audiences expect from Marvel Studios, proved that superhero movies that didn't have the words Spider-Man or Batman in the titles could be sold to, and work for, mainstream audiences and critics alike, and let's face it, made the reputations of both Marvel Studios and Iron Man. Following on from that, both his public statements and signing on as producer for The Avengers made him seem like an integral part of Marvel Studios - he somehow became their public face in a way that even Robert Downey Jr. didn't; Marvel Studios was Favreau. Except, of course, now they don't have him.
There are all manner of conspiracy theories to be drawn from Favreau's departure, and in the absence of real facts or insider information, it wouldn't be entirely unexpected to see them run rampant over the next few days: Is Favreau leaving the franchise a sign of "creative differences" or "corporate meddling" on behalf of Marvel? Was he replaced due to arguments over money/mysterious disagreements that we'll probably never know the full details of so let your imaginations run rampant, a la Terrence Howard? Is Joss Whedon to blame? Okay, maybe not that last one, but still.
If there's a winner in this scenario, it's definitely Favreau, whose Iron Man success has made him look like a director who knows how to handle himself on big budget movies heavy on character beats and special effects alike, as well as knowing how to build not only a franchise but a studio's reputation - at least until Cowboys & Aliens opens, and we see how he handles something much closer to original material without the Mighty Marvel braintrust. He also gets to bail on Iron Man early, should mainstream audiences tire of superheroes in general and that character/Avengers franchise in particular over the next few years.
Marvel, however, has a much more difficult task negotiating the fallout from all of this. Firstly, I'd argue that the studio needs to get the word out that Favreau hasn't cut ties with Marvel movies at all - he's still one of the producers on Avengers, and may be one of the producers on IM3, for all anyone knows. If he is, and especially if he'd appear as Happy Hogan again, that'd be great to put out there as soon as possible to limit any "Favreau abandons Marvel!!!" posturing. Secondly, replacing Favreau suddenly becomes a minefield; who has the geek cred (and, of course, directorial chops to handle the action/comedy mix) to replace him without backlash? I'm tempted to suggest Whedon, especially if IM3 really does end up as a quasi-sequel to Avengers, but that seems highly unlikely. Whoever Marvel chooses, however, it'll be sure to be a much-observed, backseat-drivered decision, and one fraught with all manner of commentary from... well, everyone.
Most importantly for Marvel, though, is that Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger are both hits. For one or either to fail at the box office - and I really think that Cap as a character runs the risk of just being too odd for mainstream audiences - will underline suspicions that Favreau had some kind of magic touch that Iron Man, and Marvel, can't do without. Even if Cowboys & Aliens tanks at the box office, Favreau will likely do just fine without Marvel, but if Thor and/or Captain America fail...? Well, Marvel will experience the flipside of the acclaim it had upon launching Marvel Studios, and Avengers will have a much harder task winning audiences over in 2012. Here's hoping those rumors of singing and dancing in Cap are entirely groundless.