Warner Bros.' Akira project has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs (mostly downs) in the last year - and now the film may be taking one of its most substantial blows yet.
Albert Hughes (of the Hughes Brothers), the man responsible for Dead Presidents, Menace II Society, and most recently The Book of Eli has left the Akira project. While not exactly a favorite among fans, the director's exodus leaves the already trouble production flailing for direction.
Deadline reports that Hughes is definitely out of the film - and headed to L.A. to speak with his agency and start looking at other scripts. While the report doesn't specify, it is likely that the director's departure is centered around the growing chasm between the studio's aspirations for the film - and the core aspects of the source material.
The news comes only one week after the departure of Keanu Reeves - which was very likely the result of fan outcry surrounding the the actor's casting as Kaneda. Hughes' choice to pursue an older, more established star such as Reeves spoke volumes about the difficulty that studio execs were having - as they attempted to wrap their heads around turning the story of teenage rebellion into an epic, star-studded action franchise. It's very likely that pressure and mixed messages from the studio caused the director to opt out of Akira-duty - since, despite the fact it's a high-priority project, the film seems to be lacking a cohesive vision right now.
Whether or not it was Hughes that wanted to focus on older, more established, start - as opposed to the teenage protagonists of the actual anime and manga - is unclear at this point. Though, the report suggests that Hughes' departure, coupled with Reeves' passing on the Kaneda role, has led Warner Bros. to re-evaluate their direction for Akira - possibly returning to the original 20-something actor format.
At that time, Warner Bros. was looking at a small pool of up-and-coming younger actors (emphasis on the "er" - since some of these guys are still much older than the series' characters) for the two leads - Tetsuo and Kaneda (mentioned earlier) including: Andrew Garfield, James McAvoy, and Robert Pattinson (Tetsuo) as well as Michael Fassbender, Garrett Hedlund, Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pine, and Justin Timberlake (Kaneda).
We know that Warner Bros. was interested in a PG-13 friendly Akira, so it's possible that Hughes felt too constricted as a result, but without knowing whether or not Hughes was trying to put together the older, more "mature" cast for the film makes it difficult to predict what direction the studio will want the next director to embrace.
In general, it's likely that Hughes wanted the older cast to give the film a grittier and darker tone - even if it was a PG-13 movie. As a result, while it might be a relief to fans if Warner Bros. did look for younger actors to populate the cast, it's easy to forget that a PG-13 film with younger actors such as Pattinson or Hedlund could also fall especially short of the dark and brutal world featured in the anime.
Fans may never have been excited about Hughes but, depending on who Warner Bros. gets to direct the film next, we may be wishing for the more "mature" version he had in mind. Hopefully, no matter what happens, the Kaneda role doesn't end-up in the hands of Zac Efron.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick and let us know, since Warner Bros. seems determined to make this film, what you'd like to see.