The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the biggest film franchises in the world, grossing billions of dollars globally and earning much critical acclaim as they redefined the industry with their shared universe model. For all their successes, Marvel isn't without their fair share of controversy, particularly when it comes to directors having creative freedom over their projects. It's a tricky balance to find; filmmakers enjoy being able to put their own stamp on a movie, but they need to be able to play by the rules if they are to helm a massive series installment.
From their beginnings, Marvel Studios has come under fire for being a somewhat difficult place to work. Creative differences cost them the likes of Jon Favreau, Patty Jenkins, and - most infamously - Edgar Wright. These departures have fueled the claims that Kevin Feige may run too tight of a ship while piecing together the future of the MCU. But according to Guardians of the Galaxy helmsman James Gunn, that isn't necessarily the case.
Gunn was doing a Q&A session on Twitter, covering various topics such as a Rocket Raccoon spinoff movie, trusting Feige with his script, and his lack of interest in doing a Star Wars movie (among others). He mentioned that he almost committed to a television series before taking on next year's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which caused a follower to bemoan Gunn's sense of creativity being quelled by Marvel. In response to that, Gunn said that he's never been more free in his career:
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) April 2, 2016
For numerous reasons, it's not surprising this is the case. The first Guardians was a massive critical and commercial hit, taking an obscure comic book property and turning it into a major marketing machine for Marvel. Gunn's shown he knows how to handle this material and has earned the trust of the studio. In addition, the Guardians series is so far removed from the core Avengers films that Gunn has the leeway to tell the kinds of stories he wants to tell without incorporating that many connections to the other movies. Case in point: his script for Vol. 2 was considered a "risk" by Marvel and is an entirely original narrative, but still given the green light.
It can be argued that Marvel has improved in their dealings with directors, as evidenced by the number of them signing up to return to the franchise. The only Phase 1 filmmaker to carry over into Phase 2 was Joss Whedon (who quickly got burned out by all the obligations of Avengers: Age of Ultron). In contrast, Phase 2 helmsmen such as Gunn, Joe and Anthony Russo, and Peyton Reed are all back for Phase 3, making sequels to their initial blockbusters. Perhaps it was just a matter of trial and error in ironing out the "voice" of the MCU, but things seem to be going somewhat smoother now (Wright notwithstanding). If Marvel truly was a place where creative freedom went to die, there wouldn't be so many talented people excited to work with them, and they surely wouldn't be able to scoop up someone like Ryan Coogler for Black Panther.
There will always have to be some compromises made when dealing with a tentpole like this. No filmmaker is going to be able to come in and make something that's honestly independent; the first Guardians still referenced Infinity Stones and Thanos. The trick is to find people who see eye-to-eye with the overall vision and then allow them to put their unique twist on it. It's no different than Rian Johnson maintaining his sensibilities on Star Wars 8 or the DC Extended Universe being "filmmaker driven." In all of these scenarios, there's a sandbox to play in with clear guidelines to follow, but the studio remains (relatively) hands off during production. If that's the way franchises are run now, fans should have plenty of films to enjoy over the next handful of years.
Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019;Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.
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