It's nearly time to wave a tearful farewell to Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it finishes up in less than a month with the introduction of a new superhero in Peyton Reed's Ant-Man. Paul Rudd plays the movie's titular character, Scott Lang, a master thief who becomes the second iteration of the shrinking superhero when the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), enlists his help to steal back the technology from the villainous Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).
Looking forward, however, Marvel Studios is currently seeking directors for two very important upcoming Phase Three entries: Captain Marvel and Black Panther, which mark the beginning of what will hopefully become a larger pattern of diversification within the mega-franchise. All of the Marvel movies so far have had white, male directors and leads, and industry rumors have indicated that Marvel is actively seeking black and/or female directors to helm its first movies with a black lead and female lead.
Marvel president Kevin Feige has a masterful talent for deflection, which he used to great effect when quizzed in an interview by THR on the subject of introducing greater diversity into Marvel's creative ranks. Feige cautiously confirmed rumors that Ava DuVernay (Selma) has been in talks to potentially direct a Marvel movie, saying, "We’ve met with her for sure. We’ve met with a number of people for a number of movies. She has been one of them."
When asked about whether he felt pressure to find a black director for Black Panther, or a female director for Captain Marvel, Feige's response became even more vague.
"It’s an issue across the industry, for sure. And the issue is, we need to find the best director for any given movie. And that’s really where we always start. If diversity is part of that, it’s great. It’s important. You will start to see things across the industry as a whole change as more filmmakers come up through the ranks and become part of making movies like this."
Feige did say that he expects to have directors locked down for Black Panther and Captain Marvel by the end of the summer, but when further pressed on the matter of whether one of those directors will be female he largely dodged the question, instead pointing to "a big shift" that's happening in Hollywood and referring the history of diversity in Marvel comics. The closest he got to a confirmation was this:
"I think it will happen sooner rather than later, without giving too much away... Certainly with Black Panther and Captain Marvel [we're] doing [diversity] in a much more overt and purposeful way."
Of course, this unwillingness to give a more explicit answer may just be Feige's reluctance to show his hand earlier than he would like. In March 2014 the Marvel boss said that there were no firm plans to make a female superhero movie, and seven months later Captain Marvel was announced as part of the upcoming Phase Three lineup. Feige's love of playing his cards close to his chest is what allowed last year's production slate announcement to be filled with so many surprises.
Marvel may own the biggest and best-known shared cinematic universe right now, but it's soon set to face competition from Warner Bros.' upcoming slate of DC comics-based movies, which will continue with next year's release Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. With that in mind, THR asked Feige to respond to Warner Bros. president Greg Silverman's claim that "the difference between the DC/Warners movies and Marvel movies is that Warners allows directors to fulfill their visions" (this appears to be very loosely paraphrased from this interview with Silverman). Feige dismissed the idea that Marvel's directors are creatively restricted.
"Look at the movies. Iron Man and Iron Man 2 are as Jon Favreau films as you can see. Kenneth Branagh has his stamp all over Thor. Captain America: First Avenger is very much a Joe Johnston film. The greatest example of that, look at Guardians of the Galaxy with James Gunn. And the one I always point out is Avengers. We knew the general structure when we sat down with Joss [Whedon]. But I don’t want you to think we gave him a story... He was able to take all the elements that were handed to him — that were studio-imposed, if you want to look at it that way — and make it his own. We wouldn't have hired any of the filmmakers we've hired if we just wanted somebody who would do what we say."
Some might argue that the loss of directors like Edgar Wright and Patty Jenkins was the result of Marvel keeping too tight a leash on its movies, but without being inside the process it's difficult to judge. As it is, Feige's approach doesn't sound too different from Silverman's, who actually said that Warner Bros.' strategy for DC films is "to take these beloved characters and put them in the hands of master filmmakers and make sure they all coordinate with each other." Essentially, a careful mix of creative freedom and studio control.
Ant-Man opens in theaters July 17, 2015; Captain America: Civil War – May 6, 2016; Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man reboot – July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Black Panther – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – November 2, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019.