You’re Gonna Need Another Director, Bub

On 03/17/2011, news hit that Darren Aronofsky, genius director and the man responsible for Black Swan (which we kinda liked over here), had jumped ship as the director of the sequel to 2009 fiasco and failed X-Men spin-off, Wolverine. Citing travel woes and a reticence toward being yanked away from his family for filming, Aronofsky parted ways with Fox and has left their film without a helmsman. In retrospect, the announcement resembles a double-edged sword; on the one hand, Aronofsky leaving surely means nothing but bad news for the sequel, which is troubled inherently based on its ancestry and Fox’s blind and untempered hatred of genre movies. On the other hand, his departure also means he’s not tied down to a year-and-change-long production and therefore free to make the kind of movies he’s earned so much praise for making in the first place.

So who wins in this exchange between auteur and studio? Frankly, I consider the trade-off to be in Aronofsky’s favor, and therefore also in the favor of cineastes and movie geeks, for a number of reasons. That’s not to say I don’t understand the appeal behind having a talent like Aronofsky’s in charge of a name-brand genre flick; everybody remembers what happened when Christopher Nolan seized the reigns of the Batman franchise, started anew, and eventually set the world on fire with The Dark Knight. But expecting the same sort of magic out of a new Wolverine movie feels like folly, since lightning so rarely strikes twice in such endeavors and we’ve also been given no reason to assume Aronofsky has it in him to deliver the same crowd-pleasing, demographic-pleasing sort of blockbuster (after all, genius that he is, we’ve only seen him direct small personal pictures rather than large-scale ones).

That said, I’m more inclined to think that Aronofsky does have a great, fun, rewarding summer popcorn movie in him, and that Fox would have invariably done their thing and kept that movie from landing in theaters. If we must bring Dark Knight into a discussion on the merits of Aronofsky helming a superhero movie (and, let’s face it, we must), then it bears mentioning that Nolan got to work with Warner Brothers, far less nefarious and nowhere near the viscous font of evil that is Fox in terms of pure talent-suppressing malice. I don’t care what Fox wanted Aronofsky to direct– the Wolverine sequel could have the potential to be the best comic book movie of all time, and it would still be worth it to keep him away from it just to keep career barbarian Tom Rothman from ever having any say over anything Aronofsky creates.

Am I exaggerating? Do the research yourself if need be but the record will always show, at all times and forevermore, Rothman’s propensity for torturing potentially good movies into malformed and horrific shadows of what they could have been. So, basically, when one professes their disappointment in Aronofsky’s exodus from the project, they’re saying that they wouldn’t mind seeing one of the best filmmakers in the world get yanked around and bullied by Fox and, most of all, Rothman. I admit the possibility that Aronofsky could somehow fight back successfully against any intervention on the studio’s behalf and keep his vision pristine and intact, unspoiled by the boorish machinations of greedy executives, but it’s a very slight possibility indeed. (In fact, Cinema Blend also reported a rumor the same day the story broke which seems to agree with this particular premise.) The more likely scenario is that a very gifted director would be put in a position wherein his creative control would be ignored and trampled, and we’d get an inferior movie than the one he wanted to make and that we deserved.

Filmmakers like Aronofsky need to be granted full ownership and mastery over their work; this is something I firmly believe. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of Aronofsky doing a superhero movie, but nobody should be clamoring to see a film in which the influence of another was exerted upon the production at the cost of the director’s vision– which is precisely what would happen under Fox’s roof. Pardon my bluntness, but any suggestion to the opposite effect is naive.

But maybe that’s not a problem. Maybe directing a payday movie is enough; after all, a blockbuster like The Wolverine could end up bankrolling any number of Aronofsky’s future projects and give him the resources and clout needed to easily produce his movies. And if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. Look, Wolverine didn’t exactly flop, but it didn’t profit domestically, either, weighing in at $179 million for a $150 million price tag. Box office logic dictates that movies need to return double their budget to truly be profitable; Wolverine barely made a profit equal to one fifth of its production budget. It’s not a bomb by any stretch of the means, but it fell to international markets to recoup losses (it raked in nearly $200 million outside of the US). Arguably, that’s not a bad thing, but the simple truth is that if a film can’t hack it at home it’s going to be considered a failure by the media and by the American public; by extension, so too will studios consider it a failure, since the American audience is the audience they’re producing and distributing the movie for in the first place.

Granted we’re talking about a movie that hasn’t gotten made, and The Wolverine could be a huge moneymaker at home and overseas. Given that the X-Men franchise has done less money with the last two installments, I find that unlikely. More importantly, though, is the straight-up fact that Black Swan was a more profitable film than Wolverine the First. Don’t believe it? At the end of the day, Wolverine made close to two and a half times its production budget back with foreign grosses considered. Respectable. But Black Swan made eight times its budget back just looking at domestic totals, and added another cool $180 million dollars overseas. Wolverine might have $90 million dollars over Black Swan when comparing box office totals, but Black Swan is easily the more profitable movie (not taking into consideration ancillaries, where Wolverine may well pull ahead; no one is buying Nina Sayers action figures or Black Swan: The Game, after all).

So what exactly is Aronofsky envying, here? I’m not going to deny that he’s had issues getting his films financed, but with a critical darling under his belt that also saw an enormous return on investment for studios, the idea that he’s in need of a payday tentpole picture seems patently false. Would such a film benefit his career overall? Most likely. But that film shouldn’t be The Wolverine. Put him in the director’s chair on a blockbuster with more clear earning potential, backed by a studio that won’t mangle his film, and I’m all for it. But until he finds a genre property wherein he can strike a fine balance between creating a crowd-pleasing studio picture and keeping his artistry and integrity intact, Aronofsky’s talents are better employed elsewhere.


10 thoughts on “You’re Gonna Need Another Director, Bub

  1. I was hoping Aronofsky would do something great with this franchise (much like Nolan with Batman) but now I just don’t care about the project at all.

  2. Aronofsky is definitely the kind of guy that has the balls to stick to his vision. If there is any hint that his film is being conpromised he would leave ASAP. I know its hard for him to get backing but he has pulled through many times that he handle anything that comes his way. Also, with the success of Black Swan, hopefully more people will be ready to jump on his work.

    • Fitz, I agree that Aronofsky’s involvement made The Wolverine interesting, but I’m happier to see him go. I can’t imagine how much Fox would degrade his production with their special brand of flimflam, and I frankly think he deserves better than that.

      Blain, while I don’t disagree, I think that hint you refer to is exactly what the second Cinema Blend article I linked was pointing to. Aronofsky wants and honestly deserves control, the studio didn’t want to yield full control to him, so he left. And yeah, I definitely think that Black Swan‘s breakout commercial and critical success will win him a wider audience and probably make it easier for him to get financing on his future endeavors.

  3. All my interest in this film has gone away. As far as “a blockbuster like The Wolverine could end up bankrolling any number of Aronofsky’s future projects and give him the resources and clout needed to easily produce his movies”- I believe Black Swan has already given him that clout.

    • I think, though, that the clout of a box office monster/genuinely good entry in a genre franchise like X-Men would earn Aronofsky a lot more goodwill. I’m pretty confident that Black Swan is going to go a long way toward ensuring Aronofsky is free of strife when it comes to getting his next few films off of the ground, but in a perfect world The Wolverine would pretty much serve as a permanent meal ticket for him.

  4. One thing you fail to note is that the first movie was directed Gavin Hood, a very promising director of 2 angry, character driven dramas, who wouldn’t overcome the need for everything to go boom boom, although, granted he’s not as established as Aronofsky. Hopefully this news will get him one step closer to his Robocop remake which he has been promising for so long now.

    One thing here I don’t agree with: “since the American audience is the audience they’re producing and distributing the movie for in the first place.”

    That’s an ideal but not really true. Most big summer action blockbusters are geared towards 14 year old Japanese boys because studios have been realizing over the past 5 or even 10 years that movies rarely ever make money on first run at home.

    • Well, I wouldn’t say I failed to note Hood’s involvement on Wolverine the First as much as I didn’t see a whole lot of point in name-dropping. Fox screws with every director brought on board to helm their genre pictures, save for those directors who just do whatever Fox tells them to do. Hood, in that respect, isn’t unique, and neither would Aronofsky have been if he’d chosen to remain on board. Which just supports the notion that he should have left.

      As for the rest, I’m not really sure what you’re disagreeing with. Sure, that’s the ideal, but that’s kind of the point– even if it’s just an ideal it’s what studios try to live up to, because winning at home is always better than winning overseas. I’m certain that American studios might see more value in foreign markets today than they did in the early 2000s or so, but that doesn’t mean they’re making their movies with anyone other than American audiences in mind.

  5. His reasons are the exact same that Matthew Vaughn gave for not doing X-Men 3. I can see how Darren may not be given the full control that is needed to make the film his so it makes sense that he chose the all or nothing stance. And very true Andrew, the trade off is in DA’s favor following his departure.

    But, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. DA has a good relationship with Hugh Jackman and it’s obvious he’s a fantastic and visionary director, I think this might have all been a ploy to begin with.

    Now hear me out. A lot goes on behind closed doors in Hollywood so while we’ll never know the true story, I think that he may have expressed interest in this but only so much to get people excited. Origins was a crapfest and I think the only way to get anyone excited about going down that path to raise a capsized film would to bring in such a amazing (and currently HOT) talent. Hence DA.

    I think it makes sense as he could pull it off based on his record with genre bending hits. It could be just the thing to take Logan away from the confines of a comic film and make him way more personable a la Randy “The Ram” or Black Swan’s Nina. Ah, just my conspiracy laced opinion. Fine write up Andrew, you think of submitting it to the IMDb Hit List?

    • Fitz, like you, I’m very much looking forward to see what Aronofsky picks as his next project now that his time has been freed up. Ark? Could be, but probably not.

      Conspiracy theories, eh, Marc? I love a good conspiracy theory and this is an interesting one, though I don’t really see Aronofsky as the kind of director to try something like that. I would love it if the end game did mean Jackman working with Darren on his next movie instead of relegating himself to man candy and comic book heroes, of course. And yeah, this is very much like what happened with Vaughn and X3, unsurprising given Fox’s behaviors as a studio.

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