Phil Lord and Chris Miller Do The Right Thing

Opinions – we all got ’em…Even Trial By Films does.  When we do, we’ll let you know. This is one of those times.

The directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) have something in common with fellow director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) that the following directors cannot claim to share:

  • Jon Favreau
  • Louis Leterrier
  • Gareth Edwards
  • Colin Trevorrow
  • Shane Black
  • Peyton Reed
  • Scott Derrickson
  • And many, many more…

What is it?

Phil Lord and Chris Miller were not willing to concede their directorial vision when pressed to do so by a major film studio.  If you haven’t been watching the news, Phil Lord and Chris Miller have exited the upcoming Star Wars Han Solo spin-off movie, several months into filming after butting heads with Lucafilm over the direction the project was headed.

A little background is needed to understand why Phil Lord and Chris Miller should be praised for quitting their own film half way through production; and in doing so – jeopardizing their careers.  There are three major events in recent film history that need to be highlighted:

  • April 29, 2002 – Spider-Man is released to theaters; to a $821.7 Million box office return
  • June 30, 2004 – Spider-Man 2 is released to theaters; raking in $783.8 Million
  • June 13, 2008 – Iron Man is released to theaters; worldwide sales of $585.2 Million

Unless you are paying close attention; these releases are just three more successful superhero blockbusters, but they signify more than that.  Spider-Man in 2002 showed that the modern comic book movie was a financially viable endeavor. Spider-Man 2 proved that audiences were hungry for more and more comic book super heroes. Finally in 2008, Iron Man established that Spider-Man wasn’t a fluke…audiences would line up for lesser known comic book properties.

You may not have caught onto this series of developments at the time, but film studios did; and this represented a dramatic shift for how studios began planning out their catalogs.  Why wait nervously each summer to find out if the next summer blockbuster was going to flop if you could make a sequel/spin-off/similar franchise with built-in revenue.  Fast forward to 2017 and every major film studio has created their own ‘Cinematic Universe’ – a web of films with common characters that add up to decade long storylines and billions of dollars in ticket and merchandise sales.

Viewers are surely aware of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Netflix and ABC companion series) and the ‘DC Extended Universe’ (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman); but there are a lot more currently in process:

  • There is Legendary Pictures’ ‘MonsterVerse’ (2014’s Godzilla, 2017’s Kong : Skull Island, and upcoming films in 2019 and 2020).
  • 2017’s The Mummy marks the first film of Universal’s ‘Monster Dark Universe’ which will see additions with 2019’s Bride of Frankenstein; as well as future films starring the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
  • The Star Wars franchise has been restarted since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012; beginning with the release of 2015’s The Force Awakens and 2016’s Rogue One.  Lucasfilm has Episodes 9 and 10 in the series in development, along with the Han Solo anthology set to be released next year.
  • 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise is one of the longest running in Hollywood, with 10 films dating back to 2000’s X-Men and another 6+ movies in development.

Movie studios take the most conservative approach to these films possible. Recognizable acting talent is paired with trusted film directors to develop vetted film properties that lose any semblance of artistic merit, as they are micro-managed to appeal to the broadest audience possible; maximizing revenues.  No risks are worth taking when there are million and million of dollars up for grabs.  This isn’t to say that no directors have been able to push their own ideas – here’s looking at James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014.  But by and large, any of a vast array of directors, writers, and actors could have been traded in and still made Rogue One or Doctor Strange without any noticeable changes.  Studios pressure directors and production teams to abandon their own style in favor of what studios know works. Studios can’t be blamed for wanting to make money; but shame on the directors for giving into the demands.

And that is where Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and the upcoming 2017 Han Solo anthology film come in.  Since their departure earlier this week, Ron Howard has been tapped to finish up the Star Wars spin-off.  Ron Howard of the Da Vinci Code franchise; with an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 27% over three films.  What happened to the director who graced us with A Beautiful Mind?

Disney and Lucasfilm made a mistake when they chose Lord and Miller to lead their Han Solo property because (as sources report), they came head to head with directors who weren’t willing to compromise their own personal touch of film humor in favor the the box office tested Star Wars formula.

They follow in the footsteps of Edgar Wright, who had an unceremonious break-up with Marvel Studios over creative differences during the production of Ant-Man. Here’s hoping they continue in Wright’s path, as his upcoming Baby Driver is being released later this month to rave critical acclaim.  Trial By Films would rather a director take a risk and fail, then another boring studio-managed box office smash any day.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Edgar Wright in response to leaving Ant-Man – hopefully future directors learn from Wright, Lord and Miller:

‘…I wanted to make a Marvel movie but I don’t think they really wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie…Suddenly becoming a director for hire on it, you’re sort of less emotionally invested and you start to wonder why you’re there…’



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