It’s a sad day for fans of highbrow awards movies and popcorn cinema alike. Darren Aronofsky–quite possibly my pick for most talented director working in Hollywood today–has left the standalone X-Men spinoff The Wolverine.
Normally this kind of director change-up isn’t a huge deal. On big franchise movies of this kind, directors come and go, and, more often than not, they’re pretty interchangeable. There is a formula to these movies…a straightforward way to make them “work” for general audiences…and as long as a director is competent with that formula, the movie (assuming a compelling premise, interesting story and passable script) is usually pretty entertaining.
But with Aronofsky attached to this movie, there was a chance for something more. The man made no bones about the fact that he was going to make an entertaining but uncompromising movie, and I personally believe he’s incapable of not putting together a multi-layered movie with interesting and thought-provking themes. Bringing that sensibility to this movie would have been more than a little interesting. And the more I thought about it, the more I decided this take on a Wolverine film would work…and work well.
Aronofsky’s reason for leaving? Is it the fact that Fox is notorious for screwing over filmmakers and making mediocre projects of interesting ideas? Seems not. In a statement released yesterday, the filmmaker cited a desire to stay in the states and spend time with his family. The Wolverine would have taken him out of the country for a good year, and he just wasn’t ready to take that kind of leave.
You gotta respect that. Still, I can’t help but wonder if “creative differences” between himself and the studio played a role. I mean, to be honest, from the moment we heard the news, every fan was waiting for it to be retracted. Letting Aronofsky direct a big-budget crowd-pleaser with his intimate and “artsy” style is a risk, to be sure, and Fox seems the studio least likely to take that risk.
The movie will, of course, continue forward, and Hugh Jackman is still 100% committed to the project. For me, though, the entire endeavor has kind of lost its appeal. The prospect of seeing Aronofsky’s decidedly auteur version of the X-Men universe was exciting…a promise of something smart and unique but peppered with action and entertainment. Now, the movie has become just another “product” in my mind, and no matter who the producers bring in, the movie will always feel like a slapped together commodity designed to maximize opening weekend receipts and fade into obscurity in the months following.
Then again, that’s kind of what it is, right? To Fox at least, this kind of movie is all about bringing in money as quick as possible and opening big. And while Darren Aronofsky would have elevated the movie to a higher plane of cinematic being, I guess the “big picture” purpose of the movie was always just to make money.
I hate the fact that I get surprised by this every time it happens.