Marvel Studios Accused of Stealing MCU Directors' Creative Control (Report)

By John Ross Bradford Posted:
Taika Waititi, James Gunn, Marvel Studios

Marvel directors don't have nearly as much control over the movies they make for the studio, according to a new report. 

Many fans learned that Marvel Studios runs too tight of a ship in its visual effects department.

Some former Marvel artists recently revealed that company president Kevin Feige and ex-executive Victoria Alonso had to "personally approve every single shot" of a given project and that the company would "blacklist" any VFX artist that didn't jive with that. 

Now, a credited report is adding more fuel to the flame by claiming Marvel would purposefully seek out inexperienced directors to ensure the company's creative control. 

Marvel Directs Its Own Movies, Says Report

In a recent talk with The Town with Matthew Belloni, New York Magazine and Vulture reporter Chris Lee criticized Marvel Studios' tendency to hire directors that are inexperienced in the visual effects department, saying the company does so intentionally in an attempt to maintain creative control across the studio's various projects. 

Lee began with a rather drastic comparison, comparing Shang-Chi director "Destin Daniel Cretton" to "James Cameron" as an example that Marvel's choice of filmmakers affects the visual aspects of its movies: 

“In your comparison of, let’s just say, 'Avatar 2' to 'Shang-Chi,' in comparing James Cameron to Destin Daniel Cretton, you’re not comparing apples to apples, because James Cameron has infinite amounts of computer-generated imagery experience." 

The reporter then claimed Marvel intentionally seeks out directors lacking experience in the visuals department. Lee stated that the company "systemically harvests directors from the Sundance Film Festival," pointing out that these "cheapo films" largely do not involve heavy work with visual effects: 

"...whereas Marvel systemically… They harvest directors from the Sundance Film Festival, somebody who has directed some cheapo movie that got a lot of buzz, that has a lot of heart, a lot of originality, and then they suddenly prop them up with a nine-figure budget for the first time." 

Lee then specifically called out some of Marvel's biggest filmmakers in recent years, including Eternals director "Chloé Zhao" and "Ryan Coogler" of the Black Panther franchise, as well as the man responsible for Thor's MCU resurgence in "Taika Waititi" as filmmakers that "do not have any experience with VFX:" 

"These people, by and large, do not have any experience with VFX. And I’m talking about Taika Waititi, I’m talking about Chloé Zhao, Ryan Coogler...” 

In light of the recent firing of Marvel Studios co-president Victoria Alonso, folks were already fixated on Marvel's mishandling of its production process. Lee offered some more credence to these claims, adding that he's recently spoken to a top-tier Marvel director that confirms that Marvel relinquishes little control. 

According to Lee, this unnamed Marvel movie-maker was told by ex-executive Alonso that although the studio may hire a director, "they don't direct the movies; (Marvel) directs the movies:" 

"Around the time of Victoria Alonso’s dismissal, I was DM’ing with an extremely well-known director who had worked on a Marvel film, and she was relating some remarks that Victoria had said to her about another filmmaker, who directed, let’s just say, it was one of the biggest movies Marvel’s ever put out. And (Alonso) was talking about this guy and (Alonso) said, ‘They don’t direct the movies. We direct the movies.’ Meaning that the filmmakers don’t have creative control over the look of the films that Marvel does." 

Lee admitted he suspected Marvel had this stronghold over its creative development process for "a very long time," but he doesn't see it lasting much longer. The reporter pointed out that although the Hollywood giant has "decentralized creative control so much that they think they're such a hit factory," he added that "it's not working as well as it used to:" 

"I was stopped in my tracks finally hearing that, because I’d heard a rumor of this for a very long time… I wish I could tell you who said that and the director he was talking about, but I thought it was very, very indicative of Marvel’s outlook, is that they decentralize creative control so much that they think that they’re such a hit factory, and it has worked for so long, why challenge that business model? But it’s not working as well as it used to given the number of films that need to employ the same small pool of workers in Hollywood.” 

Who's Really Making Marvel Movies? 

While it may be unfair to compare these Marvel directors to James Cameron, a VFX mastermind who is responsible for three of the world's four highest-grossing films ever, it does bring to light that Marvel is not exactly looking for the next prodigy in the visual effects department. 

With everything else that's come to light regarding the firing of Marvel Studios executive Victoria Alonso and the tyranny that goes on in the visual effects department, it isn't all that surprising that this type of controlling culture has been allowed to thrive within the company. 

After all, the whole pitch of the company for the first ten years was that the movies were all telling one cohesive story, so of course it makes sense that Marvel would have a larger say than normal in the direction of each film it produces. 

That being said, sticking to the same regimen as Phases 1 through 3 has proven less than efficient as Marvel Studios is now producing more than just a movie or two per year.

Furthermore, Lee's claim that Marvel is cherry-picking directors with no experience in visual effects means the company is limiting the potential of its films, creating a ceiling for the quality of viewing experience in movies that heavily rely on visuals for their storytelling. 

For example, recent Marvel Studios entries like Thor: Love & Thunder and Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania were criticized for their lack of creativity in their visual effects, leaving many fans unimpressed by the thrown-together nature of the visual artwork in those films. The movies' directors, Taika Waititi and Peyton Reed, respectively, are indeed lacking in experience with those visual elements, meaning it is ultimately up to the studio and its burned-out VFX department to put the vision together. 

In fact, much of Phase 4 was crafted this way, so perhaps it is time Marvel reworked its process before it runs its current model into the ground. 

- About The Author: John Ross Bradford
John Ross Bradford is an editor and writer at The Direct. He has contributed to content ideation and development across multiple branches of the company's website since it launched in 2020.