It often feels like the Trump regime has monopolized the business of bad ideas, but Hollywood can always be counted on to remind us that there’s plenty to go around. When Variety broke the news that WB is circling “The Shallows” director Jaume Collet-Serra for “Suicide Squad 2,” the well-sourced rumor was troubling in its own way. For one thing, the news would mean that there is a “Suicide Squad 2,” and that’s a lot to handle at a time when most of us are hanging on for dear life. For another, Jaume Collet-Serra is a promising filmmaker at the peak of his talent and the height of his sway, and “Suicide Squad 2” is the kind of burden that shouldn’t fall to someone who has so much to offer. Or to anyone else, for that matter, because haven’t we suffered enough?
One of the precious few modern directors who’s consistently been able to thread the needle between soulless blockbuster products and micro-budget indie fare, Collet-Serra has made a name for himself by churning out the kind of mid-sized studio thriller that we supposedly don’t make anymore. From “Non-Stop” to “Run All Night,” the resourceful Spanish talent has made an art of turning middle-brow movies into unexpected hits, and he’s done so with just enough flair to develop a following amongst cinephiles desperate for the days when shlock was taken seriously. The guy isn’t exactly Alan J. Pakula, but his stuff is still lightyears removed from so much of the cynical hogswallop that’s made these days — compare his Liam Neeson offerings to the “Taken” trilogy for a perfect case-study in the difference between trash and garbage.
So why should we root for a skilled craftsman like Collet-Serra to dedicate the next two years of his life to such an incredibly toxic brand? We don’t cross our fingers that Brian Eno will produce Meghan Trainor’s next album, or admire the work of a great sculptor and pray that he’ll be forced to make his next piece out of Silly Putty. Collet-Serra definitely doesn’t deserve to be in director’s jail, let alone locked up in Belle Reve Prison with Jared Leto.
Unless, of course, he’s the perfect inside man. Collet-Serra belongs to a very small class of contemporary directors who have been able to exert some degree of authorship over studio projects. While there’s no diminishing the power of people like Christopher Nolan and Kathryn Bigelow and Luc Besson, bonafide auteurs who have ascended into one-man brands, the future of Hollywood cinema can’t be entrusted to a small handful of monolithic talents. On the contrary, it’s the Matt Reeves’, the Patty Jenkins’, and the Ryan Cooglers’ of the world who will be called upon to serve as our last life of defense against permanent mediocrity. These are people who know how to play the game, and even occasionally to win it; they’re people who can meet studio demands, make sure a movie plays well in China, and still infuse it with a raw integrity all its own. They’re not storytellers so much as escape artists, gifted at wriggling free from the strictures of corporate filmmaking. They can be our double-agents, our daywalkers, and this is their time to shine.
We’re at a pivotal moment in the fight for the future of blockbuster entertainment. Sure, every moment is a pivotal moment in the fight for the future of blockbuster entertainment, but the battle always feels more urgent when you’re playing defense. Nobody needs to be reminded that the current landscape is dominated by sequels and remakes and retcons and whatever the “The Emoji Movie” is — nobody needs to be told that the monolithic success of Comic-Con culture has left us teetering on the verge of just accepting that the tail is wagging the dog, movies are being made in boardrooms rather than editing bays, and every wide release budgeted at more than $100 million is going to be radioactive shit.
With every passing year it gets a little bit harder to hold out hope that any of these event films will actually be any good, and we’re dangerously close to reaching the critical moment where we’re no longer convinced that they can actually be any good. Cultural blemishes like “Jurassic World” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” take their toll (even in a world buoyed by the occasional game-changer like “Wonder Woman”), and the film medium as a whole starts to suffer when people begin to think of Sundance as an elaborate farm system for Spider-Man reboots.
It isn’t — at least it’s still many other things, as well — but it nevertheless leaves us in a self-defeating place where might be forced to root against our favorite directors because their greatest opportunities for broader recognition have become their surest roads to failure. Once upon a time, hiring Jaume Collet-Serra to direct “Suicide Squad 2” would have seemed like a brilliant gambit, but now it just feels like WB is threatening to take his talents off the board. Remember when you were excited to see Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Han Solo movie? Rookie mistake.
This is all a very longwinded way of addressing a simple question: Are we still at a point where we still want talented filmmakers to direct franchise blockbusters? Has the situation become so grim that we’d rather deny low-key artisans like Collet-Serra a shot at the big time and wait for every studio to grow their own David Yates, a reliable foreman who who can live on the lot, supervise the assembly line, and subsist on the bucket of fish-heads that’s brought to set twice a week?
Hollywood moves in cycles, but there’s something unprecedented about an age in which we want studios to go after good directors at the same time that we want strong directors to turn them down. It’s hard to sustain the cognitive dissonance of being excited that Rian Johnson is doing “Episode VIII” (because an auteur is directing Star Wars!) while also shrugging off that Colin Trevorrow is doing “Episode IX” (because what’s the point of an auteur directing Star Wars?).
The future has gotten so hazy that it’s no longer easy to know if we should be excited or frustrated by the prospect of Collet-Serra tying his anchor to the Titanic and trying to steer it to safety. Could he actually exert some influence over “Suicide Squad 2,” or would he just get sucked into the abyss?
There’s really only way to find out: Let him try. We’re at a tipping point, and Jaume Collet-Serra is the right person to help pull off the determinative litmus test we need. He’s clever but not flashy, compelling but not difficult. He’ll never be a household name, but his stuff is already a fixture in so many homes. Best of all, he can take any premise — no matter how inane — and make it feel like a story that needed to be told. Hollywood became great by giving such mid-level talents a modicum of creative control, not by wasting their best years on films that were made entirely by committee. Let’s see if it has any real interest in being great again.