Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther” have helped to reinvigorate the superhero genre as a social and creative force, and the success of those films can be at least partially attributed to their directors. With that in mind, which filmmaker would you most like to see direct a blockbuster superhero movie next, and why?
I’m firmly in the camp of not wanting my favorite actors or directors to either star in or helm superhero films. (I audibly groaned yesterday when the news surfaced that Joaquin Phoenix was going to be playing The Joker.) Yes, Waititi, Coogler, Jenkins, et al managed to inject lots of personality and style in their respective superhero films, but I’d honestly rather see them tell personal and original stories, created outside the Industrial Superhero Complex. That being said, the first name that popped to mind was Bong Joon-ho. He can direct the hell out of an action scene, and his films manage to combine anarchic humor, cynicism, and child-like wonder in equal measure. If anybody could successfully direct, say, a Hulk standalone film, it’s that guy.
I’m not crazy about superhero movies to begin with, but I’ve always wondered why the original superhero concept has never made it to the screen: Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” (It’s become a famous piece of music by Richard Strauss.) The movie would, of course, be called “Übermensch” and be written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. A semi-sequel to “Adaptation,” “Übermensch” follows Donald, now a highly paid Hollywood screenwriter, as he takes on the lucrative assignment to script an original superhero movie. Alas, he finds himself blocked. Donald’s alter ego, Charlie, comes to his rescue, and the brothers grapple with Nietzsche’s virulent anti-Semitism, the looming legacy of Stanley Kubrick and the essential ridiculousness of superheroism itself. Meryl Streep would also have to be involved.
Ana Lily Amirpour. She presents the perfect blend of moroseness, self-importance, and inner conflict in even the most antagonizing characters that is pervasive in so many superhero movies. Plus, she has a knack for creating effective atmospheric scenes that support both the inner and outer dialogue.
Not all directors wear capes. Superhero movies should fall to those who want to make them and can do them best: there are enough directors with stirring gifts who would rather make a sophomore or fifth feature that aligns with their own experience, hope and ambition, rather than tangling with an enormous engine of industry while injecting only modest personal details. (Still, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou could likely fashion some attractively glittering debris.)
Among women who are proven talents, another action picture by Lexi Alexander would be a fine thing, as well as an ambitious project where Michelle MacLaren could maintain Michael Mann-level control.
Why is there no model for micro-budgeted superhero pictures? Does “superhero” indicate that tens or hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent? The tentpole juggernaut could be challenged, even subverted, by the right sensibility of director and producer. (James Gunn’s “Super” and Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” are a couple of disparate examples.)
I needed some way in for this that would help explain why I am leaving out so many filmmakers I admire – who would probably be great at this, too – so I chose to focus on young, up-and-coming female directors, since the industry really does need more women behind the camera. I chose women whose most recent movies had titles that would convince a reluctant studio executive that they had probably already made a superhero and/or blockbuster film, so why not give them another. And so I give you Jessie Auritt (the documentary “Supergirl”), Ashley McKenzie (the elliptical narrative “Werewolf”) and Valerie Weiss (the action-adventure “The Archer”) as my three submissions. I’m sure they would all do wonders and reinvent the genre.
I’d love to see Kathryn Bigelow take her serious action chops to some sort of brutal, R-rated superhero film. Something wholly outside the Marvel or DC universes, something that she can really sink her teeth into and remind everyone why she’s such a skilled action director.
I’ve seen this sort of question posed elsewhere in less official capacities, and my response was the same then as it is now, which is that I’d much rather watch my favorite directors afforded creative control to do whatever the hell they want than get slowly strangled by Marvel’s studio mandates. I’ve found that when great artists get assigned to mass-market studio product, the material tends to weigh down their skills far more frequently than the skills elevate the material. (‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ was more fun than the two that had come before, and yet significantly less fun than any of Taika Waititi’s other movies.) The prospect of, say, Trey Edward Shults directing “Avengers 7” is exciting to me only insofar as it will provide him with a lot of money to make whatever the proper follow-up to “It Comes At Night” would be.
But I’m fun, I get the question and I can play ball. I reject the notion that Green Lantern is for some reason adaptation-proof, despite the valiant argument mounted by the Ryan Reynolds vehicle of 2011. All you need is the right hand on the steering wheel, a hand currently attached to the wrist of French madman Luc Besson. While people who enjoy recreationally being wrong denounced his “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” as an overstuffed mess bereft of internal logic, the cosmic maximalism in his vision for intergalactic travel is exactly what a good Green Lantern movie needs. The books were at their most fun when acquainting young readers with an imagined universe teeming with life, every corner as bustling and eccentric as the Mos Eisley Cantina. Let Besson throw a couple hundred million dollars at the problem, get Dane DeHaan back in the saddle to portray Kyle Rayner or tap Morris Chestnut for John Stewart, and you’re pretty much all set.
Although I always wish for favorite directors to do something more interesting than superhero and comic book movies (not that the genre can’t include great works, obviously), I can’t help but wonder still what a Terry Gilliam helmed blockbuster superhero movie would look like. Long ago he was supposed to make Watchmen, but that didn’t pan out. Of course, Gilliam talks crap about the genre now so it would never happen. That’s okay, though, because The “Adventures of Baron Munchausen” is the most underrated unofficial superhero team movie ever. “Time Bandits” is kind of like one, as well.