Friday, November 14, 2008

Artisans Over Auteurs: Comic Book Films Playing It Safe

In one of my previous blog entries, I suggested that superhero films have begun to gain respectability, and just last week I blogged about the rivalry between Warner Bros. and Marvel. This week, I decided to follow up on both posts and see how the two studios are faring in their attempts, or lack thereof, to maintain this reputability based on recent news and rumors about upcoming superhero projects. First came the word that pop superstar Beyoncé Knowles expressed interest in playing Wonder Woman (pictured below), followed by a rumor that Warner Bros. is looking at Charlie's Angels director McG for the DC Comic adaptation. Then there was the announcement from Marvel that Joe Johnston of The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III fame would be helming The First Avenger: Captain America (pictured below to the left). I took to the blogosphere to seek out what others had to say about these developments and also to offer my own take on how they relate to the maturation of superhero cinema and how they might affect the overall direction of their respective studios. The first external blog I replied to, entitled "Rumor: Beyoncé Wants Wonder Woman; Warner Brothers Wants McG," is a reaction to the news by Kevin Powers of The second, "Captain America To Be Directed By... Oh. Really? That Guy?" comes from Stuart Heritage of Hecklerspray and critiques Marvel's choice of Joe Johnston. My comments can be found below or by following the links.

"Rumor: Beyoncé Wants Wonder Woman; Warner Brothers Wants McG"
Thank you for your insightful post regarding these recent Wonder Woman reports. What strikes me most about the rumors, if true, is that they seem to imply that Warner Bros. is playing it safe with their upcoming superhero adaptations. While casting Beyoncé is a daring move for social reasons, she is still a pop sensation who would guarantee box office numbers and indeed "seems only interested in what the film might do for her, not what she could do for the iconic story." In other words, Beyoncé is bankable. Enlisting McG would also be a prudent decision on the studio's part, as his filmography consists of successful Hollywood blockbusters, TV episodes, and music videos. He has also been in talks to direct a superhero film since the rumored Superman film several years back, so his involvement should not surprise anybody. You would think that after the financial and critical phenomenon that was The Dark Knight, the studio could afford (and be inspired) to experiment a bit with their choice of actors and directors. The fear of losing money should not be an excuse. Even with a struggling economy, the movie business is supposed to be "recession proof," so what do they have to lose?

I would love to see Warner Bros. continue to recruit more auteurs in the vein of Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer with distinctive vision and a sense of artistry for their superhero films. McG is more of an artisan than an auteur. His movies are solid, competently made moneymakers. Charlie's Angels and We Are Marshall are decent, but standard Hollywood movies that fail to really transcend the conventions of their respective genres. You even talk about expecting Terminator Salvation to be a surprisingly "solid execution," as if making excuses for a mediocre filmmaker. Given his track record, McG is the obvious pick to direct a big budget action picture, which is exactly the kind of choice the studio should avoid if they want films that are not merely acceptable, but exceptional. Even though you claim McG is adequate, are there any other, more suitable filmmakers you would like to see behind the camera for Wonder Woman? It's a shame Joss Whedon was dropped from the project, as he could have brought that extra artfulness to the table, in my opinion. I would just hate to see Warner Bros. drop the ball so soon after a movie as strong as The Dark Knight. What are your thoughts?

"Captain America To Be Directed By... Oh. Really? That Guy?"
Thank you for your humorous post about the relatively underwhelming choice of Joe Johnston to direct the Captain America movie. While I am a huge fan of The Rocketeer and can even enjoy Jumanji for its nostalgic value, I cannot help but feel that Johnston is too safe a pick and that Marvel is taking no creative chances when it comes to this crossover agenda they have been pushing as of late. What I have noticed, and what this announcement seems to prove, is that the studio seems to be going with somewhat unremarkable directors compared to the ones they were enlisting just a few years ago. Whatever happened to finding notable auteurs like Bryan Singer (X-Men), Sam Raimi (Spider-Man), Guillermo del Toro (Blade II), or even Ang Lee (Hulk)? Well, actually I probably just answered my own question. Unfortunately, the rather lukewarm reception of Hulk probably killed off any chance of getting talented visionaries again as far as major Marvel character adaptations go. Though you praise "indie darling" Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and "up-and-comer" Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk), I find it hard to compare them to the quality of the directors that came before. While I thoroughly enjoyed both of their efforts, they have yet to prove to me they have the personal touch and artfulness to set their work as a whole above the rest. Instead, they have shown themselves to be simply competent filmmakers who know how to piece together a solid film. Like artisans, they promise a reliable product, which is why the studio chose them. Assuming I am not alone in this analysis, what do you make of this trend?

I will admit, however, that not all of Marvel's recent decisions have been unadventurous. The choice to put the brilliant Edgar Wright in charge of Ant-Man is indeed a breath of fresh air, and a Thor movie directed by Kenneth Branagh sounds promising. Heck, the idea of even attempting a live action Thor film is a brave endeavor in and of itself, given its ridiculous premise. At the same time, while these two characters do play a key role in Marvel's upcoming crossover plans, they are arguably less important than Iron Man and the Hulk, who are probably better known among casual superhero fans, and especially Captain America, the leader of the Avengers team. I am assuming this is why Marvel is playing it safe in terms of these crossovers, because they cannot afford to alienate audiences by experimenting artistically with one character if he is the crux of the eventual crossover film. A poorly received Captain America picture could translate to an Avengers movie that no one wants to see. As a result, they have chosen Joe Johnston, the safest bet to produce an adequate product. That said, The First Avenger: Captain America, like Iron Man and to a lesser extent The Incredible Hulk, can still be a good or even great film even with an artisan like Johnston at the helm, and at the end of the day, that is ultimately what matters. I would personally just like to see the filmmakers behind the camera be as adventurous as the heroes in front of the camera.

1 comment:

Daniel Borders-Ashe said...

God Michael Turner could draw women.

He will be missed.

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