By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com August 11, 2012 at 11:28AM
Pretty much the hottest directorial job in Hollywood right now is that for "Justice League," the Warner Bros. movie that will team superheroes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and more. The film is still likely three years away, but the success of "The Avengers" and the end of Christopher Nolan's Batman saga has caused Warners to actively move forward on the project, commissioning a script from "Gangster Squad" writer Will Beall last year. And earlier this week, news leaked out on the director who was their first choice for the project: Ben Affleck.
The actor-turned-director and Best Screenplay Oscar winner has rejuvenated his career in recent years with smart, grown-up thrillers "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town," the latter of which proved a sleeper hit for Warners, and hopes are high that his latest, Iran hostage drama "Argo," will be a big player in the coming awards season. So it's not a huge surprise that the studio came after Affleck; they offered him both "Man of Steel" and "Gangster Squad," and the filmmaker is attached to a two-film version of Stephen King's apocalyptic "The Stand" for the studio as well.
And it's not surprising as part of a general trend, either, given the success of Nolan's Bat-films, franchises all over the shop are aiming high with their directorial ambitions. Gus Van Sant and Sofia Coppola were sought for "Twilight: Breaking Dawn" before Oscar-winner Bill Condon got the gig, while David Cronenberg, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón (who has some franchise form, having helmed the third 'Harry Potter'), along with newer-school, but equally acclaimed filmmakers like Tomas Alfresdon, Duncan Jones, Joe Cornish and Cary Fukunaga, were all on wishlists to direct "The Hunger Games" sequel "Catching Fire."
The signs, at this point, are that Affleck, to his credit, has little interest in the project. We suspect that after this point, the studio will go to Alfonso Cuarón or Guillermo del Toro (who both have big-budget films at the compnay due for release next year), along with 'Harry Potter' director David Yates, and maybe "Gangster Squad"'s Ruben Fleischer. Who knows who'll end up with the job, but we'd certainly rather it was the latter two, rather than Affleck, Cuarón or del Toro, or even a younger, more promising filmmaker like, say, Rian Johnson or Duncan Jones. In fact, we're starting to wish that franchises would keep their grubby hands off acclaimed filmmakers. And that kind of goes for the fans too.
It's of course understandable to wish for a great filmmaker to come on to a property. Everyone, fans in particular, wants a talented visionary director to elevate material that threatens to be dire in lesser hands. "The Dark Knight Rises" and its predecessors are the best examples of this at present. Nolan took a well-worn property and completely reinvented it, putting a personal stamp on the material and coming out with something that made the superhero genre critically respectable, and possibly even an Oscar contender. No one in their right minds would prefer a Joel Schumacher-directed Batman movie to a Christopher Nolan-directed one.
And of course, there's the one-for-them, one-for-us 'rule.' Without taking "Batman Begins," or something of that caliber, Nolan would have never been able to make long-time dream project (excuse the pun) "Inception," at least not on the giant scale that it was achieved. Steven Soderbergh got to pursue his more experimental work by making a guaranteed hit in the 'Ocean's' trilogy every few years, and, like Nolan, did so in a way that ensured they fit in his filmography next to the personal projects (indeed, "Ocean's Twelve" is one of the more formally playful works on the director's resume).