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Discuss: Do We Really Want Our Most Promising Filmmakers Directing Superhero Movies?

by Oliver Lyttelton
August 11, 2012 11:28 AM
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Magic Mike, Cody Horn

But if you love film -- truly adore cinema -- we simply don't get the mentality that you'd want your favorite filmmaker to take on a franchise property, at least if it's not a franchise that they hold particular attachments to (something like Peter Jackson taking on "The Lord of the Rings" is a slightly different case, because of his lifelong passion for the material). Nolan's Batman films are terrific, but none are as thrilling as "Memento," "The Prestige" or "Inception." We'd rather see Steven Soderbergh have a solid hit with "Magic Mike" than make "Ocean's Fourteen," and we'd rather see Darren Aronofsky win the cachet to get passion project "Noah" made through "Black Swan" becoming a hit rather than taking on "The Wolverine," which nearly happened.

And that's why we feel a little queasy every time fans and bloggers shout from the rooftops that they want Alfonso Cuarón, Duncan Jones or Neill Blomkamp to take on a "Martian Manhunter" movie, or whatever. Short of them having a lifelong passion for it, it feels like depriving us of a self-derived, original project from this kind of filmmaker for the sake of a franchise tentpole that, while a cut above your usual kind of franchise tentpole, is still a franchise tentpole. And promising directors seemed to be nabbed earlier and earlier for this sort of fare these days -- hence the arrival of people like Joe Cornish and Cary Fukunaga, who've only made a couple of films, onto shortlists, and the way in which Rupert Wyatt and Gareth Edwards ended up with big-budget fare like "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "Godzilla" at only their second time at bat. What if this situation happened thirty or forty years ago? What if the success of "Alien" led Ridley Scott to go off and make, say, "Superman III" rather than "Blade Runner" (a film that just made the Sight & Sound Top 100 greatest films of all time)? What if two decades ago, Quentin Tarantino was snapped up to reboot, let's say, "Shaft," off the back of "Reservoir Dogs?"

We hope it doesn't sound like we blame the filmmakers, necessarily. There's a basic reality to the situation that we absolutely appreciate. In a recent interview with "The Bourne Legacy" helmer Tony Gilroy, the writer-director told us "My fantasy was, after [his directorial debut] 'Michael Clayton,' my fantasy was I can write for dough on big movies and then every year and a half I can go make a ‘Clayton,’ make those kinds of movies. Who knew that that movie business would disappear? It disappeared instantaneously. By the time we finished “Duplicity,” that [mid-budget] movie business was over. I don't kid myself at all, I think that movie business is gone and not coming back, I think it's really gone. It's like complaining about the weather, it's a fact. The middle ground of dramatic filmmaking. There will be festival films, there will be a way to live, where a movie like ‘Clayton’ gets made if you get a movie star like Clooney to waive his fee, there will be exceptions for decades. But as a rule the middle-class drama, ambitious drama, it's on TV... So if you want to work in the big game, as I said try to find something that interests you and interests the audience. This hit that sweet spot."


Gilroy, like Soderbergh and Nolan and many others, has found a way to make something that allows him to make a franchise film that he is genuinely interested in. But he's also hit on a depressing reality: sometimes, these franchise pictures are the only game in town. Of the top twenty domestic grossers of the year, only "Brave," "Ted," "Magic Mike" and "Safe House" are not based on a pre-existing property, and the first two feel like extensions of the Pixar and Seth MacFarlane brands as it is. If you actually want people to come see your movies -- and surely only the most obtuse filmmaker doesn't want that -- than sometimes you don't have a choice but to take on a franchise film.

And that's why we're looking at you, the audience. There are hugely promising, exciting filmmakers out there who, against the odds, are committed to getting original ideas made. Rian Johnson, director of the hugely promising "Looper," told us at Comic-Con: "Adaptation is not something that's ever really appealed. If I read a great book or comic book or something, the last thing in my head is 'Wow, I want to make that into a movie.' Obviously, some of the greatest films ever made have been adaptations, I'm just talking about my personal opinion. So there's no dream project. My dream is to come up with another movie, and be able to make it. I'm realizing that that's the only way I can work. Every single movie that gets made is a miracle. But knock on wood, I've been able to get these things made, and it's not going to last forever. So as long as I've got this little window where I'm able to make these things, I'm just gonna keep making original stuff, and see how long I can get away with it."

It's a heartening approach, and we can't urge you enough to support filmmakers like Johnson (or Neill Blomkamp, or Duncan Jones, or Joe Cornish) who've resisted overtures from franchises to focus on their own material. Part of that comes from going to see their movies over, say, "Resident Evil 5," in the hope that they can get to work with bigger canvases and pet projects not by taking a paycheck gig, but like Aronofsky and "Black Swan," making something on their own terms that also connects with a wide audience. And part of that involves not suggesting, and wishing for their names to appear every time a big franchise property comes up. Because the risk then is that they become someone like Bryan Singer, a filmmaker who made a few taut, terrific low-budget pictures before making a series of big-budget films that felt increasingly anonymous (next year's "Jack The Giant Killer" looking the least promising of all).

Comic-Con Shane Black Jon Favreau

But these superhero movies and franchise tentpoles still need someone to direct them, right? Well, an unlikely hope arrives from Marvel. Jon Favreau (and to a degree, Edgar Wright) aside, the company has so far hired, for the most part, directors who would struggle to get a $5 million movie financed, let alone a $200 million one. The financial failures of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "Sleuth" meant that Shane Black and Kenneth Branagh weren't exactly money in the bank, but were broken out of director's jail by Marvel (the same could be argued for, say Kimberly Peirce's hiring for the "Carrie" remake). Joss Whedon, "Thor: The Dark World" helmer Alan Taylor and the Russo Brothers are all better known for their work on TV than on film. But Marvel had the foresight to see that these filmmakers could all handle big-budget fare, and for those who've had films released so far, it's paid off. And they will, hopefully, go on to have the cachet to get more personal projects made. It's almost a sort of graduate program for filmmakers, and somewhat different from the idea of taking Duncan Jones or Cary Fukunaga, who are able to get films financed, on a certain budget level at least.

It's a complex situation, for certain, and there aren't any easy answers. We don't begrudge fans for wanting their favorite filmmaker to direct their favorite properties, or directors who have a take on a franchise from taking work that'll likely mean they never have to worry about money again. But the culture has changed somewhat in the last few years to suggest that directing a franchise movie is the pinnacle of a filmmaker's career, and again, if you love film, it's worth resisting that mindset or at least giving it some serious consideration.

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  • James | August 27, 2012 1:45 PMReply

    It's really not that complicated a question if you aren't an art snob that puts certain genres in the ghetto while elevating others. Remember many of the films we consider classics of cinema today were little more than B pictures which the A films coming out at the same time are forgotten.

    The problem not isn't so much with the audience, but on the insistence of Hollywood that every film be a blockbuster now, so that with the few exceptions out there filmmakers are watering down their vision for the widest mass appeal, but that has nothing to do with genre. That's like saying that Kubrick was slumming when he decided to do science fiction films like 2001 and Clockwork Orange instead of heady stuff like Barry Lyndon.

  • Randolph Scott's Ghost | August 14, 2012 9:30 PMReply

    Don't really care for most of the directors mentioned, but I'd love to see Cronenberg doing something of blockbuster caliber. I'd love to see a real top notch, master filmmaker (not just a modern quasi-indie like the ones brought up) doing one of these movies. Let's not forget that many of the best works of cinema were made from trash source material, going all the way back through film history. And there's always a chance of sneaking a massive genre deconstruction onto the viewing public. That would be fun.

  • Video Beagle | August 14, 2012 12:00 PMReply

    I'm a bit confused by the article closing, which seems to say "These great promising directors shouldn't do super hero films....unless they're doing them for Marvel."

    (Which I would generally agree with, but that has to do with studio structure and executive control issues between WB and Marvel rather than the material)

  • Dood | August 14, 2012 8:50 AMReply

    If you can make a great movie about men and women in tight costumes for $200 million, then you can make a good movie anytime, anywhere. Our best directors should have a chance at some major exposure and major $$$. They earned it. Look at Star Trek. Because that was successful, we got movies like People Like Us and Super 8. Because of Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Wall-e, we get MI:4 and John Carter. It's apparent that in Hollywood, you earn your projects. Directors don't care about audience perception, they do what they love when the time is right.

  • BeyondTheHype | August 12, 2012 9:36 AMReply

    Nolan is not a great director...but he does have a great pr machine.

  • Dood | August 14, 2012 8:46 AM

    dude come on man. you know Nolan is a great director. stop it. Nolan gets crap for being a 'sell-out' or what not. He's not. He's inspired some other great filmmakers to do what he had done on TDK with IMAX (i.e. MI4, The Master). His movies are always entertaining.

  • Alan | August 12, 2012 1:23 AMReply

    The Nolan-Batman films are lightning in a bottle examples. WB didn't have a clue what to do with the franchise, so they gave several filmmakers a chance to pitch their takes. Nolan had more freedom to do what he liked with the franchise, plus he had a more interesting hero, rogues gallery and story history to play with. One problem is that other filmmakers aren't given the same level of material or freedom to pursue their goals.

  • G | August 11, 2012 11:10 PMReply

    Oliver's intentions appear well-meaning, but as presented are confused and misguided. His argument finally unravels when he urges readers to support Looper over the franchise trappings of Resident Evil 5 -- a cheap example when, franchise or not, RE5 will likely be another hollow piece of hackwork from Paul W.S. Anderson. Looper's position as an original property is irrelevant, its support should derive from whether or not it's great cinema.

    Why decry Bryan Singer's foray into the world of superheroes (X-Men, X2, and Superman Returns) when his return to lower-key, original thrillers amounted to Valkyrie? Why keep Duncan Jones from franchise fare when Source Code feels every bit like a safe studio thriller? And does it really matter what Ben Affleck's competent, no-frills direction brings us?

  • Alan | August 12, 2012 2:19 AM

    There are tons of examples that are misleading or confused. He cites 'Magic Mike' as a film that Soderbergh should be making, but that film ain't art ... and nor does it pretend to be. It's a commercial film made on scale: it's, in essence, an entertainment, which is what the 'Ocean
    's' films are, as well.

  • ralch | August 11, 2012 11:08 PMReply

    1. I semi-agree with the premise of this article in that the tendency to concentrate resources on tentpole productions is worrisome, as it takes away from middle-ground dramas or dramedys, but there is a bit of an exceedingly alarmist vibe to the whole thing. The whole superhero thing won't last forever. Right now we may be in the zenith of its hype, but movie-watching trends do evolve and shift as people grow tired of them. 2. As for promising or moderately established filmmakers, Jeff Nichols, the Duplass brothers, Wes Anderson, Ramin Bahrani, Lee Daniels, Kelly Reichardt, Nicole Holofcener, Sofia Coppola, Joe Wright, John Hillcoat, Richard Linklater and many others are doing their own things, and more and more young filmmakers are coming out of the festival circuits with works that operate between arthouse and genre. All is not lost. Oh, and then there are also the David Finchers, Danny Boyles, P. T. Andersons, etc. Hollywood is not just summer fare. 3. Nolan is not a great director. He is clumsy and derivative in his filmmaking grammar, but gets by on the size of his canvas. I also believe his Batman films are his strongest (have not seen The Prestige, though), with Memento and Inception being basically storytelling stunts way too pleased with their own mechanics. Basically what TXT said... except that I am not as radical an auteurist as he is. I do believe in a good script, which doesn't mean all movies require it nor that there is a uniform way of writing scripts. Bergman was as much a director as a writer, and so was Rohmer. Hitchcock also worked with first-rate scripts, as did many Hollywood directors of the golden era.

  • ralch | August 13, 2012 12:51 PM

    Well, he does have some interesting ideas, which are better explored when he's given the budget for it, and he also surrounds himself with very talented people. But his execution is still lacking, in my view. I've seen all by him but The Prestige and Following, and this pattern remains constant, imo. As for Memento, it was an endurance test. It's gimmicky and forced beyond belief.

  • kindred spirit | August 12, 2012 3:20 PM

    "Nolan is not a great director. He is clumsy and derivative in his filmmaking grammar, but gets by on the size of his canvas."-- RALCH, you should probably watch The Prestige and then reassess your statement. If he were to get by on the size of his canvas alone, than Memento would not have been what it was or continues to be in its genre. Inception would have been another entry in post-Transformers filmmaking.

  • Andrew Willis | August 11, 2012 11:00 PMReply

    This headline reads "...Our Most Promising Film Makers", then it has a photo of Ben Affleck. Really? I like The Town, and Gone Baby Gone, and the Argo trailer looks good, but is O'Bannion considered one of the most promissing film makers? Niel Blomkamp, Ducan Jones, Anton Corbijn; these are names I would put miles ahead of Affleck.

  • caro | August 12, 2012 6:14 PM


  • Brandon | August 11, 2012 9:58 PMReply

    I don't see this as an issue, and it seems almost petty to make it one. Who would begrudge a great director the chance to make a project he's interested in? Great filmmakers like Nolan have elevated the genre into something beyond the spandex clad fist fighting that it was. For some this is a chance to use a bigger canvas than they might otherwise be capable of getting access to. Without Batman Nolan wouldn't have been able to get funding to make films like The Prestige or Inception. You say you'd rather Arranofsky get to make Noah through the success of Black Swan than with Wolverine, but you forget it took 10 years of false starts before he was able to make Swan, and even then financing almost fell apart at the last minute. I would rather a filmmaker get the chance to facilitate their dream projects sooner rather than risk not being able to make them at all. Memento is one of my favorite films but that alone would not have enabled Nolan to make the types of films he wants to make.

    Like it or not, superhero films and franchise films have become the proving grounds and gateways to bigger budgets and better creative freedom. If a superhero flick nets us another Inception down the line I'm more than okay with that.

  • Apollo9000 | August 11, 2012 8:12 PMReply

    Superhero or drama or comedy or bio- no matter the genre, a great film can be made. And they have. I'd love to see Martin Scorsece or PTA direct a Daredevil movie ( if you know the character, you could see why). Yet, if they have no interest or more importantly respect for the source material then better to leave it alone. Some directors dream project might be a certain tentpole film (ie. Joss Whedon). That doesn't stop them from making original works. It's the same machine that "encourages" film makers to take on a tentpole film as a trade off. In Whedon's case, the trade was one dream project for another ( the success of the Avengers provides a better chance for his web series w/ Warren Ellis to take off and maybe a musical that he has in mind to get off the ground). If studios can trust filmmakers whether making blockbusters or an indie film, we'll get great stories. It's not as complex as it seems.

  • berk | August 11, 2012 6:48 PMReply

    The franchise mentality is the problem. Rather than trying to get directors or actors locked into a multi-film deal that spans almost a decade, the studios that own these superheros should push for more singular, non-continuous films. The one-off concept could be reinvented every with film that can create different interpretations of the characters by individual filmmakers that are not tied to previous versions. This would allow for a Guillermo del Toro horror version one year and a Duncan Jones sci-fi version 2-3 years later with no further commitment. Place the origin stories in the pre-credit scene or credit montage and then jump right in.

  • Oogle monster | August 11, 2012 3:46 PMReply

    First of all, to anyone who doesn't think Inception is a masterpiece (*cough* below), they are plain out WRONG! I still consider Inception as top tier Nolan (the other two being Memento and TDK). Secondly, I take issue with Affleck being included in this "most promising"/"best" filmmakers discussion (and this is not in reference to this article in particular because I don't think The Playlist lavishes Affleck with overpraise). Look, I really really respect the man and I think GBG and The Town DO show terrific promise, BUT all of a sudden dude is being referred to as the second coming of Nolan? I think he has a long ways to go before joining the ranks of Nolan and company, but I am happy to support and applaud him through his journey. I also think that Magic Mike sucked and there was no storyline, so can someone please explain to me why so many critics were ready to sign Tatum/Soderberg's praises? I'm always rooting for the underdog, but this film was WEAK. Contagion/Haywire >>>> Magic Mike

  • Oogle monster | August 11, 2012 10:03 PM

    Nihilist don't be such a goober.

  • nihilist | August 11, 2012 7:50 PM

    Well I guess you are the one who is plain out wrong (about Inception but also cinema in general).

  • OOGLE MONSTER | August 11, 2012 7:11 PM


  • Nihilist | August 11, 2012 5:31 PM

    Inception a masterpiece ? I liked it, it's a very good blockbuster but COME ON, A MASTERPIECE ?

  • justin | August 11, 2012 2:29 PMReply

    i think mr. lyttelton was a bit bored this afternoon and was hoping to incite the anger of fan boys and cinephiles to go at it for his amusement.

  • Christopher Gipson | August 11, 2012 2:21 PMReply


  • Brody | August 11, 2012 2:20 PMReply

    A lot of people are missing the point. "Who says superhero films aren't as good as anything else?" Anyone who is not an emotionally arrested 14 year old boy in a 40 year old man's body. The real tragedy is that there are almost no 50-million plus dollar movies that couldn't be taken to Comic Con today. Can you imagine taking The Godfather II to Comic Con? Goodfellas? The mid-budget dramatic pictures that are so excellent when done right are being completely eliminated. As Claire Danes put it, "Movies today are either microscopic or have robots in them." That mid-range 30 to 80 million dollar movie is being squeezed out of existence so they can make a 120 to 250 million dollar superhero movie every month. Hollywood's become addicted to "tentpole" pictures but if you don't like sci-fi sequels or fantasy adaptations, it's becoming hard to get excited about movies. And good directors are having a hard time getting anything off the ground that isn't a sequel or adaptation.

  • anonymous | August 24, 2012 11:15 PM

    There really does need to be more mid budget dramatic movies. Not every drama can be made properly for 5-10 million dollars.

  • d | August 11, 2012 2:28 PM


  • Christian | August 11, 2012 2:19 PMReply

    This is the result of an elitist, hipster mentality. Why shouldn't superhero films not be helmed by talented filmmakers? Do you have some kind of problem with your favorite directors becoming too mainstream? And Nolan's Batman films not on par with his other works - give me a break, college boy. Hipster, hipster, hipster.

  • Jesse | August 11, 2012 3:13 PM

    Your use of the word and hate for it won't help you being taken serious by anyone.

  • Bro man dude | August 11, 2012 1:51 PMReply

    "But if you love film -- truly adore cinema -- we simply don't get the mentality that you'd want your favorite filmmaker to take on a franchise property" - this is the thinking of an elitist asshole. Growing up loving something like Goonies and Fright Night and allowing that to grow into a love and appreciation for all sorts of films, doesn't mean that you adore cinema less than someone who thinks that Fellini or Godard are the tip of the cinematic iceberg.
    Here's a better rule of thought, if our best and brightest filmmakers are being duped into directing lame superhero genre fair, then they're not the unimpeachable artists that you thought they were, are they? As your argument stands, the only truly great director who's spent any amount of time helming a superhero series, is Nolan - and he arguably made three of the best crossover films of all time (films that appeal to cinephiles and fat midwestern pigs alike). It's just not anything worth getting bent out of shape over.

  • Tom | August 11, 2012 4:24 PM

    Actually I'd say Godard and Bergman are the tip of the cinematic iceberg. If it makes me an elitist so be it, but their work is waaaaay above the Goonies.

  • Dennis | August 11, 2012 3:43 PM

    I am a midwesterner, and I take offense to that remark about us being fat pigs. On the whole, however, I agree with your comment.

  • Huffy | August 11, 2012 12:31 PMReply

    I don't necessarily disagree with your sentiment Oliver but what's with the worship of Affleck and Rian Johnson? Your acting like these guys are on a Kieslowski in the early 90's-like run. Johnson has made a pair of interesting but very flawed films and Affleck is shaping up to be the next Clint Eastwood: a good craftsman whose talent behind the camera is overrated thanks to an ability to pick winning scripts. Honestly I wouldn't mind if either of these guys went to franchise route.

  • Alan | August 12, 2012 1:18 AM

    "Johnson has made a pair of interesting but very flawed films and Affleck is shaping up to be the next Clint Eastwood: a good craftsman whose talent behind the camera is overrated thanks to an ability to pick winning scripts." Affleck co-wrote the scripts to his first two films, so he's a bigger contributor to the material than Eastwood.

  • cory everett | August 11, 2012 12:09 PMReply

    Where this starts to get really interesting is to think that if it weren't for "The Dark Knight" trilogy we wouldn't have "Inception." So maybe if a few of the aforementioned auteurs can ace their Hollywood assignments and make them personal enough, they too could get their dream projects off the ground...

  • Head Buckaroo | August 12, 2012 10:57 AM

    Additionally, I should also say that in the case of Nolan, I think he genuinely wanted to make Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (possibly not TDKR, but that's another matter). His remake of the Swedish Insomnia should have sufficed for proving ground if his intention was only to make The Prestige. Nolan is a very different case from the majority of comic book movie directors and is not what we're talking about here. In most cases, studios are not looking for filmmakers to put their stamp on the material. They just need someone to make all the small, day-to-day decisions and physically direct the thing. All the big directorial decisions have been preordained. Also, Batman is Batman. The property has a very large popular audience that most of these smaller (and dare I say lesser) properties don't. Studios are sort of setting up these directors to fail and therefore, potentially quashing their personal projects.

  • Head Buckaroo | August 12, 2012 10:42 AM

    I feel a larger point lost in this sort of argument is that Hollywood assignments need not be comic book movies. The one for them-one for me approach is not the issue; it's that the ones for them are sucky, derivative, and of limited imagination. Hollywood assignments can be original material. Or even adaptations of lesser known properties, which I feel would be preferable. There's no reason not to do this. Movies based on existing properties don't necessarily do better box office than original films. It's a matter of marketing and appeal. And sometimes, maybe, the actual quality of the films themselves. Ten or fifteen years ago, Inception could have been a Hollywood assignment.

  • Oogle monster | August 11, 2012 3:48 PM

    I like the way Cory Everett thinks.

  • TXT | August 11, 2012 12:06 PMReply

    'Nolan's Batman films are terrific, but none are as thrilling as "Memento," "The Prestige" or "Inception." ' -- Firstly, you're absolutely in the minority there, even among Nolan fanboys, so it's a bit obnoxious to phrase it as fact (everyone loves TDK, don't you remember?). Memento, Inception, and The Prestige are high-concept thought experiements with little to no relevance to lived human life. Notwithstanding, they don't even hold up as good cinema -- just a mishmash of talky, complex exposition and gimmicky plotting, effects, and mise en scene. The lower key Insomnia and Batman Begins are his best. It's easier to forgive slopping plotting in his smaller scale stuff -- when it's Inception-sized, the fuck ups are too glaring to forgive

  • Hey TXT | August 11, 2012 8:11 PM

    Yeah I agree, I think. There are a number of superhero movies that I love with a passion. And I do agree a talented director like Nolan can elevate the material precisely because he is more than just a good action director, or a good storyteller. I just got riled up because you called Cornish mediocre haha. In the end, none of this matters. Directors will do whatever they want, hopefully we enjoy it. Who cares. Just wanted to stick up for Cornish, Blomkamp, and Rian Johnson--three filmmakers I feel have totally earned the respect they get from internet fanboys. Also, as a writer, it hurts to hear that story isn't king haha. And since we talked so much about him, I'm inspired to go watch A Short Film About Killing again...possibly my favorite thing Kieslowski's done. Oh and just for the sake of internet arguments, I love Attack the Block so much more than any film by Mann...but it's all just personal opinion so who knows...maybe in a few decades we can actually compare them. Until then, at least everybody agrees that this writer is an idiot haha just kidding whatever, internetttt

  • txt | August 11, 2012 7:37 PM

    If you think Cornish is better than Mann based on Attack the Block, well...our conversation can't go much further. I'm not trying to dismiss story, not at all, but to say that Three Colors is great because of its story and not the filmmaking, the specificity of its execution, you must be conflating the two (that, or PS I Love You and Things We Lost in the Fire are just as excellent in your, obviously esteemed, opinion). You're making the same mistake this article has made: assuming that the story makes the film. It's the images, sounds, performances that make the film, that tell the story, and thus, what make the film good or bad. Story plays an important role -- and certain stories aren't amenable to certain types of filmmaking (as you said, Kieslowski and action films) -- but that doesn't mean it makes sense to dismiss all superhero premises for distinguished filmmakers, as this writer has done. Because the movie isn't the story, the story is just one piece of the puzzle

  • Hey TXT | August 11, 2012 6:28 PM

    TXT, you're kind of an idiot. "That ought to be the least important thing in cinema, the story, but here it's vaunted as the end-all-be-all." The reason I love Three Colors and Decalogue is precisely because of the story. I could go more into that but I won't because...well, you're kind of an idiot. Attack The Block is an amazing piece of cinema. I'm assuming the only reason you don't like it is because you either haven't seen it or you are confusing it with something else. That's not to say I agree with the article completely (I would probably be super excited if Marvel offered Cornish one of their lesser properties and gave him free reign), but you cannot deny that he is at least as good of a director as Mann (Public Enemies is a terrible movie). Someone once said that the hardest kind of movie to direct is an action movie and a big part of me agrees with that. I sincerely doubt Kieslowski could have filmed an action scene as satisfying as Blomkamp or Cornish have. Though obviously no one would expect him to. They are completely different filmmakers so I'm not sure what you get by name dropping him into this conversation. Regardless, the point of the article is (or should have been) that it is more exciting to see directors try new things rather than get stuck in a franchise. The Dark Knight is a wholly original movie compared to Batman Begins. The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, is a franchise sequel that probably no one needed. Ocean's 13 is a movie no one needed. So I don't mind directors taking on big studio franchises like Alfonso Cuaron did with Prisoner of Azkaban or Ang Lee did with The Hulk. What I do mind is if it consumes them to the point where that's all we get from them. Like how Peter Jackson seems to be stuck doing The Hobbit for at least another few years. Or how Joss Whedon is now stuck to another Avengers. But it's never forever...Sam Raimi came out of SpiderMan finally and made Drag Me To Hell which I consider to be his best movie since Evil Dead 2. And those two Raimi movies go to show that just because someone is a genre director does not mean they are better off with bigger budgets and recognizable characters. Sometimes it all comes down to their ability to "dramatize something beautiful"...and it's a lot easier to do that when their heart's are actually in it ;)

  • TXT | August 11, 2012 12:54 PM

    Summary of the below: There's no reason to make this argument. A dramatic filmmaker like PTA or Mann would never have made a franchise film early on even if asked. It doesn't remotely fit their sensibilities. Blomkamp, Cornish, and Johnson are making high-concept genre films that are less than a stone's throw from some B-superhero movie plot. So, the filmmakers we want to see making great dramatic films will always do so, because it's their modus operandi. We wouldn't recognize them as worthwhile, intelligent auteurs if it weren't. Those with high-concept genre sensibilities may do just as well or BETTER in a franchise environment than writing their own stuff, because -- big surprise -- Batman or Flash or Twilight might just be conceptually richer than 'original material' like The Brothers Bloom or Source Code, or at least of equivalent value. So, why not get paid more to continue working in your wheelhouse. If they're talented, they'll do good work in the franchise (it has been done, many times), if not, then who cares anyway

  • TXT | August 11, 2012 12:40 PM

    Pt 1: A franchise film is what the filmmaker makes of it. If Michael Mann had done a Batman movie in 2009 instead of Public Enemies, I'd like to think it would've been the more satisfying cinematic venture (not that PE was bad). The problem is, the purview of this article is incredibly narrow: you say "support filmmakers like Johnson (or Neil Blomkamp, or Duncan Jones, or Joe Cornish) who've resisted overtures from franchises to focus on their own material." Well, if The Brothers Bloom, Moon, Source Code, District 9, and Attack the Block are the alternatives...the franchises aren't looking too bad. The aforementioned are middle of the road, banal filmmakers. The writer of this piece is enamored of big budget high-concept sillyness (and yes, all of those are big, multi-million dollar films). Who cares if guys like that take on franchises? It'd be one thing if you were talking about a young Kieslowski, and what a shame it would be to be cheated out of potentially great, original future works, but the guys you've mentioned are all, basically, conventional Hollywood style filmmakers. The only thing original about their movies is the concept (and by original, I really mean 'novel'). Not ideas dramatized, but story, plot. That ought to be the least important thing in cinema, the story, but here it's vaunted as the end-all-be-all. If they're writing their own stuff and if it's "cool," that's better than a franchise property, a priori. But guess what, there is no ontological different between Source Code or Bloom and any random Z-grade superhero movie. The former just has less baggage. But they're all high-concept story films. They become differentiated in the execution.

  • TXT | August 11, 2012 12:40 PM

    And I'd take Captain America or Iron Man over literally any of those fimmakers' movies – because they're better as cinema (even if they're still not great). Batman, though at this point nearly exhausted of all potential as a cinematic idea, is much more promising in the abstract, as a concept, than any of those filmmakers' 'original stories.' Bottom line, you're fighting for filmmakers who don't need fighting for, whose perspectives are conventional enough that a franchise concept could easily support it. So, I really don't get the point of this whole piece. A franchise is just a story. A novel story idea is all most supposed cineastes care about anymore, and Duncan Jones and those guys are just high-concept factories. Great for Johnson if he doesn’t want to adapt stuff. That's fine. Lots of filmmakers have made masterpieces form adaptations (uhh, Blade Runner perhaps, which you invoke as an 'original' film). But if the story suits a filmmakers ideational point of view, and he or she can use it to dramatize something beautiful, that's all that counts. Franchise or not is irrelevant. You’re confusing story and execution. Just because franchises typically aren't executed artfully doesn't mean they CAN'T be. That's precisely why fans and studios want great filmmakers. To take conceptally novel or interesting material and make good cinema out of it. I think you're Nolan comment is the point at which this entire little pieces folds in on itself: lots of people do think Nolan made his best work within the Batman franchise. There's absolutely no reason to think that the same wouldn't be true of plenty of other filmmakers. After all, we're taking about stories here, not movies, and just about any story, in sensitive hands, can be made a great movie

  • JD | August 11, 2012 12:03 PMReply

    This is a fairly divisive issue , From a personal standpoint I would certainly prefer the most promising directors of this generation make their own films that are original (or as much as one can be), as the Tarantinos and PTA's have managed in recent years . That said, it would be nice to see some franchises with some depth in a similar vein to Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy rather than just a regular whore like Mike Bay being commisssioned to direct every major franchise but this, in an ideal world come without sacrificing of at least some original productions. I take exception in case of Ben Affleck and that I can be included in the most promising filmmakers bracket, I'm certainly not convinced that he can be considered a great or even very good filmmaker yet, Gone Baby Gone certainly showed promise as a morality tale but failed to coax a convincing performance from any of the leads (coughs Michelle Monaghan and you too Casey Affleck), Again with The Town the storyline was similar to Mann's Heat and overly self-indulgent but in this case captured a kind of gritiness and realism that Heat probably didn't have. There is a pattern emerging with Affleck that he manages solid aspects of a film but fails to deliver a complete one, Argo is the same it still has a Syriana feel (despite what the Playlist keep insisting) without the multilayered storyline and makes some interesting points about the political nature of a hostage situation and I suppose more emotionally driven charcaterizations as well as an excellent role for Bryan Cranston but falls short of its aim to be both character driven and deliver an intellectual politically charged thriller.

  • hg | August 11, 2012 11:47 AMReply

    what kind of crap is this?

    super hero movies are not rom coms or some crap

    they are respected characters with ton of depth and humanity and very deep character with strong storylines with years and years of mythos

    why should'nt respected film makers make these properties

  • PapushiSun | August 11, 2012 12:18 PM

    Congratulations on completely missing the point.

  • Cribbster | August 11, 2012 12:03 PM

    Because the greatest superhero movies tend to pale in comparison to the greatest dramas. The question of this article is a little dumb though because it would only be a good question if our best directors were actually directing superhero movies. They're not. And the great ones who are tend to be naturally inclined toward action fare anyway. Christopher Nolan directing Batman isn't a great stretch from what's he's doing naturally. Same for Joss Whedon and "The Avengers." Ben Affleck turned down "Justice League." That's not his wheelhouse (assuming he has one). The article then goes on to list a number of great directors who have turned down tentpole stuff. So, essentially, our best directors are not actually directing superhero movies. They're being considered and either not getting it or turning them down. When Paul Thomas Anderson does a standard superhero movie, then I'll start worrying. Until then, the guys that are making them are well-suited to them.

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