Let’s be honest before we begin: whoever directs this film is walking into a situation where they are going to be in service of someone else’s vision, and that vision is going to consist of dozens of people’s visions, all of them combined into whatever that script ends up being. Before they have a director set, they’re going to have a script that they are committed to, that they’ve paid for quite dearly at this point, and that director is going to have to be willing to make that movie.
There are names that people always like to throw out for everything, names that are preposterous because they just aren’t going to do it. Instead of picking non-starters today like Terry Gilliam (no studio on Earth is pulling the trigger on a $150 million film with Gilliam at the helm), Lana and Andy Wachowski (they’re not interested and would much rather focus on their own material), or even Steven Spielberg (not gonna happen), we’re going to name ten artists we would like to see given free reign to make the material whatever they want to make it.
Some of these names you might expect based on my reviews and reportage over the years. Some of them you might not expect at all or even agree with. But all of these are people whose “Justice League” would get us in a theater opening weekend. Let’s see how many of these names you like, and who I’m overlooking, both of which I’ll expect plenty of in the comments section below.
Remember that moment in “The Iron Giant”? You know the one I’m talking about. The big guy has decided to make a sacrifice for the boy he’s come to love, and he takes off, determined to meet a missile far enough away to avoid hurting anyone in the city, and as he rises, secure in knowledge that he has made a choice, and he is not a gun. He is not a weapon. He is something with a soul, a being capable of choosing, a machine with a moral compass. And that knowledge, that self-realization, fills him with faith and strength and, yes, love, and he closes his eyes. And he leans into it. And, practically giddy with the courage of knowing he is doing the right thing, he allows himself to invoke the name…
Goose bumps, right? An amazing moment that says everything about the journey of this remarkable being, this Iron Giant, and a great example of how good Bird is at the Big Moment. He understands the superhero genre innately, and “The Incredibles” is further proof that he’s the right man for the job, but it goes deeper than that. Bird has an impeccable story sense, and when he made the jump to live-action with “Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol,” he proved he can create the same sort of excitement as in his animated work, and that he can handle a group dynamic. After all, much of “Ghost Protocol” is about the team, how they get cut off from all their support, how they trust each other and each contribute something particular, and ultimately, how they win as a team. That seems like a perfect warm-up for “Justice League” to us.
Juan Antonio Bayona
I have no idea how much “The Impossible” cost to make, but if you told me it was $100 million, I’d believe you, and if you told me $10 million, I’d also believe you. I’m sure it’s somewhere in between, but the reason I’m so confused is because the work he does in recreating a tsunami that sweeps in and destroys the Thailand resort is seamless and persuasive. Basically, it looks like he just staged a real tsunami and destroyed a small Southeast Asian country in the process.
More than that, though, is the way he uses the effects and the practical work and the combination of techniques to communicate emotion. The tsunami is incredibly upsetting because he makes it an experience, puts you in the midst of it. A “Justice League” movie has got to be about scale, and you want someone who won’t lose the human details in the midst of that kind of mayhem.
If he can take a group of muggers from threatening an innocent woman in the street to being unlikely saviors of the world and genuinely win over the audience in the process, then I would imagine he can figure out how to make the members of the Justice League look like the golden gods they are. He speaks fluent blockbuster, and even if “Attack The Block” is a small film, the way he solved the film’s visual questions, including the design of the aliens, is enough to suggest that he would give us a dynamic take on the familiar characters.
Guillermo Del Toro
Oh, the things I’ve seen. Look, Guillermo’s had a handle on comic book language since he began, and “Blade II” was his chance to prove that he was ready for big mainstream jobs. He did a great job of staging big-budget action on a fairly restrained budget. Both of the “Hellboy” films stretched their money as far as was humanly possible. But until you see what he’s doing with “Pacific Rim,” you have no idea what sound and fury he can summon. He is staging fights on a level we’ve never really seen from a giant studio movie, and that’s one of the things that could help distinguish a Justice League movie. If anyone can create a threat that would require Superman and Batman and The Flash and Green Lantern and Wonder Woman all concentrating their full attention on it, Guillermo can.
And I have a feeling Warner Bros. is going to be loving Guillermo when next summer rolls around. Here’s your chance to keep him in the family.
Nicolas Winding Refn
For many people, “Drive” was an introduction to the particular talents of Refn, and looking at that film, the first thought isn’t automatically “give this guy a superhero megafranchise.” What Refn has done over the course of his short and distinguished career is offer up intimate portraits of men who are pushed to some extreme place, who become almost emblematic in their behavior. The idea that the guy who shot “Valhalla Rising” or “Bronson” would be responsible for showing us what the most powerful people in the world are like when the pressure on them would break anyone else is exciting, to say the least.
After all, the whole point of this exercise is to imagine how many ways various directors might twist or bend our expectations for a film starring such larger-than-life figures. These are people with such a strong directorial voice that they might actually push through the system that has so far failed the DC movies so often, which has to happen if they’re going to really establish these as something special.
It might be easy to think, reading my reviews over the last decade or so, that I think Marvel is the pinnacle of all superhero filmmaking, but I want to qualify the praise I’ve given to various films that I view all of this as part of a continuum. I think there is so much room for growth within the spectrum of “superhero movies,” and part of seeing these films transcend the crass corporate impulses that drive their production is hiring the right people, people who will push instead of just imitating what’s already been done.
You want to see a superhero movie that looks like no other superhero movie? Mark Romanek was not the most audacious visual imagination of the Propaganda, nor was he the most surreal and anti-commercial of the bunch. When you look at his music video work, though, he’s very obviously a filmmaker. He had, in fact, made his first feature already by the time he became an MTV mainstay. Music videos were his safety net after “Static” came and went, and he worked with a truly odd and eclectic range of artists. En Vogue, De La Soul, Teenage Fanclub, The The, k.d. lang, Robyn Hitchcock, Iggy Pop., Lenny Kravitz, Madonna, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Macy Gray, No Doubt, Weezer, Eels, Sonic Youth, and Beck were all part of his time in music video, and he created some iconic images in those videos.
And, to be blunt, he could use the gig.
Romanek’s feature films are both strong, interesting pictures that seem to me to be uncompromised, and neither one of them proved to be particularly commercial. Like any artist working in film, he needs some financial success to point at so he can make other things that are personal to him. I have no doubt he could tell the story in big painterly strokes, and that it would be beautiful. I just have no idea if Warner would support him fully. If they did, I have a feeling we’d get something amazing as a result.
How has this not happened yet? How has Robert Zemeckis not been pulled into one of these already? I’d love to see what he would do with these icons, especially since he’s going to be coming at it based on the way the characters were defined when he was young. He’s not the same pop culture generation as many of the other names on this list, and that might make for a very interesting approach, one we haven’t seen.
Technically speaking, is there anyone on this list who you can honestly say is better at creating and executing amazing cutting-edge FX sequences? Zemeckis could show us things we’ve only ever seen in the comics before. Have you ever seen a George Perez panel where there are roughly 10,000 different characters all in the same panel? Well, Zemeckis would know how to do that, and he’d probably invent a new way of shooting things that would suddenly become the industry standard for how to show superpowered heroes at work and play. Holy cow… the more I think about this, the more I wonder why no one’s made this happen.
What about you? Who would be your ideal pick to do this, and setting aside the idea that they’re already developing the script, what would you do to bring the heroes together in a compelling way for both fans and first-time viewers?