Inspired once more by this week’s Filmspotting, I’ve stolen their idea and assembled my top 6! (take that Filmspotting, only doing 5 each!) list of auteur super hero films. Check out the episode because they make some interesting calls. But read this first, because mine are more interesting.
I suppose I should actually explain what it is I’m doing. In a nutshell, I try to link a super hero with a director you would not readily assume would take on a super hero project. And sometimes, for fun, I’ll throw in a couple of actors I’d like to see in the movie too. The six is so I could do 3 DC and 3 Marvel and thus show no preferential treatment to either of the Big 2. I’m nothing if not fair minded.
6 Auteur Super Hero Movies We Need to Live Full and Complete Lives
1.) SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN- I’m going to start with this one because it is so bleedingly obvious and, yet, too damn good to ignore.
Put Stephen Soderbergh in the driver seat of this caper film that features some of Spider-Man’s most C-level—but still delightful—villains as they attempt to pull off the score of their lives all while their defacto leader prepares to stab them in the back, that leader’s probation officer, a former villain himself seems to be getting increasingly close to derailing the whole damn thing, and a much smarter villain is pulling all there strings from behind the scenes.
Like I said, given Soderbergh has directed the OCEANS franchise and LUCKY LOGAN, this choice is dead obvious but it is still damn good. Take the over the top theatrics of OCEANS and marrying it with the down of their luck personalities of LUCKY and toss in the costumes and you are basically there. Let Soderbegh a little space to make it also about the current state of the US economy (haves v have-nots, basically decent people forced into a life of crime by a combination of the lie of the American dream and a lack of options) and voila!
Cast-wise, I’ll just toss out a couple of ideas.
Boomerang- While Fred Myers was born in Australia, he was raised in the U.S. so he is accent-less and be played by an ol’ American. Or Canadian, as in this case. It’s time for Hayden Christensen to make a comeback and given who well he played a mix of overconfidence and sweaty improve to get away with lying in SHATTERED GLASS, he’s my Myers.
The Shocker- Both the heart and the dunce of the group, the Shocker is a villain who is self-taught and smart as can be but constantly gets in his own way. He is almost entirely guileless, a weird trait for a super villain—and incredibly haunted by the deaths of several “colleagues” years ago. I like James Wolk to play this surface goofus who is actually quite wracked by inner turmoil, fear, and survivor’s guilt.
The Beetle- Troian Bellisario has proven she can handle a weird mix of comradery and unceasing double crossing in “Pretty Little Liars.” Additionally, she has proven can inject a bit of world weariness into her acting which will help given that she is the youngest member of the team but arguably the most mature.
The Chameleon- Look, Matthew Bomer needs to be in a super hero movie like a year ago so let’s get this done. Additionally, he has a track record with Soderbegh (MAGIC MIKE) and playing he smartest guy in the room who still might not be a smart as he thinks (WHITE COLLAR). Finally, there is something delightfully subversive to me about making a man that gorgeous be a blank face for most of the film. Plus, if you could take on anyone’s appearance, wouldn’t you give yourself Bomer-esque cheekbones for your walking around face?
Mach-VIII- Mach-VIII is the villain turned hero playing villain turned convict turned hero turned super hero probation officer. He’s a genuinely decent guy, smart, but also a bit absorbed in his own drama meaning he has to play catch-up to the Foes even though, if he could focus, he’d bust them in no time at all. Christopher Lowell of VERONICA MARS and GLOW can play that good guy still a little scuzzy from his past and oblivious due to his own self-involvement well.
2.) MANHUNTER- A DA who grows so tired of feeling outmaneuvered by super villain’s high paid law teams, Kate Spencer raids the super villain evidence locker and takes on the super criminals she can’t best in court before quickly expanding to any and all comers. Seemingly trapped between two worlds all around—believing in the law but seeking justice outside it, a workaholic who also wants to be the best possible mom, a cynic who can’t help but strive for a better world—Spencer is constantly at war with herself.
My love for most of Kathryn Bigelow’s output is well-documented on this site so it’s probably isn’t a surprise to find her on this list. Still, it is no mere bias. She excels at depicting women’s experience in mostly male spaces—the law and vigiliante-ing being two such spaces—and crushes action. I’ve wanted her to return to the stylized action films she made for years until her recent “mediations on patriotism” phase and this would fit the bill but it is also morally complicated enough to scratch her interest in those stories as well.
Sarah Shahi nailed a very similar role in the TV show Life and definitely deserves to make the leap to being a silver screen lead.
3.) BLUE MARVEL- Although several heroes have been pointed to as “Marvel’s Superman,” Blue Marvel is probably the one with the most claim to it given he’s never been a villain and is an undeniably inspirational figure.
Largely forgotten by history despite some incredible feats, Blue Marvel lived his life as Adam Brashear, college professor, for years. However, his powers greatly slowed his aging so when he returns to spotlight almost 50 years after he disappeared, he is just as ready to play the hero as ever.
The reason for his return? His former best friend Conner Sims who was twisted into a villain by the same experiment that made Blue Adam a hero.
Rick Famuyiwa excels at depictions of friendships which I would want central to make this movie something more than a mere punch ‘em up. Plus, he nearly directed FLASH so we know he has some familiarity with super hero movies and the willingness to walk if it isn’t right.
Omari Hardwick is my Blue Adam. While Power is not a tv show I’m overly impressed with, his performance as the main character shows range and his a strong stabilizing presence on screen, a necessity for Adam. It doesn’t hurt that the guy is yoked either.
As Sims, I’m putting up Matt Damon. Age appropriate for Hardwick’s best friend, capable of getting shredded in a hurry and able to demonstrate good intentions corrupted by insanity and white privilege (the latter in his personal life as well, unfortunately), Damon is a good fit for the character. Plus, we’ve only really seen Damon play bad once so I think the time to let him get a bit darker is here.
4.) AZTEK THE ULTIMATE MAN- Aztek is actually Uno, a member of a secret society raised from birth to be a great warrior in the name of the god Quetzalcoatl to oppose the coming of the Shadow God Tezcatlipoca. Upon passing his final test he is sent to Vanity, a “sick” city that seems to corrupt or drive all its residents mad. After accidentally contributing to a man’s death—Curt Falconer, a former super villain turned surgeon who is blackmailed into a final job--Uno assumes his identity and tries to understand Vanity, humanity, and keep his focus on his sacred duty.
I tap Alex Garland for directing duties as he has proven himself to be adept at capturing high tech worlds on smaller budgets. More importantly, he is great at creating settings that seem too good to be true that slowly reveals themselves to be dark and dangerous inside, which fits with both Vanity and the Q Foundation that raised Aztek. Lastly, at times Garland has a wicked sense of humor and some of Aztek’s best moments as a comic featured humor amongst the horror.
Cast-wise, I’d start with Jesse Williams. He knows his medicine from Gray’s Anatomy, but more importantly he has a humanity that comes out in both his characters and his interviews that I think is incredibly important for the wonderfully decent Uno.
Let’s stay in Shondaland and cast Kerry Washington as St. Bartholomew’s lead hospital administrator Julia Frostick. She’s tough, cynical, and the first to realize Uno is not Curt Falconer. Still, she betrays a beating heart beneath with her growing feelings for the hero and appreciation of his optimism.
The Lizard King- An exiled member of the Q Foundation who was meant to next in line behind Uno’s father, the previous Aztek who died under mysterious circumstances. Obsessed with becoming Aztek still, King is a warning about how the Foundation uses people. Let’s say Val Kilmer makes a full recovery from his illnesses and this role becomes a centerpiece of his comeback.
5.) FIRESTAR- This would require some tweaking of her origins, but I think that’s fine. She does not have one of those sacrosanct beginnings, in my opinion. Instead, I’d just extract the essence: shy, begins to develop powers, taken in by a mentor who manipulates and psychologically abuses her, escapes, strives to come to terms with her history of trauma, her powers, and accept that she can have a new start.
David Gordon Green can be incredibly hit or miss, but the films he’s done well with tend to be stories about people challenging themselves to grow beyond the boxes they and others have forced them into. Whether it is Nic Cage mastering and directing his temper for good in JOE, Emile Hirsch bristling against his blue collar destiny in PRINCE AVALANCHE, or even Seth Rogen struggling to be his own hero in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, each of these stories hinge on self-invention and the possibility of reinvention.
Lily Collins has put together a lot of roles quickly and I confess I have not seen most of them. However, her ability to be at war with her own self-perception and yet unable to accept reality in TO THE BONE makes her a great choice for the similarly split from within Angelica Jones aka Firestar.
6.) HAWK AND DOVE- Two super heroes, one inclined towards physical aggression, the other through diplomacy; think a super hero who fights crime because they want to hurt criminals and another who fights crime because they want to save people. I’d go with the brother and sister pairing because I think that can enable the film to take on a lot of dynamics—the need for force v. the use of negotiation; catching criminals v. preventing crime; criminals are bad v. criminals are often the victims of societal issues too; and so on.
Director Susanne Bier has not wowed with her two feature films but THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE probably deserved more attention than it received. However, it is her work on NIGHT MANAGER, the AMC series, that secures her this spot. She is attracted to stories where strong characters battle one another—mentally as much as physically—and obsessives trying to resist their obsessions (or addictions) or succumb fully to them. She’d do an excellent job of showcases the dynamics of Hawk and Dove, showing how their viewpoints both make them strong and might destroy them, and I can imagine her doing an awesome job with a cerebral villain who uses those differences to try and shatter the partnership.
For me there is only one Hawk and his name is Miles Teller. I think he’d wonderfully capture Hawk’s simmering anger as well as his regrets when he goes too far.
Dove would be a very different character for Emmy Rossum to play but I believe she is equal to it. The moments she has to be the adult, especially early on, in Shameless point to this and the time is right for her to try something new.
I’m not sold on the name Velvet Tiger, but I love the character as the villain. She’s smart, highly manipulative, and her power—jumping between seconds, essentially—makes her even more able to mask her lies. Given Hawk and Dove’s mindsets, they both tend towards black and white thinking and a character that lives all grey all the time would tie them in knots. And the actress to do just that is Jessica Chastain.