WHO SHOULD DIRECT MARVEL’S NEW SPIDER-MAN
The geek world exploded last night when the long rumored deal between Marvel and Sony was finally made official: Spider-Man will be joining the Marvel Universe. Not only will Spider-Man appear in one of the upcoming Marvel Universe films (likely Captain America: Civil War), but he will also be getting a new standalone film, under the creative control of Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios. Currently scheduled to be released on July 28, 2017, Marvel will have already begun the search for directors. Here are ten filmmakers who could restore Spider-Man to his cinematic glory.
Justin Simien’s debut feature, Dear White People, was one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful indie films of the year. Set in a prestigious liberal arts college that served as a microcosm for American race relations, the film managed to be incisive, revealing, and, most importantly, hilarious.
Lest you think that helming an indie dramedy is not sufficient experience to take on superhero action blockbuster, let me remind you that Amazing Spider-Man director Marc Webb’s only previous directing experience was the indie rom-com 500 Days of Summer (and few are faulting Webb for the disaster that the Spidey franchise became). With his deft command of both drama and comedy, Simien is a perfect choice to balance Spider-Man’s humourous tone with its serious situations.
Few directors can claim better comic book geek bonafides than Kaare Andrews. He’s not just a fan, he’s also an award winning writer and artist, having worked on huge Marvel titles such as X-Men, Iron Fist, and — yup — Spider-Man.
But he’s also an accomplished up and coming film director. Most of his work till now has been work-for-hire projects on franchise horror films, such as Altitude and Cabin Fever: Patient Zero. His cinematic talent is evident however, and no where more clearly than in his segment for the horror anthology ABC’s of Death. His short film, “V”, was made for the micro-budget of $5000 — a budget usually more in line with a television commercial — but has more energy and excitement than most summer blockbusters. Though his film background is principally in horror, Marvel has had good luck in hiring horror filmmakers in the past (both James Gunn and Doctor Strange’s Scott Derickson have horror backgrounds), and his visual style and comic book experience indicate he could help bring a fresh new vision to the staid Spider-Man franchise.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
The directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck has made a number of films together: the 2008 sports drama Sugar, the quirky coming of age comedy It’s Kind of a Funny Story, and most recently, Mississippi Grind, a road movie of two down on their luck gamblers, played by Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelssohn, that just premiered at Sundance. (They also wrote the excellent Half Nelson, starring Ryan Gosling).
But even before Grind, Marvel had their eye on the duo — they were on the shortlist to direct Guardians of the Galaxy, which of course eventually went to James Gunn. Even being a “failed” Marvel candidate can work out. Case in point: Peyton Reed was also on that short list — now he’s directing Ant-Man. Marvel was obviously impressed by their ability to find levity in serious situations, and that balance (you’ll notice a trend here) would make a great match for Spider-Man as well.
There are a surprising number of parallels between the Kung Fu Panda franchise and Spider-Man. Both are about young men struggling to find their place in the world while using their powers for good, and both feature copious amounts of humour, family drama, and of course, kinetic action. Jennifer Yuh directed the enormously successful Kung Fu Panda 2, and was brought back to direct the sequel, Kung Fu Panda 3, which comes out early next year.
Brad Bird proved with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol that a background in animation can prove perfect for directing a big budget live action film. Yuh’s gift for designing stunning visual action sequences while giving equal space to character development makes her a perfect fit for the high flying escapes of Spider-Man.
Fruitvale Station, the spectacular indie drama debut of Ryan Coogler, tells the story of a young man whose life is rocked by tragic circumstances, but who is trying to effect positive change in his own life and in his environment. Those are pretty much identical themes to Spider-Man. Coogler is currently at work on his follow up, the Rocky spinoff Creed, which once again sees Sylvester Stallone as the iconic Rocky Balboa this time in the role of coach, training the grandson of his former rival Apollo Creed, to be played by Michael B. Jordan, who also starred in Fruitvale Station.
While taking on the Spider-Man gig would mean he couldn't work with Jordan — don’t be surprised if Coogler is offered Fantastic Four 2, which is already slated — but his ability to craft such a vibrant portrait of a young man struggling to do right makes him an even better choice for Spider-Man.
Sundance darling James Ponsoldt does not lack for critical accolades. His 2012 film Smashed told the intimate and deeply felt story of alcoholism and a marriage collapsing in a way that felt light and fresh, but it was his follow up, The Spectacular Now that really made waves. Starring then unknowns Miles Teller and Shaliene Woodley, Ponsoldt managed to take the usually trite coming of age/first teenage love story and infuse it with an energy that felt revelatory. His most recent work, The End of the Tour, about the life of David Foster Wallace and starring Jesse Eiseneberg and Jason Segel as Wallace, was so successful at it’s recent Sundance release that it’s apparently now being positioned for a fall release date and a possible awards run.
This success has meant that there’s no shortage of opportunities for Ponsoldt. He’s currently attached to direct his own adaption of David Egger’s “The Circle,” with Tom Hanks reportedly on board to star and produce. It’s also entirely possible that he’s not interested in the more conventional material of the superhero genre. But his ability to reframe conventional stories and make them feel fresh, as well as his gift to coax beautiful performances from his actors, would be very welcome in the superhero genre — and for Spider-Man in particular. As much as audiences may come for the spectacle, it’s the human elements that make these films resonate.
Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 sounds like an unbearably grim story on paper. Set in a short term housing facility for teenagers with a variety of issues, the film deals with issues of sexual violence, self-harm, mental illness and trauma. Yet it does this with a grace that never makes the stories feel maudlin or preachy, and Cretton brings us into the intimate worlds of each character, taking us along with them as they suffer, stumble, and ultimately get up. Description doesn't really do it justice, but Cretton makes the frequently unbearable “youth issue” sub-genre beautiful and heartfelt.
While he’s currently attached to direct Glass Castle, a story of growing up in poverty based on the memoir of Jeannette Walls and reportedly starring Jennifer Lawrence, one hopes he might be persuaded to put that on the backburner. After all, there’s plenty of young pathos to mine in Spider-Man, and Cretton’s talent for giving voice to the feelings of young people’s struggles would help connect audiences to Spider-Man’s travails, and bring the character to life.
Obvious Child, Gillian Robespierre’s debut feature, was my absolute favourite film of 2014. Obvious Child is about Donna, a young depressed comedian who has a one night stand, gets pregnant, and decides to have an abortion. The premise sounds both plain and unfunny, yet it’s anything but. Obvious Child is flat out one of the funniest films of the year, but it’s also a wonderfully moving portrait of “aimless 20-something” character we see so often in film. Donna is spunky, charismatic, impetuous, odd, and ultimately lovable. Robespierre makes us care deeply about this delightful and flawed woman.
Robespierre is currently set to write and direct a “divorce comedy,” that sounds to be in the same range, scale wise, as Obvious Child. Obviously taking on Spider-Man would be a huge leap in scale. But, as I and others have mentioned many times before, it’s a leap that numerous other indie filmmakers have taken. If there’s one character who could benefit from the abundance of wit, charm and warmth that Robespierre brings, it’s Spider-Man.
Lake Bell is known primarily as an actor — she has over 40 credits on IMBD across a variety of films and shows — but she’s also a superb director. Her debut, In A World, is about an aspiring voice-actor (played by Bell) who is trying to break into the heavily male dominated world of voice-over performances. It’s hilarious, with great wit and charm, but it also manages to carve out tender character moments. Comedy, family dynamics, struggle against adversity — I may sound like a broken record here, but it’s because I've chosen to highlight filmmakers who have a proven track record of illuminating the themes that are an integral part of the Spider-Man character. Bell is able to inject fun into drama and drama into humor, and (again) it’s precisely this sort of vision the franchise so desperately needs.
Bell is currently attached to direct Emperor’s Children, with a script penned by Noah Baumbach, but c’mon, it’s Spider-Man — I’m sure the angst and travails of the Upper East Side can wait.
Poor Drew Goddard. He left not only Marvel’s Daredevil series, but also the director’s chair for the upcoming The Martian (which he wrote, and which is now being directed by Ridley Scott), seemingly in order to devote his energies to Sony’s Sinister Six. Sony claims that film is still in development, but it’s hard to imagine the new status quo for Spider-Man wouldn't necessitate a page one rewrite.
However, there’s no reason that time and energy need have been squandered — instead of Sinister Six, he could helm the new Spider-Man film. He’s obviously hugely familiar with the material, has deep ties to both Sony and Marvel, and happens to be a fantastic director to boot. Cabin in the Woods, his first film as director, is a brilliant meta deconstruction of the horror genre that also manages to be genuinely hilarious and terrifying. Goddard doesn't just deserve a shot at directing Spidey for time served — he’d also been a damn fine choice.
Honourable Mention: Jon Stewart
I mean, he needs a gig, right?