Fantasy Movie Making in the MCU Part 1
Around the time that Stan Lee died Filmstruck posted a short documentary about his relationship with french director Alain Resnais whose career in feature films ran from the 1950’s to the 2010’s. Resnais was considered a rather serious director whose films Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year In Marionbad, and Je t'aime, Je t'aime utilized very unorthodox storytelling techniques, sometimes avant guard, and concerned the dropping of the a-bomb and nazi collaborators, maybe an afterlife in limbo, and a man being trapped in untethered time travel whose time machine is a giant weird bean. Resnais was hardly a mainstream director, but he desperately wanted to work with Lee and desperately wanted to make a Spider-Man movie. The two of them never made a Spider-Man movie but they did work together on a script for about a pollution-monster that was nearly made in the 1970’s. Around this time, Federico Fellini also dropped into the Marvel offices to try to get Lee to work with him on one of his superhero creations.
While a Resnais Spider-Man movie would have been interesting, weird, but interesting, his filmography of science fiction, dark relationship dramas and avante gard storytelling might have been better suited to a different Marvel property. Here, we are going to help great directors of the past, and a few great ones of the present, latch on to a new Marvel Universe of never to be made super hero movies. We’ll play a great unmade party game of fantasy movie making where we match up properties, directors and maybe even settings and speculate what their movies would have ended up looking like. Draw a card and step into the Fantasy-MCU. June's movies of the month are Endgame (2019) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946).
Corsair by Quentin Tarantino
Might as well get this kicked off with one of the most well known directors, although the Marvel hero Corsair is hardly a household name. Corsair does not have all of the powers of a hairdryer, he’s a swashbuckling space pirate that’s kind of culturally stuck in 1970’s America, right down to his headband and mustache. He is part of an alien team called the Star Jammers and is the deadbeat dad of the X-Men’s Cyclops and Havok.
Although Tarantino has been a revolutionary director in every decade that he has been active, pushing all other directors to meet his level, he often places the pop culture of his movies in an older decade than the setting of the movie. Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction and Deathproof are set contemporaneously but are soaked in 1970’s culture, Reservoir Dogs has the main characters acting as though they are from the ‘60’s and the Kill Bill movies are both floating through the decades of Tarantino’s younger days. He has played in a number of genres, westerns, a war movie, grindhouse, action, he has written horror, and his next movie is a period piece but he has not stepped into science fiction. Many of the great directors like to dabble in war movies, horror, westerns and science fiction as though to show their ability to make genre movies into prestige films.
Corsair set on a ‘70’s gritty film stock, with a sexy alien girlfriend with a tail (Tarantino loves offputting sexuality on the fringes of the frame). It would check off a couple of genres that Tarantino hasn’t dipped his toe into, space, and pirates.
Thor by Michael Powell and Eric Pressberger
This pair of British filmmakers started working together during World War II and made movies together until 1957. They are a bit less known in the US, but their films The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death (released as Stairway to Heaven in the US), Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. The Archers, as the film making team made themselves known, had a credo that included the aspiration to always be years ahead of the film making world with their work. In a way they might have been a bit further ahead than they thought with A Matter of Life and Death, a movie about the bureaucracy of the afterlife. There are a few current TV shows with this premise with The Good Place and Miracle Workers.
A Matter of Life and Death from 1946 oddly has some thematic similarities with Thor. The story plays between two realms, with a love story between a man and a woman who both belong in different realms. The unearthly realm in a Matter of Life and Death is incredibly vast, although a bit more bureaucratic than Valhalla. Additionally, Valhalla in the movies doesn’t shy away from church/afterlife imagery as it is a floating city built in the shape of giant church organ pipes.
A Thor movie by the Archers would be entertaining, it would be funny, but definitely not Taika Waititi funny, but the Archers would make a 1940’s black and white superhero movie really fun to watch, even with older special effects.
Loki by Costa-Gavras
The world of Thor has a number of side characters that could have their own spin off movies. I think that Loki is a prime suspect for the popularity of Tom Hiddleston to the point that Loki survives the abyss of space to be the main villain in The Avengers and to later be almost a hero. Motivated by his desire to rule and to be accepted and acknowledged as a son to his adopted parents Loki’s plot arc’s have centered conquering Asgaard, Earth and Thor Ragnarok. He is suited for a political drama all to himself, on a distant planet where he finally rules by himself. He would be dealing with insurrections by the native aliens who don’t take too kindly of a god-dictator coming down from the sky to rule in an attempt to satisfy his own personal issues. This would be well suited to be directed by the directors of Z, a film directed by Costa-Gavras about a political uprising in Greece, or the director of Battle of Algiers about Algerian rebels fighting off French Imperial government after World War II. Loki’s story would be that of a ruler who has gotten what he wants, but his parents aren’t around to be impressed with his ability to rule and the people he is ruling don’t like him to the point that there are violent riots in the streets that he fights against. The populous doesn’t appreciate that he is a trickster and he ultimately his ignored by the people and leaves, hoping to be forgotten, hoping to pester Thor once again.
Lady Sif by Sergio Leone
Sif one of the members of Thors gang of magical do-gooders. She mostly shows up on Earth in the Southwest, in New Mexico to help out Thor in the first movie and again in the first season of Agents of SHIELD. It would be interesting to see her stranded on Earth in a standalone story as a Norse God western, and why not hand it over to the master of artistic westerns, Sergio Leone. It would be slow, not a lot of dialogue and a ton of close ups on eyes, but it would sure be compelling. It would also give a bit more story to a character that was killed offscreen in Thor Ragnarok despite having a subtle storyline of pining for Thor and making her own legacy as a female hero in her world. All because the actress became the lead in a network TV show.
Captain America by Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock is often pegged as just a director because of the prominence of both Psycho and the sensational teaser trailer for the Birds, but one of his most entertaining suspense subgenres was the man on the run. Steve Rodgers is the everyman thrust into the role of a superhero due to the outbreak of World War II. That is not too far from the plots of a few Hitchcock movies, Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur where men who are wrongly accused of spying have to find the real spy or the real saboteur peppered with 1940’s accents all over the place. Pure Cap at his most righteous and corny.
While the X-Men aren’t in the MCU, in the comics they are kind of in their own universe of heroes. They have super powers based on genetic mutations rather than life changing events. The themes are more about bringing peace between mutants and humans even though they’re kind of a paramilitary group located in upstate New York. Professor X is more of a Martin Luther King character trying to bring peace through service and teaching and Magneto is a Malcolm X from the time in his life of “by any means necessary.”
Although John Ford didn’t embody the liberal world view of the X-Men nor was he on the right side of racial issues from his portrayal of native americans compared to the civil rights themes of the X-Men. He was one of the best directors of the middle of the 20th century and often had themes of community and fighting for what is right in the Old West in films like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Bravo, and My Darlin’ Clementine. He actually did try to give a little more representation of the diversity in the west compared to his contemporaries and would often show community of Irish Americans in the West. Ford would be good at showing the X-Men’s community in the mansion as well as some pretty lively action with a lot of movement. Additionally, the X-Men are no strangers to black and white as seen in the alternate Logan Noir cut, transferred completely into black and white that looks fantastic.
Wolverine by Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa worked in both color and black and white. During the early part of his career, the black and white days, his stories of Samurai tended to be of ronin, samurai without masters. Wolverine is the Marvel embodiment of this, even though he is a member of the X-Men. This one is almost obvious that Logan Noir was in black and white and the Wolverine was set in Japan with very heavy samurai imagery. Wolverine is the most animalistic of the comics, much like Toshiro Mifune who paces around like a tiger on the prowl in some of Kurosawa’s films and waits, as an unaffiliated actor in Yojimbo before the time arises that he is forced to act.
Deadpool by Mel Brooks
There really can be only one option for a director of a comedic third wall breaking superhero. Mel Brooks pretty much did this movie already with Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles, a western that devolves into breaking through the studio walls into other movies being shot and ultimately rides into a movie theater where Blazing Saddles is showing. The comedy would be a little different but it wouldn’t be that different and it would still be pretty damn funny. Deadpool is the satirical anti-hero who crashes through the fourth wall of Marvel. He riffs off of the other heroes with no fear of aping the darlings of his universe.
Professor X by Andrei Tarkovsky
Tarkovsky has already made a bit of an X-Men movie, but you wouldn’t know it until the very last scene after sitting through a plottingly paced three hour Stalker. It is a beautifully shot movie about a man guiding two others through a dystopian no man’s land that has dangerous and mysterious effects on the people who tread on the land. He is taking the men he is guiding to a mysterious room that is thought to make dreams come true. When he returns to his squalid home we see that his child has telekinetic powers because of the genetic mutations from traveling through the no man’s land.
Tarkovsky was considered one of the great directors in the world and considered himself and artistic rival of Stanley Kubrick. When Kubrick made 2001, Tarkovsky made the psychological space movie Solaris. As a great auteur He made period and war films, Andrei Rublev and Ivan’s Childhood, but he also didn’t shy away from science fiction, going into space or into the mind.
The world of Professor X is similar. His character has travelled to space, transports his mind to the astral plane and has been seen in the dystopian future. Tarkovsky has told stories of genius and the debate of creating and fighting and that is just who the Professor is. The professor X movie could be long, it could have some long shots, but it would be beautiful and it would not have any limitations on he wonders that could be seen.
Storm by Ava DuVarnay
Storm is one of the most neglected characters in the X-Men cinematic universe. The first three movies even cast Halle Berry to bring the gravitas of one of the leaders of the X-Men and aside from a couple of scenes where she creates a little cloudy weather and the Professor designates her as the next leader of the school, she barely gets any look at her character and never gets to carry much of any of her movies. I think that her dialogue in Days of Future Past was almost completely cut down to just a few nonspeaking special effects scenes.
She is much more than just a member of the team and has more of a back story than being just any other mutant. At one point in the comics she is married to Black Panther and they later divorce and have to deal with hero team ups after going through a break up. She is such a hero that only she and Cyclops are team leaders even over Jean who is considered to be highly powered and especially smart. She is the most prominent black woman in all comics so she should get the clout of a director like Ava DuVarnay, the first black woman to have her movie nominated for Best Picture (Selma), and later also nominated for best documentary feature for 13th. She was the first black woman to direct a movie with a budget in the range of A Wrinkle of Time, around $150 to $250 million, which was also the first to earn more than $100 million. Selma is a really impressive movie that mixes visceral violence with a moving dramatic story of Martin Luther King Jr’s marches on Selma. She is tabbed to direct the upcoming DC movie New Gods, so a dip into Marvel still isn’t an impossibility.
Juggernaut by Ishiro Honda
This could be a disaster movie more than a hero or villain movie. Juggernaut is an unstoppable force, gaining momentum and speed as he barrels along causing wreckage. There could be a whole movie around the constant movement and destruction of Juggernaut, busting through walls and buildings, flipping cars in rush hour traffic. It could start with heroes falling, being incapacitated as they fail to stop the baddie and the local authorities are then tasked to be their own heroes and find a way to stop the guy. If you’re going to use a time machine to make a disaster movie, might as well go with an original, the director of Godzilla, Ishiro Honda.
Fantastic Four by Alain Resnais
Resnais was very close to Stan Lee, staying with Lee in America at times, and he desperately wanted to direct a Spider-Man movie as early as the 1970’s. Resneais’s movies challenged the possibilities of storytelling. Je t’aime, je t’aime is a time travel movie where the traveler has no control over when and how long he sees his time travel. Last Year at Marienbad tells a nightmarish movie of a palatial purgatory. His films are surreal, yet smaller, personal stories often involving the emotional scars of historical events. The Fantastic four are like a small family dealing with the emotional costs of being turned into superhumans as a result of a cosmic event as well as the impact on the group of fighting supervillains, often to the detriment of their own personal goals and relationships. They live a surreal life of alternate dimensions, alien villains, global dictators and then The Thing will be known to fight a street gang from Yancy Street.
Silver Surfer by Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was mostly a straight forward auteur, but two of his movies, 2001 and The Shining were a space opera and a supernatural horror movie and a few more can be classified as anti-war movies. Silver surfer is a cosmic being who was really popular during the anti-war movement because of his philosophical existence in the universe. Silver Surfer comics highlight the beauty of space, great distances between cosmic bodies and he deals with the most powerful villains in space. Kubrick would be a great fit for his cosmic awe from 2001 but he would also give an interesting sense of horror of The Shining and even A Clockwork Orange. At the very least it would be beautifully shot and have and incredible score.
Dr. Doom by Orson Welles
Doom is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters. Unfortunately he has really been treated as a generic villain in the movies, fueled by jealousy. In the comics, he’s a bit more than that. He grew up as a gypsy or traveling carnival worker in the old country. He’s a smart guy but some kind of facial deformity causes him to hide his face behind a mask. The comics kind of range on what this deformity, from covering his face to a small scar on his cheek. The small scar version is interesting because he has lived with a covered face for so long due to crippling anxiety over his fragility and vanity. He ultimately becomes a super scientist, a villain and a dictator of his Old Country nation of Latveria where he resides in a castle. The 1990’s had a series of Marvel comics that took place in the year 2099 featuring a new Thor, X-Men, Spider-Man, Loki is a villain and Doctor Doom is back iether from being projected forward in time or as an imposter. This Doom 2099 is actually a super genius hero who ultimately ends up becoming the President of the United States. I always loved th idea that Doom could be a villain in his time and turn to being a hero as he adapts to the future.
Orson Welles loves to tell stories of con men, geniuses, leaders even portrays an impressive medieval battle in Chimes at Midnight. Doctor Doom could have taken over Latveria through medieval style fighting in a civil war and installing super technology into his castle as he becomes the dictator of the country. It would give the Shakespearian political drama that Welles was so attracted to and the sets for the castle would be as spacious as the likes of Zanadu in Citizen Kane and the sets of The Trial. I think we all know that a rather large Welles would enlist himself to play the role as Doom.
Daredevil and She Hulk by Sidney Lumet
Fairness and justice are major themes of Lumet’s work and there just happen to be two New York lawyers knocking around Marvel comics with Daredevil and She Hulk. It would be a bit of a challenge for Lumet as he tended to ignore women in his films or fail to give them any depth. Having two lawyers that are secretly heroes working against each other in the courtroom and fighting for the same cause when they go super outside of it. Perhaps they collude while toeing a line around legal ethics, or they stick strictly to their moral code as attorneys while trying to correct the balance of justice with their vigilante alter egos.
Black Panther by Spike Lee
It feels kind of obvious to have Spike Lee direct a Black Panther movie. He referenced the same Black Panther Party throne picture that the Black Panther movie referenced in their movie poster. The 2018 Black Panther movie is jam packed with black history references, something that Lee does not shy away from in his own movies. Malcolm X wasn’t just a history lesson on a famous African American’s life, it also illuminated black culture through the decades for the general movie going audience. One of the scenes that stuck with me comes from early in the movie where the main characters are getting their hair straightened to make their hair less African and more European, more white. Not only are they throwing away their ethnicity, they are burning their scalps to do so. Spike won an Oscar in the year of Black Panther with his screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, a masterpiece in its own right, a movie that is less of a celebration of black culture than an attack on racism. It is packed with statements and references on racism in the ‘70’s, when the movie is set, as well as during the Trump era. Spike attacks, he fights back, and he does it with a bone shaking brass score that excites your internal organs. He would bring excitement of peril to Wakanda and he wouldn’t be afraid to break past the restraints of a fictional comic book universe.
Dr Strange by Terry Gilliam
Fellini wanted to find his way into the Marvel universe in the ‘60’s or ‘70’s, but nothing worked out with it. He would have been well suited for something in the more fantasy regions of the catalog. They don’t get more fantastical than a New York City Sorcerer waving his hands around to make magic in the real world. His signature film, 8 ½, lives in a dreamspace of its own fantasy. Doctor Strange would be fascinating in black and white doing magic tricks through the magic of camera tricks and surreal cinema.
However, I think that Terry Gilliam hits the heights of fantasy in all of film, even in his lesser films. He has done it in comedic animation in his Flying Circus days, campy practical effects in the ‘80’s with Time Bandits, Brazil and Baron Munchausen, and more recent computer effects to create vast landscapes with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the Zero Theorem. Regardless of the era Gilliam would make a movie from, the Sorcerer Supreme would be somewhat absent minded, peculiar and hilarious.
Guardians of the Galaxy by Sophia Coppola
The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a bit of a surprise because the heroes were not especially well known to most Marvel fans compared to other stories. Since those movies have come out there have been more comics with them and a couple of cartoon TV shows. Even in those, a lot of the stories are based on team ups, in the comics at various times they have guest Guardians of Tony Stark and Venom. The movies are known for their humor, vibrant colors and retro soundtracks.
Sophia Coppola has established herself for her own creative uses of soundtracks, an indie darling in Lost in Translation and a groundbreaking juxtaposition of modern music and the time of the French Revolution in Marie Antoinette. She is also really unique with the tones of color that she uses in her movies, using pastels in ways that actually bring otherworldly life to movies like Marie Antoinette and The Beguiled. Her movies have a dry wit to them as well, her characters have funny turns of phrase to their dialogue and she is known for her friendship with Bill Murray and her involvement in transitioning his career from wacky comedy to dry humor and drama from Lost in Translation.
A Sophia Coppola Guardians of the Galaxy would not be all that dissimilar in humor at the James Gunn movies and the music would probably actually be just a bit cooler than the mix tapes. The real marvel would be the uses of color she would use to elevate the bright reds, blues and yellows of space, along with the saturated golds of the Elizabeth Debicki aliens.
I have a lot more matches of Marvel characters and directors so I figured to make this a multi-part series. Who knows when you can expect more director cards, but they sure are fun to make.
A Matter of Life and Death Letterboxd Review
July's Movies of the Month: The Hitchcock movie will be one that I actually haven't seen before nor do I know anything about, To Catch a Thief (1955) which happens to be on Amazon Prime now, and a favorite from Edgar Wright, Hot Fuzz (2007) that I just plain like and want to see again.