Sophomore Directors Taking On Superhero Films – Is It Worth The Risk?
The news of Olivia Wilde being hired to direct a Spider-Man spin-off is the latest example of a studio, in this case Marvel/Sony, trusting a second-time director with their superhero property.
Wilde made her directorial debut with the hilarious Booksmart in 2019 and is now set to direct a Spider-Woman picture for the genre leaders.
This is a trend that happens in a lot of genres but studios seem to trust second-time directors especially with their comic book heroes.
A dream gig for any director looking for their sophomore film surely, but is it worth the risk of going from a potential nobody to a somebody who messed up that famous comic book movie?
When it Works
It’s a big risk, but if they can pull it off the reward is just as sizeable.
There are countless examples of successful superhero movies helmed by sophomore directors.
One of the most recent instances of this is 2017 DC export Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.
Her first film, Monster, was released in 2003 and famously stars Charlize Theron in her Oscar-winning role of serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
Despite a gap of almost fifteen years, Jenkins experience in directing female characters clearly played a part in securing her the job on the comic book adaptation.
Wonder Woman was received well by both fans and critics and did well at the box office, proving to be one of the more unanimously enjoyed films in the DC Extended Universe.
With such a positive reception Jenkins was invited back to direct the sequel, Wonder Woman 1984 which is set for UK release in August.
Box Office vs. Critical Reception
Read more: How To Be a Film Critic In a Modern Age
Sticking with DC we also saw Cathy Yan direct her sophomore film this year with Birds of Prey.
It did similarly well with critics, however, it couldn’t match the impressive box office that Wonder Woman managed.
Arguably whilst some view the film as a flop due to its poor numbers, the film itself is still of a high quality and easily one of 2020’s best.
Thousands of film and comic book fans around the world now know the name Cathy Yan and fans of the film are likely to follow her career from here on out, I know I will be.
Yan also won the Hollywood Critics Association for Best Female Director in July for her work on the film.
Therefore it depends on what criteria you judge it on but the finished film speaks for itself, regardless of box office, and confirms that Yan was right to take this risk.
If you think otherwise, take it up with Harley Quinn.
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Talk about adding pressure; if it wasn’t risky enough putting your name to a normal comic book adaptation for your second film in the director’s chair imagine how challenging it must be when this adaptation is also a reboot.
This was the case for both Marc Webb and Josh Trank who rebooted Spider-Man and Fantastic Four respectively for their sophomore films.
Webb’s first film was the quirky rom-com (500) Days of Summer.
He was then brought in by Sony to reboot the Spider-Man film series after Sam Raimi’s trilogy of films starring Tobey Maguire as the famous web-slinger.
Did he get the job based purely on his second name?
I wouldn’t rule it out.
The Amazing Spider-Man introduced Andrew Garfield as the newest incarnation of Peter Parker and superhero fans around the world voted with their wallets making the film one of the most successful reboots at the worldwide box office ever.
Just like Patty Jenkins, Webb was invited back to direct sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, this follow-up wasn’t received as well critically or financially as its predecessor.
Sony initially had another two films planned in this series but when Spider-Man joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe these plans were halted, potentially along with the return of Webb for any more directing duties.
Nonetheless, Webb has gone on to direct several other films, including the 2017 drama Gifted which stars Captain America himself, Chris Evans.
There are always Reshoots
Josh Trank has more of a unique story in that his debut film was also a superhero movie, the excellent Chronicle which stars Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan.
With the successes of Chronicle it’s obvious to see why he was chosen to direct the Fantastic Four reboot.
However, it’s no secret that Trank did not have a good experience while directing this film and it shows in the final product.
Studio interference from Fox, including reshoots clearly impacted Trank’s intended vision for the film and this is a good example of why it can be such a risk for sophomore directors to become involved with studios and their superhero properties.
Although despite the film being widely panned by critics and underperforming at the box office Trank has still gone on to direct again.
His latest film Capone stars Tom Hardy as the infamous gangster Al Capone and was released online in the US earlier this year.
It’s hard to gauge the success of the film financially as the box office numbers are skewed due to the unique circumstances brought about by COVID-19 although it has received a theatrical release in certain regions, but it’s yet to be released in the UK.
Other Notable Examples
The Incredibles was Brad Bird’s sophomore film after he debuted with The Iron Giant, and with a name like that he could probably be a superhero in his own right.
Both films are firm favourites among fans today and he’s since directed another two Pixar movies and an instalment in the Mission: Impossible film series too!
(Also did you know he actually provides the voice for Edna Mode, darling!?)
Staying with animated films, both The LEGO Batman and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse were directed by sophomore directors; Chris McKay and Peter Ramsey.
Ramsey even won an Oscar for best animated film, alongside his co-directors.
I imagine if you ask him he’d say it was worth the leap of faith.
A less conventional superhero film perhaps but Julia Hart’s Fast Color was her second time directing and has been met with critical acclaim, it’s currently streaming on Netflix so get streaming and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
The Superhero Rung of the Cinematic Ladder
So with just the examples from this last decade alone it’s clear to see that studios trusting sophomore directors with their superhero properties is a trend that can produce some amazing results.
Many of these sophomore efforts have become fan favourites, box office smashes and even Oscar winners and in doing so providing essential launch pads for the futures of these directors’ careers.
Even when things don’t go so according to plan the evidence suggests that the step onto the superhero rung of the cinematic ladder is a step that gets you noticed.
Whether or not it holds the weight of the director’s vision entirely it can still lead to future opportunities and suggests that yes, taking a chance on a superhero project for your sophomore directing effort is very much worth the risk.
You’re up Wilde; let’s see what you can do.
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