Mailbag: The State of Superhero Cinema
Disclaimer: These mailbag questions were answered by Rough Cut writers the day before Mickey Mouse unhinged his jaw and swallowed the artistic autonomy of an entire country whole.
That is all.
You are a superhero. What is your tragic backstory and how did you get your powers? What is your superpower? What is your weakness? Give us the origin story prequel!
Carson Cook: Having fallen into a vat of radioactive [insert item/animal here], I became [item/animal]-Man, with all the proportional powers of [item/animal]. Unfortunately I can be vanquished by [opposite item/animal].
Jonny Diaz: Growing up in Florida, I was struck by lightning while being bitten by an alligator. That confluence of events gave me the ability to control the weather and communicate with reptiles, but unfortunately, it only works in the tropics. I’m powerless in the cold; in winter, I freeze up like an iguana.
Ben Nadeau: My tragic backstory is my parents were rich and, when they died, I got all their money and stayed rich. This also doubles as my superpower because I actually have little hand-to-hand skills, but because I can just buy all the best available tech, it’s like playing by my own rules! Unfortunately, this is also my weakness too as I struggle to form real human relationships with anybody outside my haunting personal demons. Being rich is really hard, I think, is the point.
Zach D’Amico: I lived in a rundown studio apartment in New York City. A small bird got stuck in my pipes the same week our heat shut off. Mid-February. Bone-chillingly cold. The bird had nowhere else to go to the bathroom, so bird shit was flowing through my pipes. One day, as I was humming to myself in the shower, the pipes nearly froze, ice-cold bird shit came pouring out of the shower-head, hitting me, and instantly transforming me into THE HUMMINGBIRD FREEZE. My legs (wings) move at super-human speed, you cannot possible catch me, and I can freeze you with a mere touch. My weaknesses are reptiles and heat. Especially when they are combined. So dragons, I guess.
2. Unfortunately, you are not actually a superhero, so now let’s move on to the real (in movie-world) ones. Which superhero or team who hasn’t gotten the big screen treatment should get their own movie? And who would you cast?
CC: Going for a deep cut here, with (weirdly) one of my all-time favorites as a comics-loving kid: Deadman. Boston Brand was a trapeze artist who got murdered, then became a ghost with the ability to Quantum Leap his way into other people’s bodies and control them, a power he used to try and solve his own murder before teaming up with the likes of Batman for more detective adventures. What’s not to love?! While the character was likely going to be featured in the long-rumored Justice League Dark movie, there’s no reason he can’t get his own feature in the meantime – and if he does, I’d want to see Lakeith Stanfield slip into the red circus suit.
JD: Oh wow. After narrowing it down from a shortlist of (no joke) 25 possibilities, I think I’ve settled on one. DC has been much slower to reach into their bench than Marvel has (seriously, it’s nuts that we didn’t get a Wonder Woman feature until 2017), so they’ve got way more top tier characters left to be explored. I think the most interesting of them is J’onn J’onzz, aka the Martian Manhunter. Most commonly depicted as the last survivor of a destroyed civilization on Mars, he’s got a cool look, crazy powers (shapeshifting, flight, telepathy, intangibility), and a tragic backstory, so there’s plenty to work with. To play him, you need someone with an otherworldly screen presence, a deadpan sense of humor, and an ability to convey a deep underlying sadness—somebody like Mads Mikkelsen or Pedro Pascal.
BN: Personally, I can’t believe we haven’t gotten a gritty Robin stand-alone franchise. He’s adjacent to Batman, everybody knows Gotham, and it’d be a great opportunity for somebody less established to run with it. Dane DeHaan. Lock it in. Bring our boy back.
(Also, because I looked through the questions and this is my only reasonable chance: Wasp and Valkyrie team-up movie when? Cowards.)
ZD: This is half-serious but I’d like to see Kid Cudi play Lobo. In part because he’d be incredible, but mostly so we can call him Mr. SoLoboDolo.
3. While we’re discussing actors: imagine the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universes agree to a one-for-one actor trade. Each actor will take the other’s existing role in the opposite universe. What trade do you make?
CC: If Idris Elba isn’t going to be James Bond, couldn’t we at least let him be Batman? I realize this takes away a genuinely good Affleck performance, but he’ll survive – he’s gonna spend a lot less time filming Heimdall scenes, which frees him up to get back to directing.
JD: The only way to settle the internet’s long-running Chris debate is to just have all four of them play every part in the exact same movie so we can do an apples to apples comparison. Let’s start off with our first Chris swap here: Let Evans play the aw shucks love interest to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and have Pine provide the MCU with its heroic moral center as Captain America. I don’t know if it would work nearly as well, but there’s only one way to find out!
BN: Robert Pattinson as Captain America; Chris Evans as the new Batman.
Who says no? Not me. I’m there on day one.
ZD: Make Dave Bautista Black Adam (he deserves to anchor his own movie(s)) and slot The Rock into Guardians.
4. Moving on to directors: which filmmaker would you most like to see take on a superhero, and which superhero would that be?
CC: Listen, I know Wolverine has been done to death, and Logan was supposed to be the last hurrah for Hugh Jackman’s iteration of the character, but I would kill to see Kathryn Bigelow’s take on that particular brand of superhero machismo.
JD: Give me an Aaron Sorkin-scripted, Steve McQueen-directed courtroom drama with Daredevil facing off against She-Hulk and I will be very very happy.
BN: Christopher Nolan’s Doctor Strange; David Fincher’s Batman; Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy 3
ZD: I want Kelly Reichardt to make a non-studio superhero movie that dismembers the American myth. Otherwise, nobody.
5. Now the movies themselves. Which superhero movie is most deserving of Best Picture?
CC: Batman Returns, Spider-Man 2, and The Dark Knight would all be in the running and – for my money – deserving winners. But when I think about what superhero movie winning would actually redefine what’s possible at the Oscars, I think I’d have to give it to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. One of the most visually ground-breaking films in recent years with a beautiful emotional throughline to boot? Give it all the gold you got.
JD: Clearly you’ve forgotten that we already deservedly awarded Best Picture to Birdman, America’s favorite superhero.
Okay here’s my real answer: Much as I love them, I don’t think I would give Best Picture to any particular superhero movie, although The Incredibles and The Dark Knight both come very close to taking the top spot in their respective years. But if I had to pick one, it’s hard not to go with Black Panther just out of sheer cultural impact—and the fact that it actually got the Best Picture nomination and won three awards suggests it might not have been too far from actually taking home the gold.
BN: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (and I better not see any nominations for The Dark Knight above or below this entry.
ZD: Fast Color.
6. Superhero movies have become the dominant sub-genre in blockbuster filmmaking over the past decade. What genre or sub-genre would you like to see get the same kind of audience attention?
CC: Obviously the movie musical – if we don’t get a Greatest Showman Cinematic Universe soon I’m going to riot.
JD: As much as I want to remain on brand and scream MUSICALS, those still get made and seen fairly frequently, so I’ll go with the next best thing: the high-concept, big-budget studio comedy. I would love it if every studio flooded the zone with Knives Outs and Bridesmaidses and Popstars and Game Nights so we can all just get back in the theater and laugh together.
BN: The Heist genre is in need of a serious facelift…. Steven Soderburgh, please, save us again. Logan Lucky was a treat, so would be upset if Soderburgh just did a heist movie of every variety?
Western heist? Space heist? Halloween heist? And he can adopt Wes Anderson’s casting strategy and just use the same cast in every new movie but just with another heist scenario. Good lord, I’d buy HeistPass+ just for this.
ZD: Give me the return of the Rom-Com or the rise of the black comedy crime caper.
7. What is the best superhero costume?
CC: The nippled Batsuits from the Joel Schumacher entries. It’s an insane design choice and I completely dig it. Let superheroes be campy sometimes!
JD: After spending nine months wearing increasingly soft clothes, I can’t choose anything but this comfy number.
BN: Spider-Man, next.
ZD: The worst is Dr. Strange and that damn popped collar. The best? A classic. Superman from Superman (1978).
8. Finally, a twist on our lifetime achievement question. You meet someone who has never seen a superhero movie, and they’ve agreed to watch one sequence from a superhero movie of your choosing. Your job is to sell them on the value of superhero movies. Which sequence do you pick?
JD: I don’t think I could do a better job selling superheroes than the great Rosemary Harris does here.
BN: Hard to argue against Wonder Woman’s No Man’s Land scene. Or, spin the wheel and take any iconic moment from the original two Spider-Man movies, take your pick.
ZD: I show them any sequence from Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 and hope they just opt out of the genre altogether (I’m a curmudgeon).