X-Men: Apocalypse is now out in theaters around the world and unfortunately the movie’s been met with lackluster reviews: even here on Monkey Fighting Robots. It was Bryan Singer’s fourth X-Men and he did make two groundbreaking superhero movies, X2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past. However, it seems that Singer and writer Simon Kinberg are running out of ideas – so now might be a good time for them to step back into producer roles and let someone new takeover the directing duties in order to give the series a fresh perspective and inject some new ideas.
Whoever does take over the X-Men franchise would need skill in handling the complex world of the series, and more so the political and social themes and the character development the series is known for: so here are ten high caliber directors who could continue the series.
With a filmography that includes Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, Brooklyn-lad Darren Aronofsky is undeniably a talented filmmaker who has developed a devoted fanbase. Even when he makes a divisive movie like The Fountain and Noah they are noble attempts. Because of Aronofsky’s reputation he was considered to direct Man of Steel, was attached to direct the remake Robocop and worked with Hugh Jackman to make The Wolverine. Aronofsky left because the project was going to be filmed outside America, but it was rumored he clashed with Fox because he wanted to make a hard-R rated movie
Aronofsky is a certainly a great director who has a reputation that could easily match Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn – admittedly for different types of movies. Aronofsky’s movies are known for being bleak character driven movies, a great fit for a series known for having a darker tone to many of its contemporaries. He has also shown he can handle a grander scale. Aronofsky is on studios’ radars to direct a big franchise film – imagine what he can do if he was given carte blanche with the X-Men.
South African filmmaker Neil Blomkamp made a big splash on the film world back in 2009 with his debut District 9 – a perfect blend of sci-fi, action, special effects and political allegory about Apartheid and the treatment of refugees. It was made on a budget of $30 Million and earned Academy Award nominations for Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a perfect first film and deserved the praise it received.
Blomkamp’s follow-ups have not been so well received,;Elysium was as subtle as a brick with its political themes about immigration and healthcare provision and his second South African set movie Chappie only received a 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (it followed the District 9 template too closely). But his talent is evident – he can easily handle action and special effects and he gets the best out of Sharlto Copley. Elysium and Chappie were produced by Simon Kinberg, so he already has a working relationship with one of the key people controlling the X-Men franchise.
Blomkamp was set to write and direct a fifth Alien movie that was set to retcon Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection but it has been put on hold so Ridley Scott can make the Prometheus sequel Alien: Covenant. Although Blomkamp’s concept art for Alien 5 was fantastic the X-Men would be a better fit for Blomkamp because of his fondness for political and social commentary. He could follow the same route Bryan Singer did when he became attached to the X-Men series – being linked to make an Alien movie before getting the offer to handle the famous superheroes.
Another director known for making movies with a political edge is South Korean Bong Joon-ho. Western audiences will know Bong best for his cult hits The Host and Snowpiecer. The Host was a slightly comedic South Korean monster movie that showing a mutated creature attacking Seoul – a creature created because the American military had a reckless disregard for the environment.
His English language movie Snowpiecer was even overt – based on a French graphic novel – Snowpiecer is set in a post-apocalyptic world where scientists accidently start a new Ice Age after trying counter-act Global Warning. The only few humans that survived live on a train that is constantly moving. But a class system forms on the train and the lower classes are on the edge of revolt.
Bong can handle the political themes in the X-Men series and the special effects required for a big franchise movie. But Bong did clash with the Weinsteins because they wanted to cut 20 minutes from the US release of Snowpiercer and the movie has never been released in other English-speaking countries. This may make Bong hesitant to work in Hollywood.
When the X-Men comics were first released it was written as a metaphor for the Civil Rights Movement, Charles Xavier representing Martin Luther King’s philosophy of peaceful resistance and Magneto being a militant like Malcolm X. It would be wise for any X-Men movie to stick closely to these roots and themes.
A recent movie about the Civil Rights Movement was Selma, telling the story of Martin Luther King’s protest in Selma, Alabama to end discriminatory practices used to prevent African-Americans from being allowed to vote. Its director Ava DuVernay earned a lot of praise for her work on the movie, brilliantly translating the period and society to screen and showing all the key figures involved.
DuVernay has become one of the most prominent female African-Americans working in Hollywood and she became the first black female director to have a movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. She was linked to direct Black Panther but withdrew because of creative differences with Marvel. She is currently attached to direct a film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time for Disney.
DuVernay could easily translates the themes of prejudice to the X-Men and show their society and politics while also allowing her to have a bigger audience.
Since making Moon, Duncan Jones has become an in-demand director, being linked to make Man of Steel before taking the Warcraft gig. As a director Jones has shown a proficiency for making sci-fi movies – Moon earned a number of awards and Jones won a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut. Moon was a tout little sci-fi movie where Sam Rockwell gave an outstanding double performance, told an interesting mystery with a minimum of characters and used practical effects over CGI. His follow-up Source Code was a more populist effort but still a well made sci-fi thriller with a great cast that featured Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Jeffery Wright.
Warcraft is a going to a big movie and Jones might continue with the series, but it would be a coup for the X-Men to get a director of Jones’ growing stature.
With movies like The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow to his name, Doug Liman has shown himself to be a capable action director and would be a safe pair of hands to direct an X-Men movie. Liman has had a varied career, making comedy-dramas and spy dramas as well action movies.
His work on the Bourne series is underappreciated, he helped turn Matt Damon into an action star and brought about a gritty and ground style to the action spy-thriller that ended up influencing movies like the reboot James Bond series. Edge of Tomorrow was just unabashed fun, being a video game influenced film and had a bad-ass Emily Blunt.
He has also made a movie about the corridors of power, the politically charged spy thriller Fair Game which earn a Palme d’Or nomination. He can use that experience to look at a governmental or military response to the ‘mutant crisis’.
But Liman has made mistakes as a director. His first attempt about a man with superpowers, Jumper was a critically bomb and the action-comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith is not fondly remembered.
Liman’s first movie starred Jon Faverau, so he can always ask the Iron Man director for tips on how to make a superhero movie.
Young Hungarian director László Nemes has only made one movie so far, but it is a hell of a movie – Son of Saul. Son of Saul was a critically acclaimed movie about the Holocaust, earning a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, won the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and Best Foreign Language Awards at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
The X-Men series has often drawn on Holocaust as a plot tread, the first X-Men opened with a teenage Magneto being dragged by SS guards when entering Auschwitz, X-Men: First Class looked at the experimentation that was performed on Magneto and the camp even served as a plot point in “Apocalypse”. In “Days of Future Past” Holocaust imaginary was used to show how mutants were rounded up by the Sentinels and their human masters. The Holocaust is key to Magneto’s character, he has seen humanity at its worst and it’s what drove his ideology.
It would be a bold statement for a director of this caliber to be attached to a superhero movie.
The X-Men movies are at their best when they focus on character development and any director would be wise to stick to this model. Jeff Nichols has shown himself to be a talented dramatic director and has developed a reputation for getting great performances from his actors. Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud were all critically praised and known for being character driven dramas. Take Shelter had Michael Shannon at his best playing a father suffering from schizophrenia and Mud was a coming of age story about two teenage boys befriending an outlaw. The coming of age story could serve as a dramatic hook for an X-Men movie since mutation is seen as a metaphor for puberty and coming out.
Nichols also made his first foray in sci-fi with Midnight Special – getting Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver to star in it. It was basically a sci-fi version of a road movie and was made on a relatively low $18 Million budget – forcing Nichols to use special effects sparingly. It was a more bang for your buck approach. Midnight Special earned an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Nichols is only 37 and he is the type of director who should be given a shot at a studio film. Fox better get him before one of their rivals does.
Mark Romanek was another director who was linked to The Wolverine gig, being on a shortlist of directors to replace Darren Aronofsky. Romanek has worked mostly as a music video director and only has made three movies. But two of these movies are utterly fantastic, the psychological-thriller One Hour Photo where Robin Williams gave one of his darkest performances and the sci-fi movie Never Let Me Go.
It’s Romanek’s work on Never Let Me Go that shows he would be a good fit for the X-Men. Based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and adapted by Alex Garland, Never Let Me Go was set in an alternative version of Britain where people are able to live to 100-years-old, but at the expense of an underclass of clones who only live so they can have their organs harvested. It was greatly realized world because of its subtleties where people avoided looking at the clones and kept contact to a minimum – while the clones are so conditioned that they do not even attempt to escape their fate. It felt realistic and it would be easy to picture Romanek creating a complex world for the X-Men.
Despite his slim filmography, Romanek has been linked to big studio movies – he was set to direct The Wolfman but left at the last minute, had a dark vision for Cinderella and was considered to take over the Robert Langton series from Ron Howard.
The Spierig Brothers
Hailing from Australia, twin brothers Peter and Michael Spierig are a directing team who have developed a cult reputation for their work in the horror and sci-fi genres. Their movies have been critically praised and won awards, their first movie Undead won the Fipresci Award at the International Federation of Film Critics and Daybreakers won the Best Visual Effects prize at the Australian Film Institute. Their most recent movie Predestination won two awards at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and earned 2nd place for the Audience Award.
Daybreakers was an impressive sci-fi/horror movie that featured stars like Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill and had great special effects considering its $20 Million cost. It was set in world where vampires have taken over the world but is in crisis because of the resource of blood is running out. With a movie that only lasted 98 minutes, Spierig Brothers set up a world that had multiple factions and showed the politics and economics of the society.
Their follow-up – Predestination was a complex sci-fi mystery revolving around a Temporal Agent – a man who goes back in time to stop crimes before they are even committed.
The Spierig Brothers can easily handle complex sci-fi ideas and social themes and deserve a chance to make a studio film. They would be a good fit for the X-Men series.