Thursday, November 21, 2013

Martian Manhunter & the Nolanverse Aesthetic

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2013 Benedict Cumberbatch as Martian Manhunter fancast art

A fan poll has been running on Comicvine this week asking which DC character from a set list they would like to see get a feature film. Martian Manhunter is on it, and doing well for his relative standing in sales, but what struck me was how difficult most of the characters would be to adapt under the current terms. Fans have been very critical of Warner Brother's attempts to bring DC's heroes to the big screen, and in the last fifteen years, the general audience's rejections of cinematic Steel, Catwoman, Superman, Jonah Hex, and Green Lantern have left the company gun-shy. Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy" has been an extremely lucrative exception, prompting his involvement in Man of Steel, which certainly fared better than Superman Returns. Warner Brothers isn't just looking to adapt DC heroes, but to processes them through the lens of the so-called "Nolanverse."

Warners are currently working on their fifth DC movie with Christopher Nolan's creative input and a screenplay by David Goyer, not to mention their third super-hero movie with director Zack Snyder. There is a consistency of vision across these films, including Watchmen: a stylized but "realistic" look; grim, operatic, largely humorless tone; judicious displays of power and downplaying of fantastic elements. This aesthetic doesn't really suit characters like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern, whose backgrounds require an immersion into alien environments and suspension of disbelief regarding wondrous civilizations co-existing with our own. That would be less of a problem if the heroes only showed up in a team movie, but if the discussion is in regards to their viability as feature stars, they don't process easily or well through the sensibilities of the Nolanverse.

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2011 “JUSTICE LEAGUE Theatrical Teaser” fan art by Sahin Düzgün

If the current films are leading up to DC's answer to Marvel's The Avengers, it's worth noting that Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye are the characters closest to the world Nolan, Goyer & Snyder are the most comfortable in. A more sober, joyless Iron Man could fit, but Thor and the Hulk are anathema because of their extraordinary natures. The Flash seems like an obvious choice, since his costume was reasonably adapted as far back as the 1990 TV show, and his power set has already been demonstrated as acceptable through films like Man of Steel and The Matrix. Within the context of the Justice League movie, Wonder Woman could simply be a magnified Trinity/Black Widow (or a duplicate of Faora,) and only becomes problematic in her own film. Most probably, a movie with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash would work just fine, but there's a tendency to want to scratch the itch of a fifth member to round out the group.

As I've previously mentioned in great detail, the Manhunter from Mars is the most obvious choice for such a role. For as much of a film as would be desirable, John Jones is a non/limited powered police detective suited to the twisting mysteries and criminal procedurals that are Nolan's forte. He can then demonstrate unique, impressive, but easily filmable abilities such as telepathy, invisibility, intangibility, and shape-shifting, much less John Carter and much more Inception. The broad science fiction aspects of his origins can be downplayed, and in fact he doesn't even have to come from Mars or tell his origin in specific detail. He's an alien acting secretly on Earth in human form and may be called simply "Manhunter." He can battle technologically enabled humans or nefarious aliens, right in the filmmakers' wheelhouse. Fans are not dogmatic about Manhunter's appearance, so a costume is optional and its particulars negotiable. He's already a gritty, cynical character who can become embroiled in violent spectacles, and his weakness is to be immolated, so a graphic, gut-wrenching torture sequence is practically assumed. David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky could be hired or emulated and Nolanverse fans would be ecstatic without the pushback from sullying a Superman-type. There is literally no other hero in the DC Universe better suited to bridging the gap between Nolan's Batman and Snyder's Superman than J'Onn J'Onzz.


Count Drunkula said...

I've seen those polls and almost always voted for Aquaman, not because I want his movie the most, but because I'm terrified that DC will ruin Wonder Woman and I would be more accepting (expecting) of a mediocre Aquaman film than Wonder Woman.

But your points for J'Onn J'Onzz are right on. I definitely think he could and should work on a Justice League team movie. As a solo, that's harder to imagine Warner Bros. taking that chance, even though it could work incredibly well.

LissBirds said...

You've laid out a great case for a Martian Manhunter film. A mind-bending sci-fi/police procedural would be brilliant. (Inception was a sci-fi caper film, so anything is possible.) What I think is unique about J'onn is that he can bridge a few genres: police procedural, science fiction, superhero.

There is just so much a director could do with the Martian Manhunter. Whether they'd do it "right" is another story, but I think it is easily possible for J'onn to exist within a Nolan-esque universe. Add the tragic past in there, and that makes things even better.

I could also see J'onn being equally suited to a TV series--he was pretty popular on Smallville, even though I missed most of that show.

Alex said...

For me, Martian Manhunter should be Damion Poitier (Geek Cred, Real Husbands of Hollywood, Lost Planet 3).

Diabolu Frank said...

Watched his theatrical reel based on your recommendation. He's got the height/build and an ethical dimension to his presence, which I can get behind. Haven't seen enough of him to fully judge, though.