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Yes, Christopher Nolan is a Genius; but Let’s Not Burn the Guy Out by Handing Him Every Franchise in Hollywood

July 11, 2010

Al Pacino and Robin Williams in Nolan's "Insomnia" (2001)

In this very space, on Thursday, I bemoaned the state of Hollywood and its lack of imagination. I would, however, like to add a small caveat to that particular piece, as the reviews of Christopher Nolan’s Inception (out July 16th) — a sci-fi detective thriller based in the world of subconscious thought — continue to roll in, calling the film alternately “dazzling,” “devilishly complicated,” “fiendishly enjoyable” and “a masterpiece.” Surely, even the most casual of Nolan’s fans has seen his Batman films, both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight being easily two of the most well-written, smart and expertly crafted superhero-genre films in history.

At the helms of Batman, Nolan breathed a plausible, feasible breath into the world of Gotham City, one imaginatively and terrifyingly corrupt but also very rooted in a reality that tended to follow the rules of physics and believability. Suffice to say, both films basically blew everyone’s ever-loving minds and Nolan was suddenly a mainstream hit.

Before his success with the caped crusader, however, Nolan made two insanely clever and wonderful films in Mememto and Insomnia — the former a backwards-told mystery solved at the beginning which remains one of the most thoughtful films this writer has ever glimpsed, and the latter being a twisted, criminal journey into a world where night and day gel together and sleep blurs the mind.  A third film, 2006’s magician thriller The Prestige, is also a splendid movie itself, if a tad reminiscent of a two and a half hour Twilight Zone episode.

So let’s call a spade a spade — Nolan is batting almost a thousand in his career as a writer/producer/director. And as the third Batman film has been announced in the past couple of weeks, and his involvement with the Superman reboot has been confirmed, Nolan seems to have his hands full — because let’s face it, as long as the studios can get more Batman or Superman films, they’ll pay top dollar for them.

If you’re worried, however, that Nolan’s involvement with Superman may dilute the pool for Batman, your worries are about to get a little more validation. As MGM continues to struggle with epic money troubles, the film conglomerate has recently called off its plans for a new James Bond film and some believe may sell off the long-owned franchise to another studio, a prospect which must look like more of a lucrative purchase now that  Nolan has publically expressed interest in making a film based on the international superspy.

If Nolan signed on with Bond, that would make give him a trifecta of three of arguably the strongest character franchises in American pop culture — but should he try to juggle all three? Or should he just relax and stick to reviving one, as he has so elegantly with the Batman franchise, which — let’s face it — had become absolutely ridiculous under Joel Schumacher. Can he dedicate the same attention to Batman if he’s simultaneously developing Superman, and possibly keeping ideas in the back of his head for James Bond?

If Nolan’s not careful, he could go the route of another writer/director wunderkind, Bryan Singer, who is a curiously similar parallel to the career of Nolan. Singer, as you know, burst onto the scene with the unforgettable supertwist of The Usual Suspects, following with thestrong (albeit underseen) Stephen King adaptation Apt Pupil before being handed the keys to the X-Men franchise, which he absolutely nailed until he left the kingdom to Brett Ratner, who promptly drove the ship onto the rocks in X3 while a starry-eyed Singer did the same with the lame, forgettable Superman Returns. Suddenly Singer, a once golden boy, was directing direct-to-DVD horror with movies like Trick R’ Treat and executive producing the BBC-inspired Football Wives, a pilot not even picked up by ABC. And this, mind you, is the same man who brought us The Usual Suspects.

Christopher Nolan would do well to take a good look at Singer’s career before he sticks his finger into too many pies — Nolan so far has a track record impeccably pure and stellar, but a great mind is a rarity in Hollywood and the studio machine will wring every last drop of inventiveness they can get out of a fresh and promising talent. I love the Bond franchise as much as any movie-goer, but it’s important to remember that not everything can be graced with creative lightning, and even the strongest of talents can weaken from overuse. Right now, I think we’d all just be happy with a fantastic third Batman, without the director jumping too far ahead of himself. How flattering it must be to have studios panting for him to rejuvenate their most beloved franchises; but such celebrity can lead to burnout. Nolan undoubtedly is one of our most creative cinema auteurs and inventive minds. He can remain that way — if he can only stay out of the studios’ steely grasp.

  1. September 2, 2010 5:23 pm

    Wow great article. Nolan is my all time favorite writer/directer. I would love to see him get into the bond franchise because he would be brilliant at it. But superman? I’m sure he would kill it but it doesn’t seem like his area. I’m patiently waiting for batman 3 though. Love Nolan.

    • December 15, 2010 5:45 pm

      completely feel the same way, superman is not for him

    • Hermann permalink
      May 1, 2012 3:09 pm

      He might do well with Superman. We rarely, if not at all, get to glimpse inside the minds of a man with superpowers in a world of mortals. Most superheroes put on a costume to hide their secret identity. He puts on a costume to blend in with society as Clark Kent, a man that he portrays as meek and afraid. He quickly shreds his costume and Clark persona when he needs to get things done. I am sorry, but I have a friend who loves the idea of Superman.

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