Is Joe Johnston the Worst Director for Captain America?
THEHAWK Analyzes Johnston's film career and provides points showing whether he is capable of directing Captai America
This is the first in what I hope to be a series of articles highlighting comic charcters, films, actors, directors and mistakes throughout comic book movies. For my first article I decide to highlight Marvel's controversial choice of Joe Johnston to helm the upcoming Captain America movie.
I know Joe Johnston has been criticized as a poor choice to helm the upcoming Captain America movie. I can understand that, he has an iffy track record at best, having only helmed ten films thus far. He did not start out as a director though. He was originally an art director that conspired with George Lucas to create visual effects for such famous films as the original Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
He is definitely a visual director as far as his films go. His experience as an art director has given him an eye for minute details that allows him to bring wild and fantastic adventures to life. Before we pass judgment on this man, let us briefly review the films he has directed and how certain aspects of each film style can aid or detract from the Captain America film.
His first outing as director was with Disney’s box office hit, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.
I am sure most of you have seen this film, so I don’t need to elaborate on the plot details then. Anyway, HISTK was Johnston’s first film that he was at the helm, and he did not disappoint. His history as an art and visual effects director aided him in constructing unique shots to magnify the difference in scale of the shrunken protagonists and the world around them. This was an effects heavy film, nearly every shot was filled with some technique, the scene with the bee was extremely impressive considering the effects available at the time. Johnston’s familiarity with using effects will definitely be a useful tool in his direction of a superhero blockbuster.
Johnston’s next outing as director was an under appreciated film in the same genre as Captain America, I am talking about “The Rocketeer”.
Rocketeer was based off of the comic of the same name. the film is a period piece set during the late 1930’s. it involves powerful businessmen, corrupt officials and a grand Nazi conspiracy. But at the center of all of this the film is truly about the journey of one man Cliff Secord, portrayed here by Billy Campbell. Secord is a man who literally has destiny thrust upon him and acts accordingly. Johnston is able to pull amazing performances out of this cast of up and coming actors, including one Jennifer Connelly. Johnston’s amazing ability to bring this bygone era alive, and imbue the audience with an emotional connection to a time that we will never know is amazing. You never for a second doubted what was unfolding on screen. This ability to bring the past alive is one of the most important things he will need to bring Captain America to life. While Rocketeer unfortunate bombed out of the box office, it is an undervalued classic that has gained a cult following in recent years.
Johnston’s next film is arguably his second worse, I am talking about the “Pagemaster”.
This is an odd film, that could have been something great, but unfortunately the film fell far short of what could have been. The film is basically about an overcautious boy that is transported into a magical animated land of fantasy, adventure, and horror were books and literary characters come alive. He is aided in his journey back to the real world by three talking books, appropriately named Fantasy (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), Adventure (Patrick Stewart) and Horror (Frank Welker). This film could have been great, but it was little more than a thinly veiled attempt by Ted Turner (Co financed and co distributed) to get kids to read, unfortunately the message was rather bland. This film really isn’t Johnston’s fault however, seeing as he only directed the short live action segments, whereas the majority of the film is animated. The only thing that he was involved with that I found issue with was the wave of color at the beginning of the film, and that is mainly because of the outdated visual effects that were still cutting edge at the time.
The next film Johnston directed is probably my favorite film of his, “Jumanji”.
The story is about a supernatural and ominous board game which makes animals and other jungle hazards appear upon each roll of the dice. This is an amazing film that could have easily come across as a campy film worthy of the bat-nipples. Johnston could have really screwed this film up, but he didn’t, he delivered, big time. This film is a visual feast, backed up by riveting and engaging performances by the whole cast, led by Robin Williams at his finest. Johnston had perfect chemistry with his actors in this film, he was even able to get a good performance out of a young Kirsten Dunst, directors have not been able to garner a decent performance out of her since. Johnston and his crew take us into a world of fantasy and hardships throughout this rollercoaster ride of a film. The visual effects were stunning, Johnston had the art team and his former cohorts at ILM create animals and plants that looked real, yet at the same time they almost appeared to be wooden carvings, as they appeared on the game board itself. The sense of realism that Johnston brought to this unbelievable idea is exactly what is needed to keep Captain America grounded in the real world.
The next film that Johnston brought to the world was a touching film starring Jake Gylennhaal in what may be one of his best performances to date, “October Sky”.
“October Sky” is based on the true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner's son who was inspired by the launch of Sputnik 1 to take up rocketry against his father's wishes, and eventually became a NASA scientist. This film is a touching story about one boy’s attempts to live his dream and escape from the life of a coal miner, despite his father’s wishes that he go into the mines. Johnston took this simple concept and created a wholesome film that shows that dreams are possible. The film also has a subtle pseudo patriotic undertone as it delves into America’s entry into the space race. Johnston demonstrates again in this film that he is at his best when he is dealing with a simple personal tale, something that whoever helms Captain America needs to be able to do. The film flew under the radar at the box office, but is a good film nonetheless.
Next up is “Jurassic Park 3”.
To be honest, I hate this movie. I enjoy most of the cast, but this is arguably the worst film any of them has done. I enjoyed the first two “Jurassic Park” films, but Johnston really dropped the ball on this one. This is the “Batman and Robin” of the “Jurassic Park” franchise. There is no character development, the plot is nearly nonexistent, overall it is a bad film. The only two saving graces of the film were the cast, and the effects. The cast all did a great job, William H. Macy is one of my favorite actors, but his and the rest of the casts talents were wasted on this film, the lines were bad, the attempted character development was completely unbelievable. Johnston can not be spared the blame for this one as he could for “Pagemaster” this is solely his fault. The best part of the film was its breathtaking visual effects, if I could watch the film without hearing the horrible dialogue I could perhaps enjoy it. The visuals are engrossing and well developed, unlike the plot and the action sequences were well planned and choreographed. Unfortunately it seems that Johnston can’t handle a horror film, the majority of his work has been safe and kid friendly, yet still engaging and mature. Unfortunately all of that maturity was lost in this film as it defied the laws of anatomy and common sense. I mean come on! A cell phone that rings in a Spinosaurus’s stomach? I mean come on! Seriously? Even if the phone somehow still worked after spending a day in stomach acid, how the hell can they hear it on the other side of the jungle form the damn things stomach?!?!?!? Overall, this film was bad, his worst in my opinion. The only positive thing that can be taken from this movie was its effects. If he brings the horrible plot and character development to Captain America, we will be wishing for the 90’s one again.
The last film on my list is “Hidalgo”
I love period pieces, and this seemed promising, and in my opinion, it delivered. In 1891, a wealthy sheikh, Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), invited an American, Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), and his mustang horse, Hidalgo, to enter the Ocean of Fire, an annually held three thousand mile survival race across the Arabian desert restricted to the finest Arabian horses bred of the purest and noblest lines. This film is based on legends and tall tales that Frank Hopkins, a compulsive liar in real life, would surround himself with. While the historical accuracies or inaccuracies is up for debate, the fact is that Johnston brought back a genre long dead. Hollywood doesn’t make films like this anymore, the western is slowly being phased out of the cinemas, but this was a horse of a different color. The film boils down to Mortensen’s relationship with his only companion, his horse Hidalgo. This odd pair are the anchor that holds the film together. When the film goes through its most outlandish senses, that defy logic, we are held into the film world with the attachment we have built with the characters.
I unfortunately cannot comment on his latest endeavor “Wolfman” because I have yet to see it. These will have to do for now.
Johnston is a proficient effects director first and foremost. This technical wizardry he has mastered is key in delivering a big budget comic book movie. And his down to earth tone will keep the film grounded in reality.
Throughout all of these films Johnston is best at centering his stories around a personal journey, whether it be Robin Williams battling his fear of his father that have taken form in a hunter, or Viggo Mortensen taking one last ride with his one and only friend. Johnston is best at portraying the human element in his films, he gives us engaging characters and forces them to make tough choices and confront their fears. And by the time the film is over, we have a well developed character that is prepared to face the eventualities ahead. This is the kind of foresight and scope of vision we need to bring Captain America to life.
I was originally planning to write an article about how bad a director he is, but in the end I realize, he is actually a pretty good director. Two bad films out of ten. And a couple of box office flops that were actually good movies, but were undervalued.
The truth is, Joe Johnston has my faith that he can deliver the Captain America movie we have been waiting for.
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