What Ava DuVernay's 'New Gods' Says About DC
The landscape of the DC film universe is broadening, and it's making some exciting strides already in 2018. Following the critical and financial disappointment of Justice League, Warner Bros. made changes in its top brass in charge of DC’s film slate. This, as well as some surprising creative choices over the first few months of the year show a reinvigorated boldness at the studio when it comes to its comic book properties, with the hiring of Game Night filmmakers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein to direct a movie centered on the Flash (Ezra Miller), and confirming that Kristen Wiig will play Wonder Woman nemesis the Cheetah in Patty Jenkins’ sequel.
But the most exciting of Warners' DC-related news came Thursday with the revelation that A Wrinkle in Time filmmaker Ava DuVernay will bring Jack Kirby’s Fourth World to life with New Gods. Both the project and the choice in director come at the perfect time, not only for DC’s film universe, but for superhero projects at large. Over the past 12 months we've seen Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and, more recently, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther become unprecedented box office hits and cultural milestones. Jenkins and Coogler brought much-needed inclusion both in front of and behind the camera. Both of these filmmakers not only opened doors for new fans, but helped showcase and capitalize on the diverse fandom that was already there.
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Despite the fact that superhero films have been major hits since 1978’s Superman, there has been an inescapable feeling of smallness when it comes to bringing these larger-than-life characters to the big screen. This smallness has largely come from a repetition of films starring premiere characters like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, and the fact that the vast majority of superhero movies were, and still are, directed by white males. The characters, just like the talent and fanbase, who could chart the path to a more inclusive experience, have always been there. They were just overlooked, or outright ignored. But as Bob Dylan’s song says, “the times, they are a-changin.” (An appropriate quote as it was used in the opening of Zack Snyder's 2009 film Watchmen). New Gods is big in every sense of the word, an epic story, a vast and uncharted region of comic lore and a major movement towards casting a more all-encompassing spotlight on those who get to tell these stories.
Just as Jenkins and Coogler were right for their respective projects, DuVernay is equally perfect for New Gods. While A Wrinkle in Time proved to be somewhat of a learning curve, there are moments of brilliance in some of the casting choices and designs, which give a hint of what we might be able to expect from the more mature realms of New Gods. For those unfamiliar with the property, Jack Kibry’s Fourth World spanned numerous comic series and centered on the ultimate war between good and evil with a cast of dozens of characters, divided across the warring worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips. Concepts of the Fourth World were introduced in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and followed up on in Justice League. While there’s no telling how much DuVernay’s film will borrow from the films before it, or where it will be set in terms of continuity, introducing Kirby’s famed lore is no small task.
What DuVernay brings to the project is not only ambition, but a social awareness that would serve these stories of slaves, despots, female soldiers and corrupt institutions well. This is DuVernay’s chance to build dueling societies from the ground up, to expand everything she’s covered from her narrative film debut I Will Follow (2010) to the Oscar-nominated doc 13th (2016) and set the stranger side of the DC Universe ablaze with newfound relevancy and insight. New Gods will surely be bigger than anything DuVernay has done before, but it’s populated with some of the same concerns that DuVernay has established her career on. While the hope is that DuVernay stays true to Kirby’s creations, there is also the hope that as a black woman she delivers these concepts with the voice that only her experiences can provide. Comic book adaptations are changing for the better, and hopefully DuVernay’s hiring is one of many steps towards building a new pantheon of blockbuster directors who can finally create worlds of their own.
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