There’s not any real connection between these things, but it’s Thursday March 30th, both of these things are on my mind and I don’t quite want to make a full article out of both. So, without further adieu.
An Appreciation of Legion’s Existence
Wednesday night brought the season finale of Legion, the first live-action television show from the X-Men universe (that actually happened, unlike Generation X). Noah Hawley’s always off-kilter, never quite fully graspable drama garnered tons of critical love and just as much critical antipathy. In other words, Legion has people talking and arguing and giving shots cross the bow.
I come down on the side of critical love, in case anyone was wondering (You weren’t, I’m relentlessly positive). Legion is like nothing else on TV, a show that’s visually daring and as bold as narrative television gets. It’s relentlessly fun with some of the most bonkers action sequences I’ve ever seen on TV (a late-season fight plays out as a silent movie, complete with intertitles). It’s got a group of great actors all full of charisma, anchored by now-crowned leading man Dan Stevens and the show’s bedrock Rachel Keller. That group is then taken into the stratosphere by Aubrey Plaza, who legitimately deserves every award possible for her work on this show and for defying every image had of her. Plus, its first season actually managed to have its mysteries and then turn them into a satisfying narrative that it actually resolved.
But this isn’t just so much me elucidating the successes of Legion, there’s plenty of people who attack it in a more interesting way than I ever could. More, I want to simply step back and appreciate how insane it is that a show like this exists and appreciate what it’s managed to contribute.
Let’s be clear what Legion is. It’s a show that essentially allowed itself to exist outside of narrative reality for the overwhelming part of the season. It’s a show that compressed time down to the point where 3 episodes of the show took places over maybe half a second. It’s a show that was absolutely willing to go in its own direction and didn’t particularly feel the need to catch you up until it felt it was the right time.
In other words, it’s a show that pushed its medium, that felt as thought it was actively trying to carve its own path. You have to appreciate a show that took a property and made its own name and its own bones with it.
You also have to appreciate a show that almost single-handedly revived the cultural significance of the X-Men. The X-Men have been the red-headed stepchild in our brave new superhero-filled world, but between Legion and Logan, the two have made X-Men something exciting again because each leans into the inherent oddity and tone differences of the properties.
So yeah, Legion exists. That’s awesome.
Why Jordan Peele Should Direct a Blockbuster
For those of you who haven’t heard, Warner Brothers seems to be courting Jordan Peele, Hollywood’s hottest commodity after directing the smash-hit Get Out, to direct one of its upcoming genre properties, either anime remake Akira or surprising DC Comics hot potato The Flash.
The question here isn’t so much his suitability for either of those. Get Out showed a steady directorial hand and knowledge of genre tropes (a knowledge that’s been infused to all his work so far) that pretty much makes him capable of anything and makes me excited to see him direct either.
I will say that Akira would be more interesting. It’s a specifically Japanese story and I’m not thrilled about an American version, but courting Peele seems to point towards the one workable version of this thing. Akira spoke to a specific youth disaffection with Japanese society and the feeling that it exploited and abandoned them, a lost generation.
I sort of feel like, just maybe, that’s a story a Black male director could tell about the African-American youth experience. Set it in future Atlanta, cast a group of great young Black actors, have an artist as smart about race as Jordan Peele with a budget? Might be absolutely worth the years that people have been trying to get this potential shit off the ground.
Like I said, if there’s any way we’re going to tell an American story of this, Jordan Peele could be the one to pull it off. But that’s not what we’re talking about.
Rather, we’re talking the general resistance I see to Peele doing a big-budget studio project at all, working with comic book/adapted property. There seems to be a general resistance to the idea of him not sticking with his planned “social horror” project and to the idea of him “giving into the machine.”
Look, I’m not necessarily thrilled that we won’t get more Get Out-style movies right away. We should absolutely have a hundred like it, all from Peele’s hand. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Peele takes a swing at big-budget directing.
First off, he absolutely has the talent for it. Get Out is a lot of things, but its most exciting story is the announcement of Peele as an amazing director. Only the most horrifying micromanaged studio project suffocate the talents of the best directors, see Alien 3. But given that the success of Get Out gives Peele more negotiation room than Fincher on Alien 3, and given that it’s Warner Brothers, I don’t think that should be the concern here.
The other is that taking company man swings like this are necessary. Doing the studio film is how you get big budgets for original movies and dream projects. Christopher Nolan doesn’t do The Prestige without Batman Begins or Inception without The Dark Knight. Guillermo del Toro makes Hellboy because of Blade 2. David Lynch makes Dune and talks Return of the Jedi for the hopes of making the smaller pictures that have made his name. Hell, Ava DuVernay is filming Wrinkle in Time right now.
This isn’t to say there aren’t legitimate reasons Peele might want to make Akira or The Flash. But I’m also saying that being willing to work on these big pictures with less personal attachment is what’s going to launch him into the stratosphere he deserves to be in, what makes him the money and gives him the trust to make things that are truly daring and expensive. And a good relationship with Warner Brothers is not a bad way to do that, their business model is giving people a fuckload of money to do whatever.
Peele is undoubtedly one of the next great directors, to the point where I wonder if it will be trivia that he was once a great sketch comedian. He can and should take some time to earn studio capital and has the talent to make something great while he does it.