Monday, December 12

The Justice Society of America film genre

Sean O'Neal's first sentence in his description of the trailer for The Avengers is long and is a piece of comic brilliance.

Sneaking in under the radar next year is The Avengers, an ensemble piece featuring indie-film favorites Robert Downey Jr. (Two Girls And A Guy), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), Samuel L. Jackson (Coach Carter), Scarlett Johansson (Match Point), Chris Hemsworth (A Perfect Getaway), Jeremy Renner (The Town), and Chris Evans (Puncture) teaming with cult television director Joss Whedon (several episodes of Dollhouse) for an intimate story about the fragile bonds forged between headstrong individualists under difficult circumstances.

He prefers to imagine the film as something small and contemplative until he admits in the very last line of the piece that it's "a kick-ass comic-book blockbuster juggernaut that’s going to make tons of money." For those members of the cast whose reputations weren't already forged and faces recognized by films like Sherlock Holmes, Pulp Fiction, The Hurt Locker and Fantastic Four, they were through films that gave their heroes their origins. It's a large investment to gather an ensemble of actors and actresses, any of whom could lead their own film, but it's not a bad way to guarantee that your film will make handfuls of money. It's worked with the sheer star power the three Ocean's films, it's worked with the overwhelming masculinity of The Expendables, it's worked with the mixed bag of Valentine's Day, and it'll work again with New Year's Eve and What To Expect When You're Expecting.

But I don't want to talk about those films. I want to talk about those that some remarkable mixture of prescience and fortune assemble an ensemble that has amazing things in store for the future.

Consider The Fugitive. It cannot honestly be described as an ensemble piece, starring Harrison Ford who started coasting on a reputation built on Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner about this time and Tommy Lee Jones, but it still gave managed supporting roles for Julianne Moore before her four Oscar nominations, Jane Lynch before her Golden Globe and Joe Pantoliano before his productive career.

Consider The Faculty. It had Salma Hayek before Frida and Desperado, Elijah Wood before The Lord of the Rings, Josh Hartnett before Pearl Harbor, Jon Stewart before anyone cared about The Daily Show and Usher before he discovered Justin Bieber.

Consider 10 Things I Hate About You. It had Joseph Gordon-Levitt before Inception and 50/50, Julia Stiles before the Bourne franchise and Dexter, and Allison Janney before The West Wing. It not only had Heath Ledger long before his Oscar roles in The Dark Knight and Brokeback Mountain, but it is the only American film I know of that had him speaking in his native Australian accent. It also had David Krumholtz before Numb3rs and Gabrielle Union before Bring It On for those who happen to care about those.

I would like to propose a name for these films, justice society. The Justice Society of America preceded the Justice League of America and its various iterations, and the biggest names in superheroes could not be members. Superman and Batman were only honorary members and the Green Lantern and Flash left once they gained their own series.

I would like to propose rules to this retroactive genre. First, and most obviously, more than a few of the actors and actresses must go on to stardom or win major awards or lead their own films or television series. Second, the film cannot be a smash. Its own success cannot be directly responsible the success of its actors. The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek may not have the biggest names in their casts, but you can be sure Orlando Bloom wouldn't have had the career he did without Legolas and that it wasn't The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagment that led to a role opposite Denzel Washington for Chris Pine. Third, it has to be an ensemble piece. It cannot be a star vehicle for a single lead character. It doesn't count when some uncredited background character goes on to bigger things, though it is impressive that Bruce Lee beat up both Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in Enter the Dragon.

I would like to propose love for this genre. It's like five before-they-were-stars segments only interesting.

I would like to thank IMDB for making me appear a lot more informed with regard to film than I am.


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