Marvel needs to keep investing in great directors, not rely on its house style

Loki Benson and Moorhead Tom Hiddleston
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Marvel has just announced that Loki directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are helming Daredevil: Born Again next. For the first time, we have hope for the studio’s future. 

Last week’s episode of Loki ended rather shockingly. I won’t spoil it here, but I do urge you to watch the whole series, because for the first time in years, I’m excited not just to tune in to their latest series this week, but for the future of Marvel Studios. 

The ending of episode four (out of a total of six) was wonderfully weird, frightening and completely surprising. I sat there, gobsmacked, in silence before I managed to utter “what just happened?” to my equally confused partner. The episode was directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, a directing duo whose career I’ve been following closely ever since I stumbled into a screening of The Endless by accident at the London Film Festival several years back. 

The duo are mostly known for their tantalising sci-fi offerings, such as the aforementioned The Endless and Spring, which we recently listed as an underseen horror gem. Synchronic, their 2019 film about a drug that gives you the ability to travel back in time, moved them up the ladder with a bigger budget and bigger stars, with Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan playing the two friends at the heart of the film. 

For years, fans begged Benson and Moorhead to do something in the superhero genre. After all, it was – and still is to some extent – the marker of real success in Hollywood. If Marvel or DC want you, you’ve truly made it. Obviously this isn’t true – success comes in many forms – but it’s undeniably exciting when indie directors are given bigger budgets to play with.   

Loki tom hiddleston
Credit: Disney

The fans finally got their wish when in 2022, Benson and Moorhead directed a couple of episodes of Marvel’s Moon Knight and were soon announced as the lead directors for season two of Loki, which, at the time of writing, only has two more episodes to go until what promises to be an explosive season finale. 

In October 2023, Marvel announced that Benson and Moorhead would also direct Daredevil: Born Again, the troubled “reboot” series that was just recently all but scrapped. The news was met with a mix of genuine enthusiasm, but also weariness and disappointment.

“Shame to see them sucked into the Marvel meat grinder,” a colleague noted on the Film Stories Slack when the news was announced and honestly, he has a point. Marvel is known for having a set house style, which rarely leaves a lot of room for creativity. It’s a generally accepted fact that Marvel films are shadow-directed by Kevin Feige, who has taken Marvel Studios from a moderately successful film studio to one of the biggest on the planet. Unfortunately, recent Marvel movies have been disappointingly bland offerings and, coupled with the worrying news of the studios internal struggles, we can’t help but wonder if this is the metaphorical end for Marvel’s box office dominance. 

Yet, there is hope. James Gunn and Taika Waititi managed to infuse their Marvel films with their own style. The Guardians Of The Galaxy trilogy remains the best Marvel has had to offer us and Thor: Ragnarok proved there was room to play with style and humour while still sticking to the Marvel guidelines of storytelling. While these films are still anomalies, they prove that it is indeed possible to do something different in the realm of superheroes. 

We at Film Stories have always been passionate about championing films that are often overshadowed by the latest superhero spectacle, but we never wish for a Marvel film to be bad. In fact, we want them to be better. We want to be wowed by them, to be amazed and more importantly, surprised. By focusing on the talent behind the camera as much as the talent in front of it, Marvel could really rise to the occasion. 

While DC has had a much rougher time at the box office than Marvel, they’ve always invested in hiring quality filmmakers with a specific flavour to their storytelling. Andy Muschietti, Matt Reeves, James Wan and David F. Sandberg all had strong genre filmmaking backgrounds and it made their films infinitely better (at least in most cases, Shazam!: Fury Of The Gods was a bit of a misfire, wasn’t it?).

Marvel desperately needs to reinvent its style now. Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania was proof that it’s not enough to bring popular characters back and stick to their usual style, audiences crave (and frankly, deserve) more. Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness hired Sam Raimi to helm it but somehow forgot to let the Sam Raimi-ness shine through the overstuffed plot and the studio’s bigger ambitions. For so long now, Marvel has lacked the boldness and ambition that led them to hire Shane Black for Iron Man 3

As the ending of episode four of the latest season of Loki proves, Benson and Moorhead are still more than capable of bringing something new and fresh to the table. They’ve already assured us they will always have time to make smaller films with their friends. They’re also particularly hands-on with their approach to storytelling; Benson often writes their projects and Moorhead handles the camera and while this might not swing at a big Marvel production, it adds to their creativity and authorship. 

loki season 2
Credit: Disney

For the first time since the ending of Infinity War, the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels uncertain, in the best possible way. We’re sure it’ll still be convoluted and a bit of a chore with its overarching narratives that require deep knowledge of their films and TV shows, but if they continue to hire and value singular, talented filmmakers, they could really turn things around. 

Daredevil doesn’t instantly strike as a particularly natural fit for Benson and Moorhead, who made their name in sci-fi and who excel when things get a bit cosmic. Daredevil, at least the character’s iteration on Netflix, was violent, dark and gritty, but we’re excited to see what Benson and Moorhead can conjure up with such a premise. 

Two things can exist at once: we can be sad that we might not see a cool little sci-fi film from Benson and Moorhead at least for a few years, but we can also be incredibly excited that they’re being given bigger resources to execute their vision for a bigger audience, that hopefully will go on to seek their other work. Not to mention, a nice, fat pay cheque from Marvel could potentially go towards a fantastically odd sci-fi film. 

As it stands, Daredevil: Born Again is in a limbo of sorts while the actors’ strike continues. The series was originally scheduled for 2024 release on Disney+, and while nothing has officially changed, the production is facing severe delays. Regardless, we’re excited to see what Benson and Moorhead are cooking up with Marvel. For the first time in ages, we’re genuinely looking forward to being surprised again. 

New episodes of Loki are streaming on Disney+ every Friday. 

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