I might have been cautious about ‘The King’s Man’. But that’s just a trailer for now. And the Rest of Vaughn’s work: Brilliant!
Let’s think for a minute about the Spielberg legacy. Everyone WANTS to be like him in their direction of film. EVERY second wally talks about ‘I loved Raiders..as a kid’. Fine. But we ALL do! And, whilst there can never be another Steven Spielberg, it is natural to look to his successor as the next Godfather of popular culture on film. Not a director who simply copies a style; but one who, with their own specific tropes, motifs and particular directorial tricks, evokes a similar FEELING among the viewers.
Someone who makes you feel as though your cultural, visual DNA is being rewritten, within the confines of a Cinema screen and yet weaves slightly yet surely, somehow, into the sentiments beyond the movies.
A sense of childhood awe in an adult world: confronting, even embracing and never sanitising, yet somehow also comforting us through darker areas of life and owning those through a sense of style, structure and occasional escapist gloss.
THAT to me, is what makes a Spielberg piece distinctive; a quality or set of qualities in the feelings they provoke, both aesthetic and moral.
So: Schindler’s List could not be more different to Indiana Jones, for example; and yet they both alert us to the horrors of Nazism and the barbarous brutality of evil, whilst giving us heroes to look to in the hope of surviving, enduring, overcoming. Different tones and genres: same distinctive visual and moral code.
And so it is with Matthew Vaughn. He has a long way to go before even approaching Spielberg’s prolific power and legacy. But the germ is there, no doubt.
Not sold yet? Ok..here are some back up bits of evidence.
VISUAL STYLE: I can spot a vintage Spielberg: lots of flashing blue light, trees, suburban horror, trucks, dust, families in peril thereby reconciled. Same way I can spot early Vaughn: glass window as view to a giant room reflecting window to character soul. A signature move.
BUILD A BETTER YOU: Both directors look for the best in people or at least, even evil must be its best possible form? Eggsy (Taron Egerton) in Kingsman is a street thug in effect who is transformed into a gentleman. Frank Abagnale (Leo DiCaprio) in Catch Me if you Can must learn that his ability to con people need not be used for mere gratification and fun: he matures as the film progresses. Magneto (Fassbender) in X MEN: FIRST CLASS is taught the balance between rage and serenity as the key to true focus and success.
CHILDLIKE IMAGINATION /INNOCENCE: Make no mistake, these directors are dealers in fantasy. They peddle you literal fairy-tales! STARDUST has all the ingredients: princess, witch, faraway lands, the works! ET and HOOK are moral fables with heart, soul and visual character.
FACING VERY GROWN UP REALITIES: For all of the escapism and the fun? There is no sanitising the darkness that we must all confront when lights come up on a movie as it ends. So it helps sometimes when the art-form confronts, head on, the nastier sides of life. LAYER CAKE does not deny the violence and darkness of the drug dealing world; but manages to retain a scintilla of civility and satisfy as stylish entertainment, via dollops of wit and Daniel Craig.
The same actor turns up in MUNICH; a movie that Spielberg hated making because of its unrelenting ‘bitter pill’. And yes, it’s dark, slow and difficult, because the politics of terrorism and retaliatory attacks cannot be anything else! But its humanity still shines, through great acting and visuals.
FOSTERING FRANCHISES: It’s funny, but both Spielberg and Vaughn are bound by love/hate relationships with the franchise mentality and the art of a good sequel. Vaughn was meant to helm X3: Last Stand but jumped ship, having laid much groundwork (including the casting of Vinnie Jones and Kelsey Grammer). He subsequently reinvigorated the entire brand with X MEN: FIRST CLASS.
And there should thereby have been a new set of 60s set sequels; a self contained mini universe of fun. Sadly, the studio (Fox) panicked and wanted an AVENGERS level team up film and there was also a sense that Bryan Singer wanted to return and fix his own timeline.
So, we got Days of Future Past and whilst that is an absolutely adorable movie in sentiment, action, scope and message; it lacks the sheer finesse of FIRST CLASS. Vaughn is not alone, of course. Spielberg wanted NOTHING to do with JAWS 2, despite some initial negotiations and approaches. They made the movie, anyway and a series of even more awful sequels. Steven learned his lesson and insisted on making THE LOST WORLD : the second Jurassic Park film. I still think it’s the best of that entire franchise and unbeatable and when he stepped away, the difference in quality was notable, immediately. And of course, both directors are associated, often (but sadly, erroneously) with both James Bond and Star Wars: but hope springs eternal for either of them to take on the myths in question.
SENSUAL DETAIL: These guys make you FEEL their movies. Every little detail. You can taste the alcohol, feel the ice chinking in whiskey glasses, recoil at bruising punches and shiver at the whoosh on the high seas. Something about the way they shoot action, matched to the right actors. It just works; there is a lifestyle component at work. Casting helps here, too. They both pick perfect Hitchcock Blonde types, for example, when presenting a femme fatale to the audience. Vaughn discovered Sienna Miller! He gave us January Jones as Emma Frost! And Mr Spielberg: Ia will always be grateful for Kate Capshaw as Willie Scott and Alison Doody as Dr Schneider!
PRODUCER POWER: Much of what we think of as ‘Spielberg’ in ethos from the 1980s and beyond was a product of his setting up the project or making it happen via AMBLIN. He did not always direct and yet the visuals and marketing retained that Steven magic. Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Men in Black, Transformers: all ‘his’, whilst farmed out to other directors. Vaughn has some catching up to do; but he actually started life as a producer before he even thought about directing. Guy Ritchie’s gangster thrillers were launched with Vaughn as Producer and its an association which continues, today.
So: whilst it’s a bit early to crown Vaughn as the next Spielberg..there is a case, already, for prepping a coronation.
PS: They both have nice glasses and beards and hats.
JAMES MURPHY LOVES YOUR WORK!