Terry Gilliam is, quite famously, a director who refuses to play by Hollywood rules, whether they're the rules of production, financing or just general story structure. He's been one of cinema's greatest mavericks for decades, and as a result he's delivered genre masterpieces like Brazil, Time Bandits and 12 Monkeys, to name just a few.
Because Gilliam is such an infamous rule-breaker, it's always fun to get his thoughts on the movies that do more or less manage to do things by the book. When you ask one of the most out-of-the-box directors in the world about some very in-the-box filmmaking (even good in-the-box filmmaking), you're bound to get some interesting remarks. Recently, Gilliam was interviewed by Sam Rubin for LiveTalksLA, and the discussion turned to Ant-Man, the latest superhero effort from Marvel Studios.
“Strangely enough, I watched Ant-Man on the plane coming over here. Now, Ant-Man I quite liked, I think there’s a lot of really good stuff in there. And technically, it’s brilliant. But it’s also predictable, ultimately," Gilliam said. "We know where it’s gonna go, so the structure and the shape is all there. And okay, they play with it in various ways. But, that’s my problem, I don’t get the surprise I used to get, I want to go and be more surprised."
Gilliam praised the film again later in the talk, calling it a "good time" and dubbing star Paul Rudd "terrific," but he also elaborated more on the general predictability he sees in superhero films, and why he considers it a problem from a storytelling perspective.
"I also worry when things become so repetitive, and now we’ve got to get all the Marvel universe dancing with each other, so Superman has now got to make love to Batman or something," he continued. "And these are the things that create that complete and hermetically sealed world, [and that] really bothers me, because the Bible is more interesting, and the stories are more surprising, and actually more human."
Gilliam isn't the first filmmaker to call for more "human" moments in superhero storyteling, and it's particularly interesting to hear him decry the repetitive nature of the formula, because he's the guy who once tried to make Watchmen, a film that's all about breaking down the superhero story formula.
As a superhero fan, I have to acknowledge that Gilliam is right in that superhero films are repetitive in some aspects of their storytelling. After all, most people don't want to drop money on a movie ticket to go find out the Avengers lose after 150 minutes. That's the nature of the superhero beast, and it always has been despite numerous stories attempting to deconstruct the formula. What's refreshing about what Gilliam's saying here is his willingness to admit that a superhero movie can be inventive within a certain kind of formula, while still acknowledging that it's a formula. Too many directors tear down these films as generic, homogenous exercises in predictability, but Gilliam is not just seeing the personality behind the framework; he's admitting that he saw it, and liked it.
Check out the full talk below.