Looking back on the state of superhero filmmaking in 2015, the release of Jessica Jones, and by extension the live-action debut of Luke Cage (Mike Colter), was easily one of the most satisfying things we got. Colter gave us a fantastic new vision of the character, complete with all the charm, strength and street smarts that entails, and I can't wait to see him shine in his own Netflix series.
Colter's casting and subsequent debut came at the end of a very long road of Luke Cage speculation. Whispers of a some kind of screen adaptation for the character have been thrown around the Internet for years, and everyone from Terry Crews to Isaiah Mustafa lobbied at one point or another for the role. In the years after the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that wasn't odd at all, but it turns out someone was eager to bring the character to the screen more than a decade earlier: Quentin Tarantino.
That's right, the Oscar-winning writer/director behind hits like Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained is quite the comic-book fan, and once upon a time he dreamed of bringing Cage -- who he describes as his favorite character -- to the big screen. On an episode of the Nerdist Podcast last week, while promoting his new Western The Hateful Eight, Tarantino started talking comic books, and noted that, when he was younger, he was more drawn to books that "were a little bit more closer to movies anyway" at the time. Among the books he cited were Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu and Luke Cage. It was that last title that got him so interested that he considered trying for an adaptation even as he was developing Pulp Fiction in the early '90s.
"One of the things I wanted to do before Pulp Fiction to some degree or another…one of the outside projects that I considered doing was doing a Luke Cage movie," Tarantino said.
Now, keep in mind that this not only pre-Avengers, pre-X-Men, and pre-Spider-Man. This is pre-Blade. This was a time when the only major superhero franchise churning out big-screen success was Batman, so it's hard to see Marvel leaping at the chance to put Luke Cage onscreen, particularly in the hard-R hands of someone like Tarantino (thought it's far easier to picture that now). Tarantino eventually dropped the idea, made Pulp Fiction and became an icon, but what made him give up on Luke Cage before even really trying?
"In the case of Luke Cage, it was my comic geek friends that almost talked me out of it, because I thought Larry Fishburne back in the day would’ve been a great Luke Cage, and they were talking about Wesley Snipes. And I could see them both, but it was like ‘I think Fish would be better.’ And they go ‘Yeah…he could work out and everything, but he doesn’t have the bod that Wesley Snipes has, and Luke Cage needs to have the bod.’
"And I literally was so turned off that that would be their both starting and ending point, that it literally put it in my head that, if I do a comic book movie, it should be an original character. It should be something I create rather than try to fit in."
Tarantino, in the process of discussing this lost idea, actually makes an interesting point about fan expectations and how they play into filmmaking, particularly at a time when people are still mad that a black Human Torch appeared in a film this year. Some filmmakers want canon, and some filmmakers want to go their own way. Tarantino's clearly the latter, so it might be for the best that he just dropped the idea and made his own movies.
But hey, Marvel, if you need a special guest director for an episode of Luke Cage ... you could do worse.