‘Star Wars’ and Superheroes: Why Comedy Writers Are Taking Over

Chris Evans in Captain America Civil War

Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War | Source: Marvel Studios

More often than not, writers, actors, and directors are pigeonholed into one, solitary corner of the industry. Christopher Nolan directs cerebral sci-fi drama. Melissa McCarthy deals almost exclusively in comedy. No one’s quite sure what Terrence Malick is all about, but it definitely carries a consistent tone throughout. Rarely do we see them venture outside of their respective boxes, and why would they when studios will pay a premium for them to do what they’re good at? Lately though, we’ve seen an odd trend developing in tentpole franchises.

This trend relates to big-name studios employing some of the sharpest minds in comedy, and throwing them into what’s perceivably well outside their comfort zone. And yet somehow, this assortment of talent has somehow managed to exceed all of our greatest expectations. Meanwhile, we see studios like Warner struggling to gain traction with guys like Zack Snyder, a writer/director known primarily for his grim tone and generally humorless approach to filmmaking.

The other side of the aisle has the likes Anthony and Joe Russo becoming fixtures in the MCU following the massive success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War (and soon to be followed by two Avengers movies). If you’ll remember, the duo got their start directing for Arrested Development, Community, and Happy Endings, before getting the attention of the Marvel higher-ups. In 2014, the studio took a considerable gamble bringing them in to direct The Winter Soldier, a move that ended up paying off in spades following the departure of Joss Whedon from the Avengers franchise.

On the set of 'Captain America: Civil War

On the set of ‘Captain America: Civil War | Marvel Studios

You can see the repercussions of this trend everywhere you look at Disney right now too. LEGO Movie masterminds Phil Lord and Chris Miller were hired to helm Lucasfilm’s standalone Han Solo movie, and more recently, Rick and Morty showrunner Dan Harmon was brought on to help with rewrites for Doctor Strange. This all points to a full-blown movement within the industry, pointing toward one undeniable conclusion: The best franchise dramas are currently being made by people who, until now, have made a career out of avoiding them altogether.

So what is it about comedy-focused creative-types that’s led to such a massive level of success? To answer that question, think first of the material they’re being tasked with bringing to life. For the Russos, they were asked to take the story of a man wearing an American flag-print suit curling a helicopter and make it their own. For Lord and Miller, they’re tackling the story of a smart-talking space smuggler whose best friend is a terrifying giant teddy bear. The common denominator here is rooted in patently ridiculous base concepts, somehow made feasible through movie magic.

Knowing that, who better to take these fictional characters who we simply can’t imagine existing in the real world, and to not only humanize them, but to covey their less human aspects at the same time? Comedy writers have spent the better part of their lives translating the ridiculous into a language we as an audience can understand, all while making us laugh. This makes them singularly qualified to tackle the realm of superheroes and Star Wars in a way the Zack Snyders of the world simply aren’t equipped to compete with.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange | Marvel

This brings us to the news of Dan Harmon getting brought into the fold on Doctor Strange. Looking at all the pieces, it’s a move that makes a whole lot of sense. Harmon’s own resumé has dealt almost exclusively in the wild and weird, from his early days running Community, to his team-up with Adult Swim mainstay Justin Roiland for Rick and Morty. And while he’s only responsible for rewriting select scenes, a film as off the beaten path as Doctor Strange promises to be, it makes sense to bring on a writer whose speciality fits that mold to a tee.

While Marvel and Lucasfilm have found success in this strategy under the Disney umbrella, most of Hollywood has shied away from the approach. Warner is still sticking with Zack Snyder as the de facto leader of their DC movie-verse, Paramount is generally staying in the territory of action/adventure directors with Justin Lin and Star Trek Beyond, and Bryan Singer remains in charge of Fox’s X-Men saga.

That all being so, as Disney continues to rake in both critical acclaim and box office gold, you can bet other studios will begin to follow suit. For Hollywood, it’s always going to come down to whether or not an approach will make all involved a big fat pile of money. And right now, the “make a big fat pile of money” goal is being attained by an unexpected group of comedy writers capitalizing on their opportunities.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

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