JJ Abrams’ Hollywood takeover: will he save or kill cinema?

The film-maker’s deal with Warner suggests further dominance – but he’s hardly an innovator

It is JJ Abrams’s multiverse; we just live in it. That’s how it’s starting to feel, at least. The prolific producer-director-writer-geek overlord has had a hand in so many pop-culture properties over the past decade, it feels like he has basically won Hollywood. Star Wars (he’s finishing off Episode IX right now), Star Trek, Mission Impossible – all have benefited from the Abrams touch. Not to mention his zeitgeisty TV series: Lost, Westworld and Alias. Unsurprisingly, everybody wants him.

Last week, we found out just how much: Abrams’s company Bad Robot signed a $250m “mega-deal” to produce film, TV and digital content for WarnerMedia. Apple reportedly offered him double that but he went with Warner. This immediately lit up lightbulbs in one quadrant of the fan galaxy: Warner is the home of DC Comics’ superheroes. For DC fans, the coming of Abrams would be like hearing your athletics team has just signed the Flash.

As we know, Marvel has stolen a march on its comic-book rivals over the past decade with its well-planned and spectacularly successful movie cycle. DC has floundered in its efforts to catch up, including the unloved Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. Recent hits such as Wonder Woman and Aquaman have steadied the ship, but there is the impression that no one is in overall control, like Kevin Feige has been at Marvel. Abrams would fit that bill perfectly. In addition, his old friend Matt Reeves is already working on the new Robert Pattinson Batman movie. So it could all fit together.

But how much of the Abrams touch is too much? Of course, he is a consummate entertainer, with a Spielberg-like sense of how to please the crowd, orchestrate the spectacle and set the tone just right. And he knows how to bring in new audiences while keeping the old fans on board. Look how he cleverly sheared off a new timeline with Star Trek, leaving the original canon intact. Or how The Force Awakens smoothly passed the Star Wars torch by basically telling the same story as the original. Abrams’s products are slick, pacy, exciting and technically state of the art, but save for a few stylistic trademarks (ooh, lens flare!), can you call him an innovator when his greatest successes have been with other people’s stories?

Abrams could be mindful that his own material has not quite resonated in the same way lately. The water-cooler days of Lost feel like a long time ago, although he has a few new irons in the fire, including original sci-fi series Demimonde for HBO (which is also owned by WarnerMedia). Faced with a choice between mapping out a new DC universe and doing something of his own, you suspect he’d favour the latter. Knowing Abrams, though, he will probably do both.


Steve Rose

The GuardianTramp

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