Sony is stepping up their superhero game with a huge directorial coup.
Iconic auteur Spike Lee is circling Nightwatch for Sony’s Marvel Comics-based Spider-Verse franchise. The scoop comes courtesy of That Hashtag Show (confirming an old rumor), who report that the current script is by showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, who did such a great job bringing a grounded black superhero into the mainstream with Marvel’s Luke Cage Netflix series.
In the comics, Nightwatch is the alter ego of Kevin Trench, an African-American doctor who witnesses a costumed vigilante die and discovers that the deceased hero is actually an older version of himself. It’s a higher-concept origin story than most of the big superheroes, but Lee has the chops to make it work.
Even if Lee’s recent projects haven’t quite made the cultural waves of some of his earlier work, he’s still very much in the cinematic conversation. Young heavyweights like Jordan Peele frequently reference the Do the Right Thing director as an inspiring trailblazer for African-American filmmakers. In fact, the pair has teamed up for Lee’s next joint, the now-filming Black Klansman. Peele is producing the based-on-true-events thriller about an African-American police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s.
It seems Sony was interested in Lee from the early stages of development, and it looks like he’s reciprocating. It’s worth noting that Lee wouldn’t be writing. Most of Lee’s success has come when directing his own scripts, but Coker looks to be the perfect collaborator, as he could bring the superhero expertise, then Lee can let loose from that blueprint. It would be a real thrill to see what a filmmaker with a voice as distinctive as Lee’s could do within the confines of the superhero zeitgeist.
Most of Nightwatch’s comic appearances had him playing second fiddle to Spider-Man, but with such a singular filmmaker, let’s hope Sony trust Lee to take the character in its own direction, without the burden of universe-building crossovers. None of the secondary superhero studios are yet to replicate the lightning in a bottle success of Marvel’s cinematic universe. But, hopefully Sony has learned from Warner Bros. and Fox and are planning to keep the Spidey-Verse crossovers as neat little extras rather than their raison d’être.
At some point, Sony had to test the waters with unknown characters and, with Venom, Silver & Black (a Black Cat and Silver Sable team-up) and Morbius, The Living Vampire in the works, they’re going all in. Venom was a comparatively easy next step for their Marvel character vault after Spider-Man: Homecoming because of his relative fame and having previously been portrayed on the big screen, in Spider-Man 3.
One advantage Sony might have over the early offerings from Warner Bros. and Fox is smaller budgets. After the success of the likes of Deadpool, studios seem open to lower cost, higher risk superhero projects. Venom looks to have followed suit, and it’s not as if Lee is accustomed to $200 million behemoths. He’s yet to work with a budget greater than the $50 million price tag of 2006’s Inside Man, so he will be more than comfortable operating on a smaller scale than Sony’s Peter Parker tentpoles. And, as always, with a smaller expenditure, the opportunities for daring, uncompromising filmmaking only increase.
However this goes down, should Lee definitely sign on to direct, he’ll be the star of Nightwatch alongside whoever they cast as Dr. Kevin Trench — name actors John Boyega and Daniel Kaluuya would both be popular choices, but I’d also love to see someone like Cleo Anthony, who is so brilliant in Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It Netflix series, given a shot. And with a character so many audience members will be unfamiliar with, Lee and Hadari have carte blanche to take Nightwatch in whatever direction they choose.