Spike Lee isn’t known for making comic book movies (we’d rather not speak of the unfortunate Oldboy remake), so it was disappointing to learn that his purported Nightwatch adaptation for Sony isn’t happening anymore. After all, who doesn’t want to see one of the most visionary directors of the past 35 years bring his style to a superhero blockbuster? Now we can only dream.
The good news, however, is that Lee is still interested in bringing a cool comic book to the big screen. It just won’t involve caped crusaders. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the director’s next project is based on DC/Vertigo/Image Comics’ Prince of Cats, a hip-hop-infused remix of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that takes place in New York City during the 1980s.
Lee is working on the script with the graphic novel’s author, Ron Wimberly, and screenwriter Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, a former editor of hip-hop magazine The Source, who also has written for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone reboot. It is unknown if Lakeith Stanfield, who was attached to star in a previous iteration of the movie, is still on board to play the lead.
The story is told from the perspective of Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, as he sets out to prove that he’s the best swordsman in Da People’s Republic of Brooklyn. In this depiction of NYC, sword-dueling is just as popular as block parties. There are street gangs inspired by Japanese culture who wield katana blades. Think The Warriors, but with emceeing, breakdancing, and samurai honor codes.
There’s plenty of grit in Prince of Cats, but it’s also very stylish and fun. Characters speak in Shakespearean dialect, the action is kinetic, and the story is peppered with nods to pop culture, folklore, and Greek mythology. All of these influences are mixed together seamlessly, like the comic book equivalent of a great DJ set. Lee didn’t come up with the idea for Prince of Cats, but this adaptation is a Spike Lee joint if there ever was one.
Prince of Cats is a melting pot of some of Lee’s own artistic fascinations. He’s no stranger to telling Brooklyn-based stories about the struggles of inner-city life, some of which strike a perfect balance between fun and tragedy. Oftentimes, a Lee joint will make you laugh, then punch you in the gut. Prince of Cats boasts a similar tonal aesthetic.
In the past, Lee has also mined classical literature for inspiration to tell stories about modern-day urban warfare. Chi-Raq, for example, is a retelling of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, set against the backdrop of contemporary Chicago gang violence. That movie also features characters who speak in rhymes, and Lee will undoubtedly love the idea of applying more strange language to an urban setting with Prince of Cats.
While the movie’s premise lends itself to Lee’s brand of social commentary, it will also allow him to wax his action chops. The comics feature characters jumping across rooftops and engaging in sword battles in various areas of the borough. Prince of Cats is entertainment, first and foremost, and fans of action movies, rap music, and originality should get a kick out of this movie when it finally makes it way to our eyes.
Needless to say, this won’t be your typical Shakespeare-inspired movie. But that’s what makes Prince of Cats such an exciting prospect. The spirit of the great English playwright will be present and accounted for, bouncing to the beat of Golden Age hip-hop, while the film will also be paying homage to Walter Hill and Akira Kurosawa. Get ready for Spike Lee to bring the ruckus.