First And Last: Comparing The Early And Later Work Of Hollywood’s Hottest Directors

james Gunn

It’s so far so good at the moment for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy; reports from early press screenings are glowing, and the rest of the world seems to have abandoned all its previous caution and thrown itself into a joyous frenzy of anticipation. All along, Guardians has seemed a bit of a risk, not least because this is a major title in phase 2 of Marvel’s long-term movie release plan (James Bond villain plans for world domination are less far-reaching than this) – and it is resting in the hands of a fairly inexperienced director.

But it perhaps shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise that Gunn got this gig. Because if we look back past the variably received Super, and ignore the fact that he directed a segment of Movie 43 (it literally pains me just to write it), we come to his first major directorial contribution, his debut – Slither. A comedy/horror/sci-fi/zombie/nostalgia/alien/action movie, Slither not only gained itself an affectionate cult-status, but it also proved all by itself that there wasn’t very much that Gunn couldn’t get into a film. Who better then, to handle a movie that includes multiple planets, intergalactic prisons, cosmic travel, romance, action, explosions and 80s music, all tied together by a group of relatively unknown characters that includes a deranged genetic-experiment in the shape of a raccoon?

But even if their debut movie wasn’t the one that set them up for the rest of their career, every director has to start somewhere. Some hit the ground running, some just hit the ground. But there is always something interesting in comparing directors’ later work to where they started, something that tells us a bit more about the director themselves – who they once were, or who they are now, and the reasons behind their directorial choices. In a lot of cases, we learn more about each film just from watching the other.

This article is a little collection of directors’ first and most recent films. It is in no particular order (except for the last entry, which has intentionally been placed last as a sort of piéce de résistance), and the directors have been chosen purely for their range of films, either within their own careers, or between their films and those of others on the list. Who to include and who to leave out was a horrendously tough decision, gifted as we are with so many staggeringly creative and remarkable filmmakers working today. Leaving out The Coen Brothers (Blood Simple/Inside Llewlyn Davis) and Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets/The Wolf of Wall Street) was particularly painful. On the other hand, there were a few who could be excused from class a bit more easily: Michael Bay, for example, isn’t here – even if his own description of his filmmaking as ‘f—ing the frame’ does make it sound irresistibly sophisticated….. And there’ll also be no enforced reliving of the work of directors such as Dennis Dugan, comparing the relevant two films of whom (Problem Child and Grown Ups 2) would be a bit like comparing typhoid and cholera.

Other than that, let’s begin.