Joe Johnston is a reliable Hollywood workhouse who hit his prime in the 1990s with classics such as Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Jumanji and October Sky. The 2000s were a bit rough on him, with films Jurassic Park III and The Wolfman getting mixed to negative reviews (but Hidalgo was really good!). I suspect his experience with action and having directed the late 1930s superhero period piece The Rocketeer, starring Bill Campbell (The Killing) and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) was what cinched him the gig to direct Captain America: The First Avenger.
Unfortunately since The First Avenger, Johnston hasn’t worked much. That makes me sad because the film has aged like a delicious stinky cheese since its release in July 2011. The First Avenger not only lays the foundation and conflict for Avengers with the Tesseract (aka, the first Infinity Stone), but also serves as an excellent origin story for Steve Rogers. Without First Avenger, we would not understand the inherent tragic nature of Steve as a man-out-of-time and why, at great cost and against all better judgment and logic, he chooses to pursue and support his best friend, brainwashed POW assassin Bucky Barnes in “Phase Two.”
Johnston has only directed two projects in the past six years. He directed the psychological thriller Not Safe For Work, starring JJ Field (Austenland), Max Minghella (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Eloise Mumford (Fifty Shades of Grey) for Universal. The film’s straight-to-DVD/VOD release in May 2014 speaks volumes about its quality. He also directed Lumen, a failed pilot-turned-TV-movie for TNT, produced by Amblin TV, in 2015. Lord, that is a shallow field of work.
Verdict: 5/10. It appears Johnston’s time in the Marvel machine didn’t give him much of a career boost (although he deserved one). My score would be a full point lower if not for the recent announcement that he will direct the new Chronicles of Narnia film, The Silver Chair, for Disney. Who the hell knows whether the film will be a reboot/sequel/prequel of the barely alive franchise, but it’s good to see Johnston land a high-profile project. Johnston appears to have a good relationship with Disney, evidenced by being one of the names in the mix to direct the atomically imploded Han Solo standalone film before Ron Howard was announced as the clean up guy, which could be beneficial further down the line. He is also set to direct sci-fi action film Starfall for Chinese cinema chain operator Wanda Group’s Qingdao Studios; a savvy move in an even more unstable than usual industry where everything is coming up Chinese dollars and foreign box office.