Aaron Sorkin is a man of many talents. The West Wing stands as one of the most influential TV shows of its time, his screenplay for The Social Network bagged him an Oscar, and his trademark combination of mile-a-minute eloquence and screwball-style walk-and-talk dialogue has made him one of the most dominant forces in the industry. A whole generation of writers has grown up under the shadow of the Sorkin-esque, and his much-anticipated debut in the director’s chair with the upcoming Molly’s Game has many film fans intrigued. While writers usually don’t carry the level of name recognition actors or directors do in the industry, individuals like Sorkin are the rare examples of such, which means that he’s got a level of freedom that most screenwriters lack.
What Sorkin wants now, according to recent reports, is to join the ranks of the superheroes. We recently learned that Sorkin has taken meetings with both Marvel and DC this week, with the writer himself saying:
“I have to go into these meetings and tell them as respectfully as I can that I’ve never read a comic book. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I’ve never been exposed to one. So, I’m hoping that somewhere in their library is a comic book character that I’m gonna love and I’m going to want to go back and start reading from the first issue on.”
Sorkin would certainly be one hell of a coup for either studio, both of which have snapped up major names over the years (with DC/Warner Bros. even snatching one of Marvel’s most successful directors, Joss Whedon, for a planned Batgirl movie). Sorkin’s distinctive style is certainly cinematic in its approach, and could offer a sharp approach to some of the television based properties. However, with everything both franchises are doing to carve out unique identities for themselves, bringing a voice as recognizable as Sorkin’s to the table would arguably be a misstep.
While Marvel has started to tentatively allow more distinct voices to its extended universe – including James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) – the studio still maintains an iron grip on the expansive franchise, which may span worlds, stories and characters, but consistently retains an in-house tone that ensures a clean narrative throughout its sprawling universe. Doctor Strange is a hallucinogenic mystical adventure, Captain America’s trilogy evolved into Cold War style espionage, while Guardians of the Galaxy follows a rip-roaring space opera pulp thread, but structurally, these films echo one another in a distinctively Marvel manner. This is thanks to the creative control the studio retains, and it can be limiting to work in, as Whedon himself admitted when discussing elements of Avengers: Age of Ultron he would have preferred to skip. Sorkin is someone used to getting his way, and enjoys a level of creative control most writers would kill for, so it’s hard to imagine him toeing the Marvel line.
The DC Extended Universe, meanwhile, has an identity, but it’s been somewhat embattled ever since its inception with Man of Steel. Having Zack Snyder’s stylistically grim approach define a multi-billion dollar franchise has raised many an eyebrow, particularly after Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opened to brutally negative reviews, with Suicide Squad following suit. Snyder’s Justice League is still on track as planned, but recent developments have hinted towards some changes in Warner Bros.’ long-term strategies, thanks to the hiring of Whedon and Matt Reeves, both of whom allegedly negotiated with the studio to retain more creative control than originally planned. How this will lead to some cohesion within the DCEU is anyone’s guess, and while a more auteur-driven approach seems welcome at Warner Bros., there doesn’t seem to be much else to entice Sorkin into the DCEU’s canon. Sorkin’s a dialogue man who thrives with cutting remarks, dizzying rhetoric and intellectual gymnastics, rather than explosive action and fight scenes.
The biggest problem with Sorkin as superhero scribe is right there in his own statement. He’s never read a comic book, and has no particular love for the genre. It’s possible that this fresh angle, untainted by fan bias, could yield strong results, but it would also be a lost opportunity for the countless writers who possess true passion for superhero stories. Moreover, it does the genre a disservice to hand it over to writers who may see it as beneath them, or as a lesser form of entertainment (there’s a difference between an outsider perspective and a dismissive sneer). Sorkin would certainly bring a sense of prestige to an oft-maligned genre, but it’s not essential – serious awards contention would be a fun cherry on top of the cake for Marvel or DC, but they’re still ruling the roost of Hollywood without them.
If Sorkin is truly invested in exploring the superhero genre through his distinctive lens, perhaps his best options would lie outside of the big two franchises. Fox have garnered surprise critical acclaim this year with James Mangold’s deeply political and melancholic Western approach to Wolverine in Logan, while Noah Hawley’s daring take on the X-Men mythos, Legion, has become the must see show of 2017. Neither fit neatly into the usual superhero franchise mould, but are striking takes on the genre with a unique voice audiences were crying out for. Perhaps Sorkin would feel right at home with some of the X-Men, firing off cutting one-liners on the political battle that fuels the central battle of humans versus mutants.
Aaron Sorkin is a name people strive to make room for, but within the dominant industry forces of the extended universe model and the billion-dollar blockbuster slate, it may be the case that his voice is simply not needed. His talents announce themselves with every line, oft-imitated but seldom replicated, and that has thrilled millions of viewers. Yet even with their increasing lenience towards the brashness of the auteur, Marvel and DC may prefer to look for a quieter voice.