Filmmaker Lexi Alexander is no stranger to superheroes. Lionsgate tapped her to direct their second Punisher movie, “Punisher: War Zone,” a film criticized for its stylized violence and tone. But Alexander maintains that the film is exactly what she set out to make, largely inspired by the Marvel Comics source material, it just didn’t connect with fans. Her most recent trips behind the camera have seen her trade Marvel for DC Comics, stepping into the director’s chair for episodes of The CW’s “Arrow” and CBS’ “Supergirl.”
CBR TV’s Jonah Weiland welcomed the always candid Alexander to the CBR Speakeasy in North Hollywood to discuss her career, the current shape of superheroes in live-action, and the different approaches TV showrunners and movie studios are bringing to comic book characters. Alexander explains why her “Arrow” episode brought her to tears, what Supergirl means as a symbol — and, of course, addresses whether “Punisher: War Zone” went off the rails or fell prey to other factors.
In part one, Lexi Alexander discusses making the move from movie making to the small screen, directing DC Comics-based properties like “Arrow” and “Supergirl.” Speaking to the the differences between each series, Alexander reveals how “Arrow” made her cry and the way “Supergirl’s” impact as a feminist superhero show draws her even closer to the genre on TV.
On whether she had to alter her directing approach between “Arrow” and “Supergirl”:
Lexi Alexander: Slightly. “Arrow” has been on for four years — it’s in its fourth season — and the tone is established. The look is fairly established, so it’s almost slightly easier because after you watch all the seasons right before you start, you know your blueprint. You know what you’re supposed to do. I can’t say, “Oh, let’s pop everybody up in the daylight.”
So it’s pretty clear. But you don’t ever get what you think you’re going to get. What actually was so interesting, and what I was really kind of happy about, was I had these dramatic scenes. I had these monologues and dialogues between Oliver and Captain Lance that were hardcore, and made me cry behind the camera. These were things I didn’t expect. I thought, “I’m going to have to talk about fighting and do the thing that I do,” and instead it became a whole different experience, which I loved.
On whether she actually cried filming “Arrow”:
Oh I cried. I remember precisely. I tend to — it’s not even something I should say as a woman director, but I’m gonna go and say it anyway. It doesn’t usually make us look good — but yes, when I’m behind the camera and it’s an emotional scene, and the actor goes there, I will definitely cry. As I would cry if I watched the episode — if it affects me.
[Stephen Amell] did it several times. I remember there was a very emotional scene between Captain Lance and Oliver where he’s basically says to him, ‘I looked up to you and you’ve let me down,’ and [I thought], “Oh my God, they can all act.” And often times I think on action shows where we have to do the action thing and the light thing, they don’t always get to go there. And I was very pleased and happy that it was my episode where this happened.
On the progress and diversity in superhero TV:
By the way, this is mainly TV. The movie people are still kind of backward on this. But in TV I feel like the showrunners really want to become more diverse. They don’t want to have this feedback of, ‘Why do you have no women here? Why do you not have people of color?’ I think they’re getting really ashamed of that and they want to provide diverse entertainment. I’ve suddenly become more of, I guess, an ally to them. Where they’re like, “You know, she’s actually got those kind of people following her, and she does have a voice, and she knows what she’s talking about, so instead of pushing away, why don’t we embrace it.” I mean, I’m not talking about all of them, but there have been a few. Andrew Kreisberg happens to be one of them.
In the second half of the discussion, Alexander revisits her first superhero directing effort, 2008’s “Punisher: War Zone,” revealing how she feels about the film today more than seven years later. Touching on the budgeting restraints and the unfair comparison to “The Dark Knight,” the helmer confirms that every cheesy, B-movie choice in the film was a deliberate decision to further the ’80s throwback tone.
On how she feels about “Punisher: War Zone” after all these years:
I like it. The other day somebody put a clip up — the famous parkour grenade shooting — and here’s the thing: This was the time people started getting $300 million to make [comic book movies]. I think [Christopher] Nolan was just making the second “Dark Knight” — we heard $300 million, but it was probably even more. People were getting proper money to make these films.
Here I am, it’s not even Marvel [Studios] doing it — it’s Lionsgate financing it. I’m here with $22 million making “The Punisher” and it didn’t occur to me that I would be going out there compared to the big boys. I thought we were making this. And I still think that we should be making all budget levels comic book films — they don’t all have to be $300 million films, in my opinion. … I didn’t see anything wrong with it. What I didn’t expect is this reaction to, “Oh my God, why didn’t you do it like ‘Dark Knight?'”
And I looked at all the MAX comic books, and I think that’s why people like Kevin Smith and Patton [Oswalt] always gave them good reviews because they understood that I actually went directly to the comic book. And you can put the panels next to the [screen], I didn’t even add anything much to it. Other than the parkour grenade shot [Laughs]. That was, “Oh, let’s do this brand new thing.” And I’m prouder now than I was back then because back then I thought, “maybe this does really suck.” And now I’m like, no, this was a deliberate choice. Everything that was cheesy in it, over the top, B-movie-ish, was a deliberate choice. And everybody going in knew that. That was my pitch. My pitch was literally “Let’s take this back to the ’80s and make a B-movie, cheesy [sic] and base it on exactly this MAX series of ‘Punisher.'” And we got exactly that. Later on, I remember Patton putting it into his Soak Up the Dark Festival, and people were standing around the blocks, like two blocks for people to get in, and all of them in the screening and the Q&A said, “I didn’t even know it was out.” So I think we kind of got lost in the shuffle of it.