Talking adaptations, Iceland, and ‘EVE Online’ with ‘2 Guns’ director Baltasar Kormákur

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2 Guns doesn’t feel like any other comic book adaptation out there right now, and for good reason. Director Baltasar Kormákur was given a free hand in bringing his vision of the Boom! Comics series to theaters. Star Mark Wahlberg brought him the script while they were in post-production for 2012’s Contraband, and Kormákur immediately saw a story he wanted to tell.

“I really liked the tone,” he tells Digital Trends of that first read-through. “But it [also] allowed for fun, and space for chemistry and interplay between the two stars, so I thought it could be really interesting. Then I actually looked up the comic [and] I realized [the movie] kind of had to take a journey on its own. We weren’t married to the comic because it doesn’t really have a big fanbase and no one was expecting that from us.”

The result is a comic book adaptation that stands perfectly fine on its own as a work of cinema. Kormákur understands the importance of capturing the spirit of the source without being enslaved to it. “It can be very difficult to create something on its own while trying to be loyal to the material,” he explains.

“There’s a certain lightness to the comics. They don’t take themselves too seriously. I like that in cinema. But I was more interested in old movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, movies that I really loved watching. Movies that allowed themselves to be movies. I like that kind of balance that those movies had, and I was more looking toward that [for 2 Guns]. The comic book allows for that.”

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Kormákur readily admits that his latest efforts falls somewhat outside the more thoughtful scope of his earlier work. Talking to him, it almost sounds like 2 Guns is sort of a love letter to the kinds of films he grew up with. He clearly had fun with it, though you can still get a sense of his personality bleeding through in the movie’s rapid-fire pacing.

“I’m not a big fan of exposition,” he says. “Of course you need to give the audience some guidance, but at the same time I really want [story development] to be part of the situation when I do it, so I never stop to explain. So I try to… roll it into the scene as much as possible. You’ve got to stay on your toes. To get all the clues you have to be with me. I don’t want people to just sit back and then spoon-feed them. That’s kind of my style.”

“I’m not a big fan of exposition.”

The talents of the two stars, Wahlberg alongside Denzel Washington, serve as the anchor in 2 Guns. The white-hot chemistry in their humorously antagonistic buddy pairing keeps you riveted. The story is surprisingly complex and not at all “Hollywood” in a lot of fundamental ways, but it’s not at all hard to follow because you’re constantly inching forward in anticipation of whatever twist is coming next. Kormákur explains that, as natural as it all feels, it didn’t happen immediately.

“I think it’s a process. Mark was shooting very close to when we started our prep, so I had less time with him than I had with Denzel. Which is fine with me, because I…had a lot of time with Denzel to work on his character, going through it with him. He’s very particular,” Kormákur says. “Then, getting them together, it’s almost like you’re a matchmaker. You have to make the environment nice enough, and the working situation, so they can actually loosen up and find it.”

“It is not something you can ask for, just say ‘More chemistry!’ That’s not how it works. So you’ve got to figure out a way to get around it, create the trust. Fortunately, they were actually very good with each other.”

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The challenge for Kormákur was in giving the rest of the cast time to breathe and develop in a story driven by this pairing of strong personalities. The tremendous supporting players all made the most of their screen time, but the lone standout among them is Bill Paxton’s CIA spook, Earl.

“At some point we were thinking about cutting more of Earl out,” Kormákur reveals. “The more time you can spend with Mark and Denzel together, the more satisfying. In the end, I didn’t want to do that. I felt his character deserved some screen time as well, because I think Bill has a great performance, [and casting him] for something nasty was an interesting challenge.”

“It’s not something you can ask for, just say, ‘More chemistry!’ That’s not how it works.”

“Part of the joy of seeing a movie that allows itself to be a movie is also seeing people do something unexpected. People that you know and like. I think it’s kind of a game with the audience. That’s why people love to see stars, because they know them. I’ve seen him in a lot of things and I like Bill, but I’d never seen him do anything like that.”

Those who are familiar with Kormákur’s earlier work can certainly see how the “game with the audience” he mentions applies to the director as much as it does to the cast. 2 Guns is a very different sort of movie than his previous work would suggest. Contraband falls the closest, but that is more of an action-thriller to the new movie’s action-comedy. The act of pushing his personal craft in new directions is in many ways a product of his Iceland upbringing.

Iceland’s economy went through a radical shift in the early 1990s when the changing power in government introduced more of a free-market environment. After being largely closed off and internally focused, the border doors were thrust open and the citizens of the island nation suddenly found an opportunity to carry their varying talents to the larger global stage. The 47-year-old Kormákur observed this transformation firsthand, and took careful note of the new opportunities it created.

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“When I was growing up, there were only limitations,” he explains. “There was no one who had done anything abroad or made a name for themselves outside of Iceland. There’s a lot of energy that stacks up in that situation. Suddenly the borders open and there’s a lot of creative energy. There’s no inferiority complex, even. If you want to do something, it doesn’t matter where you come in [social] class in Iceland because we almost don’t have any [social class structure].”

“If you want to be an artist, you be an artist. If you want to be a musician, you be a musician. There’s no limitations. I think that creates [a situation where] every possible talent in the country has a chance. Which is different from these big countries where it’s so hard to break through and a lot of talent gets lost.”

It’s that line of thinking which led Kormákur to launch BlueEyes Productions, a production company that is focused on nurturing Icelandic talent and sharing a piece of that global stage with more local voices that might not otherwise know how to go about breaking out. The 2 Guns director sees it as an opportunity.

“Having a little bit of success out here [in the United States] gives me a lot of opportunity to open it up for others,” he says. “There’s a lot of talent and a lot of opportunities. I’m producing now a couple of TV shows and a couple of movies. I’m trying not to get too selfish about it and actually support artists.”

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One of BlueEyes big projects in development is the EVE Online TV series that we learned about back in April 2013. This is a very different kind of adaptation than 2 Guns. With the comic book movie, there’s a very definable source text to look to. The game, on the other hand, is set in a massively multiplayer sci-fi universe of Earth’s distant future. It’s a very complicated game that has developed a reputation for its unique, player-driven socio-economic structure. There is lore in this universe, but the most compelling narratives are those that grow out of interpersonal exchanges.

“If you spend more time in there, does that have more effect on your life than reality as we call it? This is what excites me.”

“That was actually what drew me to it, this idea that the stories are created by the players,” Kormákur says. “If it’s possible to tap into that, I think that’s a new opportunity. The tagline ‘Based on a true story that happened 20,000 years in the future’ [led me to] realizing that, basically, people have started living on different planes.”

“It becomes as real for someone who has a spaceship in EVE Online, spends thousands of hours building it and creating his world, and then somebody crashes it or takes it away or steals it  [and you feel as if it’s] your real car in your garage. The line is blurred. If you spend more time in there, does that have more effect on your life than reality as we call it? This is what excites me. This is a new thing to me. It has a little bit of a Matrix feel to it, just the concept.”

Kormákur cautions that the project is still a ways off from being realized, though he’s optimistic about the possibilities. “We’re working now with the CCP guys to [figure out] what is the journey of the world, and then we’ll start digging into the characters and specific storylines,” he says. “That’s where we’re at now. It’s in the very early stages, but it’s exciting.”

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