Zack Snyder is a polarizing figure. Passionate supporters have fought back harsh against criticism, much of it popular opinion, for years. He has been praised for his technical skill and eye for stunning visuals while being criticized for poor choices in terms of story and character. His first film was the remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ in 2004, which was critically and financially successful. He would become known for his adaptations of comic-book and superhero properties, eventually being put in charge of launching Warner Bros’ DC Extended film universe. With that, he had to reinvent both Superman and Batman, without question, the two biggest characters in superhero history (or at the very least, superhero FILM history). He is preparing to release his JUSTICE LEAGUE film and the pressure is on. Zack Snyder is no stranger to feeling the pressure. He’s also no stranger to taking on insurmountable tasks, even when the odds are stacked against him.
His adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, ‘300’ was released in 2006 and was praised for its aesthetic and style. As a shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic-book (much like Frank Miller’s previous film adaptation, Sin City) the film was as faithful to its source material as it could be. The period setting and other-worldly nature of ‘300’, combined with more jacked-up, sword and sandal, testosterone laced man murder than ‘Gladiator’, ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Troy’ combined, proved to be a big hit. The film’s one liners have remained ingrained in popular culture ever since the trailers were released. “THIS IS SPARTA” *kick* became fodder for parody and memes that are now the stuff of online legend.
“READY YOUR BREAKFAST AND EAT HEARTY — FOR TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL!”
“WE WILL FIGHT IN THE SHADE.” (in response to the Persians saying their arrows would “blot out the sun.)
“COME AND GET THEM!” (in response to the Persians demanding they lay down their weapons)
Swap out “hell” for “hades” and all of those quotes were actually spoken, as far as history tells it. I’m not a fan of writing in all caps, so at first, I didn’t — but there’s just no other way to write those quotes. That entire movie was in ALL CAPS. Mindless machismo though it is, the entertainment value is solid. I was a fan.
Zack Snyder was on a roll at this point but with his next project, he faced some disadvantages he had not previously encountered. After the success of 300, Warner Bros tapped Snyder to adapt another adult-oriented graphic novel, WATCHMEN. This was sticky at the onset because unlike Frank Miller, Alan Moore, author of the graphic novel, had already sworn off involvement with any film adaptation of his work. Not only refusing to be a part of the film’s production, but demanding that his name not even appear credited, Even if the film were to win over critics and comic-book purists, it was never going to get Moore’s blessing, something which must have been disheartening for Snyder, obviously a huge fan of the material. Additionally, ‘Watchmen’ had been in development hell since 1987, going through a series of directors and incarnations that never materialized. Many considered ‘Watchmen’ unfilmable. Snyder’s film was released in 2009 was again praised for its style. Although using much more live-action sets than 300, the film still heavily resembled the comic-book. A significant plot point and several other smaller ones were changed in the adaptation, something which was criticized by many.
The film is a visual masterwork which shouldn’t be denied. Its opening credits set to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are Changing” is another testament as to why the Oscars need an award for best title sequence. The plot changes were polarizing; with some viewing them as necessary or excusable while others asserted that they were betraying the book. This debate will never end as long as comic-book movies are made. ‘Watchmen’ delivered. I have read the comic-book. I saw the movie first. Does that skew my opinion? I have no doubt many will say yes. It should be noted that additional cuts of the movie were released on home media, including scenes and elements from the book that weren’t in the theatrical release. The theatrical cut was great. The Ultimate Cut is better. Snyder would later face a huge roadblock because of a disagreement with the studio on final cut and running time.
Watchmen made bank and so Warner Brothers was happy with Zack Snyder and eager to work with him again. The start of the 2010s put WB in a sticky situation. They had just seen tremendous success with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, still the gold standard for the superhero movie, if there is one. Heath Ledger’s death delayed plans for third installment and although Nolan eventually agreed to make The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros had bigger things in mind. Marvel Studios was rolling fast with their cinematic universe, miles ahead of DC. Marvel was 2 years in, with an Avengers movie on the horizon and while Batman was doing great things for WB, none of their other heroes were. Superman was dead after Superman Returns, an admirable attempt to create a movie that never should have been green-lit. The forthcoming Green Lantern film showed no indication that it was sowing seeds, planting a shared universe. It was also a massive flop. Going back to the well, DC wanted to do Superman again.
This time, taking Christopher Nolan on to rework his Batman magic on the big blue boy-scout. With David Goyer, they conceived a movie that would eventually become the ‘Batman Begins’ version of Superman, ‘Man of Steel’. This is the movie they should have made in 2006. Nolan was not going to direct the film and so the search began for a director. Snyder, of course, got the gig. This film had to do for DC what Iron Man did in 2008 for Marvel Studios by cementing a foundation for a shared universe that could bring the Justice League together the way Marvel did with ‘The Avengers’. ‘Man of Steel’ was polarizing to an extent that perplexes me. The dark palette and tone were criticized for their use with Superman, traditionally considered a bright and colourful hero who is a foil to Batman’s darkness in many ways. I can understand that criticism although I enjoyed the movie enough to see it three times in the theatre. I also thought that Superman was incredibly boring in earlier movies and ‘Man of Steel’ made him interesting. The mass destruction was called ‘disaster porn.’ I find this silly. Superman destroying a city during a massive battle is not something that is unheard of. ‘The Avengers’ movie easily had just as much collateral damage, even if it was filmed differently. It just seems like the standards are arbitrary.
DC naturally has to play to a different tone than Marvel which is owned by Disney. Superman kills Zod. He snaps his neck with his own two hands. This was a huge atrocity to many. Many of the same people who champion Christopher Reeve’s ‘Superman’ and insult Henry Cavill’s for being too different. Superman doesn’t kill! Christopher Reeve’s ‘Superman’ wouldn’t kill! Here’s the thing: In Superman II, Christopher Reeve’s Superman throws general Zod (who has been stripped of all superhuman powers) to his death by launching him into a dark abyss in the arctic ice. He did this with a smile on his face. Christopher Reeve’s Superman killed Zod (for no apparent reason) and showed zero remorse.
Henry Cavill’s Superman had exhausted all other efforts and was traumatized by having to take a life. Again, the standards are arbitrary and the goal posts get shifted. ‘Man of Steel’ is the best Superman movie that has ever been made, BY FAR. Yes. I said it. It uses beautiful religious imagery to tell the story of a child of two worlds, a saviour for mankind. The film is full of wonderful moments between Kal-El & Jor-El and Clark & Jonathan Kent. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner are both terrific as his Kryptonian and Earth fathers, respectively. It was difficult to see the red tights go, but it’s a beautiful film. Henry Cavill also looks perfect for the role and is a fine actor, given much more nuance to deal with than anyone who had previously donned the cape. Divisive though it was, Man of Steel was a financial success.
Snyder quickly started developing ideas for a sequel and that eventually led to the big decision that turned the tide; bringing in Batman. Zack Snyder was given the task of giving the world a new Batman that couldn’t be Christian Bale (whom everyone wanted). He had to choose a Batman that was heavily disliked at the onset because it wasn’t going to be Nolan’s Batman and Nolan’s Batman was THE DEFINITIVE BATMAN!!! Snyder and WB talked about how their’s would be a different take on the character, eventually revealing the plan for an older, seasoned Batman. Snyder’s admiration for Frank Miller’s graphic novel THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS being well known and Snyder having already adapted Miller’s 300, we knew pretty soon which Batman he meant, at least as a template. Snyder was going to give us the live action version of Frank Miller’s Batman, widely considered to be the best in history. Then began the search for the new Batman. Would it be a big name? Who would be dumb enough to take over for Christian Bale? As it turns out, Ben Affleck was dumb enough. The choice was BATFLECK.
Regardless of who loved it, so many hated it. As if there wasn’t enough shit getting thrown at Zack Snyder, he took on a secondary storm of it when he chose Ben Affleck as his Batman. The main reasons for the hate were (as best I can guess) something along the lines of the following:
It wasn’t Christian Bale
Ben Affleck was still 2003 Ben Affleck
It wasn’t Christian Bale
It wasn’t Christian Bale
Affleck is completely wrong for the character
Affleck can’t act
It wasn’t Christian Bale
‘Batman v Superman’ also had Jessie Eisenberg as Lux Luthor, something else everyone knew was WRONG. Some loved it, Most hated it. BvS suffered from what is in my estimation, the only mistake WB has made with their DCEU; they made Zack Snyder cut 30 minutes out of the film to shorten its running time. The theatrical cut of BvS is a decent film, although it is very flawed. The extended “Ultimate Cut” (Snyder’s original version) eliminated many of these flaws and is a far superior film. It’s also a pretty damned good one. The Affleck haters were all put in their place as Ben Affleck (fresh off his Oscar win for Argo) was sublime as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. S
nyder managed to take elements from ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and The Death of Superman comics and adapt them to film. It is a real shame that audiences weren’t given the chance to see Snyder’s vision from the start. What was Warner Brothers thinking? Snyder couldn’t have a 3 hour movie? Why? Because he’s not James Cameron? Because he’s not Peter Jackson? He had BATMAN AND SUPERMAN! If that isn’t enough justification for a 3 hour run time, I don’t know what is. By the way, they also had WONDER WOMAN (played flawlessly by Gal Gadot). Snyder is putting the finishing touches on JUSTICE LEAGUE and from what we’ve seen, it won’t share the same earnest tone of BvS. This is a good thing. ‘Suicide Squad’ (another movie that got tons of flack it didn’t deserve) has kept the ball rolling for the DCEU and Wonder Woman will be released very soon. A lot is riding on these movies but they naysayers are loud and proud, having decided at the onset that DC will never be able to do what Marvel has done. Why so much vitriol? Why so much hate?
I understand that these characters mean a lot to people but I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. Snyder hasn’t done anything unforgivable with these characters. He deserves recognition for taking on huge challenges and (In my opinion) succeeding. I am hoping that critics will come around with future films but so far we have 3 DCEU films and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. Comic book fans live in a time when we are literally getting everything we’ve ever wanted. Superhero movies around every corner. Every character is now considered. It’s an abundance of riches. Fanboys need to stop complaining. Ben Affleck himself summed this all up years in advance with his character in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The haters are just sad, pathetic bastards, living in their parents’ basement claiming to have scoops and inside information about movies and actors they claim to despise but can’t stop discussing. Maybe I’m on a bit of a rant here but I am getting sick and tired of all the negativity. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride as my 12 year old self gets the cinematic treatment for everything he never knew he always wanted.
Snyder is a visionary. You could isolate a single frame from one of his movies, mount it and put it on your wall. Give the man some credit. Christopher Nolan had faith in him. Why can’t we?
P.S. To anyone who wants to call me on my “blasphemy” for saying MAN OF STEEL is better than Richard Donner’s Superman, let’s remember one thing here:
In Donner’s film, Superman flies around the earth, reversing its rotation which in turn, makes time run backwards in order to fix everything that went wrong. Not only is this weak storytelling, it’s also a sequence that is (scientifically, logically and emotionally) so mind-numbingly stupid that it’s miraculous to me anyone was ever willing to suspend disbelief long enough to eat it up. But please, go ahead and tell me how that whole “Martha” thing was dumb.