In the wake of the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice there’s been a lot talk about the tone of movie, and whether it’s a good representation of the DC comics universe. I had some thoughts. But much better writers than me have also taken on the subject.
Todd VanDerWerff looks at “Why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder keeps ruining comic book movies.”
In short, Snyder is a director with a genuine visual aesthetic and hugely ambitious dreams of turning pop iconography into a new myth for our times. But too often, his visuals and his themes work at cross purposes, resulting in deeply confused films. He’s an enormously gifted filmmaker, but one whose every project (save a single animated oddity) has been a little worse than the one that preceded it.
More specifically, he’s a director who creates brilliant text but seems largely unaware of the subtext he’s introducing alongside that text.
I’m not sure I’d say Snyder is ruining the movies he’s making, at least as far as the studio, Warner Bros, is concerned. I’m sure all they can tell is that Snyder is getting people into seats, beyond just the nerds who go to see every comic book movie. The problem with this strategy, I think, is that the aspects of comic book characters that make them so enduring are being left behind. So while Batman v Superman made a ton of money, I’m not sure Justice League, Part 2 will do as well.
As a side note, I love the studio thinking you can see in play in the decision to exclude Green Lantern from the Justice League movies. “The 2011 Green Lantern movie bombed, so that must mean people hate Green Lantern. It certainly isn’t because we made a terrible movie!”
Devin Faraci takes Snyder’s treatment of Superman a little personally in “Superman and the Damage Done.”
But what do the children of today have? Warner Bros, custodian of the Superman legacy, has handed the keys of the character over to Zack Snyder, a filmmaker who has shown he feels nothing but contempt for the character. In doing so they have opened the character to an ugly new interpretation, one that devalues the simple heroism of Superman and turns the decent, graceful character into a mean, nasty force of brutish strength.
Where Superman was originally intended as a hopeful view of strength wielded with responsibility, Snyder presents him as a view of strength as constant destructive force; where Christopher Reeve’s Superman would often float and flit away, Snyder’s version explodes like a rocket at all times, creating sonic booms above city centers in fits of pique, such as after his scene of moping on Lois Lane’s Washington DC hotel balcony. He is a constant weapon of destruction, often smashing concrete when he comes to earth. There are no soft landings for this Superman.
Grace is a word that I have used a number of times here, and I have meant that in multiple ways, both as a description of physical movement and as a way of behaving. Superman can be firm, but is always polite, and he does not hold his powers as a cudgel above others… unless it’s Zack Snyder’s Superman. Here is a character who threatens first and asks questions later, who resorts to physical violence against Batman at the slightest provocation, who has no words of comfort or wisdom for anyone, who even flies away after a terrible disaster at the US Senate.
I would like to point out that perhaps the haze of nostalgia has obscured for many people that the 1978 Superman movie, while excellent, does have an element of contempt for the Man of Steel. In particular, there’s the horrible scene where Superman saves a cat from a tree, and the little girl who sees this runs inside to tell her mother and gets slapped for lying. The message is clear: Superman is out of step with the times. But beyond that, I think Faraci makes good points.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you with the frankly hilarious comparison Cracked made between Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s All Star Superman and Man of Steel.