Zack Snyder Is Awesome — Dying on Movie Hills #1
A man without a country. Me, not Zack Snyder. He’s doing great.
Dying on Movie Hills is a new series where I pick something from within the movie realm and staunchly defend it. The point of this is to be contentious and it’s innately controversial since it’s built upon a premise where I’m defending something from the horde. It’s not meant to be rude or hateful and I plan on writing it with my trademark self-awareness and attempts at lightening up the joint. You don’t have to agree but I hope you hear me out and, more importantly, enjoy the read.
Think of it in terms of sports. You may lob sarcastic comments at your dumb friends for liking the hockey team that you hate, but you’re still friends and you both love sports. Part of the fun of it is lighthearted trash talk. Remember: these are just movies and for as lovely as they are, they shouldn’t cause division.
The other day I asked my friend if there was a director that he deemed needlessly maligned that he continued to support and treasure. I went into this question with an answer already in place, so when asked for mine I quickly returned with Zack Snyder. I could have chosen Harmony Korine because he is my favourite director of all-time, but I am so used to people not enjoying his flicks that it’s almost a game to me at this point.
At the time I wasn’t entirely sure what the reception Snyder’s movies were. I saw discussion here and there; I am somewhat familiar with the dialogue that surrounds many of his past films and the upcoming Justice League: The Snyder Cut–a film that I declared as my most anticipated of 2021. But anecdotal evidence isn’t always ideal, nor does it paint the whole picture.
It wasn’t until the morning that I began composing this article that I took a dive into the numbers. I visited IMDB, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes in order to see what the people who frequented those websites thought. I made a column chart comparing my ratings to the average ratings of critics (Metacritic) and the audience (IMDB). I then took what I found on Rotten Tomatoes and replicated that column chart with the critical and audience reception on that website.
Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes aggregate critic review scores so it’s not a perfect system–but it’s functional. You’ll also notice that I factor in average ratings from Rotten Tomatoes but not the Tomatometer or Audience Score. That’s because I oppose the Tomatometer and think that it’s iconic nature is undeserved. It’s amusing to play with sometimes–as I do in my Fans vs Critics series–but it serves no real purpose here.
These websites can’t give a concrete answer to my query but they can still give me a start. Besides, it’s just fun, and isn’t that what life is about? Wrong! This is serious business because in 2021 I’ve officially chosen to die on the Zack Snyder hill.
Because the internet needs an epic battle.
Truthfully, my fandom wasn’t always present. In fact, at the outset it didn’t exist at all. I haven’t seen his remake of Dawn of the Dead because somehow it completely passed me by and the thought to go give it a visit never crossed my mind. I don’t like 300, arguably his greatest film. It wasn’t until Watchmen came out that I connected with something he did. Even after my extremely positive reaction to that I just ignored his next film, Legend of the Guardians.
Then the trio of Sucker Punch, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out. I loved all three of those but Batman v Superman specifically has just grown in stature in my mind since. It’s become apparent that either my taste is horrendous or I just have to accept that, on average, I disagree with people on all of his films that I’ve seen.
Me vs IMDB/Metacritic.
As you can see, with every movie I’ve seen of his I have a significantly more extreme reaction, especially when compared to the critics. There is an instance–Watchmen–where I come close to having an affiliation with the IMDB users, and one time–300–where I flirt intensely with the critics.
The same counterpoint can be made with both. On average the users rated Watchmen a 7.6 whereas I praised it with a 9. The numbers aren’t that removed from each other but the meaning behind them changes drastically. Under most scales a 7.6 would be some degree of good, but a 9 hits that amazing territory. Alternatively, the critics didn’t like 300 that much on average but under a lot of scales a 5 is a passing grade–whereas a 4.5 is a minor fail. So the difference there is that they still mildly enjoyed it where I did not, ultimately. Admittedly, you have to comply with my scale for this to make sense, and my reasoning is shakier with 300. Watchmen is solid.
Me vs the Tomato.
With Rotten Tomatoes the same can basically be said. Sucker Punch, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman in particular showcase a little bit of movement as they inch up closer to my own rating in some ways. The same argument I made above smacks down these ones, however.
As I write this and justify my solitude I wonder, why am I putting so much effort into isolating myself? Look, forget that–I’ll deal with my psychological flaws late. I just needed to present these charts so we have a foundation to work from.
I Won’t Defend 300
300 is the dude crouched over.
300 is butt (yeah, I’m mature) because it takes one aspect of Snyder’s cinematic identity and exaggerates it 100%. I’m talking about the reliance on slo-mo, which he employs in all of his films that I’ve seen but does so here at such a disproportionate rate that it zaps all entertainment from what’s unfolding on-screen. I get it Zack, you want us to see things happen.
Yet even in 300 we see his attention to detail when it comes to crafting memorable worlds with a unique style. Visually it’s gorgeous to look at, and while it is often noted that his movies lean on darkness, that shouldn’t inherently be considered a criticism. As far as I’m concerned, he learned from 300 and made vastly superior films later on, but I’m fully aware that there are many who feel he peaked with his Frank Miller adoption.
One of the main reasons that I’ve seen people condemn Snyder is because he’s too ambitious. Whether that’s in the form of packing too much into a single film or reaching for a level of intelligence that many feel he can’t muster, it often comes back to accusations of not understanding complex characters and issues or not being able to implement them effectively–mostly because he never understood them to begin with. Or, simply put, people just think his movies are dumb action flicks pretending to be more.
This is evident in some of the discourse surrounding Watchmen, Sucker Punch and Batman v Superman, specifically. I’ll concede that Watchmen is not as rich as its source material, the legendary DC comics from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. It never could be and, frankly, attempting to adapt it as such is a fool’s errand in a feature length film format. Snyder just distilled the essence into something that was surprisingly adept, but by no means as deep. I was okay with that because of the artistry present in the way in which he brought these characters and their world to life.
Say what you want about the guy, but he has a style that he sticks to. His films often feel larger than life, and when that’s material based on a comic book it makes sense. There are times that he crosses a line and perhaps goes too far in the story he’s trying to tell visually, but for the most part what he plasters on the screen compliments the themes that he–or whoever writes the film–is incorporating into the plot.
Ultimately, I love the bombastic, otherworldly imagery that he implements, and when he can mesh his usage of slow-mo, character design, thematic exploration of hefty issues, and action sequences into a coherent whole it’s pretty masterful. Fortunately, he accomplishes that much more often than his detractors are willing to give him credit for.
Before I move on, yes, I’m aware that he has many talented people helping him achieve his goals. They deserve all the credit in the world but I’m just using Snyder as an umbrella for the massive amount of artists that help him realize the vision.
I Can Only Do This by Giving Batman V Superman Its Own Section
The vitriol that’s spewed at Batman v Superman is especially irritating to me, which you may have guessed since I gave it a 10/10 [see chart if you’re unsure of that]. It wasn’t always a 10/10 but over time my adoration for it just kept expanding, and after a few watches I have a hard time acknowledging many of the problems that people find. I’m not saying it’s a perfect film; I agree that a few minor issues exist that could have been performed better.
I’ve noticed that one way to enjoy Snyder’s work is to welcome different interpretations, and adhering to that principle yields great results when approaching Batman v Superman. It’s not that Snyder doesn’t understand comic history or the fundamentals of those characters. It’s that he takes those and injects real world problems, effectively twisting the very concept of these characters into something that still makes sense if you think about it.
That last sentence was a little combative but allow me to extend an olive branch. I’m 99% idiot, .5% smart and the other .6% is unknown and not yet documented. I know this and can admit this to the internet but can we also just admit that perhaps many–but not all–of the “plot holes” and blemishes can be explained away if you just take a second to think about it? This isn’t me saying that someone has to like how it unfolds, but maybe some careful consideration can influence a detractor’s thoughts?
This is not a comprehensive list but here are some critiques that I’ve seen, complete with my quick rebuttals:
1: Batman kills.
I won’t be lazy and make the argument that Batman kills elsewhere but they just don’t make it canon (because dude smashes guys and puts them in situations that they surely die). I don’t need to squabble about that because what matters to me is that Batman is a) unhinged and b) terrifying in Dawn of Justice.
Unhinged Bats is best Bats. This is a guy who is at the tail-end of his career and has undoubtedly been through the wringer. Snyder gave us glimpses of his career up until that point but it was pretty obvious that the guy became less trusting and more prone to extreme violence. He was angry, and perhaps he knew that not killing people might be a problem. How many disasters could have been avoided had he just killed the Joker, for example? This is not an original point that I’m making but it’s still potent.
A point not often made is that the way that Snyder filmed many Batman scenes comes across more like a horror movie, because that’s what the guy is. The guy has good intentions here but his methods are almost villainous. As much devotion as I have for the Nolan Batman trilogy, Nolan was never able to make Batman as scary as Snyder did. I’m not saying that BvS is better than The Dark Knight but I like Batfleck more.
If you’re interested in me slobbering all over Batfleck I wrote an article last year that discussed him.
2: Superman not a boy scout.
I think he still is. The guy still wants to do good by humans but Snyder also placed this alien into the context of what would actually happen if near-indestructible beings suddenly appeared on Earth. Do you think that everybody would hold out their arms and embrace him? No, there would be Batflecks who feel that he needs to be taken out. You could prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Superman is adamantly and unreluctantly good and you would still have people who call it fake news.
Superman may waver a bit in his philosophy throughout the films but he never abandons it completely. He still wants to do right, he’s just conflicted in how to do so. He stumbles but he still respects the ways of the homo sapiens.
He kills Zod in Man of Steel, but he was also inexperienced and didn’t know any better. He may have also realized that sometimes doing that is the only way to stop what would keep coming. Zod wasn’t going to stop. It’s not so easy to prevent someone so powerful without causing a lot of destruction. Let’s just be realistic here. I know that this section isn’t about Man of Steel but I’ve mostly glossed over it up until this point and it ties into Batman v Superman anyway.
Okay, I think this could have been done better. But having re-watched it numerous times, it’s not nearly as bad as people say. It’s a little clumsy but Batman is so fueled by rage that he hears his dead mother’s name and pauses what he’s doing. I don’t see what’s so wrong about that. The guy never got over the death of his parents so is it so out of the realm of possibility that his nemesis mumbling her name will set him off/make him listen? That’s ignoring how it characterizes both Wayne and Kent, humanizing Kent to Wayne in the process.
4: They Best Budz
Yeah, it’s a movie. We watch people fall in love with each other quickly because there are time constraints. People build trust and other relationships in ridiculous periods of time because they have to. Besides, when he tells Superman’s mom that they are friends it’s after they have an understanding. It’s as if they’re work friends at that point. It’s another moment that may not be the best writing but it gets crapped on disproportionately.
5: Plot Holes?
It’s fair to say that some threads are left dangling because they were always meant to be tied up with Justice League. I’m not as harsh on plot holes as some people are, so long as they aren’t too egregious, but for the record, many of the questions were more intriguing than annoying. Some of them were not answered but we knew that this was always meant to be part of a series so I was always forgiving of that.
With Batman v Superman Snyder attempted to tell a tale much larger than what one would expect from a typical superhero movie. Some people don’t need or want that in a superhero movie and that’s fine. Some people feel that he attempted so with catastrophic results and that’s also fine. I’m not trying to convince you that on philosophical grounds it’s the most revelatory story ever penned, but what I am saying is that we need to give it credit and realize that there’s a little more going on under the hood.
More importantly, it succeeds in telling its own singular story along with leaving a few breadcrumbs for people to theorize about. The director’s cut did wonders for this as well, and if you haven’t seen it you should.
Sucker Punch Is Deceptively Smart… but Also Just Cool
Sucker Punch is the first time that he didn’t adapt other material. Not only did he direct it, but he came up with the concept and wrote it. So this is pure, unbridled Zack Snyder. It’s fitting that this is the flick in his whole filmography that scores the lowest with the audience and critics, on both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB/Metacritic.
There’s an old cinematic dictum, “style over substance,” that often gets applied to directors like Zack Snyder, but it’s never rang true to me. I’m not disputing someone’s taste because it’s all subjective, and some people really don’t endorse films that are shallow thematically. I just can’t remember a time that I’ve ever used the phrase pejoratively.
That’s because sometimes the style is the substance. Cinema is a visual artform that integrates elements of other artforms to make a concise, shorter piece. There are directors like Nicolas Winding Refn that, in my eyes, made a name for themselves by embracing that over all else. That’s not to say that a Refn flick doesn’t have motifs, he just appears to prioritize the visual and aural storytelling over all else.
Even if that was inherently negative, you can’t lay that at the feet of Snyder. Sucker Punch is the perfect example of this. Does it have all kinds of flair? Yes. Is it dark and kind of comical, fun and a little insane? Yup. It blends genres and different ingredients into a dish that is undeniably original while repeating many of the Snyder components that he is known for. The film is a thrill ride and would get by solely on that.
It just so happens to have a brain. You wouldn’t think that by a quick glance, possibly because maybe Snyder isn’t as ham-fisted as he’s accused of being. It uses stage as a metaphor for performance, and the plot twists and turns in interesting ways. It reveals different motivations and revelations upon repeat viewings, but some people also got so caught up in its depiction of women that they overlooked it. They cried sexism and misogyny because the girls are scantily clad and objectified/insulted by the people who are supposed to be villains.
This is partially why I discussed Batman v Superman before Sucker Punch. Batman v Superman gets some respect but Sucker Punch gets little, and it’s a shining example of how people look at Snyder and think his movies are just dumb, occasionally entertaining romps. Making an action movie was clearly at the forefront of his priorities but that doesn’t mean it’s dull underneath.
On a final note about Sucker Punch, the soundtrack is also incredible and it has this scene which perfectly mashes great tunes and imagery together:
I Never Want Snyder to Go Away
He’s a supremely underrated director and while he won’t go down as one of the greats, I still want him to continue adding his brand of film to the world. I could go on and on about how the cinematography in his films doesn’t just consist of mundane gloom but instead reinforces the messaging. I could detail how he is a bit flashy but he still has a fantastic understanding of the fundamentals of visual storytelling. See the image a few paragraphs down for an example of that.
However, before I wrap up there’s one final point that I need to make: I wanted the Snyderverse to offset the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I cherish the MCU and delight in seeing every single one of them. It’s not without its faults as a whole but the mixture of action, comedy and solid writing makes each movie worth investing time into. It acts as a buoyant brother/sister to the moodier sibling, the DCEU (R.I.P.). Or should I say that the DCEU acted as a moodier brother/sister to the cheerful MCU? Nevermind.
He really only directed two films but had his hands firmly placed in the entire universe. Some berated the belief that he could do it and condemned giving him the opportunity, but I was on board. I’ve never wanted every superhero movie to be just like the MCU, so I always embraced the considerably more ominous DC take where it felt like maybe there would be some actual consequences.
We are still getting this to a degree as Warner Bros. Pictures splits their properties into more contained stories, but there’s a part of me that will always lament how things went. It appears that Snyder still has an executive role in the upcoming Suicide Squad and The Flash, but it’s not quite the same. However, I know he will endure (as he has other projects lined up) and I will always support him. Geez, it’s like somebody just broke up with me or something.
It’s extremely difficult to go over someone’s filmography without writing an essay on each film so I tried to kept this relatively short. Because of that there are points that may have been omitted. With that said, I welcome anybody wanting to discuss this in more depth to write in the comments below, message me on Twitter or go to the Facebook page.
Besides that, what’s a movie hill that you are willing to die on? As long as you don’t say that the Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer “parodies” are underrated then we will be just fine. On second thought, now that I’ve said that, I wouldn’t mind seeing someone defend that premise. Get on it internet, defend Meet the Spartans.
He’s a genius but not even he will attempt that.