Zack Snyder is a creative dude. When he sees something in his mind, he works with all he’s got to pull that idea from his mind and make it a true reality that worldwide fans can enjoy. Sometimes that tendency to think not out of, but far beyond the box pays off in a major way.
300 was a creation of pure brutal and mesmerizing beauty. Watchmen looked genuinely stunning, and while some aren’t too keen on the transfer, I consider it one of the better comic-to-film pieces the world has ever seen (especially given the time limitations they were forced to abide by; everyone who’s read the comic run knows it should never fit into a 3-hour slot). 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, though minimized on the digital effects front, is arguably one of the 10 greatest remakes ever made.
Zack Snyder knows what he’s doing, unfortunately it seems he’s taken on some radically different ideas about filmmaking in recent years. He’s done away with the nurturing of characters. He’s done away with deeply layered narratives. He’s traded all of that in for big explosions and outlandish battle sequences. He’s traded in artwork for a quick payoff for the attention span challenged.
His movies are a lot different in 2016 than they were circa 2006-2009.
Sometimes that tendency to think beyond the box backfires, in a big way.
It backfired in 2013’s Man of Steel, a heartless, extended battle scene that introduced us not to Superman again, but a different individual altogether. He was a moodier rendition of Jerry Siegel’s noble and selfless hero. He was edgier on every level imaginable. He rarely smiled. He rarely looked like a man light on conscience burdening. He rarely took the wellbeing of others into account. He rarely did anything other than damage property and villains.
On screen, Superman became another brute in tights… something he never, ever, ever was.
Up until recent years it seemed that Superman was always destined to be God-like under the warmest, brightest sky. Somewhere in the executive lineup of DC’s offices someone planted the seed that darkness was the way to go. The way to win crowds over… stick with that Christopher Nolan tone… even if your film shouldn’t have a hint of a Christopher Nolan tone.
Let’s just travel back a few issues of (picking from the hat here…) Action Comics issues in order to generate strong comparisons between the Superman we’ve worshipped forever and the hollow shell Snyder has insulted us with. This is a series that’s run nearly 1,000 issues and has served as a primary showcase of Superman, his skills, his respect for humanity and his understanding of the importance of blending in.
We’ll venture back an array of decades, and along the way we’ll note that the man can very rarely be deemed anything other than a symbol of hope for the people.
Take for example Action Comics #100, a book that sees “The Sleuth Who Never Failed” desperately attempting to bring Superman’s true identity to light. This chap goes to every extreme imaginable, yet fails to turn an icon into a common citizen of Metropolis. And Superman, he plays along, mildly concerned but confident in his ability to maintain a secret identity.
He never grows spiteful of this PI. He never loses patience with this PI. He never crosses a line and physically punishes this PI; the latter being something we could easily envision from a Snyder Superman film.
But let’s continue to move forward, picking random books to compare who Superman truly is, as opposed to the Superman that Zack Snyder wants us to follow.
In Action Comics #578 Superman rushes into a burning building. His first priority is getting those inside of the building out and far from flame. He wants these people safe, so of course he saves them, and with a smile on his face the entire time. Believe it or not, he even puts that fire out using the quickest, neatest way possible, so as to save the building from a “condemned” future. Instead of being recognized as a hero, he’s trashed by the fire department.
It’s a cold blow for a warm hero.
That’s just the beginning of Superman’s (and Clark Kent’s) troubles in the issue, as just about everyone turns on the man. Still, he maintains his cool and takes the lashings he’s been dealt in stride. It’s all very human, and very mature. When every last resident of Metropolis turns on the heroic figure, he doesn’t lash out. He doesn’t decide he doesn’t care about human beings. He tries, with everything he’s got to be appreciated again. It matters that much to him. He wants to squeeze into the warm spotlight, and he wants to do that the right way. He’s that human.
In the end, it turns out that Parasite has been working one of his twisted attempts to get the upper hand over Superman. It of course backfires, and all the wrongs in Superman’s universe are eventually righted. But what’s important is that no matter how hard and how far Superman is pushed, he never loses himself. He never loses sight of why he’s in Metropolis, parading about part-time in tights going out of his way to put the well-being of every last one of Metropolis’ residents at the very top of his priority list.
He’s still Superman… the one we care about.
Moving forward about 10 years to (another random selection) issue #708 we see Clark examining himself in the mirror, a mean five o’clock shadow covering his face. How ‘bout it Clark? The retro Don Johnson look? Clark thinks to himself in one of the countless moments that remind us of how astonishingly ordinary he can be. And how informed on pop culture he can be, as well.
In this issue he’s got marriage on his mind. He’s still as busy as ever, but he’s got love circling his noggin to the extent that he has trouble not losing himself and constantly swooning over Lois Lane. He cracks jokes, he delivers flowers. He contemplates a perfect honeymoon. Once again, Superman – or Clark Kent – is very everyman, like you and I. And these character traits stretch back about as far as we can remember.
In fact, if you get your hands on one of the many reprints of Action Comics #1, initially released in June of 1938, you’ll notice an important frame, located on the very first page. We see Superman in a heroic pose, and beneath that image read the words Superman! Champion of the oppressed. The physical marvel who has sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need.
Perhaps far more relevant than that particular announcement, are the moments that Superman is destined to face in the very near future.
Take a peek at the “Death of Superman” storyline. During one scene – midway through the arc – Superman essentially bypasses a chance to end the existence of Doomsday when he hears the cries of a young boy, trapped with his mother and younger sibling in a burning home, their future doomed.
Guess what Superman does? He finds a way to make it back to earth (Superman and Doomsday had been ascending into the clouds up to that point) and save that family. Why? Because that’s what he swore to do, right from the beginning.
While the “Death of Superman” story arc is three levels beyond amazing, it’s really just important to remember that Superman has always been a pure, sublime individual. And that last quote from Action Comics #1 really sums up Superman’s existence as a whole.
It’s about others, long before the man with an ‘S’ on his chest. It’s been about a lot more than super-fights for Kal-El. It’s always been about offering his own life for others.
But it sure does sound like we’re talking about an entirely different individual than the one Snyder re-introduced us to, doesn’t it?
It’s hard to imagine the humorless, edgy, unapproachable Superman of Zack Snyder’s films even pretending to entertain the idea of Superman’s true nature with any seriousness. I mean, really, does Snyder’s Superman even like anyone? Does he do anything other than work around the farm and cause 100s of millions of property damage?
I’ve got an astounding collection of print and digital superman comics (well over 1,400 different books) to rifle through at any time. And at any time I can pull up countless examples of a hero whose purity and selflessness completely eclipses every other superhero in existence. That’s the Superman that DC introduced and nurtured for what now feels like forever. And the beauty is, DC never stopped nurturing Clark Kent’s personality, either. He’s a good man that we can invest in, whether or not we know he’s a powerhouse superhero in his almost-free time.
Zack Synder doesn’t give a damn if you like the Superman we’ve respected for damn near 80 years. He cares about leaving your eyes bulging at the next massive battle scene. And, apparently, he cares about you, caring about the Superman of old.
Snyder’s films are cluttered with puzzling actions, the bulk of which are made by Superman himself.
In the earlier stages of Man of Steel we see Clark and his family find themselves trapped in the middle of a tornado. Clark stands by, yards away, and watches as his adoptive father (who he certainly seems to have a stellar relationship with) is swept away by Mother Nature’s uglier side. It’s the first major moment that we realize this Clark Kent isn’t going to develop into the Superman we’ve known for decade upon decade. That Superman would have flown over to his father, snatched him up and pulled him to safety before anyone not already preoccupied with the terror of the tornado (you’d think these people really did have some other serious concerns in a situation like this) could notice.
And don’t pretend Superman couldn’t do that; remember that through the years, in the DC world Superman raced The Flash on multiple occasions (Superman #199 – 1967, The Flash #175 – 1967, and DC Comics Presents #1 – #2 – 1978, most notably), and while I can’t point to a single race in which Superman clearly won, he sure as hell made those races competitive. If you can keep pace with The Flash, you can fly 30 feet and rescue your old man in the blink of an eye.
But again, Zack Snyder’s Superman is a far cry from the Superman we know.
Throughout Man of Steel we see a great deal of subsequent scenes that seem to completely shatter the core of the character we all love.
Superman isn’t racing to save citizens from falling debris. Hell, he’s causing mass collateral damage himself, shattering streets, exploding through buildings; no worries in the world what becomes of the tons of concrete, rebar and shattered glass crashing down on anyone and everyone unaware of the catastrophe unraveling hundreds of feet above their heads.
Superman, in Man of Steel feels far closer to a vigilante than a hero. Superman in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice – at times – feels like an outright villain as opposed to a standard vigilante.
There may be 12 minutes in a 151 minute (what in the name of… 153 minutes? You’ve got to be kidding! We’re not kidding.) feature that throw out hints of a somehow humanized character. The remainder of the film is ever worse than Man of Steel… by a long shot.
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice has no soul. It has no humor. It offers no enjoyment. It showcases no humanity. It treats itself as the most explosive comic book film in history. And that, I’d venture to say it is. But what do we care? If Batman’s a total jerk, and Superman spends his time stomping about with the fury of a woman in the middle of her menstrual cycle, why do we give a damn? Why would we invest in a film that doesn’t even understand the basics of human nature?
Sure, Zack Snyder made a big, explosive superhero movie. But he made a big, explosive superhero hero movie that showed not a hint of respect for human beings… or those of who ventured to the nearest cinema.
Zack Snyder didn’t make Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice because he loved, or even had a hint of respect for either character, Snyder made the movie to ensure his bank account grows exponentially in a miniscule time frame.
Congratulations, Snyder. You’ve made yourself quite a bit wealthier. You’ve also shown longtime comic fans that you don’t give a flyin’ F-bomb about Superman or Batman.
Way to gain fans there, Zack – I couldn’t possibly think of a better way to destroy Superman than to pull the ‘man’ from his moniker.