A few weeks back, legendary director Steven Spielberg told the Associated Press that he believes comic book adaptations — the lifeblood of modern studios — will eventually go the way of the Western. “We enthusiastically support Mr. Spielberg’s desire to see iconic superheroes carry guns and solve conflicts through duels, and we will work tirelessly to support his vision,” said NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, probably.
Like a clique of middle school girls desperate to extract drama from banality — OMGZ Molexis, did you know Crayden’s sister’s cousin said you “wear nice clothes?” That bitch. You wear AMUHZING clothes! — entertainment reporters ran to current comic book directors for comments on the comments. The Daily Beast, as part of a larger interview about Batman v. Superman, asked DC Cinematic Universe chief/Internet punching bag Zack Snyder what he thought about Spielberg’s prediction.
“I feel like Batman and Superman are transcendent of superhero movies in a way, because they’re Batman and Superman. They’re not just, like, the flavor of the week Ant-Man - not to be mean, but whatever it is. What is the next Blank-Man?”
In Snyder’s view, cinema will always have a place for iconic comic-book characters even if audience interest in second- and third-tier characters wanes (a theory that the forthcoming slate of B-list property adaptations will put to the test). Reasonable and accurate. If Joss Whedon or Stan Lee makes the same argument, we all nod in agreement and move to the next browser tab. But because it came from Snyder’s mouth, an entertainment press fully aware of how the Internet feels about the divisive director pounced in predictable fashion.
“DC’s MOVIE GOD DISSES MARVEL,” screamed The Daily Beast in their Read This section (their main headline was a comparatively restrained “Sorry Marvel, Batman v. Superman Transcends Superhero Movies”). “ZACK SNYDER TAKES A SHOT AT ANT-MAN,” wrote Cinemablend. “A PROJECT MANAGER AT RAID ONCE PAID FOR PORNOGRAPHIC ILLUSTRATIONS OF DONALD DUCK GIVING GOOFY A BLUMPKIN,” added Gawker.
Dammit, Snyder. Why couldn’t he offer a more thoughtful response like the one provided earlier that same day by the Russo brothers (AKA the RussBros or The Broussos), the Marvel Studios directors responsible for the acclaimed Captain America: The Winter Solider and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War:
“He might not be wrong. I think it puts more pressure on us, the filmmakers, to not just crank out superhero movies for the sake of it. […] It’s not about making a superhero, it’s a mythological universe that we live in. That I hope stands the test of time. They stood the test of time. That’s hopefully the sort of magic bullet. But who knows what audiences will want in the future.”
Pretty insightful. These characters aren’t ATMs. Creating classic films set in fully realized worlds rather than simply adapting every property under the sun is key to the genre’s survival. Just the sentiment you’d expect from two smart directors committed to putting story first and mindless spectacle second.
Oh wait nevermind that quote is also from Snyder.
It’s tempting to chalk this one example up to a sensationalized, click-dependent pop-culture media machine eager to capitalize on the pageviews generated by pitting the two rival comic studios against one another. But this isn’t the first time the Internet has gone out of its way to paint Snyder as a clueless buffoon who’s grossly unqualified to act as the creative force behind a multi-billion dollar comics franchise.
For those somehow unfamiliar with Snyder, he’s the Man of Steel and 300 director who giant cross-sections of the Internet would like to see strapped to a rocket and fired into Venus. Detractors characterize his works as superficial, humorless, needlessly overwrought affairs that substitute SICK VISUALS for competent storytelling. His alleged cinematic crimes range from major (butchering beloved properties) to absurd (Superman killing someone who wanted to eradicate humanity; a callous disregard for the lives of fictional innocent people dying in CGI explosions). Snyder is so loathed in certain circles that a not insignificant number of fans have written off the entire DC Cinematic Universe solely due to his substantial creative influence. Are the films any good? Who knows? The first one doesn’t even hit theaters for six months. But it probably causes glaucoma and rectal bleeding.
Pinpointing why the pop-culture world views Snyder with such contempt doesn’t exactly require the Caped Crusader’s detective prowess: people hate him because he seems like a dimwitted frat guy whose incompetent versions of two treasured comics profoundly disappointed their fervent fanbases. The first criticism is wildly inaccurate, the second is mostly held by fanboys overly concerned with inconsequential adaptation issues.
Neither film is excellent nor the travesties their critics claim. Man of Steel is a frequently flawed flick that nonetheless manages to entertain throughout its bloated running time. Watchmen suffers primarily from questionable casting; if anything, Snyder’s stylistic flourishes rescue what would be a jumbled mess in lesser hands. Superman killed a guy? A giant squid didn’t attack Manhattan? Get over it. Die-hards may have preferred a different approach, but being unfaithful to source material and making a poor film are two very different things. Ninety percent of working directors would push their grandparents in front of a burning steamroller to have these two movies on their resumes.
Snyder isn’t a moron, either. I’ve had some fun with his Gronkish persona before, but Snyder’s approach to Batman v. Superman betrays an intelligence — or at least a curiosity — that’s at odds with his lunkhead caricature. The weighty themes he examines Batman v. Superman — the ramifications of a godlike alien making himself known to the world, the deification or fear of things we cannot understand, how collateral damage engenders resentment and anger — should give audiences a bit more to chew on than, say, aliens attacking a city. Or robots attacking a city. Or alien robots attacking a city. Whether he succeeds in translating these concepts into compelling cinema remains to be seen. Although that hasn’t stopped many from assuming his movie will be boiling sewage.
Which is about par for the course for someone who gets less benefit of the doubt than OJ Simpson. “I mean, ‘does not fit’ rhyming with ‘acquit’ cannot be a coincidence!” The insignificant shit critics use to denigrate Snyder sails past ridiculous on its way to embarrassing. Yes, Superman killed a rampaging supervillain (just like he did in Superman II)…an act done only as a last resort and only to save innocent lives. He was pretty broken up by it, too, considering Zod was the last surviving member of Superman’s homeworld. I don’t read comics, so I didn’t even realize the scene was controversial until I went online.
The outrage over Supermurderer pales in comparison to the bizarre fixation over how many innocent people — fictional innocent people, remember, because Man of Steel is not a documentary — died as a result of Superman’s actions. The Snyder wanton destruction narrative became so encompassing that BuzzFeed hired an actual motherfucking disaster expert to approximate the human casualties (129,000 killed; a million injured) and economic costs ($2 trillion) associated with two superpowered aliens throwing each other around Metropolis. Interesting. I eagerly await his report on this:
One of the things I liked was Zack’s idea of showing accountability and the consequences of violence and seeing that there are real people in those buildings.
Snyder isn’t an extraordinary director. But he deserves more credit and much more slack than he’s currently afforded by comics fans. Dismissing what seems like an exciting first step toward a shared universe fans have demanded for years — and doing so without seeing more than three minutes of footage — simply because the man in charge operates differently than his peers isn’t just senseless. It’s potentially disastrous for the industry. Because Spielberg is right: all genres have a shelf life. Superhero movies can’t survive on Marvel properties and X-Men spinoffs alone. Failing to establish a rival shared universe could raise serious questions about the genre’s long-term viability. DC is the only true alternative right now, and like it or not, Snyder is the man with his hands on the tiller. Even if you despite him, you better hope he succeeds.
Related: Why Marvel is Kicking DC’s Ass