Zack Snyder Should Have Directed a Batman Movie, Because He Hates Superman
When I was a kid, there wasn’t a comic book character less interesting to me than Superman.
He was too clean cut, all-American and corny as hell. A boring model of good morals – something mom would be okay with me reading. He was overpowered; possessing super strength, flight, skin made of steel, heat vision, frost breath, and on and on. He seemed to look down on the characters I did like – mostly those coming out of the bullpen of DC’s main competitor, the spunky upstart publisher, Marvel Comics – with a pretentious level of integrity that felt so relatable. In many ways, he was the opposite of his Gotham counterpart, Batman, a character that I glommed onto naturally. I resented everything Supes represented, and I desperately wanted to rebel against his image as an angry, anti-authority teenager.
After some years and many great runs on the character from some of the best talents in comics history – Mark Waid and Alex Ross with Kingdom Come, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely with All-Star Superman, most especially – I found a new appreciation for the character. Many of the things that I despised about Superman in my younger years became his most heroic virtues after a little maturity. His quiet integrity, his optimistic commitment to altruism, his overpowered ability set coupled with his refusal to use deadly force; these all became qualities I admired in heroes. For the first time, I began to see Superman for what he had always been: an idealistic mirror directed at humanity. Kal-El – an outsider, orphan, and alien- desired to be human because he saw our true character: he was eternally hopeful.
Zack Snyder – who directed both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and its predecessor, Man of Steel – seems to not understand that aspect of the character whatsoever. Either that, or he’s uninterested in presenting that version of the character at all. After Man of Steel, which caught severe flak for drastically misinterpreting Superman (Henry Cavill) by having the character casually commit mass murder, and now its sequel, which continues down the path of everyone hating the Son of Krypton, it’s clear that whatever the explanation is, Snyder just isn’t going to give us that version of Superman.
This matters because Superman’s perspective on the world informs everything he does. He sees the good in humanity even when it’s obscured by filth. The world can hate Superman, but he must love them. Yet, Snyder resists showing that kind of characterization in either of his films. His approach to the character is more in line with the darkness associated with comics in the 80s and 90s (it’s worth noting that Snyder also directed the film version of Watchmen, the ultimate in grimdark comic book storytelling), which is so oppositional to the character’s core. I don’t know if Zack Snyder hates Superman, but he certainly isn’t interested in showing a heroic version of the mythic character.
In fact, the entire opening of the film, when not retelling Batman’s (Ben Affleck) origin again, presents reason after reason to hate Superman. Events from Man of Steel are replayed, but this time from Bruce Wayne’s point of view. Innocents die by the building-load, vets get paralyzed by debris, and alien comets rain down from the sky. And it’s all Superman’s fault. So, like Bruce Wayne, we should hate the Man of Steel. But, within the film, every textual reason given for feeling this way seems hallow and contrived. Why does Bruce Wayne just immediately hate Supes? Why doesn’t the world’s greatest detective spend any time looking into Superman’s past, attempting to piece together a counter-narrative to what he’s seen? Instead of doing any of that, Batman quickly concludes that Superman is bad and should be stopped. The movie has that ridiculous v in the title, after all.
In many ways, the plot to Batman v Superman is a response to the reaction generated from the events and overall tone of Man of Steel. It had to be, really. As I mentioned above, Snyder infused that movie with enough gritty violence to last a dozen Batfilms. In MoS’s climax, Supes leaves a wake of destruction during his city-annihilating battle with Kryptonian brother, Zod, so characters in the sequel understandably question Superman’s intentions – is he angel or demon? Snyder’s hand was forced because the character he created in Man of Steel needed so much more explanation. It would have been bizarre if his continuation of the narrative didn’t touch on these issues at all.
Before the movie even begins, we know Snyder will approach this subject in some way. We also know that Warner Bros. (the studio financing the DC Cinematic Universe) mandated, to some extent, this film to serve as a giant friggin’ building block in their comic properties’ shared universe. Snyder not only needed to tell an effective story involving Batman and Superman, he also needed to introduce audiences to other key members of the Justice League – Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. This is quite a burden to place on a creative team. If we’ve learned anything from the failure of certain superhero movies (Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 are obvious, sad examples), it’s that jamming in superfluous characters for fan service or to build a universe can end disastrously.
Batman v Superman isn’t disastrous, but it sure as hell is disjointed. The two-and-a-half-hour picture feels less like a cohesive whole and more like a series of scenes stitched together to complete those two tasks. The action jumps from character to character in a truly nonsensical way, which gives the film’s first hour or so a haphazard feel that bucks any sense of traditional cinematic structure. Batman has visions and Lois Lane is out getting into trouble in the desert throughout. But these scenes are given so little regard after happening that you might wonder why they were included in the first place.
The movie definitely feels weighted by the burden of continuing Superman’s troubling arc begun in Man of Steel, and introducing the JLA in full, all-in-one film. The latter, especially, is laughable. Without spoiling anything, three of the JLA members are introduced in ten-second clips a character views on a laptop. It’s completely ridiculous, like Snyder wasn’t even trying to incorporate them into the story – more so, he was likely just checking off boxes from a list handed to him from studio execs.
And man, that troubling Superman arc. For whatever reason, Snyder refuses to give Superman any agency in his redemption for the events of MoS. I think Superman feels bad for killing all those people, but I know Zack Snyder does not. It’s like the director is rebuking the reaction thousands of fans had to his first Superman picture – like he’s refusing to acknowledge maybe he misunderstood the character. It’s an infuriating act of ego, and one that Snyder doesn’t look to be willing to correct any time soon.
However mishandled Superman’s arc is, at least Batman gets a decent turn. Maybe it’s because The Dark Knight is one of the only characters in the film that actually arcs – even though the movie is much too long, it feels like other characters are completely ignored in this regard – but Bruce grows in interesting ways over the course of events. And Ben Affleck works as the caped crusader! I wasn’t ever very skeptical like a lot of fans were, and those that were will certainly be proven wrong. Affleck brings an appropriate moodiness to the character, while displaying Wayne’s signature charm in flashes, as well. His batvoice is computer-modified, but very deep and raspy. It sounds cool and a heck of a lot better than Christian Bale’s absurd whisper-scream.
As the movie dragged on and entered the third act, I began to check out. I can’t comment specifically on what happens in that portion of the movie, because I would be spoiling stuff. But outside of a few interesting super fight sequences, man, the final act is rushed, predictable and even anti-climactic. In the end, Snyder succeeded in laying down the cement needed to establish a DC Cinematic Universe – or I should say, a Snyderverse – and all he sacrificed was any semblance of a meaningful story in his own movie. It’s the small victories, I guess.
Batman v Superman has already received a bevy of negative reviews. DC fanboys will insist this is a conspiracy orchestrated by the suits at Marvel, with the aid of Marvel fans, perhaps, to squash any chance the DCU has at succeeding. That’s a ridiculous notion, of course, because Zack Snyder has already spent roughly $470 million and four years doing just that. His visual style – of which, I am definitely a fan – and his inclination toward a dark, gritty cinematic tone have done more to harm the DC Cinematic Universe than any online trash talk a Marvel fan could dream to do.
It all comes back to Superman. Either Snyder deeply misunderstands the character on a fundamental level, or he has no interest in portraying the qualities that define him. It’s a peculiar problem that runs as a thin undercurrent to the entire picture. For Snyder, Superman is no hero. He’s a god who is misunderstood by humanity, but one with no redeeming qualities visible to those who misunderstand him.
My advice to Zack Snyder, assuming WB/DC trust him with a third franchise picture? Learn to love the character, man. I know he’s corny and in certain ways, insufferable. But he’s also a symbol of hope, of optimism, of everything it means to be a superhero. If Snyder would include only an ounce of that characterization, he might actually produce a portrayal of the character worth watching.
Until then, wasn’t George Miller rumored to direct Justice League? Let’s hope it’s not too late to make that happen.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Review