If you want to talk more about it, do it in the comments because I’m not doing a fourth installment.

§ February 19th, 2021 § Filed under movie reviews § 14 Comments

Unlike the new edit of the Justice League movie, I wanted to try to keep this, the third installment of “Zack Snyder: Friend or Foe?” (parts the first and second) reasonably short, instead of throwing my usual Wall o’Text at you. But, um, doesn’t look like that’s happening, so let’s get into it, shall we?

First, I already responded to valued commenter Turan in the comments there, but I wanted to take issue with the idea that “Superman as Christ figure” should be left alone as it would be offensive to his Jewish creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Honestly, I don’t know if that would be offensive to them, but the simple matter of fact is that once art is out in the world, it’s open to interpretation beyond (and possibly even against) the creator’s intent. It’s just a thing, you know? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby may have been Jewish themselves, but that didn’t stop their creation the Silver Surfer from being hailed as Christ-like (though some may argue the point). I mean, Lee made the dude’s arch-nemesis the Devil, c’mon. And I’m sure Lee had no problem playing that up in Surfer’s solo series for the college kids he thought were taking this all seriously.

Anyway, in conclusion I think they should drop the “Superman as Christ” angle at least for a while, because they’ve been hitting it kind of heavily and not making any new points with it. Give me “Superman as Job” for a while. I mean, his life starts with his planet blowing up, he’s gotta feel kind of put upon just from that.

Anyhoo, that all in a way ties back in to an argument in support of Snyder’s interpretation of DC’s characters, but I don’t imagine I need to explicate that further. Besides, I think my initial point, more or less, was less “should ol’ Zack have done what he did” and more “why Marvel’s movies had more popular cultural traction.”

Daniel then wants to know “if someone could provide a quote from Snyder that expresses his support for [Ayn] Rand.” And I did look, mostly coming up with repeated reporting on how much Snyder’s admires The Fountainhead and what it says to him about the creative process. Depending on what one thinks about The Fountainhead, that likely should answer the question.

Getting back to my initial “Marvel movies vs. DC movies” thesis, Cassandra notes, in short, how the general tone of the Snyder films is antiethical to Superman’s nature…maybe not a bad movie, but not a good Superman film, in short, whereas the Marvel movies hew a tad more closely to the source material (with allowances, as always) and strike more of a chord with the public. That is essential the same point I’ve been attempting to make, though I think I appreciate Snyder’s interpretation (there’s the word again!) of Superman and his story more than she does. I get where she’s coming from, same as I see Daniel’s point (of viewing this as a more mature and “realistic” paean on the nature of heroism). Yes, I’m planting my wishy-washy feet on both sides of the line…I lean towards Daniel’s thoughts on the matter, while nodding toward Cassandra’s thoughts on the film’s appeal.

Told you this wouldn’t be short.

Thom H. brings up that the grim ‘n’ gritty serious tone gets in the way of connecting with the characters, and in a way I believe that’s true. My initial comments on this topic on Twitter were about how I feel no real emotional connection to any of the characters in Snyder’s films…it’s all watching plot points progress, which for me was fine, but if he expected me to feel anything about Superman’s death at the end of Batman V Superman, well, sorry, dude. (Daniel, on the other hand, did find much to emotionally connect to, so clearly this isn’t the case for everyone.)

I think what connects audiences more to the Marvel characters is, of course, the humor. It draws us in, makes us relate to characters that are otherwise unrealistic, and strengthens that willing suspension of disbelief superhero movies need to keep audiences focused and in the story. Granted, anyone going to a movie called Iron Man is probably on board wtih a guy in a flying suit of armor to begin with, but having the man inside the suit be charming and witty goes a long way to caring about what happens to the guy once he’s face to face with a giant purple fella who can kill off half the universe by snapping the fingers inside his magical glove.

I honestly can’t think of a single funny, warmly humanizing moment in Man of Steel. Look, before anyone yells at me, I know there must have been…okay, I’m kind of remembering the shot of a Young Clark standing hands-on-hips, cape billowing behind him. There’s that. But I don’t feel like you’re ever really drawn into the character. He does heroic stuff, you see him struggle, you see him sacrifice, but that is, as I said, more intellectual exercise and following the story’s arc. Marvel did a better job making us feel for a CGI space raccoon’s loneliness hidden beneath his bluster.

Again, that’s just me. And possibly a lot of you. But not everyone. The emotional progression in the Snyder films I’m willing to be argued (and Daniel did strongly argue) into realizing it’s all a lot less on-the-sleeve…it’s all there, just not in the more cartoony Marvel manner.

It bears repeating that I like the Snyder films just fine. They’re just different animals from the Marvel movies. I know, “duh.”

Okay, just a couple more short points here and I’ll unlock the doors so you can all escape. If I’m skipping your specific comments, it’s just because I’ve either already discussed similar material or because I’m going to call you at 3 AM and talk your ear off about it. So, Robcat notes that he liked Ben Affleck as Batman. Hey, so did I! I thought he made a great, older, kinda done with it Batman. It’s a shame he won’t be back (beyond a possible cameo?) in future flicks, but I thought he did a good job. And I’m still okay with the “Martha” bit, don’t @ me.

Finally, JohnJ reminds me of a “groaning reaction” superhero story that I’ve related on this site before, but it was probably well over a decade ago, so here it is again.

So in 2004 or thereabouts, I was in a movie theater, maybe waiting to watch my 9th consecutive viewing of Napoleon Dynamite, when the trailers came on. And this one trailer started, it had a lot of dramatic goings-on and action and suspense and whatever, and the audience was paying close, quiet attention…

…until, like, a drawer was opened or a bag unzipped or something in the trailer, and the Batman cowl was exposed, and I swear to you, that one was hell of a loud shared groan from the audience that followed.

Now the Batman and Robin movie was about seven yeras prior to this, but apparently cast a long shadow and surely this is what prompted the response. “Not more Batman,” they essential announced, not realizing the Batman will continue until Bat-morale improves.

Okay, let’s leave it at that…as I said in this post’s title, you want to talk about this further, let’s do it in the comments here. I did want to thank you all for your thoughtful and polite participation, and that I value your opinions whether I happen to agree with them or not. Even yours, Daniel, you nutty Snyder-lover, you!

14 Responses to “If you want to talk more about it, do it in the comments because I’m not doing a fourth installment.”

  • Squints says:

    Superman as Job? Don’t get me started. All day long with the flying and the saving and the rescuing.

  • Squints says:

    I had hoped that the “I’m from Kansas” line near the end of MoS would have turned at least somewhat (not necessarily fully) toward a more Reevian Clark and Superman. And also maybe helped humanize him a bit in the eyes of the normies among whom he’s exiled.

    Aside: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a slight, disposable romp and didn’t do well. But I wouldn’t have minded seeing more Cavil as Solo. And Grant as Waverly. Elder statesman is probably Grant’s proper niche these days.

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    I loved the suspense movie angle taken with Batman Begins. The very different tone in that film was much needed. But yes, not every subsequent film needs to be so grim.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I would argue that, based on “A Very English Scandal” and “The Undoing,” Hugh Grant’s proper niche these days is actually “very charming guy who may be a monster.”

  • Daniel says:

    “Daniel then wants to know “if someone could provide a quote from Snyder that expresses his support for [Ayn] Rand.” And I did look, mostly coming up with repeated reporting on how much Snyder’s admires The Fountainhead and what it says to him about the creative process. Depending on what one thinks about The Fountainhead, that likely should answer the question.”

    ——

    This might be a distinction without a difference, but I think there’s a line of demarcation between Ayn Rand the author and Ayn Rand the godhead of a political movement. I’ve never read her books but I saw the movie version of The Fountainhead from the ’40s with Gary Cooper and, if it was accurate to the book, then it was a goofy little B-movie about the nature of being an artist. That is what I am assuming Snyder is interested in.

    Where I (and I think a lot of other people) take issue with Rand is that her pulpy stories have become the foundation of a toxic political movement centered around the idea of “selfishness above all else.” And in regards to that, I’ve never seen Zack Snyder articulate any allegiance to that idea. To the contrary, my main point about Superman in my previous posts was that his Superman proved himself to be the ultimate hero by sacrificing his life for those who persecuted him. Rather than being selfish, he was the epitome of selflessness. So based on his work alone, I would venture that Snyder’s own political and moral beliefs do not align with Rand, but I’ve never met the man so that’s just an assumption.

    Regarding Mike’s defense of Superman as Jesus as a concept, as I mentioned in my original post, the Superman as Jesus idea goes back at least as far as the first Donner movie. So the idea was in the public ether when both Siegel and Shuster were still alive. And to my knowledge, neither one of them ever expressed any issue with the idea. And I also agree with everything else Mike said on the issue: Once an artist puts something out in the world, it becomes fair game for others to engage in a dialogue with the work or idea.

    I guess my final point in defense of the Snyder DC movies is that, with Disney’s purchase of Fox and their close alignment with Columbia on the Spider-Man films, as well as Walter Hamada’s apparent desire to move DC Films in a direction more like the MCU, the Snyder DC films are essentially the final line of defense against a total homogenization of the super-hero movie genre to be exactly like Marvel. Like or hate the MCU, I think it’s creatively dangerous for the entire genre to be so alike with no variation in approach. For that reason alone, I think the Snyder DC movies should be celebrated for putting up the good fight against an encroaching tide of sameness. Ultimately I think it’s a valiant but losing battle, and I believe that fans of the genre (even people who don’t like Snyder) are going to come to regret that in the years to come when Disney’s total domination of the genre eventually extinguishes all life and individuality out of it.

    And just to clarify my own biases, I’m not a zealot about Snyder and his films. I like about half of them.

    — I think the first half of Dawn of the Dead is pretty terrific and original, but I think it loses steam at about the halfway mark (like most zombie movies do) and limps along till the end.

    — I’ve never been a fan of 300. I don’t hate it, I’m just mostly indifferent to it. I’ve never read Frank Miller’s original graphic novel, but my guess is that my problems with the film can be tied back to the source material (the story in the film just seemed very thin to me).

    — I think Legend of the Guardians is a legitimately amazing film. One of the best animated films of the past 20 years. You just need to get past the first 20 minutes (which are a bit saccharine). Absolutely stunning movie. Reminds me a lot of Michael Avon Oeming’s The Mice Templar.

    — I really, really disliked Watchmen when I first saw it in theatres in 2009. I’ve come around to it though since watching the director’s cut. I still don’t love it, but I like it a lot more once the director’s cut allowed the story room to breathe.

    — I think Sucker Punch is interesting but I don’t particularly enjoy it. I only “got” the film once I realized that it was a modern riff on the old school movie musical, but instead of dance sequences it was built around stylized and choreographed violence and action sequences. I just personally don’t care for the music choices in the film, so for that reason it’s not something that I enjoy watching.

    — I think MoS and BvS are the two best super-hero films I’ve ever seen, but I’ve already articulated why.

    — Snow Steam Iron, the five-minute short film that Snyder shot entirely on his iPhone is pretty amazing. It’s visually stunning and has a clarity and originality to its (wordless) storytelling that I really like. And I also think it serves as an answer to those who think Snyder can only work long. He packs a lot into five minutes.

  • Robcat says:

    I wish I had thought of this earlier in the week, but I suspect that there are 4 (well, more than 4, but let’s just go with 4 here) audiences for comic book films. Those that love comic book movies, those that are indifferent to comic book movies, those that love Marvel characters more than DC characters, and those that love DC characters more than Marvel characters. What we bring to the table definitely influences what we see. I am more of a DC lover and have a deep attachment to Superman. I bring all that with me when I go see a Superman movie. Not only do I take what’s on the screen, but all the Superman comics I have ever read plus the Superman movies I have seen, plus everything I think and feel about Superman plus headcannin! . It probably heightens my expectations for a Superman movie, it heightens my willingness to overlook flaws and be hypercritical (at the same time). Conversely, not being attached to Marvel movies, I liked Daredevil and Josh Trank’s FF just fine! Not being attached to Batman, loved Batflick just fine! I probably should end with a deep thought, but… I dunno… thoughts….

  • In THE FOUNTAINHEAD novel, there is a scene where we see (I believe) a framed news clipping of Howard Roark, looking up at one of the buildings that he worked on as architect. The headline reads ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, MR. SUPERMAN?, referring to Neitzsche’s use of the word.

    I doubt Snyder is going by just that one line, and I had to look it up to make certain I even remembered it right, as I had to read the book in college back 1981. The reporter who wrote the article was his girlfriend.

    I’m trying to remember the context of that clipping, but if I recall, it was right about the time that there were fault lines in Roark’s character, though I can’t pinpoint anything. Maybe to do with less than cool things he did to get the building completed.

    I no longer have a copy of the book and just about everybody I know has read ATLAS SHRUGGED and that’s it, so I can’t add anything to what I wrote.

  • JohnJ says:

    Speaking of Snyder, I was just re-watching Sucker Punch and although it’s pretty dark, I still enjoyed it. Add that to enjoying 300 and his version of Watchmen, even if he did eliminate the Lovecraftian tentacles in favor of nuclear destruction. So part of my dis-liking of his DC movies just strikes me as disappointment that he doesn’t seem to “get” the subject matter. Especially Superman.
    I also feel lucky that I never had to read Ayn Rand in any literature course.

  • Chris V says:

    The Fountainhead isn’t a work about economics or government.
    I’d say it’s Rand’s best work and is so much better than her political-tract-disguised-as-a-science-fiction-novel, Atlas Shrugged.
    It’s based in Nietzschean philosophy, but specifically applicable as to the artist.
    The masses will always try to hold down those with great or new ideas and only want to accept what is considered societally acceptable by the majority. That the truly great artist will find a way to make their vision known, regardless, even if the public scorns or doesn’t understand the artist’s vision.
    It’s elitism, but one that may be more relatable as compared to ideas about wealth.
    She’s not exactly a great wordsmith, as her writing does tend to be highly didactic, even when it’s not grating like in Atlas Shrugged.

    The issue with Ayn Rand was never her fiction novels, which aren’t particularly inspiring or unique.
    It was that she always intended to create some type of political cult. She founded Objectivism. It wasn’t as if people read her novels and decided to form a belief-system based on her work. It was always her goal.

    People who don’t share Rand’s world-view or aims have found Rand’s writing influential.
    I know that Hunter S. Thompson once wrote about how much he was influenced by reading some of Ayn Rand’s books, even though Thompson never believed in Rand’s politico-economic ideas.

    There are certainly better outlets to get the same types of inspiration about individualism than Rand…but perhaps Snyder happened to come across some ideas from Rand early in his life and it shaped some of his personal views.

    ——————————————-

    Anyway, as far as the internet link to the Silver Surfer discussion, I think that the writer sort of missed the point of Silver Surfer: Parable.

  • Brian says:

    It’s always seemed to me that Snyder has been influenced by Rand the writer the same way Thompson was. In an era that increasingly became about obfuscated meaning and symbolic language, she was a writer whose fiction put it on the page in bold. Whatever one can say about Snyder, he’s a director who doesn’t try to hide meaning in symbols or ask the viewer to parse what the unicorn was about; he shows an often-complex story with all the pieces there in bold color and sound for the viewer to absorb. You can see some literary Rand, even a bit of Hemingway in there. It’s why I think folks are so easily divided on his movies (either they like them, hate them, or respect them but it’s not their bag) versus other modern directors often being harder to make one’s mind up about — those are the ones who often have a bit more of a postmodern flair to their style (I made a Ridley Scott reference above on purpose) and Death of the Author their own work half the time,

    My own take on all of this is that Snyder’s view on superheroes isn’t my own but I’m always interested in seeing what he puts on the screen with them because it’s a solid auteurial take. By the same token, I disagree with the Scorsese-style argument against Marvel, because I see the classic RKO studio-lot style as as appropriate a form of filmmaking to bring back as the 70s auteur style. The more flavors of filmmaking the merrier!

  • @misterjayem says:

    They’re making movies out of comic books?

    Well I’ll be.

    — MrJM

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Silver Surfer”

    I can see an argument for the Lee/Buscema version as a Christ-like character.

    “The Fountainhead”

    BARF. I attempted to read “Atlas Shrugged”, and it was tedious, unreadable dreck.

    “the Marvel characters is, of course, the humor.”

    AGREED!

  • Jack says:

    If I may jump in belatedly:

    I actually love, with only minimal reservations, Man of Steel. If it had served as the “Year One” for the character, it would have been perfect. Superman learning HOW to be Superman, including a traumatic moment where he chooses, from then on, not to kill, and how to be a symbol of good. The action scenes were, honestly, what everyone begged for after Superman Returns. It was a good start for another director to pick up from and make Superman more like the one we know.

    Unfortunately, it was an AWFUL movie to try to use as the basis of a shared movie universe, and worse, to try to do what Marvel did organically over a few years in two movies. And there’s some good in Batman v Superman. It’s kind of hilarious that Snyder took the criticism that Man of Steel was too violent and embodied the response to that in a bitter, violent Batman, for one. You can criticize Marvel for having a formula after all those movies, but at least the formula is “aim for widely appealing movies” not “make superhero movies dark and miserable.”

    Snyder was a good choice to make a Superman movie in the post Nolan Batman movie world, but he was a dreadful choice to try to make a franchise from.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    So, it turns out that the character Zack Snyder sees as Jesus is not Superman but the Joker.

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