I’ve complained about Zach Snyder before. Still, I wanted to see Batman v Superman on the big screen when it was released in theaters a couple months back but I was too caught up with school to do so. While this thing that likes to call itself a “film” has received every bit of criticism it deserved, finally getting the chance to watch Batman v Superman had me wondering if Zach Snyder can ever direct a good superhero movie for DC and Warner Bros. The answer might surprise you.
Although this film is not Snyder’s directorial debut (that would go to a horror remake of 1978’s Dawn of the Dead) this is largely the first film Snyder became known for in 2007. Flaunting on-screen six-packs that were allegedly computer enhanced and enough fake blood to make a surgeon sick, 300 is a film that might’ve suggested Snyder’s deep interest in comic book adaptations and inclination for violent gore. Little did I know until researching about Snyder that this is a film based off of a 1998 comic series by a very well-respected comic book writer, Frank Miller. 300, while criticized by some and beloved by others, was often cited for its digital visuals. The Rotten Tomatoes summarizing consensus reads:
A simple-minded but visually exciting experience, full of blood, violence, and ready-made movie quotes.
One could call this film overdramatic or bombastic but it was made clear–especially by die-hard fans–that Snyder wasn’t as derivative as the equally simple-minded likes of Michael Bay. Snyder’s films had something I like to call style, particularly in the visual department, which he holds and deserves adequate respect for.
Snyder got closer to directing a full-on superhero blockbuster when he did a fairly loyal adaptation of the Watchmen comic books, many whom regard it as the best comic book series ever. Sentiments about Snyder’s film wasn’t nearly as favorable, Rotten Tomatoes once again referencing its visuals as a strength but having lesser comments about its narrative structure. While Snyder had a keen eye for what he was adapting (as in he was adapting quality source material) he didn’t really seem to know how to exactly translate his love for the graphic novel medium into his passion for movies besides making them look pretty and visually interesting.
Despite Snyder’s persistent storytelling issues, he was handed the keys to Warner Bros’ Man of Steel franchise which released in 2013. As is the case with most superhero films, especially of the likes of Superman, there was much hype and buzz but lacking on the delivery of the final product. This may have also been attributed to the first few teaser trailers, which I thought were absolutely phenomenal as far as trailers go.
I won’t speak too much on Man of Steel before diving in depth review about its story problems in my review for my superhero project (sorry it’s taking so long for me to finish!) but this was the film that I had come to expect from Snyder: lots of style, no substance.
Now that I’ve used Snyder’s filmography to paint the picture of a filmmaker who knows how to use the camera more than his script, we can finally get to the first film I have seen from Snyder that has broken this consistent pattern: Batman v Superman.
Read those words carefully. “Potentially powerful story.” From Snyder? Yes. This is the first time I have felt moved by a Snyder film, not because of visuals, but because of story. I’m here to talk about the good moments in the mostly piss awful Batman v Superman flick.
First off, I would love to comment on its soundtrack which was so wonderfully used to enhance certain aspects of the story. The largely orchestral classical stuff that accompanied Lex Luther’s insanity really heightened his unpredictable behavior and built up suspense about what his misguided intelligence could potentially scheme. There were also returns to the peaceful piano theme that ran through Man of Steel in its quieter moments. As is the case for many blockbuster flicks, these softer scenes tend to be my favorite.
Martha: Be their hero, Clark. Be their angle, be their monument, be anything they need you to be… or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.
In encounters like these between Clark and his mother, these pieces of dialogue feel essential to the story. Not the typical quippy superhero villain banter. Just the way normal people would talk to their son if they had superpowers. To translate what Martha is saying: “I care about you Clark. I love you no matter what.” Meaningful and effective storytelling through dialogue. In general, Clark’s relationship with his loved ones were handled proficiently in Snyder’s second crack at the character. In a rare instance where I thought hallucination worked, Clark shares a moment with his father which basically reveals how he kept his faith in people and in himself. Fittingly, when Superman is about to make his sacrifice at the end of the film, he repeats much of the same dialogue to tell Lois that he loves her revealing that she is the reason why he continues being Superman. Probably the best way a superhero has ever told “I love you” to their significant other on screen.
There is another scene which I love between Bruce and Alfred. Bruce is at Wayne Manor recalling what his dad told him. He tells Alfred that the first generation made their fortune trading with the French, pellets and skins. “They were hunters,” he says. What a great way to foreshadow what he plans to do to protect his legacy and the world from Superman. Maybe what Bruce is doing isn’t far off from what made the Wayne family so prosperous in the first place.
In these subtle scenes which may not last longer than 30 seconds of screentime shows the craft of a filmmaker who has potential to make good stories, even if Batman v Superman wasn’t. Considering that Snyder is locked up to continue developing the DC Justice League Universe for the near future, this is very good news for DC fans and superhero fans alike. Although the backlash against Batman v Superman is very understandable, I’m not quite sure why Zach Snyder’s growth as a director has been so commonly overlooked. Will Zach Snyder ever direct a good superhero film? I’d say there’s a fighting chance.