Article: Dangerous Vision - Zack Snyder And The DCEU

The recent record setting debut of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman coupled with Zack Snyder stepping away from the upcoming Justice League film's post production in the wake of a familial tragedy has unleashed a torrent of calls for Mr. Snyder to entirely remove himself from the DC Extended Universe. Additionally, rumors have begun to generate about the film being reshot with a different director (Joss Whedon) and vision in mind. Arguably one of the most divisive American directors working today, Snyder's adult oriented take on the superhero film has caused endless debate on social media and created a tangible divide between Marvel and DC films. The success of Wonder Woman has posited the question of whether or not Snyder is a hindrance to the process and if the DCEU would be better off without his presence.

Man of Steel 
Immediately polarizing for its controversial ending and unusual directorial choices, Man of Steel has always felt like two different films struggling for dominance. One on end of the spectrum is the Alien odyssey in which a traveler comes to Earth and seeks acceptance, which culminates in a ridiculous conglomeration of CGI fireworks and an unthinkable act committed by the titular character. On the other end is a Nolan-esque attempt to weave the mythology of Superman into our reality, dropping a godlike persona into a post 9/11 America. Kevin Costner's cynicism towards the acceptance of others perfectly echoes the paranoia and preconception that has relentlessly divided America since the day the Towers fell, grounding the story of Superman in a dark and somber place that is frighteningly similar to our own. 

These two themes are always at odds in the film and as a result, it suffered critically. This was the second installment in Snyder's ongoing cinematic dissent. The first of which, was Watchmen, perhaps a too blatant example of the questions Snyder attempts to explore in each of his follow up superhero films. Man of Steel sets the stage for a dilemma that echoes into its follow up: What would happen if gods walked among men? Should "heroes" have the right to decide life and death on their own terms rather than be accountable to those they defend? 

One of the many, many things that viewers and critics were quick to point out was the decision to have the final confrontation in a heavily populated area. However, in retrospect, this decision was indicative of both the hero's tunnel vision and the springboard for Batman V. Superman's inception. It is clear now, with BvS, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman that there was a specific, albeit tonal plan to introduce these characters into the world. Each scene is a building block, constructing a rusted pantheon of three color deities seeking acceptance, equality, and redemption. Their shared qualities of heroism, the need to make things right, serve the idea of good, and to ultimately be a voice for those who have none is the foundation of a superhero. A colleague wisely pointed out that the hero's journey is a commonly repeated theme because it works so well and its story notes resonate across cultures. Snyder's understanding of this is essential to his attempts to step beyond the journey and examine the costs and repercussions. Most fairy tales end with the hero on a throne and evil temporarily at bay. These films not only deconstruct the concept of heroism, but seek to shine a light on the moments in between, the price of service to a people who can't decide whether to embrace or ostracize one of these mythical beings. 

Snyder doesn't shy away from the Christ comparisons, which initially may garner an eye roll for lack of creativity; however as an extended symbol for the power of these characters, both on and off the screen, it is an intriguing idea. Within the context of the film, superheroes are larger than life presences that change the world. Regardless of circumstance, costumed crusaders walk across borders and influence agendas throughout the globe. There are literal gods in both flavors of comic book studios, and yet, the ramifications of proof of their existence are never explored in the bulk of the filmography. Off screen, there are no fans more loyal than the supplicants of the inked page, bringing their considerable dollars to the box office in support, and derision of the studio's vision. Were it not for the loyal devotion of fans, Hollywood would not be experiencing (for good or bad, depending on your perception) the era it is now and that means something. 

Seeking to depart the lighthearted brightness of the MCU, Man of Steel's palette is darker around the edges, filled with looming grays and blacks that offset the bright blues and reds of Clark Kent's childhood, a perfect simulation of the loss of innocence that the cinema sometimes abruptly delivers to fans of other mediums. The visuals are remarkable in one breath and appalling in the next, as Snyder can't resist the make the final act a CGI soaked madhouse. It’s almost as if he's saying "This is what you wanted, right?" While the decision to murder Zod is over the top, it remains firmly in line with Snyder's vision of exploring the consequences of these beings in a world besieged by terror and mistrust. 

   Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Easily the most critical maligned superhero film of the new age and one of the most divisive movies of the 21st century, BvS is also the closest either studio has gotten to surpassing the predictable good vs. evil popcorn film. It's so close to an art film it's heartbreaking and that in itself could be part of Snyder's design. 

This is a film that eschews (thankfully) a ton of time on origins and opts for an omnipotent set up of the playing field. The outstanding Gal Gadot's Diana Prince is introduced early as a possible foil for Affleck's haggard Bruce Wayne, whose become a curmudgeon after decades of comic book contrivances. The film begins after the events of Man of Steel, taking the point of view to the mere mortals on the ground of Metropolis during the final fight between Superman and Zod, mirroring the foreshadowing of the previous film. Consequences are once at the fore.

The entire final act of this film is both remarkable and atrocious. The use of CGI in the presentation of the Doomsday creature is regrettable at best; however the prolonged confrontation between two living legends is divine. At its core, BvS explores not only Batman's redemption after a loss of faith but more importantly expands on the concepts of Man of Steel by ending on a note of supreme hope and faith in mankind to do the right thing. An easy detraction is to say that the film is too dark; mirroring our own fractured society too closely while other films seek to lift spirits through comedy and peaceful resolution, however the ending is on a somber, but promising note that the heroes have finally accepted their mantles. 

The casting of Ben Affleck was initially controversial, however, his performance as both Wayne and The Batman were one of the film's few praised aspects. Gal Gadot's initial casting was met with waves of criticism, most of which unfortunately focused on her physique rather than her gravitas. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins has stated she was dismayed by Gadot's casting and would have never picked her. It would seem, given reaction to Wonder Woman, that Snyder's belief in not only Gadot's prowess, but in his vision for the DCEU was more nuanced than initially thought. This can be seen even in Suicide Squad, a critical misfire in which Snyder served as an executive producer. 

This is the essence of Snyder's mystique, both for those who praise him and those who burn his name in effigy at the mere mention of his involvement in a project. While the MCU features more audience friendly fair that sometimes retracts from moments of intensity and peril, Snyder 180's from this position and dives headlong into both trying to perfectly emulate the comic book experience and trying to produce something genuinely unique and risky, often at the expense of favorable reception. It is my belief that Wonder Woman finds a good deal of balance between the two, with its rehashed plot presented in a crisp, ceiling breaking, and inspiring package. While the film lover in me continues to prefer Snyder's flat out boldness and lament the absence of something truly unique in the genre, it is a mixture of approaches that keeps these films alive, with Batman’s nightmare sequence being one of the best examples of using the source material and extrapolating a real world plausibility in which a tortured and scared crime fighter sees demons in the shadows of even the best intentions. 

In summation, Zack Snyder is far from a perfect director, but he is a visionary. More often than not his ambitions may be a lot higher than what eventually he achieves, however his films demand attention for attempting something new rather than a simple placation of the audience and a continuance of the same exact film over and over again, which is a tactic that seems to have taken hold of the box office over the last decade. If Wonder Woman is an indicator, then it is my humble belief that it is chance takers like Snyder who will pave the way for other artists to learn from his mistakes and triumphs and take the superhero film into the next era, one where audiences will be truly dazzled by what awaits them.

-Kyle Jonathan