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Time to Worry About Snyder’s Superman?

Well, the reviews for SuckerPunch are in, and they are… less than encouraging. I could have great fun going through them looking for pithy put-downs, but let’s just agree that it looks pretty bad. The film was a critical and commercial flop, generally agreed to be the handiwork of a director who was allowed to run completely wild with Warner Brothers footing the bill. As inevitably happens after a disaster like this, people are wondering about the director’s next film – it would be a hot topic even if it wasn’t relaunching Superman, but the amount of weight that Warner Brothers is putting on Superman makes it a downright explosive little issue. So, do I believe that Snyder can do it?

No Snyde(r) remarks...

There’s a none-too-quiet debate going on as to whether Snyder should leave (or will be forced to leave) the project. Some pundits are saying that he’ll wait until the hubbub has died down to make his departure:

In fact, David Poland of Movie City News even speculated that the director might end up departing the production. “Next month would be the moment when Snyder ‘decides to do a more personal project,’ if he was being given the heave-ho,” the critic told MTV News.

Personally, I’m not convinced. The studio is so invested in the project that they need completed to deadline (thanks to that infamous court case), that it’s unlikely they will radically upset the apple cart by jettisoning the director as the pieces fall into play. Still, I’ll concede that I’ve been wrong before. Either way, expect the coverage of Christopher Nolan’s involvement to increase dramatically.

Were you suckered into it?

In fairness, some writers are standing by Snyder, while acknowledging that his latest film was a turkey of the highest order. The wonderful Sebastian points me towards an article which outlines that other big directors have also made terrible films:

First of all, it’s not like is unprecedented in Hollywood. Sucker Punch is Snyder’s fifth full-length feature film, and the first that can be considered an all out misfire. In comparison, do you know what Steven Spielberg’s fourth film was that hit theatre? 1941. Have you ever seen 1941? It is terrible (though, contrary to popular belief, it did make money. I promise you, patrons who paid their hard earned money to see 1941 were not happy with Mr. Spielberg that day either. What happened next? Spielberg learned, despite success, that not everyone will just magically love everything he throws at the screen. Should Spielberg have been removed from his next project – something called Raiders of the Lost Ark - as a result?

There are of course two sides to every story, and I’m not convinced that Spielberg is necessarily the best point of comparison. After all, the aforementioned critical dud did make money and I don’t think Snyder’s skill comes anywhere near the great man’s. Snyder is a director to watch, but many such directors have had their careers derailed by a single gigantic mess of a film. Has Frances Ford Coppola ever recovered from Godfather III? As an actor, Kevin Costner is still recovering from The Postman (Waterworld at least made money). It looks like Cop Out might have killed Kevin Smith’s career.

Who will watch the Watchmen director? Everyone.

Still, I’m not here to ramble about whether Snyder can recover from SuckerPunch. I don’t see Warner dropping him this late in the game, but this is the movie that will make or break him. So, am I dreading Zack Snyder’s Superman? I’m not going to lie, I am very glad that he is probably going to be kept on a tight rein. Christopher Nolan is perhaps one of the best working directors (and writers) working today, so any input he has is great. And, yes, David S. Goyer gave us Blade: Trinity, but his best work has been teamed up with the Nolans. Couple that with the likely involvement of Geoff Johns from the DC side of operations, and that’s a fairly solid team working right there.

Because, and this will sound harsher than I mean it to, the failure of SuckerPunch looks to be down to giving Snyder complete artistic control. His earlier films like Dawn of the Dead and 300 were adaptations of successful properties, while this movie was drawn entirely from the director’s own imagination – which, dare I say it, seems like a terrifying place to be. Snyder uncheck looks to be just as excessive and over-the-top as is humanly possible. It looks like solid source material serves as some sort of anchor to keep the director from wandering too far off course. Watchmen did demonstrate that his style could overwhelm the material, but I think a lot of Moore’s book shone through. I honestly believe that Snyder’s adaptation was perhaps the best possible for a graphic novel as densely layered as that on.

Warners hit the "Nolan signal"...

So it’s nice that (a.) Superman isn’t a creation of Snyder’s imagination, and (b.) the script and plot are coming from people who aren’t Snyder. I also suspect that, while Snyder is undoubtedly driving the casting, Nolan and Warners have a great deal of influence over who is going to appear in the film. So that’s good. Snyder will put together his crew, but he isn’t being tasked with coming up with anything related to the premise or putting together the cast. I get the sense that it might not be fair to describe the final project as “a Zack Snyder film”, but I’m okay with that.

Assuming that Warner isn’t empowering the director and is trying to narrow down his role as much as is possible – without alienating or antagonizing him – what does that leave for Snyder to do? To choreograph the movie, handle the shots, manage the production design and oversee putting it all together. And, to be honest, I have faith he can do that.

Superman isn't sleeping soundly...

Snyder is a director who speaks a rich visual language. Sure, he’s overly fond of slow motion and digital effects, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a more stylised director working today. His movie look and sound excellent, regardless of the obvious issues he has had with content. Regardless of his attempts to shoehorn action in, his Watchmen movie looked like Watchmen, and it sounded like Watchmen too. You might argue that this a moot point – it doesn’t matter how stylish a film is if you miss the basic point, but I think everybody else working on the movie will hit the basic point, leaving Snyder to manage the look and feel.

I hope he’ll tone down on the slow motion, because otherwise he has a great style for Superman. Superman is iconic. He’s larger than life. he’s physically impossible. Superman Returns didn’t work because it tried to make the character seem “normal” with “normal” problems – Snyder won’t do that. Superman will be that army of Spartans fighting impossible odds, he’ll be Doctor Manhattan walking on the surface of Mars. He’ll be big and loud and ridiculous, because that’s what Superman is.

Feelin' blue on the red planet...

Superman isn’t an especially complex superhero, once you accept him for what he is. I trust Goyer and Nolan to get the “-man” part of the equation, but I want Snyder to deliver on the “Super-” prefix. The character was the first superhero, so he’s not meant to be nuanced or subtle. Those who might argue that Snyder somehow missed the subtleties of Watchmen need not worry, because Superman isn’t subtle. Snyder won’t include shots of Superman brooding and contemplating, he’ll show Superman doing, which is why I’m a little bit excited.

Of course, I’m an optimist at heart. I was looking forward to Green Lantern before the new batch of footage, so what do I know? It could, after all, go terribly, but I’m not convinced. I hope Superman will have his day, and I still hope that Snyder can be the man to do that.

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8 Responses

  1. I’m not worried. Sucker Punch was a lot of things, but not a sure thing, WB decided to try to market this thing to appeal to everyone (a la Observe and Report) and it failed. Dumb on them.

    Snyder knows what he is doing with this, he’s always been good with adapted material written by another writer.

  2. I agree that Snyder has a style and flair that Superman desperately needs.

    All filmmakers have their blunders, and though he’s only ever once tried to make a film about something more than visuals (Watchmen), he has a sincerity (or overly-literal sensibility) and a love of genre that I find endearing. If Snyder can learn from his mistakes and focus on the story and characters as much as the visuals then he can really deliver some great entertainment.

    Just a thought: Are we looking at this wrong? This struck me very much as a by-committee movie where the studio already has a vision for the project which they’ve now hired a director to fill out (although Snyder will definitely have a lot of creative input), rather than something like Nolan with Batman where he was involved from the ground up in establishing the vision for the franchise.

  3. WB and Snyder took a risk together, which I applaud regardless of the outcome. That said, Snyder needs to show WB that he can make a movie that they can actually sell, which seems to have been the downfall of Sucker Punch and Watchmen. If he can’t demonstrate that he’s willing to play ball with the studio in this fashion, he’s in trouble, and so’s the project. Nothing is more important for Superman at this point than Snyder proving he can make a movie able to be sold to a wide audience easily.

  4. Football analogy that probably North Americans will understand: You don’t build a team by drafting flashy wide receivers and flamboyant quarterbacks. You build the team in the trenches with linemen. Equate linemen to story/content and flashy players with visual wizardry and you probably get where I’m getting at. Superman will probably be mediocre although I hope not.

  5. Watchmen was underrated. Simply because it had Superhero movie tropes doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a deconstruction of superheroes as a concept. Kick Ass did the exact same thing. Most other complaints are just nit picks complaining that it wasn’t exactly the same as the book. Well, neither was Jurassic Park, but it still was a great movie.

    That rant out of the way, I’m cautiously optimistic that Superman will be good. It definitely won’t be terrible, but it might be just meh.

    • I think Watchmen failed because Snyder fell too much in love with style and flair over substance, which is not how one should go about treating Watchmen. It’s not that the plot deviated from the source material, it’s that Snyder didn’t embrace what his story was all about.

      Kick-Ass, on the other hand, improved on the source material and made its themes palatable.

  6. I’m not entirely a huge fan of Snyder, but I’m willing to give him a shot with this. Especially with Nolan on as producer.

  7. I’m really not that worried. If Nolan wasn’t attached to this, I might be a I have some hesitation, but as it stands, Snyder will still be surrounded by all the right people.

    Just because Sucker Punch was a failure, I don’t think it was necessarily a bad thing to happen for Snyder’s career. It’s a lesson that he’s probably going to learn from, and will hopefully expand his horizons as a director.

    If this Superman works out, I think comparisons to the arc of the Coen Brothers could be aptly made. Through their first few films, the Coens managed to gain quite a cult following, and even receive some recognition from the Academy for below the line categories. And then they came out with The Hudsucker Proxy, which was a complete bomb at the box office, and was labeled by many a critic as a movie that was “all style and no substance”–sound like a director that we know? But people still look back at the movie and view it as a great learning experience for the Coens, whose very next film happened to be Fargo, a complete home run in the eyes of many, including yours truly.

    It’s fairly ironic that Nolan is attached to this next project, but on the set of Superman, Snyder should have a sign somewhere that reads “And why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”

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