The darkness isn't the problem with Zack Snyder's DCEU
If reports are to be believed, the Zack Snyder era of the D.C. Extended Universe is coming to a close at Warner Bros. To quote a devastatingly incorrect Yoda in “Revenge of the Sith,” to Emperor Palpatine, “not short enough, it was.” If that didn’t chase you away from this article completely, godspeed. For those still with us, let’s tackle a myth surrounding the Snyder era of the DCEU: that the grim, gritty tone is to blame for the negative reception to his influence on the films. It’s not.
At least, not entirely. Snyder’s best film, “Watchmen,” works, only in part, because it deals with antiheroes. And while there’s a case to be made for Batman and Superman as antiheroes (I guess), it’s not in “Batman vs. Superman,” and it’s certainly not in the way the characters are portrayed in the story we’re given. Snyder’s countenance is one of a man who doesn’t understand people, heroes or villains — and boy does it show.
A lot of time is spent on the aesthetic of the films he directs because it’s so distinct. That makes sense, of course. From “Watchmen” to “Sucker Punch,” you can’t help but notice you’re watching a picture directed by Snyder. Even the animated film “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” bears his mark; and frankly, an argument can be made it’s his best, and most earnest film.
A compelling argument can not, however, be made that it’s his dour tone that sinks “Superman: Man of Steel,” nor “Batman vs. Superman.” Both film’s flaws lie in the story, and in the plotting of the characters' arcs. Let’s look beyond Snyder not understanding what makes Superman and Batman tic. Yes, Batman uses guns and Superman is a ruthless killing machine; both of these things are (probably unforgivable) flaws, but from a basic movie making standpoint, the war was over before these battles were waged.
Snyder seems generally uninterested in creating characters with meaningful relationships. From “300” to “Watchmen” we’re given toxic men who treat women as nothing more than sex dolls; this is supposed to be horrific (and it is), but we’re never given someone to truly root for. In a Snyder film, everything is a horror show. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into some kind of fetishized Stanley Kubrick freak show. The only difference is, Kubrick knew what he was doing: I’m not convinced Snyder does.
That’s where things start to get sideways with Snyder. The Marvel Cinematic Universal rules are relatively straightforward. We know what they are, and we know how the game is played. I wouldn’t be upset to see D.C. upset the apple cart and pave their own way; but Snyder isn’t the person to do it because he’s not talented enough to break the rules. The old platitude rings true here: You need to know the rules to break them. Snyder might know the rules, but he’s just not clever enough to break them.
So, as we forge ahead past the Snyder era, how about tapping a few directors with some talent to handle the universe? Patty Jenkins has bigger fish to fry, but she’s a great addition to the stable. James Wan is another ridiculously talented director, and I’m stoked to see his Aquaman. That’s some diversity Hollywood can use right now. Joss Whedon is in play, but isn’t a name I’m inspired to see; let’s hope Warner Bros. learns a lesson or two from their recent success and makes some moves that actually move the needle.