Films made by Zack Snyder have always been a topic of fierce debate. Fans of the director claim that he is a misunderstood genius and others absolutely loathe what he has created
In the year 2006, Zack Snyder was the new young director people were raving about. Everyone had an opinion about his unique take on the Spartan legend about the 300 soldiers and their last stand against hundreds and thousands of Persian soldiers. The film was a massive commercial success, with the film praised for its visuals, the slow-motion, and overtly stylised frames which would become Snyder’s signature for years to come. However, the film was not without its problems; there were some ideological criticisms aimed at it for its glorification of Spartans, who were invaders themselves, and the several allegories that have been under intense scrutiny for their purported racial insensitivity.
In 2009, Watchmen was released, Snyder’s second adaptation of a graphic novel after 300. Unlike 300, Watchmen was a whole different arena altogether. The graphic novel written by Alan Moore is widely regarded as the greatest ever created. It is one of those original works that need not always translate well to the silver screen. Snyder added his personal touch to the project and created a very stylish yet deeply philosophical film that is regarded by some as the most definitive comic book adaptation. In fact, Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson labeled it the ‘Blade Runner’ of superhero films.
But the film was not immune to criticism, Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons opted for nine panels in the graphic novel per page to subdue the glorification of superheroes with less vibrant panels in order to put emphasis on their flaws. Snyder, on the other hand, is the antithesis of ‘subdued’; while he did capture most of the socio-political messages Moore and Gibbons were trying to convey, Snyder made sure the first adaptation of this beloved masterpiece, was first and foremost, visually stunning. Even though it might have been justified to provide a more cinematic experience, critics argue that it undermined some of the more nuanced themes from the source material.
Watchmen was also the beginning of Snyder’s creative differences with Warner Bros. Pictures. The film had two different alternate cuts apart from the theatrical cut called the Director’s Cut and the Ultimate Cut. His psychological fantasy film from 2011, Sucker Punch, which was critically panned, had allegedly been drastically altered by the studio. So it was a surprise when It was announced that WB had hired Snyder to direct their Superman reboot, Man of Steel, with Christopher Nolan serving as executive producer and co-writer to launch DC’s new cinematic universe as the antidote to Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Objectively the film works as an excellent origin story to the most popular superhero on the planet with brilliant character work cinematography, sound design by Hans Zimmer, but some fans were displeased by the darker take on the character.
Man of Steel can be traced back at the exact moment where Snyder truly became a divisive figure. And the release of the sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, firmly established him as such. The film was panned by critics for yet again being too dark and serious, the yardstick being the MCU with its mix of action and humour to appease a wider demographic. It was also criticised for its more violent take on Batman and the inconsistency in its pacing. However, a three-hour cut called The Ultimate Edition fixed the pacing of the film and was praised by several critics including Mark Hughes from Forbes.
But the damage had already been done on social media, and it was the perfect opportunity for the rival fandoms to take potshots, that not even the world’s finest heroes could salvage the film. WB were quite naturally displeased and replaced Snyder with The Avengers director Joss Whedon for the third film, Justice League, during post-production after Snyder had to leave to mourn the death of his daughter. Whedon completely altered the film with cuts and reshoots and trimmed down the runtime from a mammoth four hours to just under two. Snyder’s name was still attached to the film as director and the film itself was objectively bad. Inconsistent scenes, poor CGI, and a narrative that was cut to pieces, made for one of the worst superhero films ever made. It was a tragedy of immeasurable proportions that the most popular superhero team-up adaptation was a commercial and critical failure with Snyder’s name attached still to the project. Even though the theatrical cut was largely Whedon’s project, Snyder ended up taking the brunt of the criticism.
This brings up a whole new conversation about what constitutes objective film criticism. There is no straightforward answer to it, but in Snyder’s case, people might not agree with the themes and tone he uses for his films, but there could be no question that he puts his heart and soul into each project, and there is a method behind the madness. The theatrical cut of the Justice League was objectively poor because of its glaringly obvious technical deficiencies. Snyder was finally allowed to release his true version of the film in 2021, called Zack Snyder’s Justice League, after a massive fan campaign to ‘Release the Snyder Cut’. It was a universal success with a runtime of over four hours.
So the question remains, is Snyder a fraud or a visionary? The answer remains complicated. He is most certainly not a fraud as many would like to believe, but the Army of the Dead has proven Snyder relies on good writers to make his visually expressive films work. For Watchmen he had the entire graphic novel to work with, while his other DC films were written by Nolan and Academy Award winner Chris Terrio. Whereas Army of the Dead was his script and it had several issues. That being said, there is no denying his calibre as a visual storyteller.