With Henry Cavill set to don the cape once more, is it time to reconsider Zack Snyder’s contribution to the DCEU?
While in 2022 there is seemingly a new (if slightly tired) super-powered blockbuster showing at your local picture house every fortnight, the cinematic landscape in 2013 was a different prospect all together. The superhero wave we are still riding may have been catalysed by the likes of X-men and Blade in the 90s, but it was in 2012 that the full potential of the genre was realised in Marvel’s ‘Avengers’. For the first time the true scale and magic of the comics had been brought to life; four largely unrelated films (five if you count Edward Norton’s turn as The Incredible Hulk) culminated in what was, at the time, the third highest-grossing movie ever. The age of the cinematic universe had arrived, and DC wanted to be dealt in. And who better to kickstart a multi-billion-dollar franchise than the ‘Man of Steel’.
However, Warner Brothers and DC knew that they couldn’t beat Marvel at their own game. Rather than light-heated action comedies, DC were going to make a serious superhero film for serious people. As such, they hired Zack Snyder, director of ‘300’ and ‘Watchmen’ to oversee the formation of the DC Extended Universe.
Snyder’s films ooze with style: his colours are desaturated and grainy; he jumps between slow and fast motion in his action sequences; he frequently uses fast cuts and snap zooms to add a sense of urgency to his filmmaking; his films are accompanied by scores that feature so much bass that you’d be forgiven if you thought you were sitting through a minor earthquake. All of this results in a filmography that, though slightly messy, is distinctly his own. Man of Steel, and the subsequent Batman vs Superman, are no different.
Man of Steel is by no means a perfect movie. The plot is flawed, the villain’s motivations, though present, aren’t fully fleshed out, and the final act is about twenty minutes too long. Yet, the film feels epic. The sheer power of Superman is conveyed by Snyder in a way that not many other directors could have achieved. What’s more, Cavill is excellent as Clark Kent. Much has been said of his physicality, and yes, his physique does more closely resembles the god-like bulk of the comics than any other iteration. However, it is his performance which stands out – he manages to bring humanity to the inhuman. When Superman learns to fly, you feel his ecstasy, when his mother is threated, you feel his rage, and when he is forced to kill the last person from his home planet, you feel his despair.
Batman vs Superman is clearly a worse film than its predecessor. That said, it still has the distinct style and tone of a director’s movie, which is more than can said for the majority of the projects marvel has pumped out since Avengers Endgame in 2019. Josh Whedon’s disastrous ‘Justice League’ film embodies the danger of abandoning ambition in favour of safety. Snyder’s films may have received mixed reviews from critics, but there was enough public demand for HBO to invest 70 million dollars to enable him to provide his own cut of the movie, one which has been largely applauded since its release. With James Gunn now heading up the future of DC in film and Cavill back in the famous spandex, it’s time to give Zack Snyder the praise he deserves.While contemporary superhero films appear to check out in pre-production, happy to take the money and run, Snyder’s films pushed for the million-dollar question. They may have got the answer wrong, but who can fault them for trying?