Do you remember Iron Man? The first one? When we were all "Robert Downey Jr is still alive? Will he stay sober on set? Yeah, right, a good Marvel movie lololol." That turned out okay, didn't it?
Well, the DC Cinematic Universe, which had the MCU template to go off of, is off to something of less than a stellar start. Three entries in, and DC fanboys are trying to shut down Rotten Tomatoes (which is just an aggregator, you idiots) because all three are getting universally low reviews. There are certainly manifold reasons for this, but I want to talk about the biggest one (in my semi-humble opinion). It has to do with Zack Snyder, and while I fully realize that a ton of blame can and should be placed at WB and DC's door, I want to focus on where Snyder fails in basically all his films, because it has essentially crippled the DCU.
Simply put, Zack Snyder does not understand subtext. What he does do is make a very pretty movie that looks exactly like his source material brought to life.
I was equal parts excited and apprehensive, as I'm sure many were, about an adaptation of Watchmen. Which, as the excellent Honest Trailer points out, is an incredibly divisive film. It is, in my opinion, a beautiful film, with some excellent touches, such as the soundtrack. It lifts scenes directly from the comic. In fact, Snyder carried a copy of Watchmen with him at all times on set. This gave me loads of confidence in what he was doing. So why is it not beloved, when it adapted one of the best stories of all time?
Because Zack Snyder does not understand subtext. Watchmen is a deep, complex story that is about a lot more than just superheroes, while also being completely satirical. None of that made it into the film. It was pretty, sure, and was a decent action romp- but that's not going to cut it when you're adapting the best graphic novel of all time.
300 is garbage, so we're not even going to talk about that. I don't think I could have been more disappointed with a movie than I was with Sucker Punch- the previews looked amazing, the action, the depth of... the... story... was like jumping off a high dive into a kiddie pool. It had no depth whatsoever. Nothing about trauma, about rape culture, any actual exploration of the human condition. Even the actual action in the movie didn't live up to the glory the trailer presented.
Then comes the ostensible beginning of the DCU, Man of Steel, which was certainly better than Superman Returns by virtue of not being completely boring. Except...
I don't even like Superman all that much, but woof. I though he stood for 'truth, justice, and the American way', although, in fairness, the way America is these days, murder *is* the American way. But Supes offing his nemesis is not exactly what he's known for. There might be in-universe reasons for it (Zod *was* about to torch a family), but it's still out there. Add in the fact that Batman- whose express edict is to not kill- murders with abandon.
Which, hey, I don't care. I'm with Punisher, if we scoot over to the MCU for a bit. Daredevil and Batman are half-measures when it comes to stopping these baddies. Them dying isn't such a bad thing- in my opinion.
But it's not my opinion that counts. The idea behind Batman and Superman is that they represent the best in humanity, and no one has accused me of being that. Batman and Superman are supposed to have the ability to be forces for good without taking lives.
This is what made Nolan's Batman trilogy so good (well, 2/3rds good. DKR sucked) - he truly understood the character, not only of Batman, but also of Gordon, Dent and the Joker, and The Dark Knight was an exploration of that- not just a bunch of action set pieces and big moments. There is tremendous depth to Ledger's Joker, and this slow momentum building to the big moments. Him leaning out the window of the captured police cruiser, his plan in motion, having been executed to perfection and followed by the unwitting pawns of Batman and the police force, epitomizes the character.
Except, it doesn't, because he is gleefully mad and glad to let Batman kill him, taunting him to 'hit me', just to get Batman to break his code. That is the Joker- and that is Batman. The Snyder-verse Batman has no such conflict. Killing the Joker would be a matter of course, since he has no problem killing criminals. One of the central conflicts of the character just isn't there. It's what makes Moore's admittedly flawed Killing Joke so powerful- Batman finally crosses the line, so does the Joker win? That's a question, for as much as I enjoy Affleck's Batman and Leto's Joker, that will never- can never- be addressed in this universe, simply because it is not a question.
In the end, what is wrong with these films and Snyder's directing and influence is not the dour tone, or even the fact that the so-called Justice League is fine killing people out of hand, it is that there is nothing beneath, no depth to them, their motivations or their conflicts. A battle between these two powerful beings is undone by a name. It's simplistic and boring. The films leap from big moment to big moment, with nothing between with lower stakes- when every moment is big, none of them are.
This causes a ripple effect even to the films he has no hand in. Look at Suicide Squad. I think, like BvS, the movie we got in theaters is not the movie we were supposed to see. There are painfully obvious reshoots, done to add humor because BvS was too dark. Guess what, WB? Suicide Squad should have been dark. And guess who the executive producer of Suicide Squad was? YUP. So Snyder reacts to the perception that BvS wasn't light enough, and assumes that making Suicide Squad funnier will be the solution - not actually exploring what makes bad guys bad, or giving them anything, like, say, character development.
DC is stumbling out of the gate, hard, and it's not because the movies aren't funny, or pretty, or lack action. It's because they lack depth.
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