A Few Words on Zack Snyder: A Time for Reflection Amongst his Critics

A quick word before you read this post – the intention isn’t to make the situation about *me*, or to detract from this horrific news. At all. Real-life tragedies such as these are far bigger than any person’s views on films which are, ultimately, for children. So please don’t read it that way. Thanks. 

When I woke up to the news that Zack Snyder has dropped out of completing Justice League because his daughter committed suicide in March, I was shocked. Stunned. Coupled with the news of the Manchester bombing, I felt that I had woken up in a Bizarro world. There’s simply no comparable situation in modern cinematic history, and it’s only been furthered by the fact that Joss Whedon – the director of Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron – is taking over duties, including additional directing. Back in 2012, when Avengers was a smash hit, it was a joke on forums that DC would bring in Whedon to replicate his success with Marvel through making Justice League, their own superhero team franchise. But not like this. No parent should have to bury their child, a child who has taken their own life. What’s worse is that Snyder didn’t want to make this news public, but he felt that he had to.

“Here’s the thing, I never planned to make this public. I thought it would just be in the family, a private matter, our private sorrow that we would deal with. When it became obvious that I need to take a break, I knew there would be narratives created on the internet. They’ll do what they do. The truth is … I’m past caring about that kind of thing now.”

This has played on my mind all day. Nobody deserves such a tragedy to befall them. And I feel incredible guilt for how I’ve played my part in building those narratives over the past four years.

I’ve made no secret of my strong dislike for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. I saw both films has having potential, but ultimately falling short. Despite this, my criticism was vitriolic. I saw Batman v Superman at its press screening, where Snyder introduced the film, saying that he hoped we enjoyed it. It was kind of him to appear, and I wanted to, but I didn’t. My review was 5,000 words long, and I repeatedly linked my criticism of the film with Snyder personally.

Snyder doesn’t seem to know how to provide context and set-up for anything, from characterisation to important plot points.

After being burned by Snyder twice now, I’ve lost all interest in Justice League and have no excitement for it whatsoever. I have high hopes for Suicide Squad and think that will be good, but if Warner Bros. decide to keep him around then I’m not going to let myself get hyped for it as I have done for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. I’d much rather everything in this movie be terrible (preferably all amazing), a la the Star Wars Prequels, than be so close to greatness yet at the same time so far. It’s just frustrating, and I have no interest in going through that cycle again for a third time. I adore all of these characters, and Batman in particular means a lot to me. While I was pleased with his portrayal here, I don’t trust Snyder to deliver again.

My attitude towards those movies has been shared, repeatedly, amongst countless other bloggers and critics. It’s become easy to attack Snyder as lazy and borderline-evil, describing him as a man who doesn’t understand either Batman or Superman, or even the entire DC Universe. Our criticism of his films has been intertwined with a criticism of Snyder as a man. I believe that’s partly because his personal style is so apparent in his work, but also because of the aforementioned easiness in attacking Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. What harm does a joke about Snyder himself do? Before, I’ve even read tweets joking that Snyder himself should die, just to “save us” from another DC film directed by him. A simple Google search brings up this Guardian article, which, in hindsight, reads as utterly and unnecessarily vicious.

While rivals Marvel go from strength to strength with their superhero movies, DC’s are being slated by critics. Why? The answer is Zack Snyder.

People are starting to realise that Snyder is DC’s kryptonite. An online petition to boot him off Justice League gathered 17,000 signatures. And in May this year Warners put DC exec Geoff Johns in charge of the overall DCEU, in effect easing Snyder out of the sandbox. Going quietly does not seem to be in his nature. In fact, Snyder himself could be the perfect template for a DC supervillain: an all-powerful dictator defiling and devouring our cherished superheroes, leaving flattened cities, empty calories and crestfallen fans in his wake. Who will unite against this threat?

The backlash against Zack Snyder’s work in establishing the DC Universe has been so strong, so vitriolic, so brutal, that I cannot think of a similar situation in Hollywood’s history. The closest is perhaps the anger directed at George Lucas for the Star Wars Prequels, yet that was during the infancy of the internet. Now, you can find a dozen fervent anti-Zack Snyder articles on Google in five seconds. And I can’t deny that I’ve been complicit in that.

Zack Snyder felt that he had to tell the world that his daughter killed herself because if he didn’t, and he dropped out of Justice League with no explanation, the entire film blogosphere would explode with speculation over how terrible the movie would be, and celebration that the “DC supervillain” had finally upped sticks. He knew that he would have to deal with even more borderline-hateful personal attacks, whilst simultaneously coping with the suicide of his daughter.

“I’m past caring about that kind of thing now.” The despair and hopelessness in Snyder’s voice is so abundantly apparent.

It would be a fatal mistake for us – fans, and critics – to not acknowledge that we carry some responsibility for Snyder’s decision to publicly declare this tragedy. In our vehement dislike of his work, we’ve convinced him that he needs to reveal this most private of tragedies to the world, because of his concern over what we would say about him otherwise. That’s our fault. In hindsight, the extent of our criticism was unequivocally unnecessary – as is perfectly summed up by the Guardian piece. In a virtual world of relative anonymity, we don’t see our words as having consequences. It’s just a joke, right? It doesn’t really matter.

We forget that films are not made in a vacuum. They are made by people, like us, who are only there because they want to pour their heart and soul into making that film the best damn film it can be. We forget the harm which words can do. We’ve allowed criticism of Snyder to devolve into playful hatred, and become normalized as that. I suspect there will be many bloggers today feeling similarly uncomfortable and unsure, with future debates over Snyder’s work being conducted with the utmost sensitivity.

At the same time, this raises further issues over the extent to which we must separate the art from the artist. If Justice League comes out and everyone hates it, thus repeating the cycle, what should our response be? Should we give it a pass, given the circumstances? Is it ever right to review a film with caution, to save hurting its creators? Should exceptions ever be made, like now? Should art and the artist be truly separate, and should we judge Justice League – and his past films – as movies, rather than extensions of Snyder the man?

Or perhaps it’s too early to be offering anything other than condolences and prayers for Snyder and his family. Perhaps it’s too presumptuous to be writing like this.

I don’t have these answers. And I don’t think many others will for a while.

“In the end, it’s just a movie. It’s a great movie. But it’s just a movie.” -Zack Snyder

The film world should never become a place where creators are afraid to create because of the backlash they may ignite.

But I fear that we may already have entered that world.

We have to be better. We can’t let our response to art ever devolve into what it has been over the past few years, again.

My thoughts and condolences are with Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, their eight children, and the rest of their family. Rest in peace, Autumn.

18 thoughts on “A Few Words on Zack Snyder: A Time for Reflection Amongst his Critics

  1. This is a very mature piece. Thank you.

    I share some of your opinions about Snyder’s previous work. I think it’s entirely possible to hate a film AND to write about that dislike without devolving into attacks that ultimately amount to “the creator is a bad person.” It’s unfortunate and sad in reflection; that is exactly what has happened with Snyder and his films about fictional characters. It’s a hard label to shake that colors the perception of almost every detail in his future work, from his character decisions down to the color choices and the number of points on a character’s prop. “This isn’t the shade of green I wanted! Why don’t more scenes take place during the day?! Why does Snyder hate good things?” This only creates even more polarized opinions about the guy himself.

    Those excerpts of your own work seem relatively tame. There are writers at major movie blogs and even fellow creators who have taken it to extremes. One of the most baffling instances I have seen is the translation of hatred of his work into harsh judgement about his relationship with his mother, a woman who encouraged him to follow all of his dreams and passed away from cancer around the time of Watchmen.

    I think in light of what has happened, the worst discovery has been that at least one of Snyder’s kids actually reads the terrible things said about his father on social media. Snyder is not a criminal or a flailing politician. By all accounts of men and women in the industry who know him, he’s a generously collaborative person who people love being around. He just happens to make movies that generate split opinions. In particular, Amy Adams’ reflection on working on certain sets that won her acclaim and Oscar nominations compared to her experiences working with Snyder speaks volumes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very well said. I’ve been a harsh critic as well, but I do t think either of us have gotten personal on our criticism. I don’t question Zack’s heart, his dedication, work ethic or ability to create stunning visuals. His interpretation of these characters is off, IMO. 20-30 years ago, his take on Batman and Superman would have been well received. but his vision is too personal, and just not right for the source material. Today, none of that matters. it was clear to me that Zack got that message on Justice League. That set visit invite to the Genre blogosphere over a year ago showed what a stand up guy he is. That he was working hard to be better. Nothing would make me happier than for me to be proven wrong about JL., and for him to depart the DCEU on a high note.

    God bless you and your family Zack. We wish you and yours peace.

    Like

  3. It seems the building of empathy is a life long act.
    If we can build empathy for Bruce or Clark or Leia or Han, surely we can find the same amount of empathy for the creators who bring characters such as these to life.
    Thank you for a lovely article and reminder to be kind.

    Like

  4. Snyder is one of my favorite directors of all time. I could debate you or any critic on Watchmen and Man Of Steel and how important it is to give Superman a reason to be the Superman we all know and love. Through trial a man is made. Through weakness and from those ashes strength is matured. Superman doesn’t just pop out of the womb that way, he goes through a maturing.

    I won’t debate you, however, because although I objectively believe your take on both films are incorrect and missing the point of the depth of those films when compared to the circus of bright lights and laughter coming from Marvel, I will say that this is as heartfelt as it is honest.

    I hate that Snyder got the kind of disgusting hate for his films from critics, but it is admirable that you and others are taking responsibility in light of your critique of his films.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It seems the building of empathy is a life long act.
    If we can build empathy for Clark or Bruce, Leia or Han, surely we can do the same for the creators to strive to bring these characters to life for us.
    Thank you for the reminder to be kind.

    Like

  6. This is a start. Although it doesn’t forgive the kind of lazy writing that inevitably leads to personal attacks instead of nuanced discussion about film. This is nothing new, they did it to Ridley Scott in the 1980’s when all they had were newspapers and magazines as outlet. One reviewer went as far to chastise Scott for his ugly beard.

    Suffice to say, I LOVE Snyder’s movies. I LOVE Man Of Steel. I LOVE BvS.
    Anyone who deigns to say he doesn’t understand Superman or Batman, is coddling up to iconographic fluff and not actual comic books. And if by some odd chance they are readers, then clearly, they are salivating to a single particular iteration. But that’s besides the point really.

    I applaud you for becoming self-aware and writing about it. You’re human after all. But you are a part of a problematic culture. Telling us, as fans and readers, what we already know, this should be a conversation with your peers. But given the anonymity and mostly consequence-less nature of the internet entertainment machine, that’s quite an unlikely scenario.

    Like

  7. There is nothing wrong with criticising a film but the way some bloggers, I’ve never read a professional critic get personal, get personal with Zack is ridiculous. They need someone to slap them across the face and grow up because honestly it sounds like Zack killed their childhood with the way some carry on.
    Anyway all the best to him and his family in this difficult time.

    Like

  8. While I appreciate this article and commend you for your self reflection and maturity here, I am a little disappointed that it takes an event like this for you to take a step back and realise you were wrong. Don’t be a dick shouldn’t be a suggestion, it should be a general rule for life both offline AND online.

    Also, all you people who think Snyder “doesn’t understand the characters”… I think YOU people don’t understand the characters. You are holding onto a nostalgic version… a 1970’s snapshot in time that doesn’t exist anymore. All you seem to want is a nice, inoffensive version of the DC cartoons. Snyder is making something greater and you haters are too goddamn stupid or stuck in your bubble to realise that.

    Like

    1. “Don’t be a dick shouldn’t be a suggestion, it should be a general rule for life both offline AND online.”

      Followed by:

      ” Snyder is making something greater and you haters are too goddamn stupid or stuck in your bubble to realise that.”

      Huh. Funny that.

      Like

      1. Pointing out a truth is not being a dick. Coming back a month later and being a smartass rather than adding anything of note to the conversation… That’s being a dick Jonathan.

        Like

  9. This is a good piece, but I disagree with what you’re saying about fans being wrong to say that Snyder is the problem. It’s not like people were saying he’s a bad person, or that he doesn’t care about the material. There were a trolls aplenty (as always), but most of the criticism is perfectly legit: his aesthetic, while it works well with stories like 300 and Watchmen, just doesn’t work illuminate the DC Universe. Ridley Scott would probably be a bad director for Captain Underpants, and critics/audiences would be totally cool in pointing that out. Doesn’t mean they’re saying he’s a bad filmmaker. Just that he’s the wrong fit.

    Like

    1. @Alex Sorondo
      I couldn’t disagree more. I think people who feel he “doesn’t understand the characters” are themselves guilty of not really understanding these characters. Zack knows the source material. I’ve read as much of the source material as I possibly could and am constantly filling in gaps by reading more comics. I can say without a doubt, he understands these characters. He knows what questions he has to ask of them, how they should look at ALL times (both having a conversation and kicking ass), how the world would react, who they are destined to become, who they are at their core.

      So much of Zack’s movies rely on an emotional connection. An appeal to your humanity without being pretentious or heavy handed. If you *eyeroll* at the emotion ie. If you decide mentally that a scene will not effect you then, by definition, the scene will not effect you. If you emotionally connect with the characters in his movies I can guarantee you… You will suddenly realise the man is a genius.

      Or you could be a nostalgia addict… Whatever.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Alright, I’ll grant you that reading of it. I get the impression I’m not as well-versed in the source material as you are, or Snyder, but I know I haven’t enjoyed any of his DC movies.

        The point of my comment is to contest the author’s suggestion that somehow we, as a critical audience, are responsible for his choice to disclose the details of his personal life.

        Like

      2. “While I may not agree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it”
        😉

        It’s within your right to enjoy whatever art you enjoy. Nobody can tell you what you should like.

        There have been some HORRENDOUSLY bad superhero movies.
        Batman and Robin
        Superman IV
        Steel
        Electra
        Catwoman
        and many more… Snyder’s movies do not belong in that category. I connect with his work emotionally and on a very personal level. I’d wager many of his fans feel the same way. This and the victim complex we seem to have developed over the last few years of constant attack has forced us to be very passionate in our defense of his work.

        While we as a critical audience may not be to blame entirely… The fact remains that Zack wanted to keep this “in the family” but felt obligated because he KNEW if he didn’t reveal the reason then reasons would be created. Do you really think that if he left without giving this statement that there WOULDN’T be “news” sites and bloggers with headlines along the lines of:
        “DC in disaster as Snyder loses faith in project”
        “Joss Whedon steps in at last minute to rescue Justice League”
        “Zack Snyder leaves because fans don’t want him – Rejoice”

        24 hours hadn’t even gone by from the tragic news when an article was published (I won’t reference it because it doesn’t deserve the clicks) with the headline “Joss Whedon is exactly what’s needed to fix the DC Universe”. The scum who consistently hate on him for irrational reasons are DIRECTLY responsible for Zack Snyder feeling obligated to make this public. Of that I have zero doubt.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Although I don’t share your views on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman”, I do appreciate the tastefulness and broad-mindedness that you had approached this article with. And you’re right about something else, The film world and especially film critics have become increasingly dogmatic and unnecessarily hostile over the years. In fact, I would say for nearly two decades. Right now, as far as film criticism and creativity, we’re living in a rather sad world.

    Like

  11. I think both movies are fine and you critics just want DC movies to be the same as marvel movies. it’s like comparing Titanic with Jurassic Park.
    Soon after the release of bvs, critics were trying to kill that man bit by bit with their nothing less than PERSONAL remarks. If Snyder family has any problem , critics and some fans who blindly follow them are to be blamed.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s