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.