The outpouring of support for Zack Snyder since he announced that he was stepping away from the director’s chair of Justice League after the death of his daughter has been moving. My social media feeds have been flooded with posts, memes, articles, and other things offering prayers, condolences, and appreciations for the director and his wife, Deborah. I still think that the internet is mostly a festering cesspool of ignorance and nastiness, but every so often it helps people to come together in beautiful ways.
On the other hand, all of the warm feelings feel a little surreal coming after a year of the Snyder-bashing that followed BvS. The sudden turnaround following the nearly relentless hatred that followed in the wake of that movie feels familiar. Haven’t we seen this before? Right––we’ve already seen this in BvS.
I don’t mean to take this opportunity to valorize Snyder or to turn him into Superman. But now, when the internet seems to have finally stopped giving him grief for a few minutes, can we finally step back and reassess what Snyder has done for the DCEU? Can we finally admit that even though they aren’t perfect films, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are pretty damn good? I don’t just mean “good comic book movies” or “good Superman films.” They’re well-crafted pieces of art that deserve respect––even from superhero fans who dislike Snyder’s interpretation of the characters?
Now I’m not saying that people who prefer the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve Superman should suddenly start liking Snyder and Cavill’s Man of Steel. There is no definitive screen version of Superman (nor is there a definitive comics version, for that matter), and it is absolutely right for people for prefer one version of a character to another. But the criticism of Snyder’s Superman as unheroic is anything but fair.
Part of the problem about the reaction to MoS and BvS is that very few people seem to be able to distinguish between liking or enjoying a piece of art and recognizing it as good. But there is a big difference between liking something and admitting its quality. Most of us enjoy some movies that aren’t particularly good, and there are plenty of good movies out there that a lot of people don’t enjoy. And that’s okay. What makes a movie good or bad or mediocre isn’t the number of people who like it.
So maybe Snyder’s Superman isn’t for everybody. Fine. Maybe his takes on Batman and Lex Luthor aren’t for everyone. That’s okay, too. But those are not good reasons to dismiss MoS and BvS as bad films. I could write a whole feature on what makes them good films, but instead I’ll offer up just one piece of evidence:
Much has been made about how DC films try to be more “realistic” than other superhero movies, but “realism” is just a convention. Attention to granular or mundane details doesn’t make a movie better or worse than any other movie. What matters is how much truth a movie tells. Good movies almost always show us something true about ourselves, especially things that we would rather not see, and there’s a lot of truth to be found in Zack Snyder’s Superman movies.
Both MoS and BvS use superhero mythology to show us some uncomfortable truths about what it means to be human. Snyder’s treatment of Superman might be the best example of this. Superman’s story arc from the beginning of MoS to the public reaction to his death in BvS is in part the story of how our world responds to virtue and heroism, and it deals with that issue in a surprisingly realistic way. Perry White isn’t wrong when he warns Lois about how people would react to the existence to someone like Superman. We don’t have a good track record for treating our heroes well, and we tend to mistreat most the ones among us who are the most virtuous.
But in addition to showing us our own flaws, good films often show us what we might be if we could only overcome those flaws. The lesson of the last act of BvS is that we could all “achieve wonders” if we would only “join [our heroes] in the sun.” Bruce Wayne at Clark Kent’s graveside, the crowds gathered to watch Superman’s funeral procession, the people holding vigil at his monument in Metropolis––they all understand something that many fans have missed. They see that their previous rejection of Superman says as much about humanity as it does about the Man of Steel.
Good can come out of evil, so here’s a hope, a prayer: that the death of Snyder’s daughter will bring the Snyders closer together, that they will find peace, and that the rest of us will take this opportunity to reflect on the way many of us treated Snyder after BvS. God bless you and your family, Zack.