Sie sind auf Seite 1von 12

31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It

 / Arts & Entertainment / #BoxOffice BETA

JAN 30, 2018 @ 12:48 PM 6,077 

What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All

About, And Why So Many People Rejected It


I write about films, especially superhero films, & Hollywood. FULL BIO 
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

The final numbers are mostly in now, and it's official: Justice League, a movie I liked
and which got better (albeit still majority-negative) reviews than previous DCEU
releases Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad (but much lower than Wonder
Woman, obviously), has the lowest worldwide and domestic box office cume of any
DCEU entry to date. With $655 million in total global receipts, the film clearly
lacked resonance for most mainstream audiences, and the 40% Rotten Tomato score
likewise reflects an overall rejection by mainstream critics. So the big question is,
what is it about these particular DCEU movies -- Batman v Superman and Justice
League -- that didn't set well with viewers? 1/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It


Source: Warner Bros

J.K. Simons, Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, and Ezra Miller in Warner's "Justice League" [+]

I'm not talking about this or that particular specific complaint -- the CGI removal of
Henry Cavill's mustache, pacing issues due to editing for theatrical release, and so
on. Rather, I'm looking for the larger disconnect between audiences and these films,
the deeper reason that despite some of the most well-recognized and popular
superhero characters appearing in both films, and despite the recent blockbuster
success of Wonder Woman, and despite the overall success of the superhero film
genre, Batman v Superman and Justice League seemed to strike a disturbing chord
with most mainstream global viewers.

We all know the answer, of course, but what's important to understand about it is

Putting aside all of the hostility and simplistic assertions rooted in narrow attitudes
and silly personal resentments, I think the biggest problem has been an approach
that often contradicts the prevailing mainstream public impressions and
expectations for several of the central characters -- specifically, Superman, and to a
lesser extent Batman. Keep in mind, I am discussing these issues while personally
liking these films, so anyone tempted to dismiss this as "hating" on DCEU need to
learn how to discern the difference between an attempt at objective analysis of how
other people reacted to a movie, and assertions of personal taste. And while at face
value the issue of characterization seems obvious, the underlying conflict between 2/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It

expectation and deconstruction in the films is worth exploring more deeply now that
it's all essentially over with (as far as that particular era of the DCEU is concerned).

Superman was the main issue, in terms of the disconnect between audience
preconceptions and the DCEU portrayal. Man of Steel certainly reimagined many of
our general expectations, such as Pa Kent's approach to teaching his son how to
restrain his use of powers (one of my own primary complaints about the film), and
Superman killing Zod at the end. However, overall the movie managed to walk the
line between meeting our foundational expectations for Superman's character and
personality while challenging our impression of the world in which he would exist.
That was, of course, the whole point of the story, to challenge those ideas and
instead ask how the world would really react to the arrival of a superhuman alien in
our midst.

In Batman v Superman, however, the continuation of that deconstruction of the

character and (more importantly) his place in our world took several further steps
toward significant change and upending our expectations, and that's where I think it
met with serious resistance and complaints from so many people. Much of the
story's approach required not merely expanding and accelerating the extent of
society's questioning of Superman, but also showing him reacting in ways that
undermined traditional portrayals and expectations of him in the process. First
society questioned him, then he began to question himself, and finally he began to
doubt society. It was a deconstruction within a deconstruction, so to speak. And this
was a very difficult and dark journey, and it presented Superman in a way contrary
to the most popular iterations in comics, films, and TV. 3/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It


Source: Warner Bros

The iconic heroes face off in Warner's "Batman v Superman"

Meanwhile, Batman too was subjected to similar deconstruction, taking the more
extreme cynical and violent iterations from the source material and portraying them
in ways mainstream audiences hadn't seen before and to a large extent weren't
prepared to experience. Batman hating Superman and actively, literally trying to kill
him is a pretty huge step away from even the somber, adult-themed portrayal in the
Christopher Nolan movies. Sure, Batman has killed bad guys on screen before and in
the comics, but here we saw him seemingly taking enjoyment at times in cruelty and
infliction of pain, a sadistic turn for the hero that many people simply weren't
comfortable with. But that alone wasn't the real issue, it was how those thing
combined with his hatred of Superman and attempts to murder Superman that
really pushed a lot of viewers of the edge of acceptance into mixed or outright
negative reactions. And then add in other secondary considerations such as Batman
drinking heavily, Batman acting consistently cynical and rude to people, and you get
a portrayal that is deconstructing Batman's character by forcing us to consider what
this guy really might be like and what he might turn into, if just a few little things
went the wrong way. 4/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It

In Batman v Superman, then, we saw a Batman who'd lost the underlying optimism

and hope that existed even in most of his darker and more violent incarnations --
even Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" imagines a Batman who is at once
older and jaded and more extreme, but precisely because he lost his sense of hope
and is aggressively doubling down on his efforts to rediscover that sense of hope an
symbolism so he can save Gotham and reignite the city's own belief in itself. Time
and again, despite his best attempts at maintaining his serious and dark, gloomy
tone, Miller's Batman can't help letting a smile slip onto his face and believing in
victory over evil even when all seems lost.

ButBatman v Superman's Caped Crusader lacks that underlying optimism and hope

-- which is, of course, the entire point, that Batman HAS crossed a line and become
the bad guy in this tale even though he didn't realize it until confronted with
Superman's humanity and his own inhumanity in that singular moment as he stood
over Superman's helpless body and was reminded of himself as a little boy helpless
to save his own mother and praying someone would save him and save his dying

Likewise, during the fight Superman stops even attempting to talk to Batman or
explain anything, and it becomes a pure violent expression of their mutual contempt
and distrust, with Batman representing (in Superman's eyes) all of the cynicism and
unfairness and cruelty of a world without hope, and with Superman representing (in
Batman's eyes) all of the failure and fear and meaninglessness in the pursuit of
humanity to improve itself and do anything meaningful (and of course, Batman's
own specific failures in a world where hopelessness and failure and loss and the
triumph of evil are around every corner). 5/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It


Source: Warner Bros

Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader in Warner's "Batman v Superman"

Both men, though, have a moment of clarity and epiphany -- Batman realizes
Superman's own humanity when he sees him as son begging for his mother's life, his
final words a plea to his enemy (Batman) to save his mother. That her name is
Martha is often mocked, but obviously (if we are trying to be honest and serious
about the issue) the point wasn't merely that their moms had the same name, it's
that this crystalized for Batman his ability to perceive himself in Superman and to
relate completely to Superman's situation. Which, then, subtly but inherently meant
Batman perceived himself as something terrible, truly his own worst nightmare --
he'd become the man who killed his own mother, the villain in that dark alley who
stood over a helpless little boy and stole his parents from him, letting them die and
leaving that boy tortured forever by his inability to do anything to save them.
Batman became Joe Chill, and once that comparison burned into his brain it
wouldn't stop. It broke him out of the spell that had taken him over, that obsession
with killing Superman to slay the demons in his own soul and feel his life's pursuits
weren't an absurd hopeless waste of time. Batman sought redemption and to regain
his feeling of hope and optimism by killing Superman, when instead he found
redemption and hope in that moment where he stopped fighting and understood
Superman's humanity at last.

That's when Superman, with no more hope of saving his mother, lying on his back
about to die, had to reach out and ask his enemy -- the man about to kill him -- to
save Superman's own mother. And miraculously, the man stopped being his enemy,
helped him to his feet, and said basically, "I will save your mother." This man who, 6/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It

to Superman, represented all of the refusal of the world to understand or care or do

the right thing out of sense of hope and faith, who was Superman's mortal enemy
moments ago, now embraces hope and cares about Superman and Superman's
mother as much as his own. And that's how Superman begins to reclaim his faith in
the world and himself again, the final hurdle overcome and his father's message on
that snowy hill (a few scenes earlier in the film) resonates fully: sometimes you try to
do good and the world gives you only pain in return, sometimes your good deeds
don't go as you expected, sometimes to save one person or one thing you wind up
sacrificing another or being unable to save another, but in the end you cannot
despair and you must find a way to believe again and to feel there are things worth
loving and fighting for and saving in this world. Because while the darkness and loss
and pain sometimes make it harder to see the hope and good in the world, in our
darkest and most trying moments it is the hope and good that will see us through
and help us overcome our despair and show us the way forward again.

Batman v Superman presents a Superman and a Batman who have lost faith, who
exist in a world that acts as if it no longer wants or needs or trusts heroes, a world
that tries to tear down heroes, and so they struggle and they trip and they fall, just as
Jor-El told Superman humanity would do and so of course it's also what heroes will
sometimes do. But in the end, Superman and Batman confront their inner demons -
- representing those demons for one another, at first -- and in the midst of
overwhelming despair and pain and darkness they help one another regain hope and
so together they are able to see a way forward again.

That is the real lesson of Batman v Superman if we listen to what it's really saying.
However, the problem for many viewers is that it takes a long time to actually get us
to that point in the story where the challenges and upending of expectations and
cynicism and loss finally start to give way to the redemption and hope. So for most
mainstream audiences and a lot of longtime fans, the weight of everything that
comes before winds up too oppressive and makes it impossible for them to
appreciate the changes at the end.

And I understand those reactions, even if I don't personally share them. I

loveBatman v Superman, but I "get" why others don't (although I simply cannot
understand why anyone argues it's literally a bad movie, as opposed to just saying
they didn't personally enjoy it or felt it handled the characters and themes wrong
etc). Audiences can obviously tolerate and enjoy and appreciate darker filmmaking
for superheroes, that's why Nolan's Batman movies were such a huge hit, it's why
Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Solider or Avengers: Age of Ultron were huge
hits, it's why the X-Men movies are hits, and so it's not accurate or fair of us to say
people simply didn't like darker, mature, serious superhero filmmaking. 7/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It

The issue was simply that Batman v Superman went a step further in its attempt to
turn the deconstruction into not only an approach within the film itself, but as a
larger overarching longterm narrative for the DCEU -- it started with Man of Steel,
and then continued and became more extreme in Batman v Superman, and was
supposed to really undergo substantive final change again in Justice League, a
longer process in which the darkness wasn't balanced out and undercut at times
with other more hopeful narrative themes and events, and without the main
characters at least starting out more hopeful and then returning to that sense of
heroic faith. Batman v Superman had a very different conception of deconstruction
in mind, and pursued it in a way no other superhero movies have done before, and it
did so with a lot of extreme examples and moments to define the breakdown of
expectations and extent of how low the lowest moments can go before a light
appears at the end of the tunnel.

And then, even within the ultimate climactic return of hope and heroism, what
happens? Superman dies. His sacrifice is of course an ultimate example of heroism
and his renewed love of this world, and Batman's sense of loss and guilt and shame
over how he treated Superman is a sign of how much he will work to honor
Superman's sacrifice. But nothing will change the fact that after two hours of taking
apart these characters and their world, the ending redemption and return of hope
STILL includes killing Superman, and that's a shocking and dark thing to do, and for
a lot of people it severely undercut the attempt at hopefulness in the end. Again, I
might not share that reaction, but I do totally understand why others felt that way.

I think there's a mistaken impression among a lot of people (including many film
critics, unfortunately) that "deconstruction" means taking it apart and breaking it
down, when in reality it means taking it apart to see how it really works and what it's
really made of, and then putting it back together again. Our assumptions are
challenged not merely to subvert them for the sake of unmaking them, but rather to
see which parts hold up and are strong enough to survive the direct and bright light
of truthful examination, to show us the true nature of the thing and force us to
consider whether our feelings and assumptions about it were correct and
worthwhile, or if they can change without destroying either the things itself or us in
the process. 8/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It


Source: Warner Bros

Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Warner's "Justice League"

Zack Snyder loves deconstruction in his films, and he is greatly inspired by comics
from his young adulthood that first challenged and deconstructed his perception of
comics and what comic book stories could be. If you grew up in the post-1980s or
post-1990s era of comics, then it's hard to understand just how transformative and
important the mid-1980s were for comics. Yes, plenty of comics in the past had
serious themes and great storytelling, but the 1980s were when comics underwent a
radical reassessment by the mainstream public and press, with a new generation of
artists and writers who grew up and came of age in the 1960s and 1970s bringing
those influences to bear on their own comic book work and pushing boundaries in
entirely new, unexpected ways.

Snyder -- like me, personally -- was a teenager during the era of "Watchmen," "The
Dark Knight Returns," and other 1980s comic book moments that launched a new
era of comic storytelling and ushered in the first stage of true mainstream interest
and embrace of comics. It was this 1980s era that finally convinced studios to
consider superhero movies as potentially serious filmmaking that could attract not
just kids but also adult audiences. 1989's Batman wouldn't have been made were it
not for Miller's seminal adult-themed Batman story in 1986, and if not for that
Batman movie we wouldn't have seen the subsequent studio interest in making more 9/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It

comic book movies. After all, the original Superman movie franchise had fallen apart
by 1987 and studios were perceiving comics not as a serious source of future genre

Those comics deconstructed our impression of superheroes and of comic book

storytelling, taking apart the past and reassembling it into something stronger and
more recognizable for a modern world. It requires a great deal of faith and trust and
hope for a comic book fan to dismantle their heroes and disassemble their favorite
genre, and then try to put it back together again into something that reveals new
truths to us all, that gives us a new perspective about what it is to be a hero, and that
shows us a new side of these characters.

That's what Snyder was doing, and he envisioned something ambitious and bold --
an entire superhero cinematic approach that starts off by positing a new type world
in which superhero exist, deconstructing the genre itself right in front of our eyes
and building something unlike any we'd seen before in superhero cinema. The genre
already existed and had dozens of entries by this point, so Snyder realized it wasn't
enough to start off with just another template-style approach which would be
deconstructed later -- doing it from the outset, with the knowledge audiences
already have a built-in map of the genre and of the most famous of these characters,
and from the outset challenging all of their assumptions so this otherwise familiar
genre and familiar set of characters could not be taken for granted, and instead
would surprise us time and again, was the goal.

To work, though, there had to be a full commitment to letting it take shape as

intended, and to stay the course even though it might be so unexpected at first many
people would be unsure what to think or expect. The hope was, by offering a
visionary new take not just on the characters but on the entire genre, by ambitiously
pursuing a deconstructive narrative that spans multiple films, and by demonstrating
a willingness to kill off the heroes and provide stories consistently shooting for the
moon in terms of scope and epic cinematic presentation, audiences would overcome
their own expectations or any initial uncertainty and embrace such a unique,
unexpected, bold approach. 10/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It


Source: Warner Bros.

Zack Snyder on the set of Warner's "Justice League"

It turned out, however, people didn't want so much deconstruction so soon, and the
appeal of such an approach in terms of the specific characterizations and storytelling
is more limited than expected. Mainstream tastes for this genre can embrace variety,
as the past success of many different superhero movies has proven, but it's
important to understand where the limits are when it comes to pushing viewers to
set aside preferences and expectations, and to be willing to try to meet expectations
and preferences at least in balance with the attempt to subvert and challenge them.
There are ways to play against expectations while ultimately coming full circle and
delivering a version of what's expected even within a new approach that
incorporates different elements the filmmakers hope to merge into mainstream
tastes and expectations.

Batman v Superman and the overall DCEU approach didn't attempt that, or didn't
do it enough to satisfy enough mainstream audiences and fans to succeed at a level it
needed to reach. It's box office and audience scores weren't enough to create
excitement and anticipation for what would come next, in other words, so while
Suicide Squad managed good box office numbers it still also was a drop
fromBatman v Superman despite the inclusion of Batman and the Joker alongside
breakout Harley Quinn and a cast including a big name like Will Smith. Wonder
Woman was a bonafide smash hit, of course, because it did precisely what I was
talking about -- both surprising us with new, unique takes and elements while not
only meeting expectations and certain preferences but wildly exceeding them. 11/12
31/1/2018 What Zack Snyder's DCEU Was Really All About, And Why So Many People Rejected It

Justice League was the true "follow up" to Batman v Superman, and the audience
reaction was clearly a downturn representing hangover from Batman v Superman.

I can't help thinking some day, years from now, many people will look back at the
early DCEU and revisit the longer director's cut ofBatman v Superman and of
Suicide Squad, and then look at what Snyder's full vision for Justice League had
originally been -- including the plans for two back to back films -- and think maybe
we should've been given that, maybe it would've been far greater than we realize. I
for one already wish they'd released a version of the Batman v
Superman Ultimate Edition (with a few edits to trim down the car chase sequence a
few other bits, to get it down to maybe 2 hrs 45 minutes) and the original cut of
Suicide Squad, and then regardless of the reactions to Batman v Superman just let
Snyder make his two-part Justice League project too.

Source: Warner Bros.

Poster for Warner's "Justice League"

We'll never fully know what it would've looked like, and maybe the same thing
would've happened in terms of terrible critical reception and box office trouble for
several of the films. But since Batman v Superman and Justice
League underperformed anyway and it didn't work out, I think they may as well
have at least released the films as intended (it surely couldn't have gone any worse
than it did, in light of the constant bad coverage of constant changes and lack of
confidence etc). I can like the films we got, while realizing it could've been much
better and potentially changed the course of the whole DCEU -- or not changed the 12/12