Zack Snyder is among the most divisive filmmakers of his generation. There are those who think of him as style over substance, as well as ardent fans who see his visual flair and innovative implementation of green screen and slow-motion as genius. But there are many who miss what he may very well have been all along, a genre director with a creative vision too large for mass consumption. The upcoming UK release of the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition on Blu-Ray indicates a filmmaker who may be too ambitious for his own good when faced with studio intervention.
Snyder’s work has often received less than stellar reviews from critics, yet somehow he has been trusted with some of the most beloved properties in popular fiction. He was tasked with re-making George A. Romero’s zombie classic Dawn of the Dead, adapting Frank Miller’s gloriously violent and camp graphic novel 300, and perhaps most notably, bringing Alan Moore’s seminal masterpiece Watchmen to the big screen. Watchmen still sharply divides the public, it has received praise for its outstanding recreation of the comic’s panels with painstaking detail, whilst also being criticised for lacking the depth and maturity that only Alan Moore can achieve in a graphic novel that features a giant blue naked man who is also God.
However, a lot of that criticism becomes washed away when you introduce someone to Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut. At over three hours in length, it includes the Tales from the Black Freighter arc that was left on the cutting room floor before the film hit theatres. The Ultimate Cut has consistently been seen as the superior version of the film and is now often considered to be the only way to watch it.
Sound familiar? Well it should when you consider that the most controversial mainstream film of 2016 so far is receiving almost identical treatment. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was doomed from the start, Man of Steel was supposed to be DC’s Iron Man, a way to hit the ground running and kick start their own cinematic universe with the most iconic superhero of all-time. Well, they certainly hit the ground, that’s for sure. This isn’t a hate piece on Man of Steel, the film actually experimented with a lot of interesting ideas, and I particularly adore the sequences with Clark as a child, no complaints there. But the film wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm as 2008’s Iron Man, critical reaction was mixed at best and a lot of Superman fans were left unhappy with the final product.
When it came time for the development of Batman v Superman, it was simply an uphill battle. The casting of Ben Affleck set the internet aflame, even I’ll admit that I was mad as hell at the decision. Then Affleck went and proved everyone wrong by giving us one of the most captivating interpretations of the Caped Crusader ever put to screen. Sadly, people weren’t ready to embrace the positive elements of Dawn of Justice. It received a slamming from critics, there was hyperbole in the form of “worst superhero movie…ever” ala Comic Book Guy, and it failed to even crack the billion dollar mark at the box office. Not great, considering it was the first time ever that the two biggest superheroes in history met on the big screen.
Whether it was second-hand Man of Steel hatred or just a case of people going into the film wanting it to be bad is unclear, but I have been among the few who have championed it as an ambitious, albeit flawed examination of superhero mythology, how they fit into our world and how they deal with the presence of each other. In regards to the comparison to Watchmen, the upcoming Ultimate Edition Blu-Ray release of Batman v Superman adds an extra thirty minutes of footage and ties up a lot of loose ends. There are more fleshed-out character motivations, we actually get to see Clark Kent being a journalist, and Lex Luthor’s masterplan, while still convoluted, makes at least some sense.
So what does this mean for Zack Snyder? He now has two superhero films that are being retroactively praised because stuff that should have remained in the theatrical cut made it into the film on home media. It seems that Snyder’s main problem isn’t in his abilities as a filmmaker, but that the stories he wants to tell can’t breathe under the iron grip of studio requirements. He wanted to craft a three hour superhero epic and wasn’t allowed, then he became the sacrificial lamb when his work wasn’t well-received. It seems apparent that Snyder is in fact not a studio director, despite his reputation as being nothing more than a hired gun for tent pole studio projects among his harshest critics. He’s a genre filmmaker, someone who wants to be John Carpenter but is forced to be Steven Spielberg, someone who wants to be Prince but has to be known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince if he must bow to his studio masters.
Now we’re at a point where a misunderstood film is being reassessed after taking a barrage of blows from the public, and in turn received a disappointing box office turn out. Does this mean Justice League is doomed? Not at all, but it does mean that studios need to realise that Zack Snyder requires more creative freedom to achieve his ambitions. The man is clearly involved with the source material, he wouldn’t take on the challenge of creating such bold superhero films if he wasn’t. I know for a fact that I’ll be getting my hands on Batman v Superman’s juicy Ultimate Edition when it’s released August 1 in the UK, in my eyes it will correct the flaws on what I already view as an under-appreciated work from a poorly-utilised director. But if you were one of the many (and I do mean many) people who didn’t like Batman v Superman, give this Ultimate Edition a chance, you may even fall in love with its ambition the same way I did.