Look, I’m sure Zach Snyder is a nice enough guy (note: I’m not actually sure about this at all; it’s very possible – probable? – that the dude kicks puppies for fun), but every time I see his name attached to a movie, I let out a loud and obnoxious groan. Loud and obnoxious – you know, like one of Snyder’s films.
Snyder, the director of a Dawn of the Dead remake, 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and Man of Steel, released an extended trailer for his next film, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice at Comic Con in San Diego this past weekend. People promptly lost their minds. It’s been viewed nearly 20 million times in just a few days. Go ahead, take a look.
You know what, actually? I’ll give it to Snyder. He puts together GREAT trailers. I remember being wowed by Watchmen‘s trailer and again by the one for Man of Steel. 300‘s was impressive too, in that it was exactly as thoughtful and interesting as the movie itself (which is to say, not very). Snyder is up to is old, hope-inducing tricks here, too: dramatic glaring, the hint of some interesting ideas, and familiar iconography wrung out until sentiment is pouring down the screen. It’s all very dark and gritty and so very, very intense.
And the movie will have moments of excellence. All of Snyder’s films do. Unfortunately, those are fleeting, surrounded too frequently by all the subtlety God gave an angry rhinoceros. 300 is an exercise in cool. As each escalating moment of grandiose macho action, you can almost hear Snyder thinking, “Won’t this look awesome?” Watchmen was never able to gain any real momentum because it felt like Snyder kept hitting pause to jack the emotional cues up to 11, especially during scenes involving the music of Simon and Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen that make Zach Braff’s musical selections seem natural and restrained. Man of Steel held itself together fairly well until the last 45 minutes, which were filled with a fight scene so relentlessly boring that I checked my watch about four times just to make sure I wasn’t being unfairly impatient. I wasn’t.
If you look closely, you can see hints of some of his hey-look-at-me-mom-I’M-A-DIRECTOR tendencies in the Dawn of Justice trailer. There’s the Christ imagery evident from the get-go (the people – in Dia de los Muertos face paint, no less – reaching out to touch the hem of his cloak; the family stuck on the rooftop reaching for their messiah), the signs (God Hates Aliens; Superman is an ILLEGAL ALIEN) that couldn’t be more on the nose if they were thought up by that super earnest kid from your freshman philosophy class, and, of course, all that glowering. It’s clear that Snyder’s going to have his superhero movie taken as seriously as Chris Nolan’s or die trying.
Oh, and let’s all take a minute to appreciate Zack including footage of Bruce Wayne’s parents being gunned down. I was pretty worried that we could go three minutes without revisiting Batman’s origin story. Bullet dodged (sorry). This is exactly the kind of hubris I’m talking about: why would Snyder think that we’d need to see this scene again? The only answer is that he’s arrogant enough to think that he can shoot it such a way that it outdoes what the other guys have done before him. Forgive me for having serious doubts about that.
Speaking of Batman, this trailer is obviously a showpiece for the storyline that will see Bruce Wayne brought out of retirement. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to see Bruce Wayne present at the orgy of destruction that was Man of Steel‘s final sequence, but I feel like Snyder’s getting too much credit for this revelation, as though incorporating Batman into MoS‘s events reveals foresight. I remember people thinking the same way about LOST, even after the writers confessed that the elaborate web of connections was done on the fly and weren’t all laden with deep meaning. More or less, the trailer gives the impression that Batman has seen firsthand Superman’s unbelievable power and has decided, Lord Acton-style, that if power corrupts, Superman’s absolute power will corrupt absolutely. I guess he had to get them on opposite sides somehow, though I prefer Frank Miller’s version from The Dark Knight Returns (the comic upon which much of the Batman story in Dawn of Justice is supposed to come). In that story, Batman simply thinks Superman is a coward who lacks the will to get his hands dirty in the interest of the greater good. The division there is rooted in each man’s moral outlook, but Snyder threw that baby out with the bathwater when Supes snapped General Zod’s neck in MoS.
Yes, I get that a lot of this is nitpicky comic book nerd stuff, but the trailer debuted at Comic Con, and there’s no dipping your toes in the nerd pool. If you’re in, you’re all the way in.
My point is simply that Snyder has given me reason to hope before. Then I go sit in the theater and watch as he very slowly pulls the rug out from under my feet. I’ve grown sensitive to his particular tendencies and am convinced that those flaws are inherent to his filmmaking vision.
Am I just tearing Zack Snyder down to make it easier on myself? To lower my expectations until anything short of the celluloid burning up will be a plus? Perhaps. But you’ve got to believe me when I say that I hope I’m wrong. I hope the movie, for once, is better than the trailer.
What’s that? You’re surprised I’m going to see it after all that crap I said about Snyder? Of course I’m going to see it. It’s a movie where Batman and Superman fight. I mean, it’s right there in the title.
And besides, that shot of Bruce Wayne running into the smoke is pretty freaking cool…