Director Profile: Zack Snyder

Being one of a collection of movie directors whose work I particularly like and why. April Fool's! Snyder is on my list of worst directors!
Zack Snyder
Best known for: Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009), Sucker Punch (2011), Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Most emblematic: BvS
Widely considered the best: 300
Most underrated: Sucker Punch. I don't think people are talking about how terrible it is ENOUGH.
Personal favorite: 300, I guess. Maybe because I haven't seen Dawn of the Dead, I dunno.
First one I ever saw: 300. In theaters: Man of Steel.

Favorite actors: No cast seems to work twice for him unless forced to do so by a franchise.
Recurring themes and tropes: Comic book adaptations. Debunking the concept of selfless heroism or proving its futility.
Elements of style: Visual storytelling. Slow-mo, painterly shots. Super-obvious soundtrack choices. Image appropriation. Violence, sometimes ill-judged or amorally presented.
Reputation: Objectivist. Drinking deep at Christopher Nolan's troth. Infuriating to comic book fans for wrong-headed comments made in promotional material.
Appreciation: Zack Snyder isn't so much a film director as he is a scrapbooker - and that in no way should be taken as a dig against people who enjoy scrapbooking. While I can appreciate some of the images he crafts for the screen, most of these images are taken from other sources. In 300 and Watchmen, he clearly recreates comic book panels, slowing time down so we can appreciate that's what's happening, and to some degree, he does this kind of thing in his later DC movies. If he likes an image, or a sequence from another film, or a piece of music, he will try to incorporate it into his film. And there's nothing wrong with that on the face of it. Plenty of directors pay tribute to the works of art they love.

In Snyder's case, however, that's about all he does. His movies come off as collages of vaguely familiar scenes and pictures pasted together into a mess that screams for its editor to be taken out into the courtyard and shot. Either we get the feeling that we've all seen it before - in the original comics or in Chris Nolan's adaptations - or at its worst, the pacing is completely off, the narrative flow disjointed. With great directors who we could accuse of excessive homage, their culture is usually of high enough a level as to make those tributes clever, quirky, only spotted by more knowledgeable audiences, or evolved into something new. But Snyder is a mainstream guy with mainstream tastes (really?? your favorite comics are Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Death of Superman? How original) and worse, a mainstream understanding of the material he likes. By which I mean he's a passable reader who apparently doesn't really "get" the source material or its importance, and appears to have not thought about subtext or character motivations. And so we get one of the densest, most allusive comics ever written, Watchmen, done up as a series of plot points. Where it and TDKR (and even TDOS) are end game stories that act as comments on/contrasts of previous stories, he STARTS there.

Obviously, many of his films' problems lie with the writers, but his interest in molding stories doesn't make him ask (or answer) any questions that resolve plot, theme or character. In certain doses, this creates pleasant ambiguity. With him, only confusion. In some ways, I think Snyder's worse than, say, Michael Bay, who just as equally is a studio stooge who was turned into a blockbuster brand, because he has delusions of artistry. And some people buy into it. Oh, all the pretty pictures! It IS ambiguous! A thinking man's comic book movies! Maybe. But all I see is a man misunderstanding the appeal of the properties he's working with (clearest in his media interventions, because again, it's hard to derive themes from the work itself), practicing unclear storytelling, and stealing cool images from others without improving on them.

But how do YOU rate Snyder? My takedown is a little extreme for humorous effect (in the day's spirit), but I haven't said anything I didn't actually believe.


Toby'c said...

My favourite of the five I've seen is Watchmen, which is just shy of my top 100 list. Also the first I saw, when I was about three quarters of the way through reading the book.

First I saw in a cinema was Man of Steel.

Most underrated, maybe Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.

Overall, I don't particularly dislike any of his work and I still have confidence in him with regard to Justice League.

Siskoid said...

I wasn't so happy with Watchmen:

Michael May said...

I'm not a fan of zombie stuff, but I liked Dawn of the Dead. I should re-watch that and see if my current distaste for Snyder changes my opinion of it.

Siskoid said...

I've been thinking about your year in review all week, even if it's 8 months away, wondering where you'd come down on BvS.

Randal said...

I was so wrong...Carla Gugino worked on FOUR movies with him...

Siskoid said...

We know who has the incriminating photos in that relationship.

Siskoid said...

For people reading the thread: We lost a comment along the way. Randal originally called me out on my Favorite Actors error, but though Carla had made 5 films with Snyder.

Green Luthor said...

At least we have his upcoming adaptation of "The Fountainhead" to look forward to. Zack Snyder adapting Ayn Rand; what could possibly go wrong?

Siskoid said...

Two terrible tastes in the same nutbar!

DustMan said...

Given the experience watching the first 2 Atlas Shrugged (never watched the third for fear I might never recover), I can't imagine Snyder could do worse. Though Snyder is one of a select few who take that as a challenge.

I'll have to ponder Snyder as a scrapbooker. It fits his nature of visual "storytelling". Everything does feel like storyboards were more important than script. I confess, I've only seen 300 and Watchmen, so maybe it's more Frank Miller, but he definitely loves matching comic book panels without understanding the context.

The comparison to Michael Bay is apt, too, as a person who makes a lot of money adapting properties in ways that tend to anger the existing fans of those properties. While Bay seems to only have memories of playing with the toys in made up fights that he now gets to add explosions to, Snyder seems to only remember the cool splash pages and covers from the comic books with any memory of the words, let alone anything other than the few issues he read.

All this to say, you shouldn't be giving me this much good info on April Fools Day. Who are you, Bizarro Siskoid?

DustMan said...

Also, a friend on Facebook posted this link that talks about the author thinks is Snyder's issues with Superman:

jdh417 said...

After my comments on BvS, I'm going to discredit myself by saying I kind of liked 300 and Watchmen. I never cared for the squid ending. Though, I saw Watchmen on Telemundo, so I really wasn't getting much of the dialogue. I did appreciate how much it looked like the comic book in places. If he'd just made a Dark Knight Returns movie, without the Doomsday stuff, it might have been better.

Doc Savage said...

I think you mean Nolan's TROUGH.


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