Zack Snyder cuts and his ‘mature’ Superhero movies: Opportunities missed?

19.06.2020, 15:54

I had an idea once for a graphic novel scene which featured Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne playing tennis together. Kent was trying to persuade Mr. Wayne to stop breaking the law and start playing by the rules. This would be symbolised by the black and white lines, by Clark exercising shots of restraint, while Bruce went for more clever shots to get Clark (at least) running.



In the end, let's say, Bruce Wayne (perhaps using a very high-tech tennis racket) manages not only to actually return one of Clark's power-shots, but returns it well, forcing Clark into making a mistake, or at least using his powers a little. 


There was a lot of cool symbolism in this scene and I really wanted to record it somewhere (it never was, until now!) But anyhow, it was mostly inspired by a graphic novel most of my friends had read back then, in the late 1980s (more on this book below). These days I end up watching many so-called 'mature' superhero movies today, and see that book's influence still everywhere, but only in shadows. By the end of these attempts, I end up wishing they'd just give up. 


'Justice League' - from what I can remember about it since all these superhero movies seem to blend into one another, unfortunately, was a more recent DC universe movie which had learned the most from many previous attempts. By that I think I mean less ‘overblown’ since there’s a big tendency for Zack Snyder (responsible for many of these ‘tributes’ to comic book source material) to adopt the Peter Jackson touch of going for overkill.


What is it about these director guys? Don’t they realise that in most cases less is more? As a different example, both the 'Fellowship of the Ring' and 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' were the strongest films of both Tolkien-inspired trilogies.


Christopher Nolan gets away with it because he keeps on cutting and building up tension thanks to music. It was a shame that his final Batman instalment The Dark Knight Rises also went over the top - and silly - towards the end. And hey, there is never room allowed for silliness in the graphic novel 'bible' of mature superhero re-invention that is 'The Dark Knight Returns' by legendary writer and artist Frank Miller, the only man still allowed near a 'mature' rendition of a 'superhero', in my book.


This is the Dark Knight 'bible', that is still mined for (a lot) of money


You have to realise how much that book left to the imagination. It still remains the very best character re-invention. So why do they go and release - extended - cuts? We can only hope that the ‘Snyder’ cut of 'Justice League' is going to actually add something cooler to the original one, but can it please be streamlined by any chance? It's the opposite, most likely.


It’s really a shame because there are so many scenes which work in Zack Snyder movies, and which pay such excellent tributes to 'The Dark Knight Returns'; such careful tributes to the mature vision for these characters and themes. But then we get too much action, too much introduction (as with 'Man of Steel') and we have to get so many silly, frankly boring special effects. They become (very) flawed masterpieces as with The Lord of the Rings.


I can bet these 'overly dedicated' directors can never bear to sit through their own movies again, not at least without dreaming about scissors and wanting to make the whole thing more exciting (and more Nolan-esque?!)


Still, with Zack Snyder and superhero movies going for their 'mature' visions and ideas, anyone should admit that it’s a fine line they’re walking. They’re trying to mix up these graphic novel depictions, with all their serious intentions and grown-up emotions, and make them believable, all the way through. Too much humour (which risks simply not working) will also risk damaging the sense of disbelief. A lack of humour can leave audiences un-endeared to their heroes and characters. Meanwhile, too much action and special effects drains any room for emotion and character depth. 


And these movies have also got to leave something for the kids, who are probably too confused by all this maturity anyway and would be better at home with Christopher Reeve’s endearing, very clumsy, strong-yet-vulnerable superman turn. And there's a reason Spiderman movies have been more successful: Spiderman is just a big kid.


But to me, too little editing is the biggest sin of all, since it leaves audiences tired out, their disbelief all run dry, and they will hardly want to revisit for future instalments. It leaves them wondering why they thought watching this grown-up vision of what it means to be a superhero at all. It removes the cult status that might otherwise have been attached to any of these otherwise (at times) highly charged experiences. 


The characters get over-used, as with General Zod in 'Man of Steel', who presented a very fine, bad-ass, menacing Kryptonian adversary next to Russell Crowe. But that long introduction on Planet Krypton just gave him so much screen time, we were already tired of him by the time Superman started growing up on Earth, which was when the film found some legs again. In contrast, both Lex Luthor in Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice and the Joker in The Dark Knight are given adequate screen time, and especially with the latter, leaves you wanting more - unpredictable - scenes. 


Then there are the stories... which focus on huge, tiring end-of-the-world style battles, instead of grey areas that might leave us more intrigued by the bad guys, and in so doing, the good guys too. There’s an attempt in 'Man of Steel' to give General Zod some depth of motive since, after being imprisoned by Krypton in space, he manages to turn up to invade Earth, summoned by Superman’s 'home-key' activation. But he happens to have a whole ‘world engine’ on board for terraforming our Earth and we’re in store for a ton of action involving keys, power disruption and some quips about Darwinian evolution and saving his people.


But... since Kryptonians and humans clearly look so alike, why couldn’t we have worked something out? Or why couldn’t they have just moved on to any number of planetary alternatives, and given Superman their number? Since, if they’re so advanced, why do they still have such a simple, Darwinian view of evolution, when in fact, collaboration is a much better mechanism for survival in nature. What happened to diversity on Planet Krypton?


'Man of Steel', this mash-up of the original 'Superman 2' (Christopher Reeve) was just too mashed up, and drawn out. It ends up just being a shame that all the cool technology was lost and we have to witness another superman sonic boom, where he takes off into the sky again. 


And will the real Dark Knight please Return?!


So it leaves the question: when are we going to see a fully ‘Dark Knight Returns’ Batman arrive? They could contrast him more fully with a more insufferable Superman. When will we see an 18 certificate, that doesn’t need to give an inch to please everybody and all ages. A really daring superhero movie please.


All these directors - even Christopher Nolan - have had to walk some lines to get their movies made, and their audience diverse and satisfied. But in doing so, none of them have - truly - learned from their source material, from Frank Miller, or other graphic novel writers, and presented us with a complete, dark vision, particularly for Batman. 


But if they are going to keep making mature screen visions of more believable three-dimensional superhero figures, then they must start ensuring the finished product has been edited to create something slick and streamlined with an excellent balance of action and emotion. 'Batman Begins' has probably got the closest. The first and second Spiderman movies with Tobey Maguire too. 'Batman versus Superman' had a lot going for it too, and it was a brave move, but it just needed to stay even closer to 'The Dark Knight Returns' book to truly succeed. It didn’t really need a Wonder Woman, Joss Whedon-style one-liners or even a ‘mad’ Lex Luthor (just someone like The Joker who really hates what Batman stands for, can be totally gripping in the right masterful acting hands).



So there’s not much point expecting anything from 'Justice League: The Snyder Cut’, although at least it’s a sign he’s wanting to put some time into editing previous work. He’s made very watchable movies and graphic novel mash-ups, with at times some stunning scenes featuring both action and emotion. But is that all he wants to be remembered for? What about a movie that is consistent and slickly paced all the way through?


No, we’re all just waiting for the ultimate Batman movie, one that doesn’t cater for all ages, to finally turn up. Hint: it won't be Robert Pattinson, unless something cult and very daring is set to unfold. What is Denis Villeneuve doing after 'Dune'??


The following clip is from the cartoon version for 'The Dark Knight Returns' which has come the closest, perhaps. It's a shame they didn't include the thoughts of Bruce Wayne, which made up much of the great writing in the 80s novel.



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