The Hot Seat – Zack Snyder

I don’t even know where to begin…

Zack Snyder is a wildly problematic director for me. He’s made troubling statements, sort of behaved like an asshole jock that likes nerd culture but wants to make it more like what he already enjoys, and just generally doesn’t direct things that feel anything but dark and negative. That said…he’s made a name for himself as a cultural touchstone with his most recent release. It’s a wild conversation, but one that I think is quite relevant right now. Zack Snyder’s cut of the film Justice League is an important one, and not because it’s good or bad. Let’s dig into his filmography as I go insane trying to figure out why this numbnuts is someone that enrages and fascinates me.

08. Sucker Punch [2011]: So in college I was all-in on Zack Snyder. My young, testosterone-fueled mind was absolutely horny at the idea of Spartan victory and the hyperviolent film Watchmen telling me that normal, angry boys could punch bad people away. When the trailer for Sucker Punch dropped I got excited. Upon leaving the theatre, having convinced a young woman that I was very attracted to that this would be great, my mind was reeling at how my friend and I were going to explain to her and her friend that some things don’t live up to my pretentious expectations. This thing is bottom of the barrel dogshit for the director. It’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen, but it’s way up there and I can’t think of a single reason to elevate it beyond that. From it’s pornographic use of Snyder’s slo-mo/hyper-speed visual style to it’s depiction of sexual violence and misunderstanding of coping mechanisms, Sucker Punch is a film I’m actually mad I rewatched for this list.

07. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [2016]: I had a hope with this film. I mean it, I really did. This was in an era where Ben Affleck was making a comeback, where Gal Gadot was finding fame from the super-fast car movies, and where I was still kind of enjoying Henry Cavill as Superman. Jessie Eisenberg was hot off of Zombieland and The Social Network, displaying traits I thought might make him a decent Lex Luthor. I saw this opening night in a crowded IMAX, then again the next day with friends in a different city that I hadn’t told anything about the film. I sat in pain on that second viewing, three cocktails deep (they were called “Superman’s Punch”) and desperately hoping that they wouldn’t strangle me for shading how I felt about the film. It’s bad. It’s a pile of shit. It’s an awful movie, laden with abandoned plotlines and gross misunderstandings of characters and beloved by people that think blood spatters and uses of the word “fuck” make movies for adults and not children. It’s a desperate attempt by Snyder to validate the things he thinks are adult while forcing them on characters they don’t work with, and this movie sucks.

06. Watchmen [2009]: Sometimes we flip switches on a film. I first saw Watchmen opening night, surrounded by people in cosplay when midnight premier showings were actually at midnight. Upon seeing the trailer, which is one of the coolest ever, I bought the graphic novel and read it all in one sitting. It’s one of the most gorgeous we’ve ever been graced with, laden with discussions of why we love superheroes in the first place and absolutely frustrated with our need to laud them with praise. Zack Snyder commented on his comic book love, stating that he didn’t get original heroes but that Watchmen was full of murder, rape, alcoholism, nihilism, and violence so they were the heroes for him. This is one of the clearest distillations of his mindset; a bloated monstrosity full of slavish loyalty to dialogue and imagery but none to theme and meaning. He likes gnarly stuff, whether it’s visuals or music, and he stepped into a new realm with his adaptation of Alan Moore’s novel. It’s a trying ordeal, one that I honestly kind of like but don’t consider anything all that special.

05. Zack Snyder’s Justice League [2021]: I am also surprised that this wound up this high on the list. His fandom is full of toxic assholes, people that feel like behaving like a middle school bully is the best way to get what you want and they were unfortunately rewarded by Warner Bros. I will state that there is no “Snyder Cut,” the film instead being cobbled together from existing footage and A WHOPPING $70m ON TOP OF THE $300m ALREADY SPENT to create a makeshift version of what the fandom thought they wanted. The real issue? There’s a perfectly watchable, even enjoyable film that is two-and-a-half hours long. It’s buried within this four hour monstrosity, one that premiered directly on HBO Max and that I’ve written about. I stated that I wouldn’t watch this unless it were a masterpiece, but I’m ready to eat some crow on that front. Not an entire meal of crow, but I’d take a lunch-sized side of crow. This thing isn’t the worst, but it’s perhaps to its detriment that it is neither a travesty nor a triumph. Instead it’s just…fine.

04. Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole [2010]: Look, this is far from brilliant. I’m so weirded out that his films start being fully good at this point. It’s an animated film, and one that I have a lot of fun with. Snyder has never done anything that wasn’t an adaptation, and this certainly seems to be his biggest journeyman project. The sad thing is that it’s one of his top films, a fun little romp that is the most forgettable thing he’s ever directed. It’s charming, it’s got a great cast (Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton, Hugo Weaving, Sam Neil, and Abbie Cornish), and there’s some groundbreaking visual effects that would go on to define the look of DC Comics films in the coming decade.

03. 300 [2007]: I’m so weirded out that I’d rate a film this iffy at this spot, but here we are. Snyder gon’ Snyder. 300 is such a horny, brutal, exploitative, testosterone fueled nightmare and it absolutely appealed to a younger me. I remember walking out and telling my friend that the movie made me want to go get into a fistfight, so edgy and childish was I. Since then I’ve grown a lot and I find this film problematic, but I genuinely believe it’s the most “Snyder” film that the director has ever made. Hyper-violence, rape, speed ramping, and mean guitars in the score all feel like him. Every frame looks like a comic book panel, but one that is explicitly not for younger viewers. I’m baffled that he directed films like this and Watchmen and thought “I should put this into totemic superheroes that aren’t my thing.” A truly baffling example of a director figuring out a source’s tones and then miserably failing to apply them to future films.

02. Man of Steel [2013]: This thing fucking rules. The first ten minutes feel like the end of an incredible science fiction film that we’ll never see the whole of, but after that we’ve got an incredibly hopeful film about a special boy that wants nothing more than to make the lives of others tolerable. He wants to stop violence, end death, and mack on Amy Adams. Who doesn’t want that? Superman is a figure that both Henry Cavil and Zack Snyder profoundly misunderstand, but between the two of them we managed to attain a fun and uplifting film that half-embraces the character’s better traits. Hans Zimmer composed the score, which is an incredible series of pieces that I listen to a lot. Then there’s the imagery, which still has a modicum of color (a thing Snyder will eschew in future films). Oh, and we get Michael Shannon as an unhinged villain and Superman breaks his neck. This thing is nuts and I like it.

01. Dawn of the Dead [2004]: Zack Snyder wants to be mean and gnarly, and I say let him. This is his first film, and it’s the only one that truly embraces everything he cares about. It’s violent, nihilistic, dark, and a baby bursts from a stomach already infected with the virus. Everything about this feels like his shit, and I’m having every minute of it. Beyond its status as a decent horror remake, the film serves as an offering of everything he likes as a filmmaker. I enjoy it quite a bit, but beyond that it makes me wonder why Hollywood thought he needed comic book adaptations instead of…I dunno…horror remakes. Give this man a film in the Alien universe, the Jason Voorhees universe, or the Hellraiser franchise this minute. He’s not good with these superhero movies, but if you let him play in the scarier parts of film culture I’ll gladly participate.

So that’s my ranking! I still think he’s a lunkhead, but he’s got stuff I like and stuff I hate. I hesitate to ask, knowing that people are going to eat me alive over it but…what’s your favorite Zack Snyder movie?

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