Saturday, June 15, 2013

Zack Snyder's ultimate test


Zack Snyder is a figure of some controversy among knowledgeable movie fans.

There seems to be near-universal acclaim for his debut feature, the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. But from that point onward, the opinions on him diverge sharply. Some see him as a masterful shepherd of big pictures with big ideas; others see him as a latter-day Joel Schumacher. However, even those who are in his corner seem to recognize that there's something not-quite-right, something impure about championing him as one of today's true visionaries.

So far, this has not mattered all that much, because the "big pictures" Snyder has directed have been big in scope and budget only. Movies like 300 and Watchmen are definitely "big," no question about it -- but it's largely because of how they were marketed to us. Most people were not readers of the graphic novels/comic books that inspired these movies, so our expectations of them were limited to being excited over the first trailers we saw. We had few preconceived notions of what he might ruin or might do correctly. And indeed, some of us were disappointed in 300 (me) and in Watchmen (certainly not me), but it was only because of how they were executed within themselves. It's not because Snyder "got them wrong" -- unless, of course, you were one of the limited groups of fanboys who did have a passionate love for the source material.

Then his next two films, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole and Sucker Punch, were genuine flops, disliked by many if not most of the people who saw them. Sucker Punch in particular, with its problematic gender politics, contributes as much as anything to the negative opinions people have of Snyder. However, again, these were not "big movies" in the sense that they had to either live up to, or fail to live up to, our expectations. Sucker Punch, in fact, was a completely original concept -- a first for Snyder.

So this all changes today, when the latest Superman reboot comes out. Now Snyder can genuinely ruin something we all care deeply about ... or make it transcendent.

You never know which way Snyder's going to go.

The funny thing is, I'd say that I generally like (Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen) fewer of Snyder's movies than I generally dislike (300, Guardians, Sucker Punch), yet I feel like I'm one of the aforementioned Snyder apologists. I think it's that I liked what he did in those two movies so much, I tend to forget that I didn't like some of his decisions in the other movies. The good decisions outweigh the bad ones, especially in the case of Watchmen.

One thing I like about Snyder is that he makes errors of commission, not errors of omission. Anything he does that doesn't work is not for lack of trying. He puts bold ideas out there. Sometimes they don't work. In fact, sometimes they fail miserably.

Then again, you could say that Michael Bay also makes errors of commission.

But I choose to be plenty excited for Man of Steel. The only other pure superhero movie Snyder made, Watchmen, is my favorite of his movies. I do think he has the ability to take this material and make it transcendent, and the original trailers I saw for it (I've tried to avoid them more recently) only confirmed that notion for me. Plus, Michael Shannon as Zod? I'm there.

Just not this weekend. Sunday is Father's Day, but my sister is in town, and Sunday is also her birthday. I do actually think we'll see a movie that night, but I think it'll be This is the End.

Then again, perhaps I should reconsider promoting that movie more than the others that are out there ... since she arrived on Tuesday, I've shown her both Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and Galaxy Quest, and neither of them were the hits with her I was hoping they'd be.

Perhaps comedy is not the right choice for her ... though I doubt that superheroes would be either.

So I may need to seek a compromise. That's the price I pay when I share "my day" with somebody else. 

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