“Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water/And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower/And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him/He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them” -Suzanne by Leonard Cohen
There seems to be this persistent narrative that Zack Snyder’s venture into the DC universe was a mistake, a creative failure on his end. I reject this naive contortion of reality. Zack Snyder was the director we needed but clearly not the one that we deserved. His dark (honest) approach to a world inhabited by superheroes seemed at times to be too much for an audience that was not prepared to be challenged.
I write screenplays and television pilots when I’m on school vacations, have a manageable amount of school work or an idea that seems pressing enough to justify my blowing off of my school work. I’ve written a decent number of superhero related scripts. From unauthorized adaptations of comics and graphic novels to original works, I’ve created probably about a thousand pages in superhero oriented material.
I’ve been consistently drawn to heroes not because of the thrill of seeing grown men and women in spandex shoot lasers at each other but rather because of the human repercussions. Because of the philosophical questions these beings of a higher calling pose. Everything I write is either about a neurotic Jew or a superhero. At first glance it may appear that I’m what would happen if J.J Abrams and Woody Allen had a talentless child but unfortunately that’s not the case. The truth is that I’m drawn to the outsider. Superheroes themselves are the ultimate outsider but they also make ordinary people feel like outsiders.
The existence of superheroes would instantly trigger a cultural existential crisis. What would the repercussions be for real people after seeing buildings collapse in the midst of fights that tap into levels of strength previously reserved for myths and fairytales? After a literal alien invasion I can’t imagine a consensus of hopefulness. Snyder portrays these as dark times because they should be portrayed that way! Because they would be dark times! The world Snyder began to build with Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman is far and away the most realistic take on mainstream heroes that we’ve seen (and that’s not even mentioning Watchmen which may very well be the greatest superhero movie of all time).
Maybe Joss Whedon fooled us into thinking that the destruction of the human race and existence as we’ve known it is funny but it really isn’t. I’m someone’s who’s willing to find nearly anything funny but I draw the line at extinction. Joss Whedon’s petulant portrayal of superheroes in the first two Avengers films looks like the doodles of a 5th grader compared to Snyder’s portrait of nuanced power and humanity.
Batman’s branding people with his own symbol signifies his fall from moral grace showing us that it’s not external forces that corrupt but rather the way we cope on the interior. Lex Luthor has a painting that hangs above him depicting devils coming from the sky subtly pointing out the extreme paranoia and fear that would accompany the arrival of “heroes” and lead to an unprecedented level of tribalism. The fact the General Zod longs to build his new home on the bones of earthlings echoes ideas explored by Nietzsche in his theory of Eternal Return and the fact that then Superman only truly asserts his place on Earth by the killing of his fellow Kryptonian’s (he advances his identity only by tapping back into something native ) further explores this idea. From the disgruntled employee who lost his legs and decides to revolt to the senator, driven by ego, the ordinary people who occupy Snyder’s world make the films reality based. They also make them darker because darker is the reality.
That’s us, it’s we who are corrupted by power, who’s purity is perverted by helplessness, who are made to strive for more by the promise of love. One of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen in any film is the scene in Batman V. Superman where Clark brings Lois Lane flowers and seeks to join her in the tub. In this moment he longs to transcend his own reality and be able to experience love as something pure. He may have been born under a red sun but what’s more human than this. He fails as we all do. The water leaks out of the tub, it’s a failed baptism of sorts. He can’t escape his truth, just as we can’t escape ours. It’s we who are simultaneously crippled and maintained by true happiness seeming just out of reach. Our disappointment in Zack Snyder is our disappointment in the reality that there will never be a hero in the way we want there to be one. Human (and Kryptonian?) nature dictates that the very set of circumstances that would make someone a hero would leave them broken.
We look to space and dream of heroes because we’re discontent with the lives we’re forced to live. Troubled by what we see inside we look upwards, to the stars, praying that there is more. That this isn’t it. Why would their reality be any different than ours though? It wouldn’t, that’s the answer. Snyder shows us that the stars and the heroes, our saviors are just as fractured as us. We are all guilty of rejecting the truth where it has been offered to us.
In the months following President Obama’s exit from office he pointed out that “you get the politicians you deserve”. You also get the directors you deserve. When it’s announced that Michael Bay will be directing Justice League 2 and taking over the DC universe I don’t want to hear any complaints. We threw away our best shot at superhero movies that truly mattered. It doesn’t make the realities Snyder revealed any less true. It just makes us less heroic.