By Lee Russell Wilkes
2021 has seen multiple waves of Covid-19 and two of Zack Snyder. Only one of these is being criticised for its musical choices.
What, exactly, does the world have against Zack Snyder? In less than three months the man has gone from pariah to conquering hero and back again, if social media is to be believed. I would happily take Snyder’s brand of OTT filmmaking over the race- and gender-sploitation nonsense the mainstream keeps vomiting up in the name of ‘diversity’. Sure, his movies are far from masterpieces but damn, they are enjoyable and these days, cinema really needs something fun. There is gold here for anyone with a cinematic sensibility.
Since Army of the Dead was released, we’ve had Twitter moaning (surprise!) about its length, Guardian articles complaining about Snyder’s musical choices and multiple articles about dead pixels.
Did anyone just watch the (very CGI) bloody thing just for the fun of it? Did nobody grasp from the playful stylings of the opening sequence that it was not meant to be taken so seriously? Topless zombie dancers? Zombie Elvis? Fountains of blood in the bathtub? Did the Cranberries not suggest a sense of frivolous humour at work here?
That’s not to say there aren’t faults – too much Escape From New York, too much Aliens. The script is full of holes – where do the regular zombies come from? Why do we need a crew going into Vegas to get a biological sample when the Youtubers are clearly capable of getting one? Why does Tanaka want it as a weapon when the opening makes it obvious it is one already? How exactly did Vanderone get out of the vault? The pregnant zombie was signalled when the alpha inspected her womb; the foetus was unnecessary.
Can we talk about the cinematography? Blurring out the background is all well and good as a technique for hiding ropy CGI but here, death by depth of field? Seriously, Zack, did you have to shoot the whole film at the widest T-stop you could find? Can we not leave that cliché to portrait photographers?
Why so many lounge-singer covers of popular classics? Might that be because cover versions are a lot cheaper than licencing the originals? The use of Wagner in the vault sequence might echo Die Hard but at least enough care was given to naming the safe to justify the inclusion of some great music. There is not enough Wagner in movies. Snyder knows how to use music.
Despite these niggles, there is some glorious modern filmmaking on display here – the title sequence is a masterpiece as is the imagined heist sequence. Snyder is clearly not a verbal man - anyone who heard him on Geeks and Gamers will attest to that – his talent lies in images and music. Isn’t that the stuff that films are made from? The movie is full of little throw-away images - zombies burning seen through frosted glass, aerial shots of zombie hordes with curtains flying and the way the zombie-woman’s head squished when it hit the ground. Gore hasn’t been done this well since Spartacus.
This movie is a light, fun exercise in cinematic excess – every trick in the book is here. If you just want to enjoy a cinematic puff-piece, all kinematic style and less content, then this is the place to come. Is it a towering cinematic masterpiece? No, but it is a triumphant return after the Justice League debacle and easily the best of what the mainstream is currently offering.
Whilst we should always avoid the emotionalism of popular acclaim, there is a clear lesson to be learnt from the backlash against Team Snyder - avoid licenced product genre fiction at all costs. The irony is that on Justice League Snyder fell victim to Warner Bros, usually the most filmmaker-friendly of the studios, and the conservative fanbase.
Wasn’t Dawn of Justice too much pop culture critical mass - a case of too big to succeed? Isn’t it time we re-evaluated that one? Sure, there was some unforgivably bad CGI and ‘Martha!’ but the title roles have never been better cast. Wonder Woman doesn’t sexually abuse anyone in that one, either. If the negative rumours about Matt Reeves’ The Batman are true, we might soon be begging for more Snyderverse Batfleck. Let’s hope the Discovery merger brings the new studio to its senses.
There is cinematic literacy in Snyder’s work – take the stunning sound design in BvS as just one example. Listen to how the Wonder Woman riff builds through the film. Likewise, with the use of montage – the Festival of the Dead scene and the ship towing sequence. The dreamlike scene where Luthor arrives after Batman has torn through his facility is fabulous, as is Flash rescuing Iris West in the Snyder Cut. Very few people play with the medium with this level of confidence and execution.
Let’s revisit the Snyder back catalogue. Sucker Punch was clearly a sequence of shorts tied together with an overarching story and the compromised result of a limited budget due to the box office failure of Watchmen, itself a well-realised filmwhich improved on the original comic book ending in every way. Critics forget 300 was a huge hit and has entered the pop culture lexicon - there’s even an episode of the brilliant Larva that recreated it with insects. As for Dawn of the Dead, Snyder had this author at Johnny Cash. There is a unity of vision guiding this work. Yes, the more successful are all adaptions, but they are outlandishly-done adaptions told in a fluent visual language. These Snyderisms are what draw such criticism of his work – his comic book films go beyond literal realisation into interpretation that is too cinematic for popular tastes. This must surely explain why the mainstream gushes over all that tepid Nolan trilogy, which were textbook safe adaptions.
Compare the output of team Snyder to the crap JJ Abrams and his industry-name peers make or the generic work-for-hire stylings of everything else being produced right now. Critical Race Theory and virtue-signalling are not story-telling devices. Cinema is not tell - cinema is show. Couple this agenda with the success of streaming and the obsession with recognisable IPs, mainstream filmmaking is becoming increasing bland. If the reports are to be believed, comic book movies are cranked out by the studio machine with directors hired only to instruct the actors on set. Everything else is done by committee and story groups straight out of gender studies classes. What’s that saying about ruin and the effect of too many somethings?
Clearly, Snyder’s style of filmmaking isn’t to everyone’s taste and that’s undoubtedly anathema to the four-quadrant marketing plan for these genre movies. But consider, where are the real cinematic visionaries today? Who, other than Snyder, is making popular movies which don’t look like generic TV? Hasn’t cinematic history taught us that trying to please everyone ultimately fails to create anything of lasting permanence?
Bring on World War Snyder; bring on the slow-mo excess and the bloated running time. Dial it all up to 11, Zack. But please, can we make it T11 next time?