But I’ll try to explain why.
Michael Bay is the Donald Trump of filmmakers; his movies are big and loud and dumb on scales previously unimaginable. The Transformers franchise contains overt racism, misogyny and even a little bit of incestuous longing sprinkled on top…and yet they are among the highest grossing films of all time, a franchise whose insane popularity raises uncomfortable questions about what ‘the people’ want.
And yet Bay has some sense of self. If he’s not introspective, then he’s at least clear about what he wants: to make money. Other fools label him an auteur, but Bay himself gets extremely defensive when his movies are attacked for being stupid or mean or poorly edited; all of that, to him, seems to irrelevant. His movies are popular and Bay himself has said at times “I make movies for teenage boys.” To him, there is nothing higher, or lower, at play.
But Zack Snyder is different. If Bay is Trump, Snyder is Ben Carson: wholly aloof and unaware, seemingly sleeptalking through interviews and public appearances, Snyder yearns to be thought of as an ‘intellectual.’ The meta-text of all his superhero schlock is that his films are important and he’s thought and felt very deeply about all the comic books he’s been reading. Superhero stories aren’t fluffy or fun, they have significant significance. Like a thirteen-year-old smoking pot for the first time, Snyder blows his own mind with the new thoughts he generates–What if Superman was REAL? What if we had to burn down the farm to save the village?–and expects these epiphanies to astonish other people as well.
That’s why he’s now made his version of Watchmen, considered by some (NOT ME-I did not like the “Graphic novel” or the film) to be the greatest, most introspective superhero story ever told, not once, not twice, but thrice. His adaptation of that comic, and the two Superman films he’s made, all revolve around similar themes and concepts, most notably what responsibility superheroes have to the plebes (Superman goes back and forth on this! He’s conflicted! There are no easy answers! It’s deep!) and how much crowd-pleasing wanton destruction (and death) is justifiable.
Christopher Nolan also makes movies about heroes and takes himself too seriously, but he’s pretty smart. Snyder thinks he can one-up everyone with his crazy shit sandwiches. He tried to Dark Knight Superman, placing the Man of Steel in a gritty post-9/11 environment, seemingly without once questioning whether an outer space alien who speaks English, looks like a slice of British Beefcake and lives in a giant crystal place is the right character to place in this context (compare this to the pulpy Superman II with Terrence Stamp’s glamor-fab General Zod shown at right). His one “original” film, Sucker Punch, is an exercise in convoluted world-building and pointless “layers” of story-telling so empty and ridiculous it is almost unfair to compare it to Inception, yet that’s what Snyder is aping with his dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams approach to what amounts to a creepy fetish fantasy. Sorry, I meant an “empowering”, “feminist“, “deconstruction”, of…something.
Snyder is the worst kind of stupid. He’s an idiot who fancies himself an artistic genius. Michael Bay doesn’t ruin properties. He takes ideas that were already dumb and keeps them that way. No ‘better’ director would have taken on Transformers. Or Benghazi. Or a film that celebrates roid culture. That’s bayhem and nothing else. But Zack Snyder has taken artistic control, at least in the medium of film, of some of our modern culture’s most beloved icons: the men and women who comprise the Justice League. And there are plenty of people who believe he completely mangled the integrity of Watchmen (even though he used the graphic novel for storyboards? But I digress…). Hell, for someone who is supposedly a master of visual composition, a lot of his work–Superman, Watchmen, 300, that movie about owls–is basically paint-by-numbers transcriptions of comic book art.
But let’s give Snyder the benefit of the doubt on his skills with the canvas of the camera, a man who can construct beautiful shots and even scenes. That’s why he gets all these projects he doesn’t deserve; he’s has VISION. The trailer for Watchmen even said so: it was brought to you by “visionary director of 300.” In this way, he is exactly like Ben Carson, a self-promoting huckster whose narrow skills are oddly combined with a worldview which ought to undermine them. It is possible that Ben Carson is just as skilled with the knife as Snyder is with his cutting tools in the editing room.
But I wanted to compare Snyder to Michael Bay! The Snyderian worldview is just as ugly as as Bay’s, but he doesn’t know it. It also has a somewhat sharper focus. Snyder seems hell-bent on presenting his version of Objectivism. He even promises us his own remake of The Fountainhead at some point, maybe after Warner Brothers take shim off the Justice League project.
Bay just follows his nose to the ID of the worst impulses of modern culture. The stupid white man wants boobs, so he gives them boobs. They want explosions, so he gives them that. Robots. Vulgarity. Racism. Military fetishism. It’s all there, smashed together on the screen.
Snyder’s films are also sexist. But he thinks he’s promoting feminism. His films are also violent and vulgar. But that’s not just because the thinks violence is fun. He also thinks its more serious. Dark. Edgy. And it helps him prove his point. Which is that special people are special. People like King Leonidas (as cartoonized by idiots). Like Superman (blech). Like the Watchmen. Like Zack Snyder!!!
It seems as if all his films are trying to prove that heroism is not defined by doing things to help others, or to make difficult choices, or having principles. No, heroism is just about being awesome. And not letting others get in the way of that. In 300, Gerard Butler rebuffs a cripple from joining the all-star team, because cripples are ugly. In Watchmen, the heroes are either aloof, psychotic, fascist, plotting to blow up Manhattan, or worst of all, impotent, and this is all in the name of “deconstructing” what it means to be a superhero. And his version of Batman, Superman and even Wonder Woman are simply godlike creatures who answer to nobody and whose attempts to save people from themselves never work so why bother?
In other words, Bay has a funhouse mirror that shines our stupid back at us. It’ll go away when we do. But Snyder, knowingly or unknowingly, keeps some really unpleasant and wrong theologies in circulation. Yes, there are absurd think pieces about Bay’s bombast, weakly pushed by his alma mater (Wesleyan) and the Criterion Collection. But nobody seriously gets into an argument about Bay’s contribution to culture. Nobody argues that Transformers is a movie that empowers young girls.
But Sucker Punch? Wonder Woman? Do we not know the difference between strong female characters and weak female characters who are physically strong (or not even)? Do we not know the different between superheroes and super-powered sociopaths? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But here’s hoping sooner or later Snyder’s toxic brand of pseudo-intellectualism makes its way to the C-list Circle of Hell. e