*May contain spoilers from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice*
Before I get into why I believe Zack Snyder should voluntarily withdraw himself from directing the Justice League films, I want to make it clear that I absolutely loved Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Visually, it’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever watched right up there with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The casting choices of Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot as Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively, were perfect. In my own review, I gave the film a 9/10. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Batman v Superman, and the film did a solid job setting up the DCEU.
Unfortunately, due to overwhelming negative critical reception and lukewarm audience reception, the DCEU brand with Zack Snyder at the helm is tainted. As opposed to universal acclaim, Batman v Superman has served to fiercely divide the fan-base yet again after Man of Steel. It has also significantly damaged the enthusiasm for next year’s Justice League film. To make matters worse, Suicide Squad is currently undergoing re-shoots to purportedly add “more fun.” While the re-shoots were obviously planned months before Batman v Superman’s release, the optics due to the re-shoots are terrible. It’s giving the impression that Warner Bros. is in panic-mode. There’s an unfortunate rumor going around that all the jokes in Suicide Squad were in the Bohemian Rhapsody trailer, and the trailer isn’t reflective of the tone of the overall movie. I’m not all that worried about the re-shoots, but they come at the worst possible moment for Warner Bros. I think fans are still very enthusiastic about Suicide Squad, and Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman has fans more excited about her upcoming solo film. That being said, it has left a lot of people, including myself, nervous about the future of the DCEU.
One of the repeated criticisms of Batman v Superman was it was “too dark,” “depressing” or some other synonym of “not light-hearted fun like a Marvel movie.” Whether you agree with the criticisms or not, and I certainly do not agree, it’s irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that is now the overall impression the general audience and casual fans have of the DCEU. The marketing for Batman v Superman may have led to a huge opening weekend at the box office for Warner Bros., but a Zack Snyder-directed Justice League movie won’t have that sort of luxury. I think what’ll end up happening, even assuming Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman are well-received, is the casual fan won’t go see Justice League on opening weekend. They’ll wait to see what the critical reception says about the film before making up their mind to go see it. If the film ends up being a universally praised film, then that’s no big deal. They’ll just end up having huge second and third weekends to make up for a lackluster opening weekend. However, if the film is received with only generally positive responses like say Watchmen, it might still keep the casual fan away, especially if it has any competition from other films like the Marvel movies. Batman v Superman was lucky enough to not have any real competition for the first three weekends of its release. The rest of the DCEU might not be so lucky. Worse even, if the Justice League is received the same way Man of Steel or Batman v Superman was, the DCEU is finished. Audiences are willing to give second chances, but, at some point, they’re just going to stop caring. I don’t think anybody, DC fans like myself especially, wants to see the DCEU become the next Transformers franchise, films that make studios a lot of money but audiences hate. The Justice League should be something fans crave to see, not something they watch out of obligation.
Zack Snyder can make great movies. Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen are films audiences enjoyed. However, Snyder’s style of films can be off-putting to a lot of people. Zack Snyder’s track-record is, rightly or wrongly, mired in controversy, and that was before this film. When it was released, 300 fiercely divided critics from audiences much like Batman v Superman. The critics reviewed it better than Batman v Superman, but ultimately panned the film, even booing it at the opening press screening. A similar critics-audiences divide occurred with Watchmen as well. Many comic book observers felt like Batman v Superman had the tone of a DC Elseworlds story not one found in the mainstream continuity. For non-DC Comics fans, Elseworlds are stories published under the DC Comics banner that tell basically “what if” stories about DC Comics characters that aren’t officially part of the DC canon. Kingdom Come is probably one of the more famous ones, and you should check it out if you have the time. I bring Elseworlds up because Zack Snyder tends to specialize in the deconstructionist style of breaking down superheroes to expose their real-world flaws. That’s perfectly fine for an aside story or film. Even as someone who enjoyed Zack Snyder’s movies, I don’t know if I’d want an entire film series based on that deconstructionist tone. It’s a highly niched fan-base that goes for those types of films. It’s definitely something a major motion picture studio like Warner Bros. should not want to stake the next five years of films of a billion-dollar franchise.
You could make the argument that Batman v Superman is a film for comic book fans and not general audiences or critics. There’s an argument to be made on whether audiences loved or hated Batman v Superman. You can use the high IMDB score and opening box-office weekend as evidence audiences really liked the film. Conversely, you can look at the second weekend box office numbers and a mediocre B Cinemascore rating to show audiences really didn’t enjoy the film. Either way, that’s not the type of discussion you want fans and critics to have about your film series. A debate over whether or not a film was hated or just OK is terrible for Warner Bros. You want people debating the finer points of the film and creating all sorts of wild fan theories like they’re doing for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to generate enthusiasm and interest in seeing where the story goes next. I honestly don’t think many fans will care where the Justice League story is going. They seem to be interested in Wonder Woman’s story or seeing a solo Ben Affleck Batman movie. Will audiences care enough to see if Darkseid comes to Earth and how they’re going to revive Superman for the Justice League team-up? I honestly couldn’t say. The fact that I have to ask the question is frightening.
Even among Batman v Superman’s more popular elements, like Ben Affleck’s Batman, there still needs to be damage control. While Ben Affleck received universal praise for his portrayal of the Dark Knight, this iteration of Batman is very controversial. This Batman unapologetically kills and he sometimes uses guns to do it. Those are the two biggest no-noes for any portrayal of Batman. Sure, very early on in the Batman comics, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Batman killed and used guns, but for most of Batman’s existence he has refrained from using guns. This is due in large part because a gun killed his parents, and he has almost never killed since those early days. At least not within the comic realm. Tim Burton’s Batman had a Dark Knight who killed people by sticking dynamite down their pants and throwing them into a sewer or attaching a grappling hook to the Joker’s leg and a gargoyle causing the Joker to plummet a dozen stories to his death.
The main reason I bring Affleck’s Batman being a killer is because it creates a serious problem for those of us that want to see a live-action version of the “Under the Red Hood” storyline. For those that don’t know, the ”Under the Red Hood” storyline involves a revived Jason Todd, a former Robin murdered by the Joker, who adopts the identity of the Red Hood, an identity the Joker himself used before he became the Joker. As Red Hood, Jason Todd attempts to organize Gotham’s underworld under his control by using lethal force. He does this not to eliminate crime, which he views as a fantasy, but rather to prevent the criminal element from causing unnecessary casualties involving innocent civilians. We learn it’s all a ploy by Jason Todd to get the criminals he’s fighting to release the Joker in order to kill the him. Jason Todd captures the Joker with the intention of forcing Batman to kill the Joker or he would. The central tenet of that storyline is Batman’s refusal to kill the Joker, and the consequences that happen because Batman refuses to kill. One of those consequences being Jason Todd’s death years earlier. Without that “no killing” mantra Batman carries, there is no reason for this story. All the dramatic tension is gone. In this version, Batman would just shoot the Joker and be done with it.
Now of course Ben Affleck and DC’s Geoff Johns, the pair rumored to be writing a solo Batman script, could find a way to work around that if indeed they decide to pursue the ”Under the Red Hood” storyline. Many of us are hoping or assuming that’s the path they’re going due in part to the Robin suit we see in Batman v Superman with what we presume to be spray-painted writings from the Joker implying the Joker murdered this Robin. We have no confirmation that the Robin suit belonged to Jason Todd. It could’ve belonged to Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, or even Damien Wayne. The latter is unlikely, but, either way, it’s never explicitly mentioned that the suit was Jason Todd’s. Even it was, they could decide to go a different route for the solo Batman movie. On the other hand, I think the demand for at least a partial adaptation of the Red Hood storyline is so strong that they almost have to do it. Otherwise, you’ll have many disappointed fans, and that is something you don’t need more of after Batman v Superman. As I mentioned though, there is now a huge and unnecessary obstacle to doing so with a murderous Batman. That still could’ve been worked around if, for example, Robin’s death combined with Superman’s arrival drove Batman over the edge. It’s hinted that’s the case.
Unfortunately, this is where Zack Snyder shot himself in the foot. When asked why Batman kills, Snyder replies that Batman didn’t directly kill people in Batman v Superman. He states, “I tried to do it by proxy. Shoot the car they’re in, the car blows up, or the grenade would go off in the guy’s hand, or when he shoots the tank and the guy pretty much lights the tank [himself]. I perceive it as him not killing directly, but if the bad guys are associated with a thing that happens to blow up, he would say that that’s not really my problem.”
I’m sorry, but that is the most bullshit excuse I’ve ever heard, especially when you’re applying that logic to the Batman. Snyder can spin it any way he wants but Batman kills people in Batman v Superman. The blatant disregard for the Batman mythos here is astounding. Batman goes out of his way to avoid killing, even if its employing cartoonish, improbable methods for doing so. If Snyder had Batman killing in such a way as I described before with Robin’s death and Superman’s arrival drove him over the edge, I think fans would buy more into that. You can even have it so that the Batman solo movie deals with the consequences of Batman killing with maybe Jason Todd’s Red Hood doing a little role-reversal to stop Batman from killing the Joker. However, with Snyder’s “killing by proxy” explanation, it’s clear Snyder has sacrificed Batman’s character for the sake of telling an Elseworld-esque DC universe.
For those reasons, I believe Zack Snyder should voluntarily step down from directing the Justice League films. It breaks my heart to say it, especially as a fan of Snyder’s films and Batman v Superman in particular, but it’s become evidently clear the DCEU needs a new captain to helm the ship. I think fans would accept if the Justice League movies were delayed and reworked while the solo character films involving Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, Shazam, Batman, and maybe even the Green Lantern Corps were pushed up. In fact, I’d substitute the Shazam film with a solo Batman film on the schedule. It’ll give the series a chance to breathe as well as put some distance between Batman v Superman and Justice League. The DC writers are clever. I’m sure they can find a way to rewrite the time frame to accommodate those changes.
As to who would helm the Justice League? Why not Ben Affleck? He’s got the directing bona fides, and audiences and critics alike responded overwhelmingly positive to his portrayal of Batman. The Dark Knight can organize the Justice League on film and Ben Affleck can organize it from the director’s chair. Seems pretty poetic to me. If not Affleck, maybe J.J. Abrams will do it. He’s already revived two major geeky franchises. Why not a third? He can become the fixer of fandoms on film for the rest of his career. No matter who it is, for the sake of the DC Comics fans, for the sake of general movie audiences, for the sake of the Justice League, and for the sake of Warner Bros. wallet, that person cannot be Zack Snyder.