Written by James Augspurger
In anticipation of the highly-discussed "Snyder Cut" of Justice League (due on March 18), we're excited to introduce Part II of James' three-part series examining Zack Snyder's work, especially as it pertains to his entries in the DC Extended Universe. You can read the first part HERE, and stay tuned for the final essay soon!
A fun thing to realize in the filmography of Zack Snyder is that you can see all the little themes and lessons learned with his debut work in his 2004 Dawn of the Dead splinter off into other projects of his. Then, in his soon-to-finally-not-be latest release of The Batman Versus The Superman: The Dawn of the Justice, they all come back together. Misogyny and masculinity are traits of survivors, whereas empathy and femininity get you killed. Diplomacy should be enacted, but it just doesn’t work. People no longer matter as long as our heroes accomplish their own missions. All of us are already dead, so make your actual death worth it. Zack has created a pretty grim world for his characters to live in, but it’s one that our heroes absolutely benefit from.
In the movie Dawn of the Dead (not the 1978 classic from George A. Romero, but the homophobic/Islamophobic one from Zack Snyder!), only the strong survive the movie. Admittedly, that would make sense if you have to fight off hordes of zombies, I guess. But, according to Snyder, strength is characterized as callous machismo and masculinity. Anybody who falls outside of those characteristics dies. Of all the characters that this movie has to offer, there is exactly one established character arc, Ana. She goes from an empathetic, caring nurse to cold-hearted, sharpshooting survivor! Early on, Ana doesn’t want to participate in killing a guy who is transforming into a zombie. By the end, she’s realized that she needs to keep away from attachment and love in this new world if she wants to survive. She unflinchingly shoots a zombified crew member in the face. In contrast to the main-est character, Michael, who never loses his empathy. He dies. Alone and left behind, he shoots himself.
We see this same depiction of strength in 300, the movie that finally made it okay for fragile straight men to be horny for sexy boys. This movie is even more blatant about that idea.
“‘Goodbye my love.’ He doesn't say it. There's no room for softness... not in Sparta. No place for weakness.”
As Leonidas is leaving for battle he doesn’t yell, “Love you! Byeee!” to his wife because he doesn’t want to die. Or, at least, Leonidas is afraid his friends will make fun of him for expressing love to his wife. Who, by the way (and this doesn’t matter), is named Gorgo. Hard G’s. That is hysterical! Not only is it an ugly name, but it’s also the name of a 1961 movie about a low rent Godzilla named Gorgo. And if you google ‘Gorgo,’ that movie comes up first.
|You can watch one of these free on Tubi!|
In Man of Steel, Superman has to forget his passiveness to save the day. In Batman V. Superman everyone is already a tough guy, murderer type. Batman is into torture while Superman has finally landed his dream job as a private military contractor. It’s not who they used to be, but they now know that it gets the job done. There is no room for softness, there is no room for weakness. There is no room for a character trait that a woman might possess. It can kill you. In fact, there’s really no room for women either.
Most female characters in the Snyder-verse don’t really matter. The talents of Amy Adams are wasted on playing Lois Lane, Badass Damsel (in Distress). She’s driftwood that gets tossed around and saved. She is firm in her beliefs until she gets convinced to not do a thing by two different men in back-to-back scenes. Superman’s mom, Martha (MARTHA!?) Kent, watched and screamed—from off screen—as her husband died a totally preventable death for a ridiculous ideology.
In the exact same way, Lois Lane watched and begged while Clark Kent died an extremely preventable death. And by preventable, I mean a) Wonder Woman, a far more qualified candidate in this instance (because she has fought and defeated actual gods), b) was right there, and c) is not allergic to the stick Superman was holding. Because a strong, independent man don’t need no woman to make dumbass decisions!
“But what about Sucker Punch!?” you may ask. “That movie has plenty of ladies doing stuff!” Well, that movie ends with the main character, Baby Doll (gross), literally giving up her body autonomy to be lobotomized so ONE girl can run away while the other three have already died. And it’s especially terrible because it touts the lesson of seizing your own happiness in a world that wants to keep you down. And Baby Doll does this by accepting her losses and showing the doctor her ‘no fucks given’ face. So, she still gets lobotomized, but her ‘winning’ is giving the doctor the stink eye? Like, she gives up everything she is, but gets to make a doctor feel a little weird.
Segway to diplomacy! It doesn’t work. In 300, Queen Gorgo (Lol), has to kill a politician who is getting in the way of deploying more forces to battle Xerxes’ army. In Man of Steel, Jor-El needs a thing, congress says no, violence happens, and then Jor-El gets his way. In Batman V. Superman, all Superman wants to do is kill some terrorists, no strings attached. Senator Finch calls a hearing to discuss whether having a superman is safe for the environment. Violence happens, she dies, and he literally flies away and continues to be Superman. The movie is supposed to be a discussion of the dangers of heroes and the collateral damage they cause. But Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Lex Luther doing a spot on Jesse Eisenberg impression, throws a hilarious goblin at our heroes and the question is never answered.
|Ridiculous bridge troll|
To be fair, the DCEU is not the only one who struggles from this problem. Marvel tried it with Civil War. It’s just that action looks cool, and no one is going to watch a courtroom drama about Tony Stark sitting quietly while his lawyers argue with Steve Rogers’ lawyers. In Age of Ultron, an entire city is lifted and exploded because at least that city didn’t crash back onto earth. For the people living in a world with superheroes, it is an actual dystopian nightmare. They have to cower away as the heroes destroy neighborhoods in the name of defense and protection. Superheroes get to go back and sit in their high rise buildings and drink and talk. Tony Stark built an arc reactor that could power a city and just doesn’t use it for that. He created a machine that instantly fixes wounds, and he has not just given it to hospitals. Superhero movies have become unironically exactly what Team America was satirizing.
|"America! Fuck yeah!"|
Zack Snyder justifies all of that destruction with the idea that we’re all already dead. In Romero’s Dawn of the Dead there are scenes of zombies looking longingly for a life they once had. There’s discussion of how they used to be sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers. It makes it tragic that they’re now zombies. In Snyder’s remake, zombies are to be murdered in the coolest way possible. They’re already dead. In 300, Leonidas essentially sacrificed 300 of his best soldiers because King Xerxes was going to take over the world. In Man of Steel, if Superman didn't do what was necessary, then we’d already be dead. If Doomsday wasn’t stopped then we’d all be dead. So, destruction isn’t wanted, but it’s necessary.
And since we’re already dead, you better actually die for a good reason. “A good death is it’s own reward.” That line comes from Man of Steel but is a shared thought among Snyder movies. A guy blows himself up along with a bunch of zombies. Another sacrifices himself to save the world. Someone uses it as his final words against the villain who said it to him in the first place. A king sacrifices himself and 300 men to save his country. But in all those instances, it was men being the best men they could be. If a guy continued to display empathy, he helped the survivors survive, but he failed himself at living. So he kills himself instead of dying in a hail of gunfire and explosions against zombies. If a woman is to save the day, she only saves one person, and doesn’t even get to die. She’s just left catatonic. But, at least she got to stare at Jon Hamm in the end. So, I guess that is a good death, actually.
|Shove that needle in MY eye, Dr. Bad Man!|