It’s a question that divides many. Some don’t even believe it needs answering, particularly those who defended Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice against the legions of critics and fans who heaped scorn on it. Warner Bros themselves didn’t think it was a question at all, given how shocked the studio were that people *gasp* didn’t lap up Zack Snyder’s confrontation between the world’s two most famous and beloved superheroes. Batman v Superman infamously has been described, in terms of box office, as underwhelming at best and a flop at worst. The latter is somewhat hysterical – Snyder’s picture has still made almost $900 million worldwide. Not so long ago that would have made it a record breaking, monster hit.
Now we live in the post – Fast & Furious 7 world where every major franchise film with the budget BvS had is expected to clear a cool billion. And the reason BvS didn’t, in large part, is being attributed to Snyder’s vision for a film that has been in development variously for nigh on fifteen years. People went to see it once and didn’t come back, or told more casual fans not to bother. Warner Bros therefore have deployed several superhero saviours to try and fix the problem going forward – Ben Affleck aka Batman aka Batfleck getting more involved in Justice League, and this week the newly appointed executive Jeff Berg and DC Comics legend Geoff Johns taking on the Kevin Feige-mantle heading up the brand new ‘DC Films’ branch.
Making Affleck an executive producer of the now filming Justice League is a very telling move. Warner Bros, you see, did not expect the above reaction to Dawn of Justice, and bankrolled Justice League for a princely sum to start filming in the wake of what the expected to be rapturous applause and delight for the formation of the ‘DCU’. Rather what happened in the last month has been widespread concern about Justice League and the direction of the new universe under Snyder’s creative control, from a brace of fans who saw the immense problems in BvS that seem indicative of a greater Zach Snyder problem (which we’ll get to in a minute). Warner Bros took note of these concerns and knew they needed someone to pin Snyder down, reign him in, and cannily appointing Affleck presumably to do that is a strong move.
See arguably, Affleck’s take on Bruce Wayne has been the most universally applauded part of BvS – indeed many are talking him up as potentially the strongest Batman we may have seen on screen to date. People trust Affleck. People are excited by the solo Batman film he is now writing and directing in a few years. So if anyone can be seen as a major force of the incumbent DCU, it’s the new Caped Crusader. He, working alongside new stewards Johns & Berg, could be what Snyder needs. To fix what, however? What *is* the Snyder problem so many people reacted so negatively to with Batman v Superman? Remember an almost equal amount of fans have defended his movie, leading to an online war of attrition between both sides (an arguably more entertaining fight than the Bats vs Supes smackdown in the film!). If there is indeed a problem therefore, how do you solve it?
Truthfully, the problem with Zack Snyder is a subjective one. The man has never been particularly popular with critics but his films consistently make money, and many have stayed in the public consciousness. 300 for example, his take on the Frank Miller/Lynn Varley graphic novel re-telling the Spartan war story, is remembered as a stylish, bodice-rippling, boisterous take on Greek myth. Many enjoyed his remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and arguably his adaptation of Watchmen–a film, let’s remember, almost everyone said was unfilmable–is about as solid as a straight adaptation of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ legendary material could be. Visually, many don’t see an issue with Snyder – he is sleek, fast, wide and can paint one hell of a canvas.
Many would consider the problem one of depth, and this is the argument I personally subscribe to – Snyder is an arresting visual stylist with almost no understanding of meaningful character drama or storytelling. His script for Sucker Punch was nakedly misogynist, while his take on Superman for Man of Steel was fatally flawed by a key misunderstanding of Superman as a character, a problem which befell Dawn of Justice in a major way. Warner Bros considered Snyder’s take on advancing the Superman story through his Batman conflict as the answer to the critics of Man of Steel, but all it seemed to do was reinforce Snyder’s gritty, loud, bombastic approach to a hero many consider a beacon of light and hope. Many wouldn’t suggest Snyder can’t paint a good picture–indeed Dawn of Justice has more than a few pieces of fine cinematography–but many would argue he should not be left alone with the keys to script or story.
This, potentially, is what Johns, Berg and Affleck are there to protect against. Affleck of course won an Oscar almost two decades ago for his Good Will Hunting screenplay, and he has since won awards for directorial efforts such as the excellent Argo. This is someone known primarily as a leading man actor but who has as strong–if not stronger–a grasp on how to craft a picture. Alongside him, Johns has the built-in comic book DC knowledge to steer the franchise away from anything too unrepresentative or divisive, anything that would leave fans up in arms, and he’s already talked about how future DC films with be ‘lighter’ going forward. When you combine these two inputs, plus Berg’s talent at the executive level, you end up with a wealth of experience in their respective fields, and the effect on Snyder can only be one of tempering and guidance, bringing a filmmaker who can become lost in his own beliefs down to earth.
Will it be too late nonetheless to save Justice League from a similar fate to BvS? Roll your socks up, Batfleck & team. It’s time to go to work.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.