Zack Snyder’s defense of his own Batman movie is really an indictment of them all. (This is the second in a four part series on the past, present, and future of Batman at the movies.)
In part 1 of this series, I described the importance of Batman as a modern myth and gave a (relatively) concise overview of all the cinematic depictions of the caped crusader that have thus far been made.
Snyder’s confesses to directorial malfeasance while trying to defend BvS
In 8 movies spanning almost 30 years, Batman has yet to be rendered in a way that is faithful to either the vast majority of his comic books or the popular perception of the character as a virtuous vigilante who goes to great lengths to avoid using guns or killing anyone. And that is a key element of a character who saw his parents killed by someone using a gun.
In a recent interview, Snyder uses this poor cinematic track record – along with references to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and a Clayface-sized heap of shitty reasoning – to mount a defense of his mostly-loathed depiction of Batman as judge, jury, and executioner in Batman v Superman (aka BvS). Here is Snyder, talking with HeyUGuys, revealing just how little he knows what he is doing in the course of trying to claim that he knows exactly what he is doing:
I tried to do it in a technical way. There’s a great YouTube video that shows all the kills in the Christopher Nolan movies even though we would perceive them as movies where he doesn’t kill anyone. I think there’s 42 potential kills that Batman does! Also, it goes back and includes even the Tim Burton Batman movies where this reputation as a guy that doesn’t kill comes from.
So, 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 guy’s are associated with a thing that happens to blow up, he would say that that’s not really my problem.
A little more like manslaughter than murder, although I would say that in the Frank Miller comic book that I reference, he kills all the time. There’s a scene from the graphic novel where he busts through a wall, takes the guy’s machine gun…I took that little vignette from a scene in The Dark Knight Returns, and at the end of that, he shoots the guy right between the eyes with the machine gun. One shot. Of course, I went to the gas tank, and all of the guys I work with were like, ‘You’ve gotta shoot him in the head’ because they’re all comic book dorks, and I was like, ‘I’m not gonna be the guy that does that!’
I think it is worth demolishing this nonsense point by point.
First off, let’s watch and analyze the video Snyder is referring to, which is not exactly what it claims to be and certainly doesn’t show what Snyder says it does (hey for real, it is less than four minutes, watch it):
What did we just see? Let’s consider these 45 kills:
- Kills 1-20 are from the Tim Burton movies, which make no serious attempt to be faithful to the comics or the archetypal meaning of Batman. As I said in part 1, these are Burton’s movies first and Batman movies second.
- Kills 21-29 are from the Joel Schumacher movies, the first eight of them involve bad guys killing themselves via bad driving, and anyway again these movies aren’t even trying to depict Batman qua Batman.
- Kills 30-39 are from Nolan’s Batman Begins and occur before Bruce Wayne has become Batman, so they are not Batman kills. We all make mistakes, people. Also, I think the thing about this scene that has always stuck out to me is that Wayne torches the place in order to avoid killing a man who… …surely must have then died in the fire! What is he thinking? “Hey, I’m going to spare your life by blowing up the building we are both in. Ready, go!” Not that Wayne doesn’t save anybody here because he goes to great lengths to save the man who asked him to kill the other guy. Got it?
- Still with Nolan, kill 40 is just Batman not saving Ras al’Ghul, which is dicey but not the same thing as killing somebody. This is infuriating not for Mr. al’Ghul’s fate but because it comes after Wayne saved Ras from the explosions that he triggered, and that surely killed the man Ras wanted him to kill, in order to avoid killing somebody.
- Kill 41 is from the awesome chase sequence in Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and is debateable since we don’t see the guy die, but for sure it looks hard to survive that kind of sudden compression of the driver’s seat.
- Kill 42, from the same Nolan movie, is for real. Batman killed Dent to save Jim Gordon’s son. Still, I bet if Batman had three arms, he would’ve saved Dent too. The grappling hook and the kid have to come first, you know?
- Kill 43, from The Dark Knight Rises, happens as a result of vehicular combat. It is definitely a kill, even if a little bit indirect (Batman is shooting the truck’s engine) and that is how Nolan seems to like it.
- Kill 44 is another bad guy killing their own dumb self. Talia had plenty of chances to get out of that truck all ninja like, but she got in the driver’s seat and decided to ride her bomb truck off an overpass. If this kill belongs to anyone, it belongs to Isaac Newton.
- Kill 45 is clearly an accident, the guy wasn’t even a real human, and it is from the Adam West TV show (I mean, come on).
That is what this video actually shows.
Next, let’s demolish what Zack Snyder claims this video shows. Contra Snyder’s claim, the video does not show a bunch of kills from the Nolan movies – it shows all the kills and proximal bad guy deaths from all the movies, only 1/4th of them are from the Nolan trilogy, and most of those are from before Bruce Wayne was even Batman. Nolan actually got closer to getting this right than anybody else so far, but that isn’t the point. Neither the Nolan movies nor the Burton movies are “where this reputation as a guy that doesn’t kill comes from” – that reputation comes largely from the comics, but (as I will demonstrate in part three) was and continues to be cemented by Batman: The Animated Series and subsequent animated shows and movies that have built on to that version of the character for almost 25 years. Across decades of comic books and a quarter-century of cartoons, Batman has eschewed guns and killing. Maybe for Zack Snyder, learning from anything before Nolan’s trilogy is just too much work.
Nothing Snyder says next is any better. He moves on to the bizarre claim that BvS Batman is “killing by proxy” in a way that is “more like manslaughter.” Does he really think that if you use a gatling gun to blow up a car full of people that you would not be charged with murder?! I can imagine the defense now: “Your honor, my client did not kill those men. My client shot a car and the car then exploded and killed those men. It is BMW that should be on trial here today.”
Snyder finishes up by again referencing Frank Miller’s version of Batman, which has never been canonical if for no other reason than because of how Miller presents the caped crusader as a violent psycho. So maybe there is a clue. Most disturbingly, Snyder says that some folks on the BvS set that the director considers “comic book dorks” insisted that Batman shoot someone between the eyes, with a machine gun, on screen, in the PG-13 movie that we would all be watching.
Note to Mr. Snyder: Your peeps are not comic book dorks, if anything they are some kind of graphic novel bros – or maybe they are sociopathic Frank Miller literalists? – anyway you need new people on set ASAP.
This is the most regressive moment in Snyder’s “defense” because he is wanting to absolve his guilt by saying that at least he did not commit another more severe crime; “I’m not gonna be the guy who does that.” It’s the Donald Trump defense, movie director edition.
Over and over, Zack Snyder is defending his decision to get Batman really wrong by claiming he is just standing on the shoulders of other people who got Batman really wrong. In doing so, the director makes it clear that he didn’t think it through very much, didn’t make any attempt to draw from the rich comic book and/or animated history of gun-free non-lethal Batman, and really just doesn’t have any fucking clue what he is talking about. It is shocking to me that someone who displays so little understanding of the Dark Knight of Gotham was put in charge of building a cinematic shared universe for DC and Warner Brothers. It is even more shocking that he found himself on set surrounded by people that wanted Batman to use a machine gun to shoot someone between the eyes. I suppose the upside is that by bear-hugging the earlier movie versions of Batman in an attempt to defend his own malodorous steaming pile, Snyder may help convince the next director of a Batman movie to ignore the previous films altogether – including BvS.
Zack Snyder has done, and can do, good things
I want to end on a positive note, because Zack Snyder is a human being. We all make mistakes, even if we don’t all get hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on making those mistakes in a way that frustrates and disappoints millions of people. So here is the upshot: Snyder has never gotten enough credit for Man of Steel. The movie has flaws – the Battle of Metropolis goes on too long and many of the shots are too hectic. Nonetheless, Snyder managed to adapt Superman not as some Reaganized do-gooder like previous movies, but as a tragic myth with a deeply science fiction origin. Maybe he tapped into the cultural well of that myth on purpose, or maybe he just managed not to get in the way of viewers doing that themselves (and Hans Zimmer’s fantastic score surely did a lot of the emotional lifting). As I wrote in my BvS review:
Man of Steel was great (and really underrated) precisely because it recognized and depicted Superman’s origin as a tragic science fiction story. Snyder managed to tell that story like a graphic novel, going back and forth between vignettes of Kal-El’s journey to become Clark Kent and his journey to become Superman.
What this means is that even Zack Snyder was able to disregard the mistakes of previous film adaptions in order to see deeper into the story of a now-mythical superhero. This gives me hope that Snyder could make a decent Justice League movie, and surely Ben Affleck can make a badass Batman solo movie, if they can get themselves into a good perspective on the right source material.
What that source material and perspective ought to be is exactly what I’m going to describe next! So come back tomorrow (ish?) for part three of The Once and Future Batman.
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