Dear Zack Snyder,
I’ve had two weeks to think about your most recent film, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” As a longtime fan of these characters, and a devout follower of Superman in particular, I’ve found both of your films about him to be lacking the kinds of qualities that have made him resonate with fans around the world for nearly 80 years.
I recall an interview you gave several years ago, while promoting “Watchmen,” where you were asked if you’d be interested in directing a film about Superman. Your answer then? To paraphrase: “No.” You stated that a character with such seemingly one-dimensional goodness didn’t appeal to you. You were far happier dealing with more complex, more subversive subject material like “Watchmen.” I respected that. I disagreed about Superman being simplistic and one-dimensional, but I respected that.
Then you took the “Man of Steel” job a couple of years later.
Needless to say, I was perplexed by this decision of yours- to take on a film about a character that you admittedly didn’t care all that much for. I assumed what did it for you was the opportunity to rebuild and remake the character in a way that did speak to you.
I’m writing to inform you that the version of Superman you’ve created is a failure.
By and large, the folks I’ve spoken to who enjoyed your two films about him have something in common with you: They didn’t really have an affinity for the character prior to your films. So, in essence, it's like you've made Superman films that aren’t for Superman fans. While that may have sounded appealing, the idea of bringing new people into the fandom, the unintended consequence is that you’ve alienated many of the people who were already there.
For two-thirds of a century, writers have been able to create indelible versions of the character that captured the imaginations of fans worldwide. Be it Schuster and Siegel, Bruce Timm, Max Fleischer, Richard Donner, Mark Waid, Jack Kirby, Grant Morrison, Dan Jurgens, or countless others, there have been many people who’ve gotten it right and didn’t feel the need to fundamentally change who Superman is.
There have been many great takes on Superman, but I'm going to isolate the single most influential one. The one that made a generation of fans believe a man can fly.
Much has been made about how the Christopher Reeve Superman of the 70s and 80s would never fly with today’s modern audiences. The thing is, many- including you- have ignored what made that version so special to fans.
People like to focus on the corniness, the wholesomeness, and the humor in those films, but they don’t seem to realize that none of that is why they worked. Why they worked was that behind Reeve’s comforting smile were eyes that conveyed a bittersweet sense of loneliness, vulnerability, and isolation.
While you couldn’t pierce his skin, you could certainly break his heart.
That’s what makes Superman special. He’s an orphan. He’s alone. He’ll never be one of us, yet he’ll also never be able to be a true Kryptonian since there’s no longer any Krypton to speak of. Faced with a destiny that means he’ll never truly belong anywhere, he makes the decision to be earth’s greatest hero. Imagine the deep sadness you’d feel if you spent most of your formative years simply wanting to live a normal life: Work the farm for your folks, make your dad proud of you, play football, kiss the girl. Then you suddenly find out that not only will you never be able to do those things, but you’re actually an alien from a destroyed world. Your life up until now has been a beautiful lie.
A man that can come from that level of heartbreak, who can still arrive at the decision to be a beacon of hope, and who wants to help us- in spite of ourselves- is a fascinating character. Reeve’s Superman had that mixture of kindness, sadness, the weight of his responsibilities, a genuine curiosity about mankind, a love for what we can be, and a desire to be a friend to us even when all we seem to want to do is nuke each other.
So when we talk about those films getting Superman right, we’re not saying that we want a campy real estate mogul Lex Luthor, a cartoonish oaf like Otis, a bumbling over-the-top slapstick portrayal of Clark Kent, or a giant plastic Superman S that can be used as a net in the new films. We’re saying we want a hero that decides to do great things, and does so with pride, despite all of the pain in his heart. That’s what a hero does. You’ve instead chosen to focus almost entirely on the pain, and the weight of his responsibility.
While other artists have given us a hero whose desire to help is bittersweet, you've given us an alien that comes off as simply bitter.
The sad part is that there’ve been glimpses of a more noble Kal-El in your two films. Yet, by and large, you’ve suffocated his more positive qualities with your decisions from the director’s chair. You’ve under-emphasized what makes Superman great, while shining a spotlight on what you seem to think makes him “cool" to the kinds of people who think Superman is boring.
So many iterations of the character have embraced what a powerful symbol for good Superman is.
There are plenty of badass anti-hero types out there for fans who don't care for Superman to follow. Stop trying to turn Superman into one of them.
When I decried “Man of Steel,” many folks told me that the character was a work in progress in that film. I was promised that we’d see the real Superman, the genuine hero, in 2016 when “Batman v Superman” came out. The sad part is, it looks like this year I will see the crusader that still stands for Truth, Justice, and The American Way; The hero who’s old-fashioned sense of Right and Wrong often puts him at odds with the world around him; The man who’s unbreakable will pits him against his own allies; The guy who’s not afraid to be seen as square in an increasingly cynical world, because that’s just who he is. But his name won’t be Clark Kent. It’ll be Steve Rogers.
Yes, the folks at Marvel somehow magically figured out a way to make their Boy Scout character work, while you’ve gone and turned Superman into Batman-Lite. That’s a shame, because you are currently the custodian of one of the greatest fictional characters ever created, and you’re squandering him. It's also a shame because I didn't grow up loving Captain America, but now I have no choice but to root for him since he's seemingly the closest I'll get to seeing Superman on the big screen.
All fans such as myself can hope for is that you decide to start emphasizing more of what makes him an inspiration and less on how conflicted and distrustful you think he should be. We've awarded your two Superman films with mediocre-to-terrible reviews, and your second one has failed to live up to its box office promise- yet you may still be blind to what you're doing wrong.
People love seeing heroes be heroic; Not brooding about what it means to be a hero, or if humanity deserves a champion like Superman. At a time when our world is so fractured, and so filled with terror, we need a hero that wants to lift our spirits and say, "It's going to be okay. You can do this." Let Batman be the dark, conflicted hero, and just please allow Superman to be the guiding light in a murky, complex world.
The world needs Superman, and you've been keeping him from us.