Despite his relatively early departure, the entirety of the DCEU’s previous phase seems, for many fans, to be Zack Snyder’s sole creation. Every aspect of Man of Steel seems to have permeated into the core concepts of the DCEU, culminating in a much darker tone than what some fans would have expected.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe revelled in its lighthearted comedy and exhilarating action setpieces, the DCEU’s focus was to deliver a new, edgier take on some of its most iconic characters. The only problem with that is that Zack Snyder – and Zack Snyder alone – was responsible for some of the most divisive alterations made to the source material. At least, that’s what some DC fans believe.
When most people think of why they dislike Snyder’s version of the DCEU so much, most will mention how Superman spent more time brooding than being the shining beacon of hope that he’s supposed to be, or how Batman effectively sentenced criminals to death by branding them with his emblem. This follows Snyder’s usual approach to the superhero genre – after all, we saw some of these same trademarks in his Watchmen adaptation.
However, there’s one key aspect that some fans seem to be consciously ignoring about Snyder’s run as the creative head of the DCEU: he was only there to direct, not to write. In all of the DCEU’s filmography, Snyder is credited as a director in just two films: Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.
If we were to play the blame game with what happened to the DCEU, it would be only fair to point our collective fingers at David S. Goyer. The writer began his career with DC live-action films in 2005 when he penned the script for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins – a film that essentially set the tone for most future DC movies.
Now, it’s worth noting that there’s nothing wrong with Goyer’s scripts. The screenwriter is just delivering what’s asked of him, and that was a more “mature” version of these classic comic characters. Seeing the success of The Dark Knight, the producers might have thought that having even darker characters as the leads would lead to better profits, but that’s where they were wrong.
Considering that Nolan’s Batman is already more “serious” than his comic book counterpart, Goyer had to go to extremes to craft a more aggressive version of the Caped Crusader. This might be the reason why Batman v Superman features that questionable Dark Knight who outright kills criminals with his armoured Batmobile. Similarly, it would also explain Snyder’s more “realistic” take on Superman seen in Man of Steel.
The “damage,” so to speak, that Nolan’s Batman trilogy did to the larger DCEU was to convince the studio that they needed to be darker to compete against Marvel’s often lighter tone. The result is the messy timeline we know today and the vilification of Zack Snyder as a filmmaker.
The truth is that, if we judge him by his merits, Snyder did an outstanding job in the DCEU. Not only did he leave us with some of the most memorable visual pieces of comic book storytelling in a live-action film, but he also oversaw the production of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, two of the most critically successful non-Marvel superhero films of the last decade.
I think it’s time we reevaluated Snyder’s role in the DCEU, especially now that he might be away from the cinematic universe for a while. At the very least, the Snyder Cut will always be a reminder of what could have been and of the power that fans really have over the studios.
So next time you consider putting all the blame for the DCEU’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman on Zack Snyder, consider that Christopher Nolan produced both films (and shares story credit for Man of Steel with David S. Goyer) and that Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer wrote Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Snyder was not the brains behind the entire operation. He was just the director.