Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why my eyebrow is cautiously raised for Snyder's Superman

So it's been all but confirmed that Zach "300 Watchmen dancing at the Dawn of the Dead" Snyder has been chosen for Warner Bros' pretty-much-last-ditch attempt to reboot Superman and introduce him to a new audience. As I mentioned before, Christopher Nolan is playing a key part in the development of this film and apparently he and David Goyer have even been the brains behind the story of this new vision.

So how do I feel about all of this?

Well, truth be told, Zach Snyder was not up there with my top choices. Mr. Snyder has literally only helmed a handful of projects. Visit his IMDb profile, if you don't believe me. And while 300 and Watchmen were both epics fairly worthy of their source material, they really didn't invigorate their respective genres a great deal. Both films were infamous for their laughable over-use of slow-motion not just in action scenes, but in bizarre love scenes as well. More importantly though, they were wrapped, lathered and absolutely bathed in CGI to the point where the film might as well have not used real actors and opted for computerised characters, instead.

It really just seems like Warner Bros. have gone with yet another "safe" choice for the Superman franchise. Zach Snyder has made a couple of reasonably successful comic book movies before, so therefore boombaby, he's hired. It really doesn't seem like there's been much of a thought process beyond that. This is exactly what WB did with Superman Returns and Bryan Singer, which turned out to be disastrous and nearly destroyed any future prospects the character had.

Not to mention, Watchmen made some rather hairy casting missteps, most notably in Malin Ackerman, who was atrocious as Silk Spectre to the point where I was angry that she had a career (I thought this during my miserable viewing of 27 Dresses, as well). Matthew Goode as Ozymandias wasn't stellar, either (although this was more a case of bad casting rather than bad acting). As my wise friend Parker said recently, all it would take is one Matthew Goode to ruin this Superman movie.

The main thing I worry about though, is that Snyder is going to go in this direction:

Over the last couple of years, numerous directors have said that they'd like to go "darker" with the Superman franchise. There's literally no reason under the sun to do this. Superman is a happy, earnest, positive character. A role model for young children. Someone whose stories should be tales of morality and decency, rather than chaotic violence and brutish, hamfisted vigilantism. Based on his previous works, I'd be inclined to think that Snyder is a member of the "Badass Brigade" who wants to portray Superman as a warrior first and a hero second. This is something that just won't do.

On the other hand, I will say that I think if Snyder had anything to do with the direction of the other performances in Watchmen (Patrick Wilson as Nite-Owl, Billy Crudup as Doc Manhattan, Jackie Earle Hayley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian), then that's one element I'm pleasantly looking forward to. All of those actors did a wonderful job in that movie and brought nuances and insights to their various characters that I hadn't noticed before.

The big thing that's keeping me from getting excited about Snyder is CGI, though. I'm really worried that his Superman movie is going to just be another exercise in exaggerated, glossy computer fakery rather than down-to-Earth verisimilitude, which is what Superman movies should always be. It's just not exciting watching a man fly if he's doing it in a magical candy-floss maple-syrup universe. Superman's environment should always be grounded in reality rather than fantasy; that's what makes the concept "believable" and that's why that first Christopher Reeve movie still works so well.

Finally, there's this dreadful rumour that this is the villain they're using:

Now don't get me wrong, I love me a bit of Kneeling Before Zod, but COME ON. The Good General has been used extensively in every single version of Superman ever, both in and outside of the comics. This is not the direction to go if Warner Bros. want a "bold re-invigoration" of the character. First and foremost, from a purely aesthetic point of view, it'll just be boring watching Superman fight someone with the exact same powers as he has. It worked really well in Superman II, because no one had ever seen anything like it before, but in this day and age with dozens of superhero movies coming out every year, people want a visually exciting and original villain.

For me, Brainiac screams "bold new direction". Brainiac is every bit the "anti-Superman" that Lex Luthor is, except in a different way. Brainiac plays off Superman because of the sinister difference in their common alien nature. Brainiac is an alien who travels to other planets of his own free will seeks to seek out all information and rule or destroy it (depending on the incarnation) whereas Superman is an alien who was sent to another planet unwittingly and chose to save that planet. It's baffling that Christopher Nolan chose Zod when there was such a perfect villain already available to him that had never been used before.

The one thing I'm sure of is that this film will not be a repeat of Superman Returns. I'd say it's a safe bet that this will be an origin movie and that it will be loaded with balls-to-the-wall action and will finally unleash the full fury of Superman's abilities.  For better or worse, I think this film is going to make Superman cool again. I only hope that in doing that, the fundamental aspects of his character and his universe are not sacrificed for the sake of mainstream appeal (*cough* JJ Abrams' Star Trek *cough*) and that this truly is a bold new step in the history of Superman.