A rational person bases their judgement on previous experience. This applies across the board, but is often forgotten, particularly in emotional situations involving childhood memories. That’s the best explanation I can come up with for why so many otherwise intelligent people are so bloody excited about seeing Ben Affleck in the new Batman suit.
If this were the first film from Zack Snyder, it might be understandable. There it would be all “potential” and from his reels of short films and music videos one might presume that he’s the next David Fincher. He can certainly make things “look cool”, in that heavy, oppressive “busy” way that passes for art if you put enough shadows in it. A fair forgery of Ridley Scott’s patina (not that Sir Ridley is immune to make the odd bad film). But Snyder is a known quantity. Aside from perhaps 300, the source material for which I found sexist and horrible but the film has a unique look, he doesn’t make great films. Whether his films are even “good” is a matter of some question, and I think most intelligent, unbiased observers would agree that Sucker Punch was terrible and perhaps Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, particularly the “Ultimate Cut”, can be classified as “good”. But that’s his range: terrible to sort-of good.
The logical inference to make, and this first-year Philosophy-level logic takes in auteur theory but is in fact a much simpler concept, is that because Snyder’s previous films have not been good, there’s no evidence that this next one will be. Especially since his mediocre-at-best cinematic oeuvre has been rewarded financially.
To put it another way: was anyone blaming Henry Cavill for the grim, inert, ultra-violent Man of Steel? I seriously doubt having anyone else in that central role would have made a difference to the film. And Cavill, by the way, is a fine actor and certainly fits the part well. As did all the rest of the cast. They weren’t the issue. It was script and direction and tone. A serious lack of intellectual sophistication combined with a humourless heaviness. That’s the recipe for “pretentiousness”. There’s I’ve said it: my biggest problem with Man of Steel (and all of Snyder’s work) is its own enormous self-importance. As if the director thought that enough special effects sequences and slow motion shots and British accents were the ingredients of a “significant” film. As if “darkness” equaled grandeur.
Now the question must be asked: what evidence do we have that his next film will be any different? Man of Steel succeeded at the box office, so Snyder and his team of enablers at Warner Bros clearly took this as artistic validation. There’s absolutely zero pressure on Snyder to alter his style in any way. In fact, I suspect the opposite might be true, given how studios love to back a known quantity. (“You have the recipe for Coca Cola!” as Charles Bluhdorn famously told Francis Ford Coppola when he demurred making a sequel to The Godfather.) At this point, a rational person would be forced to conclude that Snyder’s next film will be no better than his last, or at the very least, in the same mould.
Sadly, it’s at this point that rationality seems to fade for a certain viewer. I sometimes feel like I’m the only person left on this planet who basis his judgement of what movies to watch on whether they’re good or not. That’s really the only test for me. And I judge that, again being more or less rational, based on intelligent reviews by people whose opinions I respect. I truly seem to be in the minority, however, since there appears to be a large population whose decision making about what movie to see boils down to two questions: “Is Batman in it?” and “Seriously, dude, is Batman in it?”
Yes, I’m emotional about this, because I love movies, and I think that there’s a good superhero comic book movie to be made, in the right hands. But it’s not going to be made unless we stop buying tickets for bad movies. That was ultimately what depressed me so much about Snyder’s Watchmen. All that money and talent and effort went into making a film that is at best mediocre. It would be as if Peter Jackson had seriously, egregiously messed up the Lord of the Rings films. (Some argue that they were in fact messed up, but let’s accept the hypothesis that they’re not terrible for the purposes of this discussion.) Audiences would have been disappointed, but many would have had that disappointment doubled by the thought that this was their generation’s attempt at LOTR. There wasn’t going be another for many years. This was as good as they were going to get. That’s how I felt about Watchmen. Maybe there isn’t a good Watchmen movie to be made, but I can bet my middle fingernail that Zack Snyder wasn’t going to make it either way. The property was never given a chance.
Hollywood only speaks one language: money. They have the temperament of a spoiled rich child. They only way to send them any kind of message they will heed would be to cut off their allowance. Demand better, and they will give it, but reward mediocrity and they’ll think we love it. Zack Snyder is a product of that system. You can imagine how a talented and great director feels, on the sidelines, watching this system reward the guy who can blow the most stuff up.
That’s why it doesn’t matter to me who plays Batman or what costume he wears. There’s a hole at the center of this franchise named Snyder, and everyone who bought a ticket to Man of Steel (including this fool, by the way) put him there, and told him to stay. I won’t make that mistake again.