In Defense of… Zack Snyder

The Man of Steel director hasn't won any popularity contests--but we're gonna change that.

Fan controversy has surrounded Zack Snyder ever since he took on the thankless job of remaking George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead almost 10 years ago. Even though four of his six features are certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and his amazin-looking Man of Steel looms just around the corner, the movie fan community has yet to embrace Snyder with open arms--which is a shame, because we should be celebrating him instead of throwing shade. Here's why Zack Snyder deserves more of our respect.

Reason #1 - He makes films for adults.

One of the more surprising things about Zack Snyder is that, until Man of Steel, he has only made R-rated live-action films (even his animated effort, Legend of the Guardians, was awfully dark for a PG-rated movie). While that's maybe not such good news for the under-17 set, for adults it's kind of nice to have someone offering especially well-made comic book films that don't pull punches. Snyder is a rare mainstream filmmaker who enjoys pushing the boundaries of what a comic book movie can be and finding success while doing it.

Reason #2 - He is a great visual storyteller.

Snyder knows visual storytelling. The opening of Sucker Punch is told without any dialogue at all, and most would agree it's the best bit of filmmaking in the whole movie (see also the opening of Watchmen). Not that Snyder's a bad writer, but this sequence illustrates his strength not just with powerful visuals, but with the art of telling stories with pictures. When combined with actual words, this ability makes him occasionally brilliant, (see also the big Dr. Manhattan on Mars sequence in Watchmen).

Reason #3 - He uses music well.

While some of his selections can be a bit too on the nose thematically, Zack Snyder is no slouch when it comes to creative music cues in his films. For instance, his Dawn of the Dead used "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash long before the song had become kind of a soundtrack cliché, and pop songs play a central thematic role in the plot of Sucker Punch. Snyder puts together soundtracks worth buying, a rarity these days.

Reason #4 - He made Dawn of the Dead.

Zack Snyder's first film was not supposed to be good. A modern remake of the zombie genre's most cherished entry - with the added insult of running zombies! - had no reason to be great. But it was. Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, its opening scenes in particular, remains one of the best modern examples of the zombie subgenre available. It's funny, fast, scary, very gory and manages to elaborate on the original's concept without actually stepping on its toes. What more do you want from a first-time director?

Reason #5 - He directs great action set pieces.

When discussing Snyder's deficiencies as a director, people often point to his manipulation of slow motion, also known as "speed ramping," as if it's the worst technique known to man. Actually, speed ramping allows us to see with great detail exactly what occurs in an action beat. It's just another part of Snyder's dedication to delivering visually comprehensible action sequences that both excite and make sense. His films are a refreshing opposite to the incomprehensible shaky-camera chaos that plagues most action films today.

Reason #6 - He is ambitious and unafraid.

A lot of people don't like Snyder's Sucker Punch, but even as a failure, it still gets points for ambition. The film's message gets a little lost under the three layers of reality and video game-like plotting, but Sucker Punch does appear to have something on its mind. Zack Snyder doesn't fear taking big risks, as he did with his adaptation of the beloved Watchmen, or by shouldering the responsibility of ushering in DC Comics' cinematic universe with Man of Steel. The guy has guts.

Reason #7 - He can do multiple genres.

While it's true Snyder mostly has adapted comic book movies, just look at the wild diversity in his choices. 300 is an all-out violent action film. Watchmen is an epic rumination on the nature of heroes. The PG-13, straight-faced Man of Steel looks to be neither of those things. He also made a very respectable zombie horror film. And good or bad, nobody even knows what kind of movie Sucker Punch is. This diversity as a filmmaker is one of Snyder's biggest strengths.

Reason #8 - He made 300.

300 is not a sensitive, smart or subtle film. And it doesn't want to be. Zack Snyder's only goal with the film is to adapt Frank Miller's graphic novel in such a manner that it supplies moviegoers with a bare-bones, awesome action film with almost otherworldly visuals. Whether you like the film or not, you have to admit that he achieved this goal, at least on a technical level. Luckily, most people loved the film, and 300 went on to become a big hit.

Reason #9 - He is smart.

When you listen to Zack Snyder speak about his projects, it's almost a surprise how eloquent and intelligent he sounds. Not that his films are dumb, but they are mostly popcorn fare made for the masses. What a lot of people don't understand is the amount of brains it takes to make these movies as fun and entertaining as they are, particularly in the case of Watchmen, a film with themes and motifs and a mission statement that Snyder understands and remains in charge of from beginning to end.

Reason #10 - He respects the source material.

Reportedly Snyder insisted that all the prop newspapers in Watchmen had real stories written from within the film's alternative 1980s universe. That's the level of detail he demands for his adaptations. There are scenes from 300 that you can line up with Frank Miller's original comic and have a hard time telling the difference. Snyder takes his job as an adapter very seriously, which is just one of the many reasons why Man of Steel is in good hands.

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