A (Mostly) Blind Retrospective Of The Films Of Zack Snyder (Written By Hussain Alokaily)



Many people’s interpretation of a director who hasn’t just created a lasting impact but one that signals bold change around him is usually perceived as one who has many oscar nominations or wins under their belt. From directors like Steven Speilberg to even Christopher Nolan, those directors set the example of what a legacy director is. However, I would like to make an argument that one director who has created a legacy despite mixed reviews and no awards nominations is none other than Zack Snyder! Snyder is set to have arguably his biggest year ever with the release of not just The Snyder Cut of Justice League but, also an original zombie film for Netflix titled “Army of the Dead”. The question is though how did he get to this point?

Snyder is interesting as even though his films have (mostly) been commercial hits, a lot of his films have had mixed to negative reviews and a complete divide online on if he is a good director or not. For me, my journey with Snyder had to be one of a bandwagoner as I have only seen his DCEU work in Man of Steel and BvS (Justice League *2017* does not count). I liked Man of Steel when I was younger but I was one of the people who were really disappointed by the infamous theatrical cut of Batman v Superman as even my 16-year-old self seeing it on the Thursday night preview knew it was a disjointed mess. It then led my 16-year-old self to be advocating Snyder to be fired from not just Justice League but the DCEU as a whole. Little did I know that I was apart of the many voices who forced WB to pressure him to leave after his tragic passing of his daughter only to completely butcher his movie and create a disgrace of a cut I will now refer to in this article as “Josstice League”

Fast forward 5 years and after seeing first hand the fallout from Josstice League, there is so much I saw witness which has changed my entire viewpoint. For one, regardless of your opinion of Snyder’s work, The way he was treated by WB only to have his work ruined should never have happened as Josstice League is nothing but a Frankenstein of a studio-imposed movie that was horrifying to watch. This is why fan support to get the Snyder Cut to happen, and it has made me realize how monumental of a moment this is. Never has a director on this scale has been able to come back free of any interference and create his true vision of a movie which had made me curious. This is why after years of only having seen his DCEU work, I have made it my mission to see all of his movies before viewing the Snyder Cut in order to get a view of his directing style, how he has grown as a filmmaker, and to truly understand why people love his work in the midst in a debate on if he’s a good director or not. We will be looking at all of his films from Dawn of the Dead to BvS right before my viewing of the Snyder Cut to not just build up hype but to see if my opinion on him truly changes!

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Rayzor's Retro Review: Dawn of the Dead (2004) – The Horror Syndicate

Being a remake of the film of the same name, Dawn of the Dead is a zombie film in the vein of the B Movie that is a mess of a film but actually has its really fun moments. This of all of Snyder’s films was the one I heard not as many mentions as more often or not people refer to 300, Watchman and his work on the DCEU films. However, it is interesting to see as Snyder is making “Army of the Dead” which should build upon the foundation he set up with this movie.

The movie itself is weirdly paced as despite the pretty good cold open that throws you in the shoes of Sarah Polley’s character “Ana” as the apocalypse starts, the movie kinda goes to a halt for me for the next 20 minutes as it is extremely light on character moments as it essentially tries to set up everything which made the viewing experience hard to care about. It wasn’t until the security guard was introduced where the movie kicked in with all its fun and glory.

The movie from there has some actually decent character moments that added some much-needed depth to the film especially that moment where Ving Rhames character “Kenneth” had to shoot someone who turns into a zombie as the guy is a father and had to say goodbye to her daughter. That moment was swell acted and had some impact. The movie also kicks in the campy aspects there with the fun montages and quippy one-liners the characters say. The action is also really well done and the Gorey violence was really satisfying to see.

In terms of the directing and visual look, this seems like Snyder at his most restraint (probably because of his budget) yet it seems to retain some of his styles in his later work. The film has a high contrast look at really gives a cinematic look that also makes the gore and violence stand out that much more.

There’s not much else to say about the film other than it’s a really fun time despite its rocky start. This made me look forward to “Army of the Dead” much more as it’s gonna be really cool to see what Snyder can do with a much bigger budget in this genre this time. However, I would argue that Snyder’s popularity and reputation truly started with his next film rather than this one.

300 (2006)

300 | Netflix


Even though I’m about 14 years late to finally watching this, it’s clearly no secret to me why this didn’t just blow up in 2007 but has influenced films around it at that time. This film has such a bold, unique visual look of a graphic novel that established Snyder as a visual director and had such a massive impact on a lot of people who saw it. From the “This is Sparta” memes to the visual look to the slow-motion action scenes to the culture of men aspiring to get six packs like the Spartans in the film, it’s basically made this film such an interesting first-time watch.

After seeing it, I’m happy to say I liked the film overall dispute some of its shortcomings. Visually this is probably a broken record of a statement but, this film is on a visual look, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From its bold cinematography to the bold color grading and VFX, it literally makes the film look like the graphic novel of the same name which is insanity. Some of the frames in the film are jaw-dropping to see which makes it a masterwork in composition. As for the action, yes it did start the slow-motion trend but the way it was used here really works. It truly showcases the gore and horror of the moments while creating an insanely stylish look as it switches between different focal lengths and speeds.

Even the story is very straightforward with not a lot of characterization works as it really feels like a visual experience of a film. You get the basics of Leonidis and his overall motivation which is enough to drive the story forward. Props to Gerard Bulter as this is one of his best performances as he brings the intimidating Leondis to life with such a physical, powerful performance. As for other performances, Micheal Fassbender also stands out a lot in a very comical performance that made him entertaining to watch. The movie even has some touching moments with the Spartans in general that gave it emotional weight. As for the ending, it was one thing I was somehow not ruined and the outcome of it shocked me. I was full-on expecting the film to end in a horrific victory for the Spartans only for them to all die poetic deaths which was a turn I did not expect. It did really make the ending more powerful especially with the rise of the Spartans in the final scene of the film.

The film has its pacing problems and I do feel it does rely overly much on narration but this is a really good movie that showed exactly why Zack Snyder was a director unlike any around him at that time. It showed he had a comply different visual style to him and made a super successful film on property not many knew of. After seeing this, I’m starting to see how he spawned so many fans.

Watchman (Ultimate Cut) (2009)

Watchmen (2009) - Movie Review / Film Essay


For full context, I have never read the graphic novel of the same name but, I have always been interested in seeing this film for a few years. After having read about what the idea of Watchmen is supposed to be, it sounded interesting especially considering we are still in the midst of a massive superhero film boom that is only getting larger as the years go by. Considering we have gotten content like The Boys a whole decade after the film and even an HBO series based on the graphic novel, it’s safe to say this movie was kind of ahead of its time.


After having finally seen the film’s Ultimate Cut (Not my first choice but was the only cut I was able to view), It’s safe to say I see the hype because Watchmen is one of Snyder’s most ambitious films that kept me entirely engaged! Now it’s not a masterpiece as the film is really too long for its own need (I kinda blame the animated segments mostly that was the Ultimate Cut’s additions) but, at the same time, the long narrative really helps build up not just the universe and world but the characters and their motivations and journeys. Snyder excels here at combining his striking visuals with storytelling that gives each of the Watchmen so much depth to their journeys and their motivations. And yes, this being an anti comic book film was probably refreshing in 2009 but in 2021, it stands out so much and its narrative is what makes this such an engaging story.

In terms of its cinematography and visual effects, however, Watchmen is not just on another level in terms of Snyder’s own filmography but maybe even period! Watchmen with its stunning cinematography and VFX is simply something that no other film has done as it perfectly recreates the source material by delivering such jaw-dropping shots. Literally, every shot of the movie could be something that can be started at its that good. The lighting, shadows, and overall color grading really add so much to the storytelling.

Watching Watchmen and seeing the Batman v Superman Ultimate Cut a few years back is getting excited to see the Snyder Cut more than before. While Snyder can go overboard sometimes, he generally has reasoning for his longer lengths to tell grand, epic stories. Watchmen is one that is 100% grand and epic in terms of its directing, cinematography, visuals, and story. It even has one hell of an ending that subverts my expectations a comic book film has.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)
Legend of the Guardian – The Owls of Ga'Hole” | Legend of the guardians,  Cartoon wallpaper, Owl illustration

I remember 2010 fondly as a year for probably planting the earliest seeds of my eventual life interest in movies. That year I remember going on Yahoo Movies a lot to see what was coming out and what other movies existed at that time. One of the movies I saw a trailer for was in fact Legend of the Guardians which I thought looked alright but never got around to seeing. I even remember downloading the demo for the video game adaptation of the film on PS3 and playing it so clearly I remember the film back then. However, I eventually forgot about it and never thought I would have to think about it again. Little did I know that years later when searching up Zack Snyder’s filmography would I realize he actually directed the film.

That fact shocked me because of many reasons. The most obvious of which is that Snyder makes mature films that usually command an R Rating and the last thing I would ever associate him with is making a CGI Animated film that is meant to appeal to families. But another reason for the shock was that nobody talks about this movie anymore let alone in the conversation of Zack Snyder. I hear more people talking about Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen, and even Sucker Punch and not a single mention of Legend of the Guardians. Safe to say that it eventually made me interested in seeing this film in the midst of Zack’s other films and after doing so, I can’t say I blame people for forgetting of the film’s existence sometimes.

That doesn’t mean the film is bad though because it actually has some good to it. The one thing that surprised me of all is that Zack’s visual style of filmmaking actually translated so well into animation as the scenes end up feeling very cinematic and film-like. I did some research and it turns out Snyder wanted to approach the film in the same vein as he would direct an actual film while having his animation team help him out and come in the middle. For a movie that came out a whole decade ago has astounding animation. The animation, details, and lighting are on another level and really compete with Disney which goes to show how Snyder’s perfectionism when it comes to visuals really pays off here.

However, the film is really light on the story as it really has such a cliche basis to it and doesn’t really have much of any characters that stand out. For that reason, the film felt entirely hollow through its 90-minute runtime. It’s a shame that the film’s story and characters don’t work well because the world-building is really cool and some of the action in the 3rd act is thrilling but it ends up feeling like visual noise. Still, it’s cool to see Snyder tackle something out of his comfort zone despite the outcome not turning as well as it could’ve. Not a bad film but one that is very forgettable.

Sucker Punch (2011)
Sucker Punch Extended Cut Blu-Ray review | Vic B'Stard's State of Play


This is going to be interesting… Sucker Punch was released in 2011 to not only be a resounding critical failure but, a resounding commercial failure. Clearly, the film has a legacy to it, and how it was received when it came out which might contribute to the camp that doesn’t like Snyder’s films. The film came out a decade ago when I wasn’t aware of its reception or conversation so I was interested in seeing the movie with mostly fresh eyes and it ended up being one bizarre viewing experience.

Let me be clear, this is not a good movie and is definitely (Now that I’ve caught up to his non DECU work) my least favorite of Snyder’s filmography but, there are actually some redeemable elements to the film. In order to properly explain my point of view, I need to explain how I felt during the film and how I felt when the context of everything was revealed. The film is super stylish as you’d expect from Snyder as the first 10 minutes really plays like a visual music video. It doesn’t do that bad of a job establishing everything but after the cold open, things get so much weirder.

The one thing that literally carried the film is honestly Oscar Isaac’s performance as he really goes 110% into his character and really steals the scenes he was in. I was very invested whenever his character was on screen. The reason I’m mentioning this is that while all of the girls deliver decent performances, their characters are super lifeless in personality and depth. This made watching the film for the most part not that engaging of an experience especially when fantasy action sequences come to play. Speaking of fantasy action scenes, they were my least favorite of the whole film. Despite some really cool cinematography, action and visuals, they are literally the definition of visual noise to me as there are no stakes to them. Snyder clearly excels at visuals but what made 300 and Watchmen good movies was combining storytelling to them and Sucker Punch kind of forgot that part. The would have worked so much more if the story took place in the mental asylum rather than bringing fantasy action to it.


However, when the last 30 minutes came through, that’s when my opinion towards the film kinda shifted slightly positive. When the twist comes though when (In case you haven’t seen the film, spoilers) It’s revealed the whole movie to a certain point was in the main character’s head and was a mental fantasy, it kinda started to make sense. It’s not like everything was for nothing as the things she needed to be stolen was and Oscar Issac was still stabbed on the shoulder which made what Snyder was trying to say start to make sense. It’s why the movie is more frustrating to me as clearly the film would have worked better in the mental asylum.

Man of Steel (2013)
Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013) - NerdSpan


As I mentioned before, the only Snyder films I have seen prior to writing this retrospective was his DCEU work and obviously, Man of Steel was my first one. Superman was one of my favorite superheroes growing up as I always thought his powers were the coolest of all Superhero’s and always loved the lore of Superman. I even remember watching Superman Returns as a kid and I really liked the film as a kid so obviously, lots of nostalgia exists for Superman. For some reason, I missed out on seeing Man of Steel when it came out in 2013 and did not see it until 2016, right before the release of Batman v Superman. I always liked the film which made my opinion on the film above the consensus many had but I never really loved it before. However, after Josstice League and just remembering the film overall and its epic score by Hans Zimmer powering my workouts for years, It has remained my favorite film in the DCEU and me being a defender of it. After rewatching the film, I have officially realized I loved the film!

Now I see the point many have made for the film against it like the action-heavy 3rd act, Superman and his darker depiction, and much more but I have to say I’m in the minority on this. Snyder and company made a film that really asks the question of what does Superman looks like in a modern context and in that sense, the film really excels. It makes sense how this film nails that outlook as Christopher Nolan pitched the idea to the studio and Zack Snyder felt a personal connection as he has adopted children before and had to be a father for kids that aren’t biologically his. The film combines Zack’s visual style of filmmaking and combines it with really grounded storytelling that makes this Superman feel like a real person. The first hour of the film is so good as it takes time to show Clark’s childhood of having to hide his powers and feeling disconnected and how it leads to his early adulthood of loneliness and isolation. People in general play a persona in real life when really it’s their mask from their true selves so applying that to Superman makes this story so much more relatable.


Now of course people do bring up the rest of the film which is action-heavy but also takes time to establish the villain’s motives being more than “destroying the world” as it has a villain wanting to protect his kind. General Zod is not the best villain ever put his motivations are good enough to be the hero in his mind and Micheal Shannon does an excellent job committing to the character. Speaking of performances, Henry Cavil is excellent as Superman as he brings the physical side to the performance but really sells his isolation from everyone else. The movie may also be dark in its depiction but Cavil’s Superman brings hope and optimism to his performance which shows that Snyder knows the character and stays true to it. As for the controversial 3rd act decision where (In case you don’t know, spoilers) Superman has to snap Zod’s neck in order to save a family of people, I actually love that decision as it shows a morally challenging sequence that tests the character. We all as people have beliefs until things change which really shows how realistic this Superman is.

As for other parts of the film, the action is excellent as the action is grand, big, and visually epic to watch. The krypton opening is excellent to watch and the final fight does show the true power that’s at stake. People do complain that there’s too much destruction which I get but it is 2 super gods battling it out so there is bound to be some. Plus how it set’s up the cold opening of BvS is excellent and it clear that it’s not just destruction for the sake of destruction. The VFX are also just perfect as everything seems tangible even when it’s an alien planet that doesn’t exist. The world-building and tech of Krypton also look insanely cool and show Snyder’s epic scale in mind. Finally, my favorite part of the movie has to be Han Zimmer’s score which is simply nothing short of masterful. A good score takes a scene and bumps it to 11 and Zimmer does that as he creates an epic, somber and beautiful score. It makes the action scenes feel 10-times more epic, the beautiful moments more symbolic, and the flight scene existing and optimistic. Simply put, Zimmer makes this movie better with his amazing score.

Man of Steel is 100% a divisive movie and maybe one that people will never agree on but, Man of Steel to me is a beautiful, epic movie that succeeds so well in presenting Superman in a modern context. It’s honestly sad we never really got to see a true sequel to Man ofTSeel as it has so much potential and Henry Cavil is way too good at the role. Still, Man of Steel remains my favorite of the entire DCEU.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Cut) (2016)
Watch Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition - Stream Movies  | HBO Max


I remember going to the Thursday night preview showing of Batman v Superman like it was yesterday. Being 16 years old, I was insanely excited for the film from its epic trailers to the point where it was my first ever Thursday night preview despite the film’s extremely negative reviews. And from the first ten minutes of the film, I was instantly blown away and thought the rest of the film would be like it. However just like the track in the score “Beautiful Lie”, the movie ends up being that after the first 10 minutes. The theatrical cut of BvS had to be one of the most disappointing movies I have seen to that point as even a younger, 16-year-old version of myself knew it was a mess. However, I liked the Ultimate Cut much more when I saw it later that year which establishes the movie as a love/hate relationship for me.

After rewatching the movie after 5 years, it has been established as a film in my mind as not bad but super frustrating. The Ultimate Cut is 100% a better movie than the theatrical cut as the film itself actually makes sense narratively and has the proper subplots to establish motivations. The theatrical cut was compromised by WB as they wanted Zack to cut 30 minutes out forcing key moments of the bullet subplot and Clark’s investigation on Batman which caused the entire film to feel disjointed and messy. The Ultimate Cut fixes that as I really like the subplot on Batman’s actions which sets up the conflict better than the theatrical cut ever did. Even the bullet subplot making more sense helps more to make it feel like a complete film.

However, the reason it’s frustrating is that despite the fact Zack got to tell the story he envisioned, he also seemed to have a mandated checklist of things that dilutes the film entirely. There is way too much this movie is trying to do as it’s supposed to be a sequel to Man of Steel, Set up Batman in the universe, show a Knightmare sequence and for some reason shoehorn in Wonder Woman and the villain Doomsday. Firstly, despite Wonder Woman having some really cool action, she has no need to be in the film as she adds nothing to the story which makes her role rather pointless. Doomsday is a shoehorned villain when Lex could’ve been the main villain of the story as it just added more unnecessary fluff to the film. As for the Knightmare sequence, I wanna reserve judgment as Snyder is expanding upon it in The Snyder Cut but, the sequence is very out of place despite its cool visuals. This ends up making the subplots feel less impactful and the whole conflict between Batman and Superman less impactful. It’s supposed to be the biggest showdown in history between two comic giants and yet, it doesn’t feel as epic as it should.

The biggest part of the film that is disappointing was Lex Luthor as Jesse Eisenberg feels incredibly miscast here. Eisenberg is a very talented actor but he does not have any intimidation in his performance and lacks so much subtly as for some reason, Eisenberg and Snyder decided to portray him as an over-the-top villain. His performance could’ve been dialed down super down and he could’ve maybe been the Lex that people know and expect but this was too different for no good reason. The biggest and most frustrating part is how the film attempts the whole death of superman thing but does not earn it. The moment is well-acted and fit’s within Clark’s arc but the moment was way too soon for this universe to attempt which makes the moment feel less impactful.

That being said, there is a lot of the film I really like. Snyder once again excels at this visual style of filmmaking that defines his work. The Cinematography and VFX really have such a dark, contrast look to it that makes the film’s overall visuals, action and VFX stand out that more. The action scenes are also very exhilarating to watch and massive in scale and it helped that Snyder shot some of the action sequences in IMAX 70MM. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL also delivered another epic score that brings so many epic moments more to the film and makes the visuals feel more epic. I also have to say that the film starts off with such a bang as I would contend to be a masterpiece in the first 10 minutes. The film begins with an extremely visual and beautifully shot retelling of Bruce Wayne’s parent’s death that really tells the oversold origin story in a fresh way. Then it shows Bruce’s perspective of the 3rd act of Man of Steel and it’s an epic and sad opening for him. It perfectly establishes Bruce’s motivation for hating Superman and wanting to destroy him.

My favorite part of the movie is without a doubt, Ben Affleck’s performance as Bruce Wayne. He does a perfect job portraying the character. Affleck does an excellent job portraying the many parts of the character such as physically playing Batman, playing the isolated Bruce Wayne, and playing the public persona of Bruce Wayne. Batman’s action is also on another level as the warehouse scene feels like something straight out of the Arkham games which was such a cool thing to see.

After seeing Batman v Superman after 5 years and seeing in the context of Snyder’s work, It has gotten less good on my mind as I previously thought I really liked the Ultimate Cut. However, after seeing how direct of sequel the Snyder Cut looks as to the butchering job of Josstice League.

Verdict


After spending the last week watching nothing but Snyder’s filmography, I can officially say that it was one big journey into understanding the mind of his filmmaking. Snyder is not one of the best directors working today but is one that stands out amongst the crowd and creates everything he makes with an extreme passion for the art of filmmaking. He is able to tell very emotional stories that are enhanced by his cinematic way of storytelling and has taken so many risks in his work. Not all of his films work for me but even the ones that don’t work come from a place of passion rather than a place of being a studio yes man. I am officially super excited to see what Snyder has in store for his 4 hour cut of Justice League now as it seems he has something epic on a scale we have never seen from Snyder before.




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