The #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement took a gut punch this weekend when director Zack Snyder, currently in the middle of restoring his original version of Justice League, tweeted his endorsement of a preelection video favoring a major-political-party candidate.
At a time of intense, nationwide division, further exacerbated by the media, when millionaire performers forsake their art to make rash, self-serving political gestures, Snyder’s faux pas was unexpected — and the most troubling since Robert De Niro went off his rocker embarrassing himself and his partisans.
The impressive series of comic-book movies 300, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the abridged Justice League won Snyder a loyal following. They successfully used Internet petition and convinced Warner Bros. studios to return Snyder’s artistic privilege (he seemed on his way to constructing the millennium’s great, multipart American epic). That business decision ultimately helped HBO Max promote its streaming service, yet it felt like an ad hoc democratic process: Snyder supporters could believe in art without factionalism. But then Snyder surprisingly chose to endanger his brand.
The political ad Snyder endorsed — “It’s On, Wisconsin” — opposes the artistry and emotional suasion of the Man of Steel franchise. (It also potentially alienates half his audience.) No one who admires those films expects Snyder to make blatant political statements; they’re awed by the larger vision of mythic experience and essential virtues. The image of Zod’s spacecraft attacking Metropolis through repeated incendiary electromagnetic pulses, a pummeling assault on the earth, to say it politely, was the most powerful metaphor of post-9/11 intimidation since Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. But, as per Snyder, it used sensual, kinetic spectacle that expanded on the film’s remarkable sensitivity to home and to the traditions of Krypton as well as bucolic Americana.
Snyder’s tweet “I’m from Wisconsin so this hits home” was unworthy of his astonishing expressive ability. Its reference to the ad’s display of down-home, just-folks populism was disingenuous, especially for a whiz-kid and major film artist who in fact was born in Green Bay but grew up in Connecticut. The deviousness casts a pall over Snyder’s artistic position. This is not just another case of a Hollywood millionaire who has lost control of his feelings and indulges in stupid political grandstanding; it comports with the snide elitism that has infected this year’s political opposition and Big Tech censorship (Snyder’s tweet was distributed with favor).
My complaint is not with Snyder’s stating his entitled political opinion, but with how it causes distrust and disrupts the cultural impact of a great epic. Not even Zack Snyder is above suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. Fact is, TDS hits Snyder where he lives — in Hollywood.
As a former Wisconsinite, Snyder conveniently ignores the rioting in Kenosha and the political subterfuge behind it — or is he just a soft touch for family-of-man Americana, even when it is used deceitfully? It’s not a quality I equate with the complexity of Snyder’s films. His endorsement of rural sentimentality seems facile and uninformed: That there’s no mention of government farm subsidies is the first indication that the ad, which at first seems nonpartisan, leans into Democratic Party campaign rhetoric. It’s pathetic that the homely Wisconsinite who returns to make a parting shot to the camera (“Vote Biden!”) immediately recalls the craven politico in The Simpsons who sneakily pipes “Vote Quimby!”
Snyder has said that a third character in Batman v Superman is the media: “It’s a third character in all of our lives.” But this simplification does not mean that the media stand as the judge between the mythological depiction of good versus evil, fairness versus corruption. “Everything we do is political,” Snyder went on to opine. “It’s a political world. It is our modern mythology that we use to understand our world in some way.” The ways of our mendacious media seem to have corrupted Snyder’s real-world vision. If he can turn from spellbinding drama about honor, duty, and moral choice to see voting as virtue-signaling, it casts doubt on his intuitive depth.
Snyder may not be as far gone as the Silicon Valley’s moral midgets who have no sense of fairness, who diminish freedom of speech, but his ecstatic pulp-movie sensibility may have derived from the same liberal miseducation — except that Snyder at his best evidences a classical, biblical, Renaissance complexity. I can defend Snyder’s films against the triteness of most comic-book-based movies (although I temporarily revoke the affectionate nickname “ZSnyder.”) When he puts his unconscious feelings on screen, it’s greater than any political ad or the slogans seen on bumper stickers. Although it’s a joke on all of us if it turns out that Marvel’s Russo brothers are more politically astute than Snyder.