Zack Snyder has made no secret of his more cynical take on superheroes. He announced his DC arrival by having Superman snap necks and level cities in "Man Of Steel" back in 2013, and the DCU has remained a grim, desaturated slog ever since. In 2019, the director was asked about his penchant for having these legendary heroes, specifically Batman, commit murder, and snapped. "Wake the f*** up," came the response, before Snyder spoke in more general terms:

"It's a cool point of view to be like, 'My heroes are still innocent. My heroes didn't f****** lie to America. My heroes didn't embezzle money from their corporations. My heroes didn't f****** commit any atrocities.' That's cool. But you're living in a f****** dream world."

Superheroes existing in a fantasy world? Imagine that. Having brought Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' "Watchmen," with its social satire and superhero deconstructions, to the big screen back in 2009, Snyder seemed intent on applying the "Watchmen" approach to all of DC's heroes. Thus, when "Man Of Steel" arrived in 2013, Supes was dutifully deconstructed.

Fans were divided on this 21st-century take on Superman. Henry Cavill's portrayal was generally praised, but audiences weren't sure how to take the gritty, murdering version of a hero who'd previously been defined by his motto: "Truth, justice, and the American way." Now, almost ten years later, Cavill has well and truly departed from the role, the Snyderverse looks set to be completely dismantled in the near future, and we've all had time to reflect. And I can't help but think most of us feel like Richard Donner. The late director of 1978's "Superman: The Movie" wasn't shy about his take on broody, dark Superman, and in the wake of the DCU's struggles his comments feel all the more relevant.

'Strange, Dark Days Of Moviemaking'

Back in the '70s, Donner introduced the world to the superhero blockbuster with his classic take on DC's iconic hero. "Superman: The Movie" provided a blueprint from which almost every successive superhero film would borrow. As Donner saw it, Superman was "a fantasy that really believed in 'Truth, Justice, and the American Way," and the director set out to "make a good movie about this beloved character and treat him with our greatest respect." That made for a true celebration of the character that aimed to instill a sense of hope in audiences. All of which makes it one of, if not the best Superman movie to this day.

It's no surprise then, that Donner wasn't too impressed with the kind of deconstruction enterprise Snyder was running. Speaking to Den Of Geek back in 2018, the director questioned the modern take on Superman:

"I don't see Superman as the way he's being treated today, which is in a very dark fashion […] I think we're in strange, dark days of moviemaking, but Superman was a hero. He was a fantasy, but we believed him. He's not treated like that anymore. I'm not happy with it."

Donner was obviously referring to the movie version of Superman, who'd been thoroughly Snydered at that point. But DC had also given comic book Supes the gritty treatment at various points, one example being the early-'90s storyline "Death of Superman." It's all a part of the overall evolution of comic book characters and storytelling — a stylistic ebb and flow that's inevitable for any cultural figure that's been around since 1938. With that in mind, even though I'm sort of on Donner's side here, both he and Snyder are kind of shortsighted in their singular views of the Man of Steel.

The Fantasy Of Superman

Since 1978, attitudes have shifted dramatically, as evidenced by DC changing Superman's famous motto to "Truth, justice, and a better tomorrow" in 2021. The world evolves, and it's inevitable that will be reflected in comic book stories. While Donner's comments feel timely in the wake of the Snyderverse's protracted issues, there will likely come a time when the pendulum swings the opposite way and we all get sick of smiling golden boy Superman again.

That said, there's something arguably more important in the director's perspective. Snyder might not like the idea of us "living in a f****** dream world," but that's one of the main reasons we consume media — especially movies, and especially superhero movies. There's a reason why the gritty reboot worked in the case of "Casino Royale" and failed in the case of "No Time To Die." You can bring your characters down to earth without injecting their stories with every socio-cultural issue of the day and still create that "fantasy" Donner was so enamored with.

In fact, though it seems entirely unrelated, "Casino Royale" serves as a great example of how to do Superman right — at least in terms of the approach. There's nothing wrong with giving your central character some darkness to confront, even showing some vulnerability, as long as you maintain a reverence for the character — something Martin Campbell did expertly with "Royale." Snyder, on the other hand, seemed to treat Superman like "No Time To Die" did Bond — as kind of irrelevant in the modern world. That's ultimately a symptom of rejecting the idea that people need fantasies, and yes, even "f****** dream worlds" in their life. Maybe with James Gunn's upcoming Superman movie, we'll witness a collective "Waking the f*** up" to that crucial yet overlooked fact.

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