Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Christopher Nolan vs. Zack Snyder

So I made a lot of claims of production interference on the part of Christopher Nolan in my Man of Steel review, which I know may well be presumptuous of me. Maybe there was, or perhaps Snyder was purposefully trying his best to imitate a Chris Nolan movie. But whatever the case may be, Nolan's influence was clearly felt throughout that movie, that much can't be denied. It tonally felt very much like Batman Begins, but I personally feel the movie shoulda been closer in tone to Watchmen, which had the perfect balance of seriousness and campiness that would have more appropriately complimented a Superman movie. But the more I think about this movie, the more my disdain for Christopher Nolan grows for nearly ruining this film. And on the contrary, the more my appreciation for Snyder grows as well, for somehow managing to still bring it around, despite its countless setbacks.

Thinking back, I haven't always had these particular feelings towards these directors. It wasn't too long ago that I was among those who claimed that Nolan could do no wrong, and I didn't think much of Snyder outside of feeling that he was a pretty good director, and one to possibly watch out for. And watch out I did, as it took just a single movie to shift my outlook towards these two in full force. The Dark Knight Rises was a monumental disaster of a movie, one that I've ranted about several times here now, and still rant about almost a year later, and one that pretty much instantaneously had me removing my Nolan fanboy hat for good. And on the other end of the spectrum, Sucker Punch was a brilliant, if widely misunderstood, work of art that I've been openly praising and defending since its day of release, Snyder's masterpiece that proved his potential and single-handedly turned him from a director to watch out for, to my absolute favorite working director today.

But as I said, these two coming together to bring us Man of Steel only further strengthens these newer outlooks for me, and leaves me wanting to go back and compare the two even further. They're two men who both have very distinct styles and approaches to filmmaking, but where Snyder is still rising up and improving upon his previous work, Nolan appears to have possibly reached his peak and is currently on free fall, and I just hope that he doesn't drag Snyder down with him should the two continue to work together. But where there's no telling what lies ahead in the future, we can still look back to the past and put these two guys' work up against each other to see what worked and what didn't quite click.

Batman Begins vs. Man of Steel

Since we're talking about Man of Steel so much already, it feels right to go ahead and start things off with these two origin stories. While I made the comment above that Man of Steel should have taken a different approach from Batman Begins, that's not to say that I don't like Batman Begins itself. On the contrary, I think the film is great, and this dark and serious approach totally works for this particular movie. Where it seems like nowadays just about everything's trying to be all dark and gritty, Batman Begins was actually something new and fresh when it released, and is the movie that we can all blame for the "dark and gritty" trend that followed.

But what worked for Batman doesn't necessarily work for everything, and that includes Superman. This approach greatly limits Man of Steel, and gives it a disjointed feel when it suddenly decides to shift gears from somber and serious to over-the-top once the action begins near the end. An appropriate level of camp throughout to match the tone of the action would have gone a long way to improve the film and make it stand out on its own, rather than feeling like just another trendy Batman Begins clone.

Winner: Batman Begins

The Dark Knight Rises vs. 300

Up next is the movie that put Snyder's name on the map against the movie that made me second guess Nolan as a director. The two share themes of rising up against impossible odds to fight an overwhelming force in the name of justice. And with the big fight in the streets near the end, The Dark Knight Rises even appears to clumsily attempt a modernized approach of the sort of ancient Greek style warfare that comes naturally in a film like 300. Of course, as we should all know by now, The Dark Knight Rises ultimately copped out on those "impossible odds" in the end, but really, that's not even amongst the bigger issues with that movie.

On the other hand, while 300 isn't what I would consider a great movie, it's certainly a good one, known for the awesome battle scenes and classic one-liners that continue to be quoted to this day, and really established the slick style and tone that Snyder would go on to perfect in his later films. But even though there's nothing particularly special about 300 outside of it being a really fun movie, that alone makes it no competition at all when pit against Nolan's travesty. So, to even things up a bit, how about we switch things around a little and go with a slightly more flawed movie from Snyder's repertoire, but one that still fits enough of the mold to appropriately match up against The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises vs. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Now here's a slightly more even match-up. Nolan's dumbed down comic book finale to his otherwise grounded in reality trilogy, against what sort of feels like Snyder's attempt at making a toned down and kid friendly version of 300, just with owls instead of Spartans. But despite being a children's animated movie, it still feels like a Snyder flick through and through, even if it's probably his least memorable effort to date. But, like I said, it isn't without its flaws, which mainly comes down to the somewhat rushed pacing and at times sloppy writing. But the issues were overall very minor in the grand scheme of things, where as The Dark Knight Rises' are impossible to ignore. Otherwise, The Owls of Ga'Hoole maintains a fun, heroic tone, while Batman commits the ultimate superhero crime of being a boring chore. So, even against this more flawed flick, this is still an easy victory in favor of Snyder.

Winner: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

The Dark Knight vs. Watchmen

The two darkest, most epic, and most mature movies in these guys' libraries are also amongst their very best. Yet despite both traveling down such dark paths, the two movies also take very different approaches down those paths. The Dark Knight continues the very grounded in reality method that Nolan established with Batman Begins, while Snyder adds to Watchmen a bit of the comic book look and feel that helped make 300 such a memorable hit. And despite going such vastly different routs, both of these approaches work so well with their respective properties. Watchmen may quite possibly be the most faithful adaptation of a comic book ever, and it shows in the work, which truly feels like the images on the page come to life. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that Snyder improved upon the source material, as I feel his changed ending actually wraps things up much more tightly than the story originally did in the book.

But as much better as Snyder made Watchmen, Nolan one-upped him on this occasion. The Dark Knight is not only the best superhero movie around, but unlike all others, it truly transcends the genre as a legitimately great piece of cinema in general. This is Nolan at his absolute best, and this is the movie where I was sold on him as a director. This was where that "Nolan can do no wrong" outlook truly began for me. And great as both of these movies are, while I'd only be able to rate Watchmen as one of the better superhero movies I've ever seen, The Dark Knight is one of the best movies period that I've ever seen. So, point goes to Nolan on this one.

Winner: The Dark Knight

Inception vs. Sucker Punch

Where the last fight had both of its movies traveling down darker paths, this one sees both movies going all cerebral on us. But while they both might deal with the ideas of getting lost in your head, they, again, take vastly different approaches. Inception is far more clinical, and breaks the idea of infiltrating people's dreams down to a science for you. The film holds your hand the whole way through, explaining everything that's happening as it's happening. And even then, people still walked away confused by the movie. Meanwhile, Sucker Punch doesn't explain a damn thing, and so, needless the say, this movie flew right over the heads of just about every single person who saw it. But believe it or not, Sucker Punch actually deals with similar ideas as Inception, even if it's not nearly as literal about the whole thing.

Another thing the two have in common is their standout uses of music. Inception incorporates its score as a key component that actually effects the action on screen, a move that I found to be simply brilliant. And Sucker Punch, on the other hand, goes with using remixed classic tunes to accompany the action, like watching a music video play out in our characters' heads. And speaking on the action, this is both Nolan and Snyder at their absolute best in this particular regard. The spinning hallway scene in Inception is just stunning, and is probably the cleanest action sequence Nolan's filmed to date. But Snyder's never had that problem of clarity, and he builds on what he's been doing up until now and perfects his style of long takes that zoom in and out with slick slow-mo and speed-up combinations to their fullest effect.

So honestly, for me at least, this is probably the closest match of any of these. However, when it comes down to it, while they're both brilliant takes on a similar subject matter, I do feel that Snyder's fun and more over-the-top approach more fully embraces its concept, and the fact that Snyder doesn't spell it all out to you makes it a far more intriguing spectacle to watch. Inception is great, no doubt about it, but its colder approach doesn't quite capture the dream-like state of imagination as vividly as Sucker Punch was able to accomplish.

Winner: Sucker Punch

Obviously I'm missing some movies here, as I haven't seen Snyder's Dawn of the Dead yet, nor Nolan's Following or Insomnia, and there really aren't any Snyder movies that make a good comparison against Memento or The Prestige. So I suppose we'll end this frivolous bout here with the tie, for whatever it's worth. But looking at these two directors side by side like this, it's actually not hard to see why they went with Zack Snyder to direct Christopher Nolan's Man of Steel. The two have played with similar themes in their previous work, and Snyder has proven himself a competent director, particularly as it concerns bringing faithful and respectable adaptations to the big screen. But where the two share similar ideas, their approaches to those ideas have been very different up until now, which is an aspect that I feel went overlooked during the production of the latest Superman.

But anyways, I'm not even sure that I actually have a point to make with this post, but I just thought it'd be an interesting idea to take a look back and compare these two directors that I've come to hold in such high regard, particularly now after their different paths have finally come together. But what do you all think about these two? Who's the better director? Is it Christopher Nolan? Or perhaps you're a Zack Snyder fan like me. And how would you compare their work up until now? Do you agree with my assessments, or am I completely wrong on all accounts? (I'm wrong, aren't I?) But let me know what you think, 'cause I'd be very interested to hear!


  1. Personally, I still believe Nolan can do no wrong ha... However, I understand where you're coming from, knowing that I don't enjoy the action side of things nearly as much as you. I've never seen anything of Zack Snyder's that I really loved, so, for me, Nolan wins this one easily. Inception is Nolan's only visually impressive film, but I think it may be the only time he really tried for that. I think these guys are completely different in their focus, as Snyder is more concerned with visuals and Nolan with drama. Just my opinions ha

    1. I can definitely agree with you that Nolan's more there for the drama than Snyder is. That's not to say that his films aren't visually impressive in their own way that compliments his style, though they certainly don't appear to be quite as crucial to him as they are to Snyder. Thanks for weighing in. :)

  2. Wait, for real? Did you honestly declare Sucker Punch the winner over Inception? LOL

    1. See, I'm wrong, aren't I? :P

    2. It's relatively egregious, yeah ;) Not a big fan of Sucker Punch, I think it really has earned its bad rap :o

    3. We'll just have to disagree on that one then. ;)

  3. Chris, I could not agree more, I went into Man of Steel expecting a Snyder film but left not knowing what I had just witnessed. It seems a lot of folks praising Man of Steel enjoy it specifically because it does not look like a Snyder film, specifically the action sequences.

    So Sucker Punch is worth a watch?

    1. If you're into Snyder's style (which it sounds like you are!), then I'd say that it's worth checking out, definitely. I'd actually be really interested to hear your thoughts on the movie if you do. :)

  4. I agree with you about Suckerpunch and Watchmen. People have been giving them low ratings but I guess I'm one of the few who actually enjoyed them. Sure, there may be some flaws her and there but both were entertaining as a whole which is really what a movie should be about.

    But I guess we're not on the same page though about the film being more Nolan than Snyder. I was actually glad that the movie felt like Batman Begins :P

    Anyways, great post Chris! Nice idea of comparing these awesome directors :)

    1. Thanks, Geoff. And you ain't lying when you say those movies have gotten more than their fair share of flack, Sucker Punch especially. Nice to see another fan of those films! :)