Zack Snyder is a hack and his success is a total mystery.
Throughout his film career, Snyder has never put out a film that’s even remotely original or deep enough to merit a second viewing. Meanwhile, Matthew Vaughn, a filmmaker with similar taste, has done both with lesser material and lower budgets. He is the better Zach Snyder. He is the one true Zach Snyder. He is not Zach Snyder.
1) They’re Both Comic Nerds
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Zack Snyder and Matthew Vaughn are the same person. They’re both pasty white guys who broke out in 2004 with films that were critically lauded and totally fucking sweet.
Snyder’s film was a remake of Dawn of the Dead that’s probably still his best, thanks almost entirely to a whip smart script from James Gunn.
Vaughn made his feature film debut with Layer Cake, a light-footed drug caper that almost instantly made Daniel Craig relevant.
Since then, both men have used their fame to helm a string of comic book adaptations. Snyder has gone on to release mega hits like 300 and Watchmen only to be rewarded with Man of Steel and the entire DC Extended Universe. Vaughn, meanwhile, has made visual love to Mark Millar, adapting Kick-Ass and 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, eschewing larger budgets in favor of weirder movies.
While, on the surface, both men gravitate towards splashy superhero flicks, even a cursory glance at their films reveals that one man should be at the center of Marvel’s biggest competition and the other… should make a lot of money producing.
2) Snyder Bad
Since 300, Snyder’s entire career has been subject to incredible debate. On the one hand, there are some who think his filmography is certifiably “bro-tastic”. On the other, there’s the ever-present argument that Snyder is just giving people what he thinks they want.
Case in point: Snyder’s extremely divisive adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Snyder was so terrified of ruining this beloved comic treasure that the resulting film is one of the most faithful adaptations in movie history. And that’s a bad thing, because Snyder somehow managed to adapted the events of the comic without including any of the subtext. The result is a boring, sprawling, common superhero film where the source material, by comparison, was a cutting edge fable with complex real world implications and fresh riffs on old comic book themes.
In the 12 years since he’s been a name, everything that Zack Snyder has directed has been subject to tentative acclaim and serious discussions. Throughout it all, he’s displayed an almost mesmerizing ability to completely miss the entire fucking point of more than three potential franchises and growing.
Also, he’s responsible for Sucker Punch, the biggest piece of sexist shit to masquerade as a movie in the last decade.
3) Vaughn Good
Vaughn turned comic book movies on their ear in Kick-Ass. He also revived the X-Men franchise and even played a big hand in the script for Days of Future Past. The only time the director courts controversy is in his depictions of violence, which are super graphic, but in a cartoonish Quentin Tarantino kind of way.
On a more subjective level, Vaughn’s work is also way more fun to re-watch. The difference, here, is in the writing credits, which is to say that Vaughn has them on nearly all of his films, while Snyder only wrote the worst movies to which he’s been attached.
What’s more, Vaughn isn’t afraid of being at the center of a big franchise. He was about to be given the keys to the X-Men kingdom before he dropped out of the project, a move he only made so he could be the first person to get Kingsman to the screen.
In other words, Matthew Vaughn has the chops to handle an entire film Universe, he simply decided he’d go and create his own.
4) Violence Can Be Beautiful
With both director’s being comic book directors, an examination of their individual depictions of action is a must. Let’s start with Snyder, a man who comes from the Michael Bay school of directing. Here’s the final fight scene in Man of Steel:
For those of you who will immediately critique those odd dark spaces in the beginning, here’s the shitty dialogue you missed out on. The final fight spends a few minutes in a heavy-handed attempt to rationalize Zod’s homocidal tendencies — rationalizations that already pervaded every corner of the movie — before the two aliens set about clobbering each other. There is zero substance to any of the lines, and therefore no weight to any of the punches. Beyond that, the whole CGI-soaked affair is borderline incoherent and needlessly huge in spectacle.
What’s more, the fight itself actually flies in the face of nearly eight decades of Superman’s character. Not only does the Kryptonian never attempt to stem the tide of human casualties, he actually ends the fight by murdering someone.
While Vaughn’s violence is gory, it’s also coherent. Perhaps Vaughn’s involvement at the writing level explains why his set pieces often manage to carry emotional weight while costing less and being more badass than anything Snyder has put on film. Let’s use this fight scene from Kingsman as an example:
See, rather than operating under the notion that “pacing” means putting the violence in slow motion for a few seconds, Vaughn actually uses this wicked cool fight scene to deepen his audience’s understanding of the characters and move the plot forward, by skillfully pulling away from the bloodbath to show his other stars’ horror. The result is an intense brawl that’s more effective because it’s grounded in character and story.
You could actually argue that Zack Snyder had the easiest job, here. He had eighty years of context in which to base his character. You know how many people Superman intentionally killed in that time? Zero. (We don’t count Doomsday; he didn’t have a choice.) Yet, Snyder gleefully pissed on that legacy because his Superman needed to be gritty.
5) This Is All Christopher Nolan’s Fault
You can make a dark Batman movie because Batman is an inherently dark character. His mythos is steeped in tragedy and loss; he works in a gritty, real world setting. That’s part of the reason Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was so successful. But, Batman is an odd duck in the DC canon. You can’t simply transplant Nolan’s style to Superman because the characters are different in every major way. Zack Snyder is too shallow to realize that.
Matthew Vaughn, meanwhile, has a decade of work in which he’s proven that he can eloquently adapt comics and add his own visual flare while staying true to the essence of the source material. He focuses on silly things like character development and story while never sacrificing pure movie enjoyment. Of course it’s too late to make the call, but it’s bittersweet to imagine a world where Matthew Vaughn would be the architect of the DC Extended Universe.