LOS ANGELES — He had a promising debut, a monster hit, a slight disappointment and a slightly larger disappointment. And in the last few weeks he’s become one of the more polarizing directors out there.
But now things really get interesting for Zack Snyder.
The provocative filmmaker will in a few months begin shooting “Superman: Man of Steel,” a reboot of perhaps the most beloved character in the history of movies (a point underlined Sunday with the news about Snyder’s choice of Amy Adams to play Lois Lane). But just where exactly do Snyder’s fan cachet, and box-office drawing power, lie in the wake of this past weekend’s “Sucker Punch”?
The helmer of “Dawn of the Dead” (the promising debut), “300” (the monster hit) “Watchmen,” (the slight disappointment) and “Legend of the Guardians” (the slightly larger disappointment) unveiled his girls-with-guns action-adventure this weekend. The Babydoll vehicle evoked some harsh words from critics, which could set up a hurdle with at least one group for the 2012 release of “Superman,” albeit a group that doesn’t much figure into the marketing of a Hollywood tent pole.
Although the “Sucker Punch” box-office results showed that Snyder still has plenty of supporters — the movie opened to about $20 million, the second-lowest number of his career but a respectable figure that was in line with pre-release expectations — the film also caused divisions among fanboys and fangirls, with some naysayers taking the opportunity to assess Snyder’s “Superman” chops.
“Sucker Punch is a loud, gaudy, fetishistic, bombastic piece of cinema,” wrote Ain’t It Cool News contributor Ambush Bug. “It’s also hollow, remedial, and bereft of substance ... as the minutes passed, bringing me closer to the time for the credits to roll, all I could think of was how wrong of a choice this director is for a Superman film.” (Overall, the movie garnered a decent if not overwhelming B-minus CinemaScore among general audiences.)
Snyder riles up filmgoers the way few other directors do — it could be that some people really have their stomach turned by his movies, or it could just be that, like a sort of Comic-con version of “Dogtooth,” Snyder movies somehow began eliciting both love and hate early on, and the arguments now just perpetuate themselves. Not every superhero director can be Christopher Nolan.
It’s hard to say where the road turns next for Snyder. Warner Bros., which is behind both “Superman” and “Sucker Punch,” drew a distinction between the two films, with Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of distribution, telling my colleague Amy Kaufman that “a film like ‘Sucker Punch’ brought out (Snyder’s) core fan base, but he has a lot of potential, and with a bigger, broader title, he can attract a wider audience, as he has in the past.”
Much of the success of this mission will course depend on the quality (and, given one of the reviewer knocks on “Sucker Punch,” the narrative coherence) of “Superman: Man of Steel.” It should be noted that hardcore fans are often skeptical toward casting and filmmaker choices at first but come around when a movie opens. And plenty of directors, of both comic-book movies and every other genre, have managed to turn around even groups hard-wired to oppose them (see under: Oliver Stone and conservatives on “World Trade Center”).
Still, once a filmmaker loses currency with the fan community, it’s not always easy to get it back. That seems especially true for a property such as “Superman,” where even those storytellers who come in with buckets of goodwill can run into problems (just ask Bryan Singer). Snyder has his work cut out for him. It just may not be superhuman work, at least not yet.