A recent AP profile on Zack Snyder claims that the director has “a lot riding on Sucker Punch,” a statement that’s not entirely true. Yes, the film is Snyder’s first that isn’t derived from source material, and yes, it came with a $100 million price tag, but in Hollywood, when a filmmaker has “a lot riding” on a movie, it usually means it’s a referendum on the rest of their career. Snyder’s already got his next gig booked, and it’s a big one.
Snyder is prepping the upcoming Superman reboot starring Henry Cavill. The director was handpicked by producer Christopher Nolan — someone who can seemingly do no wrong — to deliver a broody, moody Superman, riddled with 21st century angst. Add to that a budget that’s likely to eclipse $200 million, and the project’s status as Warner Brothers’ second Superman restart in five years, and it’s probably the highest-pressure job in Hollywood. Fan expectations are soaring, and all eyes are on Snyder to kickstart a massively successful franchise for the studio.
So the fact that almost everyone thinks Sucker Punch is a complete mess has got to be at least somewhat worrisome.
The movie, which hits theaters today, is currently scoring a putrid 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety called it a “cacophonous, half-digested mass of pop-culture influences,” and the Philadelphia Inquirer labeled it “hands-down the most nightmarishly awful film of the year.” And those are the nice reviews. In fairness, there are critics who see the beauty in Snyder’s fever dream, but they’re in the minority.
This very same scenario played out not so long ago. Last year, the highly anticipated The Wolfman was released to tepid reviews and a weakling box office. Its director, Joe Johnston, also already had his next project lined up, Marvel’s hot-property Captain America film. Fans (and most likely the studio) were concerned that the man best known for The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III, and who had just botched a surefire hit, would fail to deliver a movie on par with the studio’s acclaimed Iron Man and Spider-Man films, save for a couple sequels. While the jury is still out — Captain America comes out this summer — the just-released trailer is being well-received, and undoubtedly a few studio execs are untying their nooses.
So are Warner Bros. and DC Comics worried that an idiosyncratic auteur like Snyder — with his stylized, CGI-heavy visual palette — might digitize their favorite son beyond recognition? Probably not. As Snyder himself has said, Superman “probably will be the most ‘real’ movie I’ve made.”
But visuals shouldn’t be much of a concern. With films like 300 and Watchmen, Snyder has proved he knows his way around a green screen. What’s going to sell Superman to audiences is the story, and according to critics, a lack of one is Sucker Punch‘s major flaw. But whereas Snyder co-wrote Sucker Punch as an excuse to cram in every geek wet-dream he’s ever had, Superman is being shepherded by Nolan, and was written by David Goyer, who also holds writing credits on both of Nolan’s Batman films. And we all know how those turned out.
This is one of those cases where the creative powers that be know something that we don’t. In choosing the Superman director, Nolan most likely had the entire DGA at his fingertips. And yet, he chose Zack Snyder. We’ll know whether the decision will pay off soon enough.