There was a time, after "Dawn of the Dead" and "300," when few might have argued against handing Superman's cape to director Zack Snyder and telling him, "Resurrect this franchise!" Then came his polarizing adaptation of "Watchmen" and a disappointing box-office performance in "Legend of the Guardians," neither of which prevented Warner Bros. from giving Snyder the "Superman" gig last October. Now, though, in the wake of the critical drubbing and weak opening weekend of "Sucker Punch," some industry insiders suspect that the studio and its corporate parent are starting to wonder if Snyder — a director with a keen visual eye but not always the deftest storytelling touch — is truly the right man for the job.
In fact, David Poland of Movie City News even speculated that the director might end up departing the production. "Next month would be the moment when Snyder 'decides to do a more personal project,' if he was being given the heave-ho," the critic told MTV News.
Not that Poland or anyone else is suggesting that Snyder has one foot out the door. Certainly helping matters is that "The Dark Knight Rises" director Christopher Nolan has taken on a much-vaunted "godfather" role on "Superman."
"With Nolan shepherding 'Superman,' Warner Bros. will likely have complete trust in their collective vision as they attempt to reboot one of Hollywood's golden franchises," said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for entertainment-research firm Exhibitor Relations. "Yes, 'Sucker Punch' is a creative and financial disappointment, and probably the last time in quite a while that Snyder will be given free reign over a film, but he was never going to have that creative autonomy with 'Superman' regardless."
Yet Nolan's guidance is hardly enough to ensure "Superman" success on the level of "Batman Begins" or "The Dark Knight." James Cameron, for instance, took on an executive-producer role on "Sanctum" — one can clearly see his input both in the visuals and the storyline — but no one would argue that the film resides in the same creative universe as "Avatar." What's more, it remains unclear how engaged Nolan will be as he readies production on "The Dark Knight Rises."
"How involved will Nolan really be? His ['Batman'] casting is ahead of 'Superman''s," said Poland. "[Is] Nolan godfathering Snyder or just WB? Is he there to give script notes or to really assert an influence? It's an unknown."
Poland maintains that Snyder's hiring always seemed to be a move spearheaded by Warner Bros. Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov rather than Nolan, since the two directors possess vastly different stylistic vocabularies. In this sense, it may not be that WB is reassessing Snyder so much as that Robinov's higher-ups at Time Warner are.
"[I]t's more about the bosses second-guessing. Will the noise level turn [CEO] Jeff Bewkes' head?" noted Poland. "Could another 'Superman' flop — meaning just $400 million worldwide, hit numbers for most films — change how Jeff Robinov is seen inside the company? ... I do believe that [Snyder] is Robinov's guy and that Robinov's career is on the line here."
It's important to note, however, that Warner Bros. certainly knew what it had in "Sucker Punch" before hiring Snyder — its commercial and critical reception couldn't have come as an inordinate surprise. Nor was its box-office debut ($19 million) especially shocking, according to Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. "The opening was only a tad bit below expectations," he said. "If a branded film like 'Watchmen' opened like this, then it would be a big deal. The visuals were impressive and that's a major factor when it comes to a superhero tentpole. Many directors with far less action experience were handed comic-book epics before."
But even action-savvy helmers have faltered with "Superman." Just ask Bryan Singer. The thing is, after Singer's "Superman Returns" failed to resonate with the public in 2006, Warner Bros. can hardly afford to stumble again. According to Bock, WB understands that "it's do or die time," and continues to have confidence that its pairing of Snyder and Nolan was the right choice.
"[T]hey needed Nolan in a godfather capacity, and Snyder to up the hip quotient," Bock said. "Snyder knows how to create a dynamic spectacle on the silver screen, as he has shown with '300' and 'Dawn of the Dead,' and with Nolan guiding the story process, 'Superman' may just be the next big thing — again."