When I was nine years old, my brother and I got in a fight about our Hot Wheels toy cars. His was a muscle car with a V8 engine bursting through the hood; mine was a Lamborghini Diablo. For fifteen minutes, we argued back and forth over whose real-life car would be the fastest. Wasn’t the external V8 engine the sign of a lean, mean, racing machine? Weren’t the sleek lines of the Lamborghini a sign that it was used to operating at high speed? As we yelled, the argument became more and more personal. Suddenly, everything was a personal insult; no matter how many times my brother tried to tell me off, I would always counter with the fact that he, as the younger brother, couldn’t possibly know what the hell he was talking about. At one point, I walked way, confident in my victory, only to turn back to deliver one last insult. It was then that my brother’s toy hit me directly in the eye.
Being the only kid in your third-grade class to wear an eye patch isn’t as cool as it seems.
The relative speed of Hot Wheels may not be the dumbest thing to fight about, but it certainly isn’t far off. Our insults wouldn’t make the cars move any faster. If a Mattel executive had magically appeared in our living room to watch the exchange, their only real takeaway would be that my brother and I had purchased at least one – and therefore probably several– of the Hot Wheels combo packs. And we weren’t even arguing about the real cars! We were arguing about an extrapolation of the toys we held in our hand, a hypothetical full-size Hot Wheels car whose speed was determined entirely by our own imagination. My brother scratched my cornea because we couldn’t agree about a hypothetical real-life recreation of a toy.
And that seems like as a good a jumping off point as any to talk about Zack Snyder. Yesterday, the Batman v Superman director sat down for a long chat with several outlets about the state of superhero movies. These interviews touched on a variety of topics: Snyder’s opinion of the future of the comic book adaptation, the prospect of having George Miller direct a Superman film, and finally, Snyder’s thoughts on the Marvel cinematic universe. You can bounce between several of these interviews and never truly pull together Snyder’s own thoughts on the process; Snyder does his best to manage the press junket and give thoughtful answers to each interviewer’s question. Despite his best efforts, though, the only thing on everyone’s mind is that Zack Snyder hates Ant-Man and thinks that Marvel sucks.
Never mind that Snyder expresses a strong desire to see the movie (and cites a difficult post-production schedule as being the only thing that has kept him away). Never mind, too, that Snyder’s overwhelming message is that studios need to make better and more intelligent superhero movies if they are to continue as a box office force. And while we’re throwing out nuanced arguments, let’s ignore the fact that Snyder focuses almost exclusively on the mythos of his superhero characters; the ways in which each are informed by and then subsequently fed into the hero’s journey and the American dream. Many headlines discussing Snyder’s interview have focused on his specific phrasing for a specific outlet, where Snyder referred to Marvel’s Ant-Man film as a “flavor of the week.” And this has sparked off a round of debate as to whether Snyder has earned the right to insult another comic book property.
On the one hand, it’s foolish to sit here and waggle fingers at news outlets for running stories on Snyder’s interview. It is news. Snyder is one of the most influential filmmakers currently working in Hollywood; you may like his past filmography or hate it, but there is no denying that Batman v Superman will be one of the highest anticipated films of the next calendar year. Moreover, it is the job of many writers to pick apart news items in an effort to educate and engage with audiences. If we weren’t allowed to analyze the word choice of filmmakers to headline our stories, every news cycle would be extremely low. Superhero movies are the current standard of Hollywood cinema – of the blockbuster model, of mass culture, and of talent development – so any words from a shared universe architect like Snyder help us understand our position in relation to the films.
On the other hand, forming an opinion of Snyder’s talents as a filmmaker based on his disinterest in a movie that he hasn’t even seen probably isn’t a great way to talk about comic book movies. When my brother and I argued about Hot Wheels cars, we were talking about a small fictional representation of a completely arbitrary division. Mattel could care less whether its audience falls on the side of the V8 muscle car or the Lamborghini Diablo; the important thing to them is that people continue to purchase Hot Wheels cars at all. If people stop expressing an interest in one model or another, then Mattel will happily cycle through a series of alternatives until the right combination of qualities can be found. For proof of this, look no further than the current layout of the Hot Wheels website, which currently touts miniature cars in the shape of Star Wars: The Force Awakens helmets. Not the vehicles or starships, mind you. The helmets.
We can spend a great deal of time with Zack Snyder’s interviews and look for proof of an anti-Marvel bias, but doing so brings us no closer to really understanding which franchise is better. Rather than beating ourselves up choosing sides in a completely arbitrary argument – which car is faster, which shared universe superhero franchise is better – we should remember to keep our criticism focused on the observable parts of the process. My brother and I may never have figured out whose real-life counterpart vehicle would be faster, but we did learn – time and time again – that my Lamborghini would beat his V8 muscle car in a downhill race. Wait until the actual films come out (and afford them with thoughtful and nuanced criticism) before we try and figure out the overall trajectory of both Marvel and DC. And then you’ll have all the proof you need.