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The Heroes Burden: Zack Snyder's cinematic portrayal of the superhero

  • By Thami
  • On 28/02/2018

For years in comic book heroes have been portrayed as being perfect individuals who possess all the most ideal virtues like bravery, valor, kindness, wisdom & selflessness . These larger than life characters would be incorruptible & serve justice to all people to all walks of life. People have always loved comic book heroes because they show us the best of the humanity but also more notably they provide people with a euphoric sense of escapism because in reality such heroes do not exist.

In the late 80's & 90's s New movement of comic books where published which sought to reimagine the idea of superhero by actually humanizing them & placing them in a real world setting some of these iconic comics include Watchmen, The Death of Superman, The Dark Knight Returns & Kingdom Come. Zachary Edward Snyder grew up reading these new wave of revolutionary publications which would go on to ultimately shape his onscreen portrayal of the superhero.

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In a majority of superhero films we see heroes in their most basic state of being. They are portrayed as simply being individuals who have been gifted with extraordinary abilities and then in turn use said abilities to protect the innocent from harm or people with villainous intentions. Snyder sought to portray heroes in a more mature & darker way then ever seen before. He began this pursuit by directing the live action adaptation of the cult comic Watchmen written by Alan Moore which focuses on deconstructing the concept of the superhero. Watchmen is essentially about what would superheroes be like if they existed in our own reality. The storyline follows a group superheroes who are portrayed as being as truly real & flawed human beings just like in real life. Watchmen is perfect example of Snyder showcases the heroes burden by showing us how being superhero is not nearly as easy as people have imagined it. People have never really thought about the dire psychological effects of being superhero, the huge emotional turmoil it would have on an individual and the struggle of doing what is right in a realistic amoral world. We see this though the inner conflict of Rorschach who has a cynical view of what he feels is a corrupt world & Dr Manhattan who's apathy towards humanity can be interpreted as being a direct result of losing faith in society as a whole therefore believing that his attempts to save people are wasted. Zack Snyder's flawless cinematic adaptation of Watchmen explores all of these hypothetical conundrums in depth whilst also challenging society's long held preconceived of what it means to be a superhero and portrayed them as flawed human beings which was something truly unprecedented in the genre.


Snyder then embarked on revamping the most iconic character in comic in history for the big screen after many decades since Donner's timeless Superman films. With Man of Steel Snyder sought to carry on with the themes of superhero realism first explored in Watchmen by placing the Last son of Krypton in a world which strongly resembles our own. Here we see a more real and humanized Superman who not only struggles with his identity but with his purpose in a world where his abilities would make him either worshipped or demonized. Upon learning about his Kryptonian heritage fate would have it that Kal would have to face the last remnants of his race who seek to reestablish Kryptonian civilization on Earth through the systematic genocide of Humankind. Superman faces the burden of carrying the fate of the entire planet on his shoulders even if it means he has to go against his rightful people. Snyder succeeds in creating a Superman tale with meaningful emotional weight by showcasing just how far Earth's greatest champion would be willing to go to save the only place he's called home for all his life with the greatest demonstration of this being the climatic scene where Kal-El is faced with the cruel choice of killing Zod in order to save innocents (which is direct contradiction of the characters nature) highlighting the theme of meaningful sacrifice and real world consequences.


Batman vs Superman the Dawn of Justice is a true sequel to Man of Steel as it still retains the distinct tone & themes of Snyders superhero realism. Consequence is one of the biggest theme of this film as we all know that in the real world sometimes no matter what one does do even if it's with good intentions your actions can still have a negative impact. At the beginning of the film we see that battle against the Kryotonians has had a devastating effect on the cities of Metropolis & Gotham due to Kal-El & Zods epic clash. Even though everything Superman did was to save the planet from destruction he is still viewed through a lens of fear as a dangerous alien who's very presence challenges Humanity's existence in the universe despite the fact that Superman still dedicates his life towards saving people around the globe. One of the most iconic scenes with Dawn of Justice which perfectly captures Snyder's realistic take in superheroes is the "Should there be a Superman?" sequence where humanity questions what Superman means to the world and what his role should be in a world that has no mechanisms do deal with a being of with such epic godlike abilities. Snyder uses Dawn of Justice to showcase the darkest aspects of society when it allows fear to rule it because fear (especially fear of the unknown) is a force which can corrupt absolutely pushing decent people to horrible things as an act of preservation eg. when Batman allows thoughts of fear, helplessness & vengeance to corrupt him and seek out to kill a being that he deems as a danger to society without realizing that said being is actually a good man who's intentions are misunderstood by society. Batman's arc within Dawn of Justice is a metaphor for Post 9\11 America which is characterized by the unwarranted demonization of Muslims (who are represented by Superman) & a need for violent aggression against their perceived enemy as form of retribution ie. the subsequent unilateral invasion of Iraq & Afghanistan by America directly after the infamous terrorist attacks of September 11th.



Snyder's distinct style of superhero realism is a medium that the director uses to speak openly about the current state of our contemporary world & of human nature in general. As someone who has mentioned his love for the philosophical works of Plato & Socrates you can tell that Snyder aims to ask some the same existential questions through utilizing these spectacular characters as his thought experiments to ask "What does it mean to be a hero in a amoral society?" & "Is humanity even worth saving?". Snyder needs to be commended for aspiring to explore superheroes in a different way by showing that being a hero is not a contrived lofty ideal but something that should be deconstructed & analyzed in a more meaningful by portraying them to be just as realistically flawed & fragile as we are. His films brought a new level of maturity to a genre that challenged the audience to be more introspective about the world they live in. That is exactly why I love his films they give me more hope because I'm able to see myself in these flawed heroes because I myself am imperfect and yet these beings with extraordinary abilities still find the strength for why is right whilst dealing with their inner conflict.


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