Some film directors, it seems, can do no wrong. Their resumes contain both hits and misses – just like everyone else – but they repel criticism like Teflon repels stains. Kathryn Bigelow, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams – whether they deliver a career best, or a bit of a stinker, they are revered and beloved, regardless. Not everyone has that privilege, though. Some directors are divisive in a way that is seismic and astonishing – and the reasons for the difference are varied and multitudinous.
The most obvious, recent example is Zack Snyder – director of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Snyder is, perhaps, the new poster-boy for divisive directors, with his latest film having so starkly split opinion, that brand new conspiracy theories were spawned.
Certain corners of the internet claimed that the vitriolic hatred of the superhero smack-down was clear evidence of a concerted effort to deride anything he releases. Then, there were those who were very clear about their specific dislike of Snyder and his work – to the point where a petition was circulated, calling for his dismissal from all things DC at Warner Bros.
The film itself – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – is a flawed endeavour indeed, but the viciousness of the backlash against Snyder on a personal level reaffirms his extreme divisiveness as a filmmaker – because Snyder has never, in his entire career, made a film that was embraced by an audience majority. Dawn Of The Dead, 300, Watchmen, Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole, Sucker Punch, and Man Of Steel – none of them were home runs, and each split audiences and critics alike.
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It could be argued that this track record set him up for the biggest divisive reaction of his career, since the nature of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – being a historic moment in film, as well as the foundation stone of a much-anticipated DC cinematic universe – meant that pressure was higher than ever before. The spectacular conflict within the audience was, in many ways, inevitable.
And this is, perhaps, entirely the point. If you hire a divisive director for your project, you can almost certainly expect a divided reaction to the finished product. Directors like Zack Snyder inspire great passion in an audience – but it is never wholly one thing or the other. People love the films, and people loathe them, in equal measure. The question – specifically in light of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – is, should divisive directors be hired to helm giant franchise adaptations with built-in fandom? In other words, should these giant franchises be led by filmmakers that are more, shall we say, crowd-pleasing?
Just as the films and directors themselves divide, so does this quandary. Personally, my answer would be, “Why not?” – but then again, I adored every frame of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. I also love Man Of Steel, and revere Watchmen as a phenomenal work of art. I guess you could say that I have an inherent appreciation for divisive creativity, because there is little spark to hold my interest in the safe and predictable. Risk-averse artistry is hardly artistry at all, since it necessarily has much of the ingenuity and vision massaged out of it before delivery.
Do I want the familiar and the comfortable, or do I want to be challenged? There is certainly a time and a place for the former, but without the latter, all is surely lost. The frisson of excitement that accompanies the challenge is the possibility of striking out, though – and that is where the conflict truly lies. Inventiveness and originality can only truly be achieved if creators swing big, and chance their arm – but, we must then accept that only some of those shots will result in the home run we all hope for. It’s thrilling when the connection is made, and crushing when it’s not – but how dull would it be if nobody stepped up to the plate at all?
Here, then, are some of the most divisive directors working today – the creators taking the big swings. Some of them have made movies I like, and some I am predisposed to consider the work of harshly. Some are loved by critics, and some are regularly eviscerated. Some make poorly reviewed box office hits, while some make brilliant financial failures. Whichever way the divisiveness manifests, I, for one, am glad they are leaving it all on the field – for the sake of interesting art.