- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
With Army of the Dead now out on Netflix, Zack Snyder manages to escape Metropolis — and the superhero genre as a whole — by returning to his undead roots as a filmmaker… and launching a brand new franchise all of his own in the process. When it comes to ways to leave the superhero movie machine behind with your head held high, it’s a bold option but, as past experience demonstrates, far from the only choice available.
When viewed through the lens of Snyder’s career to date, Army of the Dead feels at once a regrouping and a step forward for the filmmaker: it returns him to the subject matter of his 2004 debut Dawn of the Dead — written, as it happens, by Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad’s James Gunn — but approached in a style and scope, in both production and casting choices, that reflect what he’s been up to in the past few years. The movie feels like a statement of intent for what to expect from Snyder in the future, backed up by Netflix’s investment in the property via the live-action prequel and animated series both in the works. Together, they demonstrate that Snyder remains a relevant creator with no small amount of clout, even after his departure from Warner Bros.’ DC movie universe.
It’s an impressive flex, similar to that by that of Jon Favreau, who went from heading up Marvel Studios first two Iron Man movies to — after the interlude of the smaller Chef — explore the potential of digital filmmaking with Disney’s The Jungle Book and The Lion King, before ending up as the driving creative force behind Lucasfilm’s The Mandalorian and subsequent spin-offs, shaping the future of the Star Wars franchise for Disney (not to mention driving the success of Disney+ in those first 12 months before original Marvel content arrived on the platform). In his downtime, he’s also made The Chef Show for Netflix, raising the unlikely but not impossible opportunity for Snyder to himself break into cooking shows.
Other high-profile directors have had less success upon leaving the superhero nest. Think of Joss Whedon, who went from launching Avengers for Marvel with the first two installments of the property, to completing Justice League for Warners … to developing (and exiting) Batgirl, and then, essentially, disappearing. There are very particular reasons why Whedon is persona non grata, but even before such stories broke, he had still essentially vanished from the public eye while working on HBO’s The Nevers — a show that he left months before its debut.
There are other exit strategies from the superhero machine. Consider Christopher Nolan, who followed up his three Batman movies by… just continuing to be Christopher Nolan, but on a bigger budget now afforded to him by the success of The Dark Knight. To be fair, he never stopped being Christopher Nolan; his Batman movies alternate with The Prestige and Inception. The aberration was that Nolan directed two sequels with his Batman projects, if anything.
Perhaps it’s something about Batman; Tim Burton just became more Tim Burton after 1992’s Batman Returns, emboldened by the success of his brief tenure in Gotham City. Those were different times, mind you, where superhero movies weren’t quite the cultural force that they have since become. In the pre-Marvel Studios era, Richard Donner go from directing one-and-a-half Superman movies to making three Lethal Weapons and a Scrooged and no-one would bat an eyelid.
And then there are the Russo Brothers, who followed up four massively successful — and increasingly ambitious, at least in terms of narrative scale and cast list — Marvel movies with the far more intimate and grounded Cherry. It was a notable shift in gears, but it looks as if it may be a temporary one — future projects announced for the duo include an adaptation of Mark Greany’s CIA thriller The Gray Man, and a sci-fi graphic novel adaptation The Electric State, suggesting that they’re planning to remain attached to the genre space, if not the superhero world.
For all directors looking at the exit sign from the superhero genre after spending a significant period of their careers working there, there’s an important lesson to remember: you may be able to return if you really want to. Sam Raimi was responsible for Sony’s first Spider-Man trilogy from 2002 though 2007, before returning to horror a couple of years later with Drag Me to Hell; next year, he’ll once again work on a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko creation as the director of Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
There are, as it turns out, many ways to step away from the repetitive superhero slugfests for directors who feel the need. Of course, that just sets up a surprise return at a later date, as everyone familiar with the genre has come to expect.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day