Richard Donner Superhero Movies More Like Today’s Than He Realizes
Long before superhero movies were a billion-dollar industry, taken seriously by every film company on the planet, Richard Donner made the first two that garnered real artistic praise: Superman and Superman II. These movies both had one goal: Make the audience believe a man can fly—and they did. Flash forward to 2008, and the entire decade leading up to it, most superhero films were grim and gritty, or dark and serious. Batman Begins, X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 3…over the decade even joyful films had dark follow-ups. And Donner seems to think that’s how they still are.
How Many Recent Superhero Movies has Richard Donner Seen?
Probably not this one. (Image: Man of Steel, Warner Bros)
Now, in 2020, we’ve struck a balance, but one that leans more to Donner’s era. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange…these are all much closer to Donner’s movies than they are to the Dark Knight. In fact in Comic Years’ spoiler-free review of Wonder Woman 1984, Joshua Patton wrote the film felt like Donner’s movies. (I didn’t get that feeling.)
Yet in a recent interview, he complained about how dark superhero films are today. He did praise Wonder Woman in his interview with The Telegraph, comparing it to his Superman films. He also responded to Martin Scorsese’s criticism of Marvel Studios‘ movies, saying:
“Well, I’d like to be able to make one of those theme park rides!…The problem is, a lot of times, we see in our industry that when the technical lens becomes readily available, it’s totally misused. But at the same time, every once in a while you really see quite a wonderful story with one of these films.”
So, he has at least seen enough to rebuttal Scorsese but it’s his comments about Zack Snyder that are really strange.
Who Made that Other, Dark and Gritty, Superman Movie? Donner Doesn’t Know
The What and the Who cut? (Image: HBO Max)
Though Man of Steel took the Dark Knight formula to Superman, there were still aspects of that movie that echoed back to Donner’s Superman. There was joy, wonder, and even flashes of Christopher Reeves. But if you ask Richard Donner about director Zack Snyder’s superhero movies, you’ll get a one-word answer: Who? Snyder had a similar experience to the one Donner had. Towards the end of Justice League’s production, Warner Bros fired Snyder and brought in Joss Whedon. Whedon reshot most of it and turned it into a disaster. During Superman II, Richard Donner experienced the same thing—especially having a less-capable director replacing him (at least for the vision he had). Also, years after Superman II‘s release, Warner Bros. brought Donner back to release his directors’ cuts of his films. Who knows? If Donner ever figures out who Snyder is, he might find they have more in common than he expects.
So, though Donner claims he has no idea who Snyder is, he says he’s happy for him since he is now making the Justice League movie he wanted to make.
(Featured Image: Warner Bros…maybe proving his point)
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.