The Complexity of Simplicity – The Multi-Dimensional Portrayal of Zack Snyder’s Superman

Zack Snyder has been responsible for three of the ten films in the DC Extended Universe thus far. When critically analyzing his DCEU films, it becomes apparent that Snyder’s had a grand vision for his films that went beyond the standard superhero stories we see today. By specifically looking at his three films through the lens of Superman, a multi-dimensional arc shines through.

Man of Steel is perhaps Snyder’s simplest, yet most affective DC film. With its Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice more complex and darker and Zack Snyder’s Justice League was as multi-layered in items themes, Man of Steel’s brilliance is in it’s simplify. Man of Steel is the story of Clark Kent in the purest of manners. In the director’s view the DCEU had to begin with Superman through exploring the simplicity of Clark Kent’s character. As he points out in the trilogy, Superman is at his core, “just a guy trying to do the right thing”.

The sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice added layers to what Man of Steel built. Despite how pure and simple Superman is, he’s also the most powerful man on Earth and with that comes the burden of immense responsibility. Batman v Superman began exactly where Man of Steel ended. It opened up another dimension into the life of the character. What Snyder was essentially aiming for was a cause-and-effect illustration within the story of Superman. Clark Kent, in his own world, was dealing with the idea that the world might hate him for being an alien. His conflict with Zod might seem like a purely one on one sort of dispute but he wasn’t just anybody. When you’re Superman, it isn’t just another dispute, it has catastrophic repercussions.

Bruce Wayne was looking into this conflict between two aliens as a complete outsider. Just like that, Lex was dealing with his inferiority complex, not realizing that Superman is Clark Kent before he is Superman. For Bruce and Lex, and even the rest of the world, Superman seemed like an all-powerful god but it was in the moment where the word “Martha” was uttered, Bruce realized that he was a son trying to protect his mother. He wasn’t all that different to humans when it came to emotions.

It might seem like the multi-dimensionality of Zack Snyder’s DCEU ends here but it doesn’t. Batman v Superman ends with Superman telling Lois that she’s his world and then sacrificing his life to save the world. It would have been much simpler if Superman was just another ordinary man but no matter how pure he is and how simple he wants his life to be, he is the greatest superhero in the world. His sacrifice might seem ordinary, but his dying screams echoed throughout the world.

The beginning of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, again, presents us with a cause-and-effect illustration. Each film expands on the dimensions of Superman’s character, but also his impact to the wider DC universe. Superman’s mere existence was keeping enemies at bay. His screams were so powerful that the moment he died, the mother boxes awoke and signaled the arrival of Steppenwolf. The League recognized the importance of Superman and brought him back to life. But while his existence prevented Steppenwolf from coming to Earth, Clark Kent was living a simple life with the people he loved. He did not truly realize the impact he created.

“Fly son, it’s time” – Jonathan Kent

With the future of the DC Universe branching in multiple directions, it’s hard to know if Snyder will be allowed to to finish his Superman pentalogy But knowing how the director creates arc, it can be safe to assume that’s this continuous cause-and-effect cycle will go on. If the last two films explored the reality of Superman’s death and rebirth, the next film would explore a world where Superman was no longer pure, expanding on the Knightmare sequences in the franchise.

A Justice League film is expected to a big spectacle, where the League battles a villain like Darkseid, and that was indeed in Snyder’s plans. But, ultimately, this DC saga would always be the story of a boy from Kansas, who wanted to live a simple life with the people he loved.

His storyboards certainly indicated that it would come back to the story of Clark Kent. This was beautifully illustrated during Superman’s second flight in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In a moment where the world is surrounded by otherworldly threats and an entire league of superheroes is formed, Superman remembers the words of his biological and adoptive fathers, reminding the audience and even himself that he is more human than the world perceives him to be. No matter how the scale of the story is enhanced, this is still the story of Clark Kent.

I would argue that Zack Snyder understands the character of Superman to such a level that his plan was to show every aspect of the character on multiple scales. Man of Steel was purely the story of Superman in its purest form. The following movies expanded on the previous ones and showed Superman through the eyes of others. Batman v Superman explored Superman through the eyes of the world and Zack Snyder’s Justice League explored Superman through the eyes of inhabitants and enemies from other worlds.

It was all an effort to show how complex Superman’s character can be. To explore Superman, you don’t have to film sequels of him saving cats out of trees every other day. A character like Superman, no matter how pure and simple he can seem to be, has both a presence and immense importance throughout the universe.