Back in the ’70s, Donner introduced the world to the superhero blockbuster with his classic take on DC’s iconic hero. “Superman: The Movie” provided a blueprint from which almost every successive superhero film would borrow. As Donner saw it, Superman was “a fantasy that really believed in ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” and the director set out to “make a good movie about this beloved character and treat him with our greatest respect.” That made for a true celebration of the character that aimed to instill a sense of hope in audiences. All of which makes it one of, if not the best Superman movie to this day.
It’s no surprise then, that Donner wasn’t too impressed with the kind of deconstruction enterprise Snyder was running. Speaking to Den Of Geek back in 2018, the director questioned the modern take on Superman:
“I don’t see Superman as the way he’s being treated today, which is in a very dark fashion […] I think we’re in strange, dark days of moviemaking, but Superman was a hero. He was a fantasy, but we believed him. He’s not treated like that anymore. I’m not happy with it.”
Donner was obviously referring to the movie version of Superman, who’d been thoroughly Snydered at that point. But DC had also given comic book Supes the gritty treatment at various points, one example being the early-’90s storyline “Death of Superman.” It’s all a part of the overall evolution of comic book characters and storytelling — a stylistic ebb and flow that’s inevitable for any cultural figure that’s been around since 1938. With that in mind, even though I’m sort of on Donner’s side here, both he and Snyder are kind of shortsighted in their singular views of the Man of Steel.