For the audience who know the history of the song, it is shocking; and for those who don’t, it’s even more mundane that the denouement of their zombie movie ends with the moans of “Zombie, zombie, zombie!”
But for aficionados of Snyder’s filmography, this fits perfectly with the filmmaker’s captivating (and often garish) musical choices. Sometimes they can work in favor of his films and sometimes against – and sometimes in the same scene. Either way, however, they still force you to sit down and take note.
To be sure, the use of non-diegetic music in movies – needle drops where the music comes onto a stage and has no source, like a radio or a live band, on screen – is subjective. There isn’t a set of rules for how best to use popular music in a movie. That said, at their best, needle drops can complement or comment on the current scene. They can add to the emotion of a movie moment, like the melancholy outing of “Layla” on the piano as the gangsters all get hit. Goodfellas, or they may challenge the images we see and the story told to us, such as when Beethoven is used to a spooky effect as Malcolm MacDowell’s allegedly refined Alex attacks his friends in A clockwork orange.
But at its heart, the proper use of a song surprises audiences, often by penetrating into a character’s emotion or free space onscreen, or illuminating it with some level of abstract distance. . Of course, the more popular the song, the greater the risk that the music will carry baggage for the audience. In period pieces this can actually be an asset, with each song being able to evoke an impression of time and place for the audience, especially if it is in the living memory of the audience – for example, little nearly all samples of music from the late 1960s in Once upon a time in hollywood– but it also means that filmmakers traditionally want to move away from the most popular Top 40 songs, unless it legitimately comments on a character’s perspective, like the Crystals’ very romantic “Then He Kissed Me” also in Goodfellas.
Snyder doesn’t seem to mind any of these issues with the song choices in his films. Rather, he seems to embrace the cinematic and pop culture baggage of many of his needle drops, wearing them like ostentatious jewelry as he struts along the strip. Occasionally they can have the desired effect, such as when he conjures up the image of the Vietnam War in the popular imagination by using Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in Guardians, reminding the audience of the emblematic union of this music with this conflict in Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse now while commenting on how Vietnam is a different animal in the alternate history of Guardians.
In most cases, however, it seems oddly under-thought, like the inexplicable use of Guardians. The song is a Simon and Garfunkel standard that was written for The graduation. So really what’s the point of this song Guardians other than that sounds sad and was written in the 60s, and we are now at the funeral of someone whose heyday was around that time? None of the on-screen characters actually liked the man they’re burying, and the play just conjures up in the mind a much better movie that used that song in much more haunting undertones.