Justice League Movie: Zack Snyder Talks Bringing the Team Together

Zack Snyder talks with us on the Justice League movie set about how bringing the team together is what he's been waiting for.

Zack Snyder
Photo: Warner Bros.

It’s been a long day by the time Zack Snyder comes up to the office to join the journalists gathered for at the Justice Leagueset. Besides having to deal with the hovering eyes of the press, Snyder also welcomed J.K. Simmons aboard on his first day of shooting as Commissioner Gordon. We were in the room as he worked with the actors atop the set of the Gotham City Police Department’s roof in a scene that includes Ben Affleck’s Batman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller’s Flash, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg.

At one point, Gadot couldn’t stop laughing at the likely absurdity of all their costumes during a close-up that had the camera rushing into her face while Fisher walked towards her with one eye covered by a red glowing light, and the rest of him wrapped in what might be best described as a Terminator onesie. Attempting to suppress a giggle at the silliness, the actors all persevered through the scene while chuckles continued. Snyder waited patiently before shouting cut and then stating it was remarkable how all of them kept going with the scene, laughter and all, as if assured this take could make it into the final film.

But after all of this, Snyder met us upstairs for drinks. Carrying a mojito in hand, Snyder showed off a newly edited clip of Bruce Wayne meeting Barry Allen. Afterward, we discussed the reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and how it affected, if at all, the tone and approach of Justice League—a movie that he always saw as akin to Seven Samurai and other stories about friendship and teamwork… as well as possibly resurrection.

Zack Snyder [Commenting on the Batman and Flash scene]: I do think that it shows a little bit about what Ezra brings to the movie. You know, Batman’s Batman, and I think Bruce Wayne can be—he has this kind of Batman humor that’s not the same as [the Flash]. You see he’s the straight guy. It’s what he’s good at. When I saw the scene, and we just cut it the other day, I was like, “Oh yeah, this is fun!” This is an interesting way of understanding how the movies have gone in a progression.

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And by no means is this like the whole movie. There’s parts of the movie of course where they’re facing enemies, and they have to get their stuff together—look at the Batmobile [glances at concept on wall that shows it loaded with more weapons than ever]. They’re going to be drawn into conflict.

I think that sort of Magnificent Seven aspect of the movie, the team-building part of the movie, and you guys know I’m a fan of Magnificent Seven or team-making movies, so it’s fun for me to finally get to this point now in the sort of progression of these three movies where we are building a team and making the Justice League, if you will.

So you’re not making the same kind of movie as Batman v Superman?

I would say that to me it’s like, again, this evolution—Batman v Superman, I think, to me was always inherently like, even just conceptually from the beginning when we were first like, “Oh, let’s get Batman in the movie, let’s get Batman”—and I’ve talked to you guys about why and how we got Batman in the movie, about the whole story of “who is [Superman] going to fight?” He fought Zod. That’s like pretty much an alien. Who does he fight next? What do you do?

And we were in that, that was with Chris Nolan, and he was talking, and like this idea—the first idea we had was like, “Oh, we’ll just show kryptonite being delivered to Bruce Wayne’s house at the end of the movie.” Ah, that’s kind of cool. And then from there… once we said in the room “Batman, what if he fought Batman?” Then it’s hard to go back. You can’t take that away; you can’t go, “Oh, you know who else is cool to fight? This guy.” Once you say that out loud, it’s pretty much going to be Batman.

I haven’t seen anything so far with Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Is there any chance he’s back at all for this? Is he a presence at all?

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I think that’s a little bit of a spoiler, but I think that Jesse’s amazing and hilarious, and fun, and [Lex] is in prison. So, who knows? [Laughs] Prisons are not—in the comic book world, they’re pretty [porous] places.

When you started BvS, Justice League obviously was coming. You had this whole slate of other movies that were coming, so there was this vision you had to have for the whole thing. But at the same time, you want to sort of pay attention to what the reactions are. So how did the audience reaction and the critical reaction to BvS sort of inform you guys as you come into this movie?

Listen, if it’s about putting more fun in the movie or embracing some of the what I would call sort of—because I think it’s in all the characters inherently, this sort of larger than life big fun stuff. Especially when you’re dealing with the Justice League, you can’t—you know the Flash and with [Jason] Momoa, and I don’t have a scene with Momoa [here], but I’ve been now with Jason, and the way he’s interacting with the group, it’s really even in just his Jason-ness. It’s the contrast like [between] him and Gadot is just really interesting and fun.

And just to finish my idea about this sort of “Batman vs. Superman” concept is that inherently also you have to remember that the whole sort of thread of that was to draw those two into conflict. So, I wanted to make sure that each of them was—and I felt that they were both evolving [in that way], in my my mind anyway. Like I think Superman was on his way towards something. I wanted to get to a Superman that had a reason to be Superman, you know? Like a reason to feel the way he felt about humanity or the way that we all understand from the comic books, as far as his moral compass goes, he’s pretty much the thing. But I feel like he had to go through something to be that.

And I’m not saying he shows up in this movie [Laughs].

You very consciously ended BvS with the dirt moving.

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[Smiles] Yes, very consciously.

And he’s absent today. So what can you tell us?

I mean there’s a process, clearly, that would have to go on in.

How’s his hair when he gets back?

It should be perfect. A little longer, I guess. [Laughs] That’s how the myths are, anyway.

Is he not supposed to be part of this stage of it?

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I feel like the idea is to—I guess that’s part of the story. If he does appear, I think that would be a big part of the story.

With the extended cut of Batman v Superman on the way, will we get sort of more of an idea of how that will translate into Justice League and maybe even an idea of how Superman might come back?

I don’t know if in the extended cut. I’m just trying to comb through my mind, because it’s been a while since I’ve seen it. I don’t know if there’s anything that’s directly related to that concept. But I think there’s other stuff, other well you’ll see, [the extended cut is] coming any second. It actually got leaked a little bit, so it came and went! But I guess my point is as far as the idea of drawing Superman and Batman into conflict meant that you really had to dig down on the darker parts of them to make them fight each other.

And I really do believe that with this movie, with Justice League, they’ve both been sort of freed from the shackles of that sort of responsibility to be in a place where they would fight each other. And I think that is liberating for us, in some ways, in making the movie, because really now, we have a single enemy with a single sort of objective, and it’s really about uniting the team. And that to me is a really fun concept.

Have all of the Justice League cast members been on set at the same time yet?

We’ve had almost all of them.

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What was it like?

It was super-cool. It was really fun. We did have a big sequence where they had to kind of “make the plan.” I won’t say what it was, but it was really fun.

Is the second Justice League movie still tethered to this? Is that something that you still plan to direct? It was sort of announced early on in a shareholders meeting, but it sounds like they’re closing that off for now.

We still have a release date.

This isn’t “Part One” though? Is this a complete movie?

Oh, it is a complete movie. I mean, of course, there’s—

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It’s not going to end like on a big cliffhanger?

Well, it’s the end of DC movies as we know it. [Laughs] Yeah, there’s some, hopefully, there’s some reason to [continue]. The movie doesn’t just end, and you’re like, “Well that’s the end of the DC universe.”

There’s always extraordinary pressure making any movie, but particularly on this one, there have been reports you’re under more corporate pressure than normal. Has this been a more difficult shoot for you than before?

Yeah, I don’t think so. I would just say that for me [in regards to] Batman v Superman, I think there is a slight misconception, about the shoot anyway, and about how much pressure was on us and pressure on the movie to perform in a certain way. From my point-of-view, maybe because I don’t know how to do it any other way, we make really personal movies. It’s really for me, I love the characters, I love comic books, and maybe it’s to a fault sometimes, but I broke out on this sort of hardcore aspects of the comic books, because I’m a grown-up and I love that part of it.

And I think that I had had a great time making the movie and I don’t think Warner Brothers, when we were shooting the movie, that there was some sort of corporate mandate to get Batman and Superman in the movie. That kind of happened—you know, Chris and I had that idea. It just so happened that was a way towards Justice League, and it came along at a great time for us as the studio was moving forward with the other DC titles and getting the DCU to exist. But I don’t think the sort of birth of Batman v Superman was like some sort of corporate conspiracy to sell tickets or do whatever. I think it just became this great vehicle that had a lot of focus put on it, because of where it ended up in the timeline.

But I think the studio has been amazing with me, and they are a filmmaker-driven studio. They don’t really do a ton of things by committee, and it’s just been a great experience I’ve had with them as a studio. But I do think that it’s been, for me, amazingly rewarding to work with these characters, because I do love stuff. I love the material, and I do take it—for me it is personal, a really personal movie.

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And I think that when Batman v Superman came out, I was like, “Wow! Okay, woof.” It did catch me off-guard. I kind of felt like—I guess I have had, in my mind, to make an adjustment, just because of, and maybe it is [due to] this sort of hardcore take on these characters as far as I love them—and I love the material, I do, and I take it really deep. So, I think that the nice thing about working on Justice League is it is an opportunity to kind of really blow the doors off of the sort of scale, and the bad guys, and team-building, and all this stuff that I think I can justify as [being] a big, modern sort of comic book movie, if that makes any sense.

Would you still say hardcore?

When I say “hardcore,” I mean sort of canon-hardcore, you know? And yes, I think we have treated these characters, especially now as we’ve evolved them into the team, I think we’ve pushed them a lot more toward what I would consider more of the iconic… because that frankly was what we [were planning] the evolution to be.

Not to give anything away or say anything that would be telling of where we’re headed with the movie, but death is darker than, say, resurrection or team-building. It’s just like a darker concept when you’re dealing with Dark Knight or The Death of Superman, those kind of ideas, as opposed to like, “Oh, let’s build a team and go fight the bad guy.”

It’s like a different energy.

You’re constantly changing the tone.

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Yeah, I’m like obsessed with tone in the movies. Tone has always been like the main thing that I go after with a movie. And I really wanted the tone of the three movies to be different chapters and not be like the same note that you strike, and you’re like, “Okay, there’s this again.” I really wanted that and I do believe that since Batman v Superman came out, and we really wrapped our heads around what Justice League would be, I did think that the tone has—because of what fans have said and like how it was perceived by some—that we have kind of really put the screws to what we thought the tone would be, and I feel like just crushed it that even little bit closer.

So would it be closer to your Dawn of the Dead sort of tone?

No, I think because Dawn of the Dead—I love Dawn, but I think the tone of Dawn is very, it’s hardcore satire. Because I take [Justice League] stuff in a lot of ways, not that I don’t take the Romero movie super-seriously and zombies super-seriously, because I do, but I do take this stuff, because I have more reverence for this kind of material than I would say a zombie movie, because I think the social commentary and what it means [offers] a different conversation.

On Batman, you said in this movie he has a renewed faith in humanity but at the same time he’s facing like a huge [alien] threat. It’s upped so much. How when you’re telling that story do you balance that with Batman trying to have faith… while he’s facing [Parademons] now?

I feel like that’s the whole thing about him building the team, you know. I feel like the threat, and the idea of him building the team as a guy who’s been a loner his whole career, I feel like the idea of him building the team—also, that was kind of the other thing when we were making Batman v Superman, we really were conscious, I was conscious of this idea, and I talked to Ben about it, like how can the character, how can we not be stuck with a single-note Batman for whatever, if it’s three movies—because he’s making his own Batman movie—what do we do?

And we talked long and hard about: okay, in Batman v Superman, he’s here. He’s like at the end of his career and he’s like down here, and he’s like seen this thing that now he wonders what his relevance is. Maybe if he does this one thing, and then the example of Superman makes him go, “No, you know what? I’m not done. I’ve got more to do, I’ve got to persevere, and I’ve got to make it right.”

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And I think that is the Batman you get now, and at the end of BvS, in Justice League. He’s on a mission and he’s really clearheaded about the mission, and the others that he’ll need to complete it.

Can you talk about working with Geoff Johns?

Oh yeah, Geoff and I have had a great working relationship, even on Batman v Superman, and on [the character of] Wonder Woman we worked together really closely. And we have a project coming out that we want to do together… but I can’t talk about that. [Laughs]

He’s just been a really, you know his knowledge of comics is crazy. He’s like an encyclopedia of comic books. Like I’ll be like “is there like a weird lantern from whatever?” And he’ll be like, “You know—” He’s just been really amazing keeping everything in canon that I’ll be like, “I’ve never even heard of that.” And he goes, “Yeah, it’s back and I’ll look through some archives.” Even though there’s DC-pedia, he’s like crazier than that.

I know this film looks like it’ll be a little bit more fun and funnier, but one of the things I loved about Man of Steel is the crazy and weird opening on Krypton. And it looks like you’re going back to Krypton in terms of having some weird stuff.

Well you know, [Jack] Kirby’s crazy in the greatest way. And there’s a lot of influence that’s sort of New God-y, the New Gods stuff, and we were digging on that. And that’s the Mother Boxes and that sort of Apokoliptian world and all that stuff. I mean, you can’t really do that stuff without—I don’t know how to call it weird. [Laughs] But this kind of scope-y, sci-fi, kind of cool, but I think it’s fun stuff.

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I think inherently when you start to talk about [this] and a bad guy that would justify the Justice League… I think you have to have a good threat that’s fun and kind of crazy. And the Mother Boxes are always fun, weird DC tech.

Did you deliberately put out the deleted scene [from BvS with Lex Luthor and Steppenwolf] to seed Justice League? Most of us are used to getting these scenes on Blu-ray, not the Monday after release.

That scene was like our way—I kind of felt like, “Oh that’d be a cool after-credits sequence.” But then I was like, “I don’t know, can I do that? Because Marvel kind of does that. Is that a thing?” And so we’re like, “Oh, maybe there’s another way to do it by just having it out there.”

Thank you.

Thank you so much, guys.