Henry Cavill’s incarnation of Superman may look as though he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, but director Zack Snyder currently has the weight of the DC movie universe resting on his. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is, after all, not just a sequel to Man Of Steel, but also the debut of Ben Affleck’s new Batman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who gets her own solo movie next year, and the basis for the planned Justice League movies set to be directed by Snyder himself.
On the eve of Batman V Superman’s release, we met with Mr Snyder to talk about his hugely anticipated superhero face-off. Although our time with him was short, we managed to find out how he deals with the Greek chorus of opinions and reactions from fans online, the challenges of setting up a movie universe, and the likelihood of a Batman film which takes place before this entry’s events.
You inject a bit of a horror sensibility into the film, I think. Batman’s a really scary character in this.
Yeah. Well, there is something about Batman – even for me growing up… I’ve always felt like he’s really troubled, you know? He’s working out a pretty massive trauma that happened to him, and I think that by keeping that alive in the story – through a nightmare or imagery like that, you feel like it’s still boiling. To me, it keeps him on point as a character. Like, if you let that fade too far into the background, you start to go, “No wait – why is he doing this again? What’s he upset about? Like, there’s police. He knows that, right?” [Laughs] You know, we have a little thing called the justice system, and it works okay.
That, to me, was important. We had to make sure that the audiences are aware of [how he thinks].
Disillusionment is a theme in this film, I’d say. For both Batman and Superman.
I think, yeah. It’s a loss of innocence. I wanted to get at this idea that they’ve both lost their way a bit. Batman’s lost his way, and in the face of Superman, you can here him say, “What am I? Am I accomplishing anything?” He can’t change the world. Superman makes humans obsolete on some level, so it’s a huge conflict for him to try and figure out how to go forward. And he concludes that the only way forward is a world without Superman.
Do you think this film, and Man Of Steel as well, depict an America that’s less sure of itself?
That’s an interesting point of view. [Pauses] I think that it’s definitely an unsure world. Unsure how to go forward. That American optimism… I think it does speak to, now that we’re a global family, what it means to police the world and how hard that is. Clearly, it’s not easy. Every step we take, there’s land mines everywhere.
But I do think,in the end, the movie does have an optimism toward humanity and sacrifice. That those things still matter, you know? There’s a cathartic sort of… as you drill down, the ‘why’of being a hero, that’s still there. That’s what I try to get at through the whole mire of politicised conflict, in the end, when the rubber hits the road, the ‘why’ of being a hero is still there. I think that’s important. I didn’t want it to be this completely deconstructivist superhero adventure. I wanted there to be the ‘why’ of the superhero down at the bottom of it.
You have Wonder Woman in here as well, and of course you’re now tying this into the much bigger world of the Justice League. What’s that like as a filmmaker to think not just about Batman V Superman as one canvas, but as one of a whole bunch of other paintings on a wall, if you like? Is that difficult?
It’s not. What’s difficult is putting all the stories together for the spin-offs before we were shooting. That’s harder. But for me going forward, the Justice League and the second Justice League if there is one, that is easier to think about as one story, and the characters coming and going. That I can manage – not easily, but I can feel it.
The harder part now,with these other stories, with other directors making other movies, is that we’re paving the road a little bit ahead, we’re setting the mythology. And I think that makes sense, Justice League being the tip of the spear. But it’s fun, you know. It’s exciting to see what everyone else is doing. It’s pretty cool.
It’s interesting as well that you don’t just seed things for the future, but also suggest things that have happened in Batman’s past off-screen. Without spoiling things, does it mean we might see those events in a sequel, eventually?
It’s absolutely possible we might see them. I never really thought of them in those terms, as things to see, other than to establish that Batman’s been doing this for 20 years. That it’s not without consequence as well – like, the act of deciding to take that on becomes a sacrifice. It’s like what you’ve become is not amazing – he has a very weird life in the end, even though he’s a billionaire or whatever.
How do you deal with the process of making a film in the online era, where everyone has an opinion? There was a ripple of controversy when you cast Ben Affleck, for example. Do you just block that kind of thing out?
I kind of do. It helped that I was really confident in Ben when I went after him. And he’ll say, [sarcastically] “Yeahh, it was a no-brainer,” and that’s fine, but he took some convincing. Because it’s a tricky part – you’re exposed right to the heart of pop culture, you know? You’re saying, “Okay. Do it!” [Laughs] And I think he was really brave to take it. But he’s a really great Batman – a really authentic, American and international Batman at the same time. His Bruce Wayne is pure and perfect in my opinion, and I knew that it would be. That’s why I was really excited about the potential of getting him. When he said yes, I felt like a great piece of the puzzle was in place, which I could use to build everything else around.
But I don’t really listen. You can’t go forward without the internet, but for better or for worse, this movie is not made by committee. And you can tell – it has a very particular point of view. I think that that’s good. I feel like these movies are already based on characters that are so commercialised by pop culture that the idea of a second layer of commercialisation is really difficult and off-putting to me.The idea that we would churn them out… it might as well be a toy line.
You don’t have someone behind you saying, ‘You have to put this in’.
No, definitely. We don’t work that way. It was very much a singular effort. I remember once I told them that I wanted to put Batman in the movie, the biggest concession I made to them was, like, “You realise that by putting Batman in the movie, as a way of convincing me this is the right way to go, it suggests a world where Batman and Superman co-exist. And by proxy Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg – you name it.”
And that was the conceit in a lot of ways. And by the way, it was fun for me – it wasn’t a compromise in any way. It was the opposite. It came along at a really great time for the studio and for us as a franchise, if you want to think about it in those terms. It was a way of not just entering cold with a Justice League movie where you would have been introducing all these characters in a single film. That’s a hard proposition, really – for the audience, too.
It’s too much to take in.
It’s a lot to take in.
Can I ask you about The Illustrated Man? Are you still doing that?
Ah, no. Although I’m a huge fan.
Me too. It feels like somebody needs to make a really good Ray Bradbury film again.
Oh yeah. I love Ray Bradbury. It’s funny, because I got these bookends from my wife for Christmas. And by the way, I spent some time with Ray Bradbury before he died. And I got from his house these bookends from his shelves. I was like, “Oh my god, this is awesome!” Yeah, I’m a huge fan. Fahrenheit 451, too – I love that movie.
Yeah, the Truffaut movie’s really good.
It’s great. I think, just as a concept, when you think about censorship and all the things that are talked about today, it’s really timely now.
With that, our time is sadly up. Zack Snyder, thank you very much.
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is out on the 25th March in UK cinemas.