Zack Snyder: Sorry Marvel, ‘Batman v. Superman’ Transcends Superhero Movies

Zack Snyder, the architect of DC’s movie universe, talks about the ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ contest and how Batman and Superman transcend the superhero genre—unlike Ant-Man.

09.10.15 5:56 AM ET

Between his upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and his plum gig shepherding the foreseeable future of the DC cinematic universe, Man of Steel director Zack Snyder has superheroes on the brain—even on a rare day off spent promoting Doritos’ final, high-stakes Super Bowl filmmaking contest.

“I’m going to leave here today and go see [DC Comics’ CCO] Geoff Johns and we’ll hang out and talk about Aquaman or something like that,” he laughs as we sit in a theater, on the Warner Bros. lot he calls his studio home.  

Snyder first launched his career with a successful run in commercials before making his feature debut with the 2004 zombie remake Dawn of the Dead. His 300 and Watchmen scored over half a billion dollars combined for Warner Bros. and made him a star filmmaker for the studio. About a decade after launching his Hollywood career, he inherited the reins to WB’s DC Comics superhero universe.

Now he’s embracing his ad roots as part of the last-ever Crash the Super Bowl contest, which will award one fan-filmmaker a broadcast debut on Super Bowl Sunday, a cool million dollars in cash, and a gig working with Snyder and Warner Bros. on the DC franchise films.

Snyder’s serious about giving the winner their chance to launch a bona fide career under his wing. He’s been working with some of the same folks since his film school days spent with Michael Bay and Tarsem and future collaborators like Sucker Punch co-writer Steve Shibuya and frequent DP Larry Fong.

“I mean it in good faith: Tell me what you really want and we’ll see what we can do,” he said. “People get off their sofas, get a camera, get their friends, shoot a spot, and literally it gets shown to 150 million people. And by the way, you can win a million bucks. That’s not a small amount of money! And I’ll be standing there going, ‘OK! Now, what do you want to do?’”

That Cinderella shot could lead to a gig on, say, 2017’s Justice League: Part One. Snyder’s already preparing to direct the first of two Justice League films while simultaneously finishing next summer’s Batman v. Superman after an epic 140-day shoot in Detroit with stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, and Gal Gadot.

“Chris Terrio and I worked on the [Batman v. Superman] script, and he did an amazing job,” Snyder said of the March 25, 2016, blockbuster, which pits Affleck’s Batfleck against Cavill’s Man of Steel and will lead off 10 more planned DC superhero flicks. “It’s great fun, but it also has an eye toward the future—it’s going toward Justice League. Early on, once we decided that we were going to put Batman in the movie, then I was like, ‘OK, good! Because you know what that means? It means the floodgates can open!’”

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He considered the obvious comparisons between DC and its ambitious slate of superhero team-ups and standalones to the Marvel Cinematic Universe anchored by the Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Avengers films. The key difference between DC’s Shakespearean superheroes and Marvel’s, he says, is that DC’s are more epic.

“It’s a tricky process, setting up the DC universe, or Justice League,” Snyder said. “The credit goes to [Batman Begins director] Chris Nolan because he set the die for the DC Universe in a great way that I tried to emulate. I look at it as more being mythological than, say, bubblegum. And I think that that’s appropriate for Batman and Superman because they’re the most mythological of our superheroes.”

Director Zack Snyder poses for photographers during the Japan premiere of his latest film "Man of Steel" in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

Steven Spielberg’s recent doomsday prediction that “there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western” got many a fanboy’s spandex in a bunch. Ahead of our chat, in an interview earlier in the day, Snyder responded to Spielberg’s comments—and when I brought it up, he was flabbergasted that the Internet had already jumped all over the brewing debate. “That was this morning!” he exclaimed, before jovially admitting that Spielberg might be right while throwing some playful shade at the competition.

“It goes to the mythological nature of the movies that we’re making,” he said. “I feel like he’s right. But I feel like Batman and Superman are transcendent of superhero movies in a way, because they’re Batman and Superman. They’re not just, like, the flavor of the week Ant-Man—not to be mean, but whatever it is. What is the next Blank-Man?”

Besides, even if the Western cycled out of fashion, the genre had a pretty fantastic run, Snyder pointed out: “Didn’t he say it was kind of like the Westerns? But there are still great Westerns. I think it’s whenever anything becomes a ‘genre,’ you have to sort of look at it and try to understand it.”

He also addressed recent rumors that the focus of Batman v. Superman is skewing more Batman than Superman with six months left to go before it hits theaters.

“Only in that because it’s a different Batman than the Batman that was in the Chris Nolan movies, so we have a little bit more explaining to do—and you just had a whole Superman movie,” he smiled. “But I think only in that way, because you need to understand where Batman is with everything. And that’s more toward the beginning, but it evens back out as it goes on.”

Snyder described how he views the personal and philosophical conflict that pits Gotham City’s vigilante Dark Knight against its godlike Kryptonian savior, whose costly victory over Zod in Man of Steel left a swath of death and destruction in its wake.

“They’re actually opposite sides of the same coin,” said Snyder. “It’s interesting because Batman’s a man and Superman’s a god, if you think about it in those terms. So their relationship is very contentious. What Superman sees as Batman’s limits, Batman sees as Superman trying to control him, acting like an absolute dictator.”

“What we went after was the humanity of each character,” he continued. “We tried to say, ‘What would Batman have to do to unravel Superman, and what would Superman have to do to unravel Batman?’ Their conflict is based on each others’ understanding of the other’s weakness. The fun of that is when you’re dealing with these mythological creatures—to make them human again, bring them back to earth. And to do that you have to know the rules before you can break them. They have to go all the way to the stratosphere before you can bring them back down.”

Speaking of cyclical mythological moviemaking: I asked Snyder about a rumor that’s been floating around for years that he’d pitched Lucasfilm on a Star Wars standalone film inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai—a classic that also inspired one of history’s great Westerns, The Magnificent Seven.

“Where’d you hear that from?” He laughed. Again, the Internet. He played coy and downplayed the likelihood, now that Disney’s already charted its Star Wars course. “It’s possible. It was before the sale…and they kind of have their own direction now, I think.”

Maybe after he maps out the known DC cinematic universe Snyder can revisit the galaxy far, far, away, I suggested. He laughed again at the thought. “Well, as they say—we’ll see!”