As he hurtles closer to the spring debut of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the highly anticipated tent pole on which Warner Bros. and DC’s ambitious superhero hopes hang, Zack Snyder has one eye firmly on the future. That’s why the director didn’t bat a lash when fanboys exploded over the seemingly major reveal of the major villain in last month’s trailer.
“I know what’s in the movie, so I know there’s other stuff,” Snyder laughed, checking in via phone from Los Angeles, where he’s putting the final touches on the March 25 release.
Among the December trailer’s controversial revelations is a first look at long-rumored baddie Doomsday, a brawny, fleshy CGI adversary created when Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor spins some insidious science on the corpse of Superman’s Man of Steel enemy General Zod (Michael Shannon). “If man won’t kill God, the Devil will do it,” Luthor sneers.
Snyder admits that he and Warner Bros. wrestled with just how much to reveal to fans with two months of pre-release buzz-building to strategize. “We had a long conversation about just taking ownership of that, of giving it to the audience in a controlled way that I felt was consistent with the escalation of the campaign,” said Snyder, a commercials veteran.
Last week, Snyder took a brief pause to stump for the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl filmmaking contest, which will award one of three finalists a cool million bucks. (Fans can vote online for the winning entry, which will be broadcast during Super Bowl 50—and land the winning filmmaker a job working with Snyder in the WB/DC franchise.) Snyder sent DC fans aflutter recently while promoting the Super Bowl contest. “In a weird way, Justice League is the next step for these characters to form a bigger team,” he teased. “Maybe there’s a bigger enemy to fight.”
Did he mean Darkseid? Brainiac? Ever ambiguous, Snyder hinted at what he may or may not have in mind for Justice League’s “bigger enemy.” “Well, you have Doomsday, right? He doesn’t just crawl out of the ground. He has his own mythology, right? So that has to be explored…”
The tight-lipped Snyder’s not giving up much more than that for now. But he does want audiences to begin thinking of DC’s superhero brand in macro terms. “To us it really made sense to give [Doomsday] to the audience now. I really wanted to make the audience a promise that… though I’m super excited and happy and fulfilled by the conflict of Batman and Superman, there’s also a bigger world to start to think about.”
That bigger world is, of course, the greater DC Comics superhero universe—and Warner Bros. has a lot of catching up to do. Using 2013’s Superman origin tale Man of Steel as a canonical jumping-off point, the studio announced 10 more shared universe superhero flicks to weave together, chasing the heels of Disney and Marvel’s competing Avengers film franchise.
And as the shepherd guiding the direction of Warner Bros. and DC’s cinematic future, Snyder’s the one laying down the roadmap. “It is constantly evolving, but we’re starting to get a handle on where we’re going with the world,” he said. “That’s fun because it allows us now to be driving toward a goal that we don’t have to make up as much. The rules can be the rules, and the movie can exist in a closed universe… it allows us to tie things together. If there’s a movie over here doing this, and we’re over here doing this, now we’re all on the same page.
“It allows for a coherent universe, which is important,” he added. “I think that makes the experience a little more satisfying because we know where we’re going, so the misdirects can be stronger and the reveals can be bigger.”
Next up in the DC movieverse is this fall’s David Ayer-helmed Suicide Squad—set to feature a cameo by Ben Affleck as Batman following the Caped Crusader’s face-off with Supes. “We made him fight,” Ayer told USA Today. “He’s awesome (as Batman)...You really sense that but for the grace of God he himself would be doing some really foul stuff out in the world.”
In 2017, WB will release its Wonder Woman stand-alone film starring Gal Gadot, who will introduce the iconic character in Batman v. Superman. Then comes the highly anticipated team-up Justice League Part One, which Snyder is storyboarding as he flies between Los Angeles and London, where he’s prepping the Justice League shoot and is also a producer on Wonder Woman, now filming under director Patty Jenkins.
Snyder’s long spoken of his allegiance to DC’s iconic, “transcendent” superheroes. “They’re not just, like, the flavor of the week Ant-Man,” he told The Daily Beast in September, firing shots at the competition. “They’re actually opposite sides of the same coin. 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.”
The grave tone and somber mood of his Batman v. Superman promises to set DC’s brooding heroes apart from Marvel’s band of spandexed jokesters—although even the Avengers are set to get serious and subtextual in May’s Captain America: Civil War. As the real world gets scarier, it can feel like humanity could use a supergroup of heroes willing to band together despite their ideological, political, or philosophical differences. Plotting the future of Justice League and beyond, Snyder says, he and screenwriter Chris Terrio have put a lot of thought into the real world themes and implications of their superhero movies and what it will mean when Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are joined by the likes of The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg.
“The great thing about having Chris Terrio as the writer of this project is it’s hard to get him not to do that. It’s in his DNA,” he said. “When we talk about it in mythological terms we’re always talking about, what does it mean to the world? What does it mean mythologically to us, now? What is the why of all of it?”
“Those conversations are a big part of the genesis of all of the ideas,” he continued. “It also offers an opportunity because you have now a variety of perspectives on a single issue. That allows the conversation to be bolder and more lively in the debate, because of these varied points of view.”
Meanwhile, he’s not sweating the competition, either from Marvel’s 2016 superheroes or from the box office-dominating rebels from a galaxy far, far away. He and Star Wars: The Force Awakens helmer J.J. Abrams traded friendly missives on Twitter this fall—much to the surprise, he says, of their respective studios.
“It was super fun and super friendly,” he laughed. “And it’s one of those things that doesn’t make it to the corporate level. The studio’s always like, ‘What are you guys doing?’ Which is cool because it just exists outside… just a friendly back and forth.
“They’re so iconographic even if you weren’t trying eventually you’d turn something into a lightsaber,” he added. “Even if you weren’t trying to, eventually someone puts on a black cowl or cape.”