Does Zack Snyder get a fair shake as a filmmaker? Depending on who you ask, the answer varies: fans of his films defend their sophistication and meta-textual commentaries, while critics complain about their glossy visuals and superficial thrills. All of which makes Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” both a rejoinder to and a confirmation of the associations audiences have with his work — eschewing much of the muscular style that he applied to “300,” “Watchmen” and “Sucker Punch” in lieu of a more streamlined visual sense, Snyder attempts to build rather than deconstruct superhero mythology in what proves to be his most straightforward film to date.
Comic Book Resources spoke to Snyder via telephone about his work on “Man of Steel” prior to Thursday’s announcement that he would be taking on its sequel as soon as early next year. In addition to offering a few hints about the larger DC Universe he hopes he hatched with this film’s reimagining of the Superman origin story, he examined the creative choices that drove his decisions on the film and reflected on the purpose of a purely good superhero in a culture fraught with moral ambiguity.
CBR News: What were your feelings about how “Sucker Punch” was received? Did it come out the way you wanted it to? And what did you feel like you needed or wanted to do after it opened to such mixed reception that maybe led you to “Man of Steel?”
Well, I was already doing Superman long before “Sucker Punch” came out. So I don’t know how it changed me necessarily other than I wondered about the depths of my use of sort of meta-filmmaking that I was interested in. I had pushed it all of the way to “Sucker Punch,” I felt like, from “300” to “Watchmen” to “Sucker Punch,” and I constantly felt like I was trying to keep peeling back the self-reflexive nature of movies, and thinking that the audiences would enjoy that. I felt like they did on “Watchmen” where they were like, “okay, it’s so deconstructed,” but I kind of feel like now I think about it, many people thought that “Watchmen” was a superhero movie, just like they thought “Sucker Punch” was an action movie. So I don’t know — it’s difficult. But I do think that I do love Superman in a different way — I’m a fan. So I did know from the beginning that I wanted to make a movie that was a propaganda film for Superman; I wanted to make people love him, rather than deconstruct him and take him apart and be like, what is the why of Superman? Let’s kill him. You know what I mean? I guess I was over my snarkiness towards superheroes.
Is that why you decided to make different stylistic choices and decisions we might see as counterintuitive to what we’ve come to expect from you?
Yeah — and by the way, those decisions had been made long before “Sucker Punch” even came out. I was basically creating this world where I’d said from the beginning I love irony in my movies, and the biggest irony of Superman is that it’s not ironic! It’s completely the most realistic movie I’ve ever made, about Superman, which fits into the filmography, if you will, in that way. And by the way, I feel like also the great thing about having done “Watchmen” and “Sucker Punch” is that the deconstructive intellectualizing, even though maybe people don’t see “Sucker Punch” that way, it’s certainly the way I perceived it — intellectualizing action, or superheroes. I had gone full circle to the point where I had finally arrived at Superman, I was ready to love him. I had grown exhausted at the concept of deconstructing an icon that I found reasons to love; he was a boyhood hero of mine, and I had no desire to destroy him.
How much do you feel like the approach you took is the only way people will accept a superhero now? It seems difficult to conceive of a superhero story now that doesn’t have the sort of existential crisis that Superman faces in this movie.
Yeah, I think it goes back to the whole idea, like Chris [Nolan] and I were talking about the fact that “Watchmen” should be coming out now, like later, because audiences are just getting up to speed psychologically with the superhero movie as far as it becoming transcendent in the sense that at first it’s just merely this kind of flashy entertainment that now is really in a weird way reflective of our culture. This superhero mythology is becoming sort of modern mythology; the 21st Century is definitely the century so far of superhero mythology being pop culture mythology and them being the same thing. And I think that the less sort of angsty your superhero is — and I don’t want to be too heavy with that, because I do believe our Superman is also at his core still Superman. We didn’t turn him into a character that he is not. I wanted to explore the sort of why of him, but it was funny because a guy asked me, “Do you think that Superman is too good, too much of a good guy for the 21st Century?” And I said, well, the truth is, if we’ve gotten to the point where doing the right thing is uncool, then we really need to reexamine ourselves a little bit. Because Superman just wants to help, and if that’s not cool, then that’s sad. We need to take a cold, hard look at ourselves. Because you don’t want that to go out of style — for good to go out of style is not what we want. We want our heroes to be heroes, right?
How much do you feel like this film is a chronicle of his evolution into becoming that hero that most people think of as Superman?
That was exactly what I was trying to do. I wanted him to go on a journey to become that guy. I didn’t want to just come out of the box going “I’m good!” Like all of us, I wanted him to go on a journey of discovery that allowed him in the end to say, when he’s standing there at the Daily Planet, that’s my Clark Kent! That’s the Superman that I knew! Now I know why he’s that guy. Even what happens to Zod informs the morality that he has.
I know your inclusion of the Wayne Enterprises logo on the satellite in the film was meant as a fun easter egg, but what can the inclusion of that imply in the creation of a larger DC Universe, which thus far has struggled to come together?
Look, the truth is that unless you get Superman together, you can’t do anything with the DC Universe, in my opinion. Superman is the hardest nut to crack, but he’s also the chairman of the board, and unless you got him together, I mean, what kind of Justice League movie are you going to make without Superman? I mean, it’s ridiculous. So from my point of view, if he works, and he’s working well, then the cuffs are off and let’s see what happens with the rest of these cats. And in a weird way, those stories serve Superman, in my opinion. And I don’t know what movie would get made with the Justice League, but if you think about it from that philosophical standpoint, then you’re in a place where you can really start to talk about what kind of movie you could make.
Do you feel like the work you did in “Man of Steel” allows a sequel to go off in its own direction, or is there more work to be done to establish him?
I guess my feeling is that if you build — and again, I don’t know what everyone wants to do — but I feel like what we’ve laid out here is the first brick in a wall that could be a big DC Universe — and I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think it’s a license to say, oh, let’s do another Superman movie that starts over in the Justice League setting, I feel like it’s a fun and interesting concept to maybe in the future start to join these things together, these ideas together.
“Man of Steel” is now playing nationwide.