Zack Snyder invited us and a group of online journalists to the set of Justice League last week to share details on their plans for his Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice followup. Since BvS had been received poorly from critics and was the subject of controversy among fans, the team behind Justice League wanted to openly talk about that feedback, what it means to them, and what's going to be different this time around.
And it's not just the feedback which has an effect on the creative process, but change - or more accurately, different styles of projects - were part of the plan since the DCEU slate was first announced in 2014. As Zack Snyder's wife, producer Deborah Snyder, would tell you, the direction the franchise was always going in aligned with what many vocal fans have been demanding and its till filmmaker-driven, even if BvS didn't help make that point.
So, on Friday at Warner Bros. Leavesden studios in southeast England, after spending a day chatting with some of the cast and crew of Justice League and exploring concept art, props, costumes, alongside various sets, Zack Snyder took the time to show us one scene from the film that had already been cut together (missing lots of special effects) before chatting with us about the project.
That sequence involved Bruce Wayne/Batman recruiting Barry Allen/The Flash and you can read about it here. Keep in mind, on the day we were on set, it was only day 31 of the 111 day shoot. Justice League doesn't open in theaters until November 2017.
This scene emphasizes a different and lighter tone than anything from in Batman V Superman, is that why you're showing it to us?
Zack Snyder: Well, also because it's one of the first scenes we have done, so I thought it would be cool to show. But I do think it shows a little bit about what Ezra brings to the movie. You know, Batman's Batman. I think Bruce Wayne has this kind of Batman humor that's not the same as - you could say he's the straight guy, you know? It's what he's good at. When I saw the scene - we just cut it together the other day - I was like, "Oh God, this is fun." This is an interesting way of understanding how the movie's have gone in a progression. By no means is this the whole movie. There are parts of the movie of course where they're facing enemies and they have to get their stuff together. Look at the Batmobile, for God's sake. You know, they're going to be drawn into conflict. But I think the Magnificent Seven aspect of the movie, the team-building part of the movie, which - and you guys know I'm a fan of Magnificent Seven and team-making movies. So it's fun for me to finally get to this point now in the progression of these three movies where we are building a team and making the Justice League, if you will.
You want to make a different movie from Batman v Superman?
Zack Snyder: Well, yes. I would say that to me it's like, again, this evolution - Batman v Superman I think to me was inherently like, okay, even from conception, from the beginning, when we were first like, "Oh, let's get Batman in the movie!" - and I've told you guys, we talked about why, how we got Batman in the movie, the whole story of "Who's he gonna fight?" You know, we fought Zod; that's pretty much an alien. Who does he fight next? What do you do? And we were in that - I was with Chris Nolan, and we were just talking about this idea that, I think the first idea we had was like, "Oh, you know, we'll just show Kryptonite being delivered to Bruce Wayne's house at the end of the movie." I thought, "Oh, that's kinda cool. Huh..." And then I think from there we progressed on to this idea of like, "Oh, let's get -" like once we said in the room "Let's get 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 "Batman" out loud, it's gonna be Batman.
I haven't seen anything so far with Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Any chance that he's back at all for this? Is he a presence?
Zack Snyder: Well, I think that that's a little bit of a spoiler, but I think that Jesse's amazing and hilarious and fun. I mean, he's in prison, so who knows? Prisons in the comic book world are pretty porous places, you know? [Laughs]
When you started BvS, obviously Justice League was coming, and you had this whole slate of other movies that were coming. So there's a vision that you have to have for the whole thing, but at the same time you want to pay attention to what their reactions are. So how does the audience reaction and critical reaction of BvS inform you guys as you come to Justice League?
Zack Snyder: I mean, listen, if it's about putting more fun in the movie or embracing some of the more what I would call - because I think it's in all the characters inherently, sort of this larger-than-life, big, fun stuff, especially when you're dealing with the Justice League. You can't - and Flash and with Momoa, when you see, I've been out with Jason and the way that he's interacting with the group, even just in his Jason-ness, the contrast to Ben and to Gal is really interesting and fun. And just to finish my idea, what I was going to say about the "Batman versus Superman" concept, is that inherently also you've got to remember the whole thread of that was to draw those two into conflict. So I wanted to make sure that each of them was - and I felt like they were both evolving, in mind anyway. I think Superman was on his way toward something that I - I wanted to get to a Superman that had a reason to be Superman, like a reason to feel the way he felt about humanity, that we all understand from the comic books as far as he's pretty, as far as a 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] But wait, you very consciously ended BvS with the dirt moving.
Zack Snyder: Yes, very consciously!
And he's been absent today. So what can you tell us?
Zack Snyder: I mean, there's a process, clearly, that would have to go on in the -
How's his hair when he gets back?
Zack Snyder: [Laughs] Should be perfect. A little longer I guess! That's what the myths are anyway. No, but -
Is he not supposed to be a part of this stage of it?
Zack Snyder: I feel like the idea of it is to - yeah, well, I guess that's part of the story. If he does appear, I think that that would be a big part of the story, right?
With the extended cut of Batman v Superman on the way, will we get more of an idea of how that will translate into Justice League and maybe even an idea of how Superman might come back in Justice League?
Zack Snyder: I don't know if in the extended cut - I'm just trying to calm my mind, it's been awhile 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. There's other - well, you'll see. It actually got leaked a little bit, so it came and went. But I guess my point is only that as far as - the idea of drawing Superman and Batman in conflict meant that you really had to dig down into 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 freed of the shackles of that, the responsibility to be in a place where they would fight each other. I think that that is liberating for us in some ways in making the movie because really now we have a single enemy with a single objective, and it's really about uniting the team. That to me is a fun activity.
Have you had all the Justice League members on the set at the same time, so far?
Zack Snyder: We've had almost all of them together.
[Laughs] What was it like?
Zack Snyder: It was super cool! It was really fun. We did have a big sequence where they had to "make the plan." I won't say what it was. It was pretty 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?
Zack Snyder: I think we still have a release date.
This isn't "Part 1" though? You're not looking at it as a part one?
Zack Snyder: Oh, it is a complete movie. I mean, of course there's -
It's not going to end on a big cliffhanger?
Zack Snyder: You know, hopefully there's some reason to go - the movie doesn't end and you go, "Okay, well that's the DC Universe!"
There's always extraordinary pressure making any movie, but particularly on this one, there have been reports that you're under more corporate pressure than normal. Has this been a more difficult film for you than you would have hoped.
Zack Snyder: Yeah, I don't think so. I would just say that, for me, Batman v Superman, I think there is a slight misconception about the shooting, anyway, about how much pressure there was on us and the pressure on the movie to perform in a certain way. From my point of view, and maybe just because I don't know how to do it any other way, we make really personal movies. For me, anyway, I love the characters. I love comic books - maybe to a fault sometimes.
Like, I dork out on these hardcore aspects of the comic books, because I'm a grownup and I love that part of it. I had a great time making the movie, and I don't think that Warner Bros. when we were shooting the movie, that there was some sort of corporate mandate to get Batman and Superman in the movie. Chris and I kind of had that idea, and then it just so happened that that was a way toward 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 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, you know? But I think the studio's been amazing with me, and they are a filmmaker-driven studio. They don't really do a ton of things by committee. It's just been a great experience I've had with them as a studio.
But I do think that, for me, it's been amazingly rewarding to work with these characters, because I just love stuff. I love the material, and for me it is personal, a really personal movie. You know, when Batman v Superman first came out, I was like, "Wow, okay, woof." It did catch me off-guard. I kind of felt like - and I have had to, in my mind, make an adjustment, and maybe it is my hardcore take on characters as far as I love 'em, and I love the material. I do, I take it really deep. So I think the nice thing about working on Justice League is that it is an opportunity to really blow the doors off of the scale and the bad guys and team-building and all the stuff that I think I could justify as a big, modern comic book movie, if that makes any sense.
Will it be hardcore?
Zack Snyder: I mean, when I say "hardcore," I mean sort of canon hardcore, you know? And I would say, yes, we have treated these characters, especially now as we have evolved them into the team, I think we've pushed them a lot more toward what I would consider more the sort of iconic... because that, frankly, was what the evolution was. I mean, not to give anything away or say anything that would be too telling of where we're headed with the movie, but death is darker than, say, resurrection or team-building. It's just a darker concept, like when you're dealing with Dark Knight or Death of Superman, those kinds of ideas. As opposed to, "Oh, let's build a team and fight the bad guy!" It's a different energy.
So you're consciously changing the tone this time?
Zack Snyder: Yeah, I mean, I think I'm obsessed with tone in the movies. Tone has always been 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 the same note that you strike like, "Okay, there's this again." I really wanted that, and I do believe that since Batman v Superman came out and we've wrapped our heads around what Justice League would be, I do think that the tone has, because of what fans have said and how the movie was received by some, is that we have kind of put the screws to what we thought the tone would be and I feel crushed it that little bit further.
Closer to your Dawn of the Dead?
Zack Snyder: No, no! I think Dawn of the Dead - well, I mean, look, I love Dawn, but I think the tone of Dawn is very hardcore satire, you know? And because I take this stuff in a lot of ways - not that I don't take the Romero movies super seriously and zombies super seriously, because I do - but I do take this stuff, I probably have more reverence toward this kind of material than I would, say, a zombie film, because I feel like the social commentary and what it means, it's a different conversation.
Batman starts off in this movie like he has a renewed faith in humanity. At the same time, he's facing a huge new threat. How, when you're telling that story, do you balance Batman trying to have faith - he doesn't hit Luthor with the brand at the end - but he's facing demons and...?
Zack Snyder: No, no, but I feel like that's the whole thing of him building the team. I feel like the threat and the idea of 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. I was really conscious of this idea of like - and I talked to Ben about it - of like, how can the character, how can we not be stuck with this single-note Batman for whatever, if it's three movies, because he's making his Batman movie, like what do we do? And we talked long and hard about like, "Okay, in Batman v Superman he's here. He's at the end of his career, and he's down here, and he's seen this thing that now he wonders what his relevance is, and maybe he can do 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 make it right." And that's the Batman you get now at the beginning of Justice League, is that he's on a mission, and he's really clearheaded about the mission and about the others that he'll need to complete it.
Can you talk about working with Geoff Johns?
Zack Snyder: Yeah, Geoff and I have had a great working relationship, even on Batman v Superman, and on Wonder Woman we worked together really closely, and we have a project coming up that we want to do together... I can't talk about that. His knowledge of comics is just crazy. He's like an encyclopedia of comic books. Like I'll be like, "Hey, is there a weird Lantern from -?" and he'll be like, "You know...!" He's just amazing about keeping everything in canon that I've not even heard of - he goes, "Yeah, it's back!" Like we'll look through some archive. You know, there's DC-pedia, but he's even crazier than that.
This film looks like it's going to be a bit more fun and funnier, but one of the things I love about Man of Steel is the crazy and weird opening on Krypton, and it looks like you're going back to some weird stuff with the boxes and demons.
Zack Snyder: You know, [Jack] Kirby's crazy in a great way, and there's a lot of influence, you know, sort of New God-y, kinda 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 some - I don't know if I can call it "weird." [Laughs]
Larger than life?
Zack Snyder: Larger than life! Very nice, thank you. Yeah, but the kinda scope-y, sci-fi, kinda cool, what I think is fun stuff. But yeah, no, I think inherently when you start to talk about - also, a bad guy that would justify the Justice League, not to make a thing, to "Double Justice," but I think you have to have a good threat that's fun and kinda crazy. And the Mother Boxes are always fun DC weird tech, you know?
Was that deleted scene from BvS that was released the Monday after, did you deliberately put it out there to sow the seeds for Justice League? Most of us are used to getting deleted scenes on a Blu-ray.
Zack Snyder: You know, that scene I guess was our way of - I kind thought like, "Oh, that would 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?" So we were like, "Oh! Well, maybe there's another way to do it, by just having it -" does that make sense?
Zack didn't shy away at all from tough questions, something we discussed on an episode of our Total Geekall podcast, and it's clear he's extremely passionate and knowledgeable of the characters - even if that didn't help the end result of BvS - a film that may have had some corporate interference in how it became "Dawn of Justice" with extra characters and scenes there existing only to setup future movies. There were hints of that in Zack's words, but now that the major pieces are already in play for Justice League and the studio has learned from the BvS experience (which is why we were there and allowed to talk about it so early) things are looking up.
See For Yourself: 30+ Things We Saw on our Justice League Set Visit
Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.