Q&A: Zack Snyder Talks 'Man of Steel' and the One Characteristic Superman Absolutely Had to Have

Although the early impressions of Man of Steel suggest that Zack Snyder will indeed prove an ideal choice to reinvent the original superhero, it didn’t always appear to be such a slam dunk.

After executive producer Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer dreamed up a scenario for a film that would reestablish Superman as both a relevant and relatable presence among the current pantheon of cinematic superheroes, Warner Bros. made an even riskier move: entrusting the all-American icon to a filmmaker whose previous comic book adaptations involved stylized hyperviolence (300) and genre deconstruction (Watchmen).

But Snyder says he was determined to deliver a screen Superman that genuinely felt faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, but with emotional and psychological vulnerabilities that bring him down to earth after leaping a tall building in a single bound.

Fandango: Do you feel you accomplished what you set out to do?

Zack Snyder: Yeah, I do indeed. Look, it's a massive undertaking, just from a mythological standpoint. Forget what we're filming, right? We don't even need to talk about that, but just the concept of "Okay, do you want to film a movie about Superman?" It literally happened to us on set when I would look over and see Superman in his costume. And I'd turn to my stunt coordinator and I'd go, "We're working on a Superman movie! Is this crazy?" And he's like "This is insane!" But that's cool.

Fandango: What did the character mean to you before you started, and what did he come to mean as you were making the film?

Snyder: There's a love/hate relationship I had with him, in that you like comic books growing up. And then I got involved with Watchmen – sort of the intellectual pinnacle of intellectual comic book work – and you make the Watchmen film and in the back of your mind you know what implications it has for someone like Superman. You know that you're basically taking a shot, in a weird way, at Superman and all the things that he stands for.

Having learned what I've learned from Watchmen – basically you've broken the rules, so now you know how to destroy a superhero; how do you build one up again? I don't want to say it's redemptive, but it's a chance to reclaim that mythology in a way. It's like you love him, or maybe it's part of your formative years where you've loved him, and then he betrayed you because he represented a sort of loss of innocence and all that stuff that happens to you when you get older. It's like, okay – you no longer believe. It's like Santa Claus or whatever. Then you go to Watchmen or you go to Dark Knight Returns, the Frank Miller graphic novel. And then you come back around and go "Oh – it's okay." There's a "why" of that of Superman as he's intended to be.

Fandango: Is there something about the time we live in that makes it feel right for Superman to reemerge and be appreciated again?

Snyder: Yeah, I feel like it's an optimistic movie. I think that there is this feeling that things could be getting better and things are – and that Superman, he represents that optimism. Everything's on the edge, but he's willing to do what it takes. For the last 10 years there's been this emphasis on first responders and what they're willing to sacrifice, and this volunteer aesthetic where people give anonymously for nothing other than to enjoy helping others. Superman really is the poster child for that in a lot of ways, because no one cares more and gives more.  

Fandango: Was there one stamp or spin that, no matter what, you knew you wanted to add to the Superman mythology?

Snyder: From day one, I really wanted my Superman to fight. I was like, "Here's one thing we're going to do. Superman's going to fight in a way that you've never seen him fight. It's going to be real, and it's going to be significant." I think that was the first thing that I said.

The other thing, of course, I was really interested getting at that sort of emotional core of who he is. The why of Superman. It's like when we got Kevin [Costner] to play Jonathan Kent: I was like, wow – what's interesting about this is that you're really going understand, hopefully, the why of his morality. It was the thing that I've always grappled with: why does Superman care? He cares so much about humanity, but he's not human, right? Jonathan helps us along the way to understanding that. Here's this guy that got immediately the why of Superman and was going to help his son understand that no matter what.

Fandango: The other comic book properties that you've adapted have been kind of finite in their end. There was no obvious sequel.

Snyder: Yeah, because they're based on a graphic novel rather than character mythology.

Fandango: So how much world-building did you feel you were doing for a franchise, for lack of a better word? Obviously you're focused on getting this movie made, but how much in your head was setting the stage for follow-ups?

Snyder: I mean, look, I would be naïve and silly to say, "Oh, now it's just one Superman movie. That's all that we ever thought we would do." But I will say this: we definitely shot all our bullets. It's not like we had two guns, right?

Fandango: That's true. Where do you go? How do you top this?

Snyder: Right. You basically have two empty guns and you've got to load them again, but that's a good thing. That's the danger of sequels; you're always like, "We can't do that in this movie. We've got to save it." But we were just like, "Do it. Keep doing it. Who knows? There might not be a sequel. Just keep putting it in." You end up with a richer movie.

Fandango: Casting is the most critical element to any Superman movie, and you found a very, very convincing Man of Steel in Henry Cavill. What did you see in him that made it obvious that he was going to be your guy?

Snyder: First off and the most important: he's a good guy. He comes from a military family. That whole first responder thing – you don't have to explain that to him, right? And his brothers are all in the military, and just to serve is a thing he's into. That aside, the guy just looks like fricking Superman! He's in the suit walking around, and you're like "Okay, that's Superman, right?" He comes out from behind the train and walks out amongst the soldiers – I mean, what do you want? That's awesome! It wasn't really in the script that way, him coming out from behind the train. It's like super-porn, in a weird way… when we were filming that, and I looked at the monitor – you really get at that kind of goose-bumpy kind of "That's Superman." That's awesome.


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