This Zack Snyder Interview From 2008 Proves That ‘Batman vs. Superman’ Is Just Another ‘Watchmen’
When something goes wrong, we often revisit and analyze the past to find warning signs that were previously overlooked. If you apply that logic to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel, for instance, then you could find yourself reading old interviews with Zack Snyder to try and figure out if maybe we knew all along that these were the kinds of superhero movies he was going to make. You may also find yourself realizing, with increasing clarity, that Snyder never stopped making Watchmen.
Back in 2008, about a year before Watchmen hit theaters, Zack Snyder spoke with EW about adapting Alan Moore’s graphic novel. Watchmen arrived when the current superhero boom was just taking off — Iron Man had only recently hit theaters and the MCU was in its infancy. Yet, Snyder works in a cute Marvel diss in this weirdly prescient response to the rise of comic book movies:
The average movie audience has seen — well, I can’t even count the amount of superhero movies. Fantastic Four, X-Men, Superman, Spider-Man. The Marvel universe has gone nuts; we’re going to have a fricking Captain America movie if we’re not careful. Thor, too! We’re on our second Hulk movie. And Iron Man — $300 million domestic box office on a second tier superhero!
Eight years later and we’ve had three Captain America movies and two Thor films (with another on the way). It’s interesting that he A.) Makes a crack about Marvel going “nuts,” when the studio went on to successfully engineer an entire cinematic universe, and B.) That Snyder is astonished by the box office take for a “second tier superhero.” Adjusted for inflation, Iron Man made $380.4 million domestically, while Batman v Superman has made $325.1 million (so far). Iron Man was a risk — a character who was then-untested on the big screen. But Batman and Superman have a long, successful cinematic history; making a movie with both of those guys should be like printing free money.
That brings us to Snyder’s far more interesting comments about his adaptation of Watchmen, the darkly satirical superhero graphic novel that paints a more humanist portrait of typical comic book heroes. Nite Owl is basically an emasculated riff on Batman, who had just appeared on screen again in Christopher Nolan’s famously gritty reboot of the iconic hero. But if you ask Snyder, he doesn’t think Batman Begins was dark enough:
Everyone says that about [Christopher Nolan’s] Batman Begins. ”Batman’s dark.” I’m like, okay, ”No, Batman’s cool.” He gets to go to a Tibetan monastery and be trained by ninjas. Okay? I want to do that. But he doesn’t, like, get raped in prison. That could happen in my movie. If you want to talk about dark, that’s how that would go.
Okay, then! The director goes on to talk about his three-hour cut of Watchmen, insisting that the “hard R” aspects of the film are essential to the story. Aspects like a particularly gory moment with Dr. Manhattan, which Snyder describes by comparing the character to Superman in this illuminating response:
That’s Superman gone bad. If Superman grabbed your arm and pulled really hard, he’d pull your arm out of your socket. That’s the thing you don’t see in a Superman movie. But in Watchmen, what you get is, like, ”I’m a Superman, and I really want to help mankind — but I just tore this guy in half by accident. People call me a ‘superhero,’ but I don’t even know what that means. I just blew this guy to bits! That’s heroic?”
Weird — it’s almost like he’s describing his accidental-mass-murderer version of Superman in Man of Steel. In fact, when you really think about it, it’s as if Snyder just swapped the characters of Watchmen and Batman v Superman, which is even stranger considering that Moore’s graphic novel was — as Snyder happily admits — satirizing the very superheroes that the director would go on to make movies about.
Clearly Snyder is enamored with Moore’s tonal and narrative style, which has heavily influenced his own approach to making superhero movies. That’s beyond obvious. But it’s utterly bizarre to realize that Snyder reverse-engineered Watchmen into his Batman and Superman the same way DC and Warner Bros. are reverse-engineering a Justice League franchise.
Zack Snyder is still basically making Watchmen, but without the satire, and the weirder thing still is that he has to know this. He displays a sharp understanding of Moore’s Watchmen in that interview, discussing its themes and satirical qualities and drawing comparisons to iconic superheroes. He gets it. And if he gets it, then he also has to know just how crazy it is to repurpose elements of a narrative that was already satirically repurposing the narrative on which your current film is based. It’s baffling.