Rebel Moon director Zack Snyder: ‘My obligation is to bring viewers the largest cinematic experience I can muster’

The director on his move to streaming, the critical panning of the first part of Rebel Moon and why he needs his family on board

Only a tiny cohort of directors have had such an impact that they’ve entered the film lexicon. Nolanistas are fierce champions of the Dark Knight director, Christopher; Kubrickian is synonymous with meticulousness; Cronenbergian helpfully applies to three members of the same dynasty. Even fewer film-makers can claim the suffix “verse”. Ever heard of the Scorseseverse? Of course not.

“There should be a Scorseseverse,” says Zack Snyder, architect of the Snyderverse, a catch-all term for the pictures made while he ruled the DC Extended Universe. “I can’t remember exactly when I first came across ‘Snyderverse’, but I remember thinking it was hilarious. I thought it was a one-off. I thought it was going to go away. But it has stuck around. The fans do make me think, What the heck? It’s awesome that they care that much. I do my damnedest to give them something to care about.”

Snyder began his career in 2004, with Dawn of the Dead, his remake of George A Romero’s 1978 classic, and has maintained near-continuous production ever since, with 300, Watchmen and the Justice League sequence. More than Kevin Smith, Ronald D Moore or Joss Whedon, Snyder remains the fanboys’ fanboy auteur, a billion-dollar-grossing film-maker whose admirers embrace him as “one of us”. The New York Times has called him Hollywood’s leading geek.

Critics tend to be rather less keen. Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire, released before Christmas last year, was blitzed by poor notices. It is the worst-reviewed film of Snyder’s career on Rotten Tomatoes. “There are endless hunks of spoken exposition,” my colleague Donald Clarke wrote. “There is a lot of space travel. A great many uninteresting people are introduced. By the first hour all narrative drive has slackened into a limp connecting thread.”


Sitting in London on the eve of Rebel Moon: Part Two – The Scargiver, Snyder shrugs off the negativity. “It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might,” he says. “Because I knew the movie was one story split in half. I felt that, to really understand it, you need a full picture. Some people thought there should be more character development or whatever. But I think a lot of the criticisms of the first film are answered in movie two.”

Rebel Moon: Part Two follows Kora (played by Sofia Boutella), a warrior with a dark past, who rallies intergalactic warriors to join the ranks of agrarian rebel fighters on the planet Veldt. Their common enemy is the pitiless, tithe-collecting Motherland, headed by Kora’s adopted father, Balisarius (the Irish actor Fra Fee). A peaceful first hour of bonding and backstory finally gives way to a spectacular battle.

It’s a love letter to Akira Kurosawa and Star Wars, says Synder, who wrote the script with Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten. “Star Wars 1977 is the film that caused me to take this split in the road and sent me off on this cinematic journey,” he says. “I love Aliens. Blade Runner. The Empire Strikes Back. Avatar because of its insanity. But, for me, the significance of Star Wars is bigger than the movie itself.”

After Rebel Moon: Part One and Army of the Dead, Rebel Moon: Part Two is Snyder’s third collaboration with Netflix as writer and director. Streaming is an odd swerve for a director, producer and screenwriter known for big-screen grandiosity, but it does give him the freedom to create franchises.

“Streaming has allowed more opportunity,” says Snyder. “A movie like Army of the Dead, for instance, would not have gotten made at the studio because of its scale. Not in the same way that we did it. Original IP [intellectual property] is not a thing that’s valued as much at studios. That’s my experience, anyway. Streamers tend to be a bit more tolerant. I haven’t changed. I’ll tell you my philosophy. I think my obligation is to bring to the Netflix viewers, and to their screens – whatever size – the largest cinematic experience that I can muster. So what I promise the viewer is that I’m going to give you the biggest movie I can” – he smiles and taps his wrist – “regardless of whether you’re watching it on your watch.”

My movie has an 18 certificate in the UK and Ireland, which I think is right. Watchmen isn’t supposed to be a Happy Meal. These are supposed to be adult themes

In 2021, after years of lobbying and an unprecedented $70 million investment in reshoots for a film that had already lost Warner Bros a nine-figure sum, the four-hour director’s cut of Justice League was released. (Snyder walked away from the 2017 production following the death of his daughter.) The director is working on extended versions of both Rebel Moon movies, which are expected to drop simultaneously at the end of the summer.

Snyder has often said his cut is so radically different from the initial Netflix release that it’s a completely different movie. For him it’s a reasonable trade-off; Netflix, in turn, gets four movies rather than two: Snyder simultaneously fashions a two-hour PG version, for larger audiences, while saving another hour (or more) of sex and violence for an on-brand R-rated cut.

Back in 2009, with the hotly anticipated Watchmen on the horizon, Snyder told me a similar tale: “The first draft the studio sent me was PG-13 and two hours long. There was even room for a sequel. My movie has an 18 certificate in the UK and Ireland, which I think is right. Watchmen isn’t supposed to be a Happy Meal. These are supposed to be adult themes. I honestly never thought about the rating. It really never occurred to me that having ‘lesbian whores’ written in blood above two murdered women was an R-rating. I just wasn’t thinking that way.”

He remains one of the vanishingly few Hollywood players who fight to keep adult material in their movies. “I think it was Sam Peckinpah who said, ‘I’m a student of violence because I’m a student of the human heart,’” says Snyder. “I’m not sure I 100 per cent agree with that, but that’s a quote, anyway.”

Snyder is a pleasing series of anachronisms. He’s a Democratic voter who passionately supports women’s bodily autonomy. He’s also an Ayn Rand fan who, in 2016, announced his plans to adapt her novel The Fountainhead for the screen. (He put the idea on the back burner as “America is too divided right now”.)

Watching 300 or Watchmen, it’s easy to forget that he is, above all things, a family man and the father of eight children. Deborah Snyder, his producer, production-company cofounder and wife of more than two decades, shapes and shepherds every project. They are a package: if a studio isn’t willing to have his wife as a producer on a project with him, “It’s a deal breaker”.

For all the SFX bells and whistles on each production, they often resemble a mom-and-pop operation. Synder often double-jobs as a camera operator and relies on the same crew. His son Eli also chipped in on Rebel Moon: Part Two. “At any minute, I like to be ready to shoot,” says Snyder. “I need everybody’s full attention all the time. I think I’m pretty nice on set. I’m kind of the same as I am right now. But it’s important to me that everyone understands there are a lot of moving parts; there’s a lot of scope and scale.

“I ask that everyone be really on their game and focused, because we need to move through these super-huge set pieces pretty quickly. That requires a lot of attention. That’s why I work with the same people all the time. My son Eli directed the second unit on Rebel Moon. He’s really good. It’s so rewarding to have him. It’s a real family affair.”

Rebel Moon: Part 2 – The Scargiver is available on Netflix