Hello Interwebs! If you’ve spent any time on the internet in the last 3 years, you’ve probably heard some mention of the fabled “Snyder Cut” of DC’s Justice League film. Many called it a hoax, but it’s actually set to come out 3 weeks from now (March 18th) on HBO Max! Whether you’re a fan of superheroes, DC, Zack Snyder or not, this release is a precedent-setting milestone of the film industry. I genuinely think it deserves the attention. So this week I explain why the “ReleasetheSnyderCut” movement started and what it means for the film industry as a whole. It’s a bigger deal than you might think.
NOTE: If you already know the background, feel free to skip to the “Why This Film Matters” Section.
“Snyder Cut” Background Part 1: Snyder’s DCEU Before Justice League
The very public problems surrounding Justice League stem from the age-old conflict between artists and their patrons. Zack Snyder (the artist) was essentially in creative disagreement with Warner Bros (his patrons) concerning the film’s direction. Now, these issues arise in Hollywood all the time. Directors want their visions to be fully realized and the process to be unimpeded– but, unfortunately, those who pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a product want a say in the making of said product.
While proven directors (such as Tarantino, Nolan, Scorsese, etc) are mostly left alone to do their work, many other visionaries are manipulated by their studios or outright micro-managed. The more high profile the project, the more hands-on a studio becomes. And, when the projects in question are the biggest potential competition to the uber-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, WB had a vested interest in making sure their DC movie universe developed smoothly.
To this end, they hired director Zack Snyder– famous for his previous comic book adaptations of Watchmen and 300. Snyder was the architect of the DC Cinematic Universe in its original form. He set the tone, was responsible for the major character castings, and helped create the story. Beginning with Man of Steel back in 2013, Snyder envisioned an epic superhero saga spanning 5 films (of which Justice League would be the third part), building off one another to a presumably epic conclusion. For better or worse, Snyder’s plans never came to fruition.
WB’s issues with Snyder stretch back to the controversial critical/ audience reception faced by his first two DC films, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I’m sure WB was also frustrated with the two films’ noteworthy lack of profits. Neither MoS, nor BvS cracked $1 Billion at the global box office in their respective years. And when you’re talking about films starring the two most popular superheroes in the world, released during an era where superhero films are more popular than ever, both movies should have been slam dunks. For these reasons, it’s understandable why Warner Bros wasn’t entirely happy with Snyder and his DC universe.
WB’s subsequent retaliation against Snyder began as early as Batman v Superman. Presumably unhappy with Man of Steel‘s performance, the studio went into “damage control”-mode and meddled a great deal in the production of BvS. With an initial run-time of over 3 hours, Warner Bros. forced Snyder to cut the length of BvS to 2.5 hours to make the film more palatable for general audiences. Said cuts resulted in muddled pacing, poorly explained plot-points, and a generally messy theatrical experience. These issues contributed to an overall negative reaction to BvS from both the public and critics.
But the story didn’t end there. A few months after the BvS theatrical release, Warner Bros. allowed Snyder to release an “Ultimate Edition” of the movie, restoring the half hour of footage removed before the film hit theatres. The catch: this version was only ever available on streaming/ home video. So the majority of audiences never got to see it. While this version didn’t fix every issue critics had with the film, the Ultimate Edition of BvS is considered at large to be the vastly superior/ definitive version of the story. This seeming apology from Warner Bros to Snyder for compromising his vision is a clear precursor to the “#ReleasetheSnyderCut” campaign for Justice League a few years later. Stay with me. I’m getting there.
Despite the improved reaction to BvS’s Ultimate Edition, the film in its original state still under-performed at the box office and vastly undermined public confidence in the DC film universe. Therefore, a lot of pressure rested on Justice League to right the ship and restore audience faith in the brand. Though Snyder was still attached to the project, WB had seemingly lost confidence in his vision. Perhaps rightly, considering the polarizing reaction to his previous films (studio meddling aside).
“Snyder Cut” Background Part 2: Justice League Production, Release, and Post-Release
Now here’s where the real trouble started. Most of the way through JL’s production, Snyder left the project due to personal tragedy. Many people questioned if WB was unsatisfied with the movie and simply let Snyder go. But WB promised the public that they would complete Snyder’s Justice League as Snyder intended it. We were assured many times that the movie would be true to Snyder’s vision. Long story short, they were straight up lying…
Long story longer now: With Snyder out of the picture, WB hired Joss Whedon to finish up JL. I’m sure WB felt the film was in good hands, seeing as Whedon had directed the mega-successful Avengers movies (the first 2, anyway) a few years beforehand. Most people presumed Whedon was simply going to finish up the film’s production, oversee the editing process, and get it released. But, not long after Whedon’s hiring, media reported extensive reshoots occurring on the set of JL. Hearing this caused many fans concern.
The word “reshoots” is a scary prospect for some people because it implies that something is wrong and needs fixing. For the record: there isn’t anything inherently wrong with reshoots on films. They happen all the time, and they usually make the product better. But, in this case, fans of Snyder worried that Whedon’s filming might compromise the film’s artistic integrity. Sure enough, the final product felt far more “Whedon” than “Snyder”.
JL unfortunately disappointed at the global box office, and most folks wrote the film off as another Snyder misfire. However, plenty of DC fans looked to blame Whedon for the film’s shortcomings. Zack Snyder appeared in agreement. Over the next few years, Snyder “leaked” various concept arts and story details from his version of JL. What his ultimate goal was, I’m not sure, but his actions stoked the embers of resentment from his fanbase. It quickly became clear that the version of JL released in theatres was entirely different to the one Snyder was working on. And this inspired DC fans worldwide with the hope that a better version of Justice League existed somewhere, just waiting to be finished.
Just to give you a quick idea of some changes made to JL after Snyder’s departure: Snyder filmed 4 hours worth of footage for JL, but the completed movie was only 2 hours long. So, straight away, we knew WB chopped at least half the story out. But the mutilations went further. Of the two hours shown on screen, a great deal were re-shot by Whedon or otherwise re-ordered to create entirely new contexts.
In addition, the tone of the piece was noticeably different than Snyder would make (the humor in particular felt very Joss Whedon); at least 4 characters of some significance were cut out of the story entirely; the color palate (a hallmark of Snyder’s style) was drastically altered; the character designs (Steppenwolf, most horrendously) were completely different than Snyder envisioned (based on concept art which Snyder shared); and Junkie XL (the composer Snyder hired) had his work replaced by Danny Elfman’s for the final cut.
Even considering the vast alterations made to JL in Snyder’s absence, the opening montage of the film dares to give Snyder a story credit and list him as sole director. In truth, JL was a movie mostly made by Joss Whedon and WB with Snyder’s name merely posted on it. The film in no way represented Snyder’s work. And the way WB handled the situation was simply not right. They pissed a lot of people off (me included). Snyder didn’t deserve to take the credit/ blame for something that wasn’t his.
As I said up top, studios and artists often clash, and studios frequently meddle in filmmaking. But this Justice League fiasco is an extreme case. So fans of Snyder, DC, and artistry in general banded together and campaigned for a new cut of Justice League, completed the way Zack Snyder intended. And, against all odds, they got their wish. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is set to be released on HBO Max within the month!
Why This Film Matters
By now you’re probably wondering: what does a random superhero film matter in the grand scheme of filmmaking? Justice League is, in fact, a precedent-setting movie which may have ramifications on the Hollywood studio system for years to come! These precedents are for studios, creators, and movie fans.
Can you imagine if The Avengers had bombed in Marvel Studios’ early days? The MCU as we know it probably would have ended right there! And JL’s failure similarly rocked the core of the DCEU. Keep in mind that the Justice League was easily more popular than the Avengers for most of its 60 year history (though it doesn’t feel like that now), yet it made less than $700 million globally compared to The Avengers’ $1.5 billion! The first ever JL movie should have and could have been much more impactful than it was, regardless of the set-up it received. Yet the film arrived and exited with little more than a whimper. Why? Because Warner Bros screwed it up with their meddling, just like they did to Batman v Superman.
Justice League will one day be a great case study for studio interference in movies. The primary problem with JL’s the theatrical version is that WB tried too hard to please everybody. It was a safe, non-controversial, uninspired way for general audiences to pass the time. That’s not an inherently bad idea (or bad business practice) but, when you’re dealing with a brand as big as JL, it’s massively disappointing. I’ll admit I found the theatrical cut of JL entertaining, but NO WAY was it good enough.
Further, the entire product felt like a reaction to Batman v Superman‘s poor reception! Didn’t like the dark tone of BvS? This one will be more fun and crack more jokes (even though it’s supposed to have more serious stakes); think Henry Cavill’s Superman wasn’t “Superman” enough? Let’s skip right over his arc from the last few movies and turn him into the version we all want to see straight away (even though this film was intended to pay off his story from the last 2 movies); think BvS was too long? Let’s chop this story to half the run-time (even though JL added more than double the characters). When a movie is fundamentally altered from its original premise, people notice.
After Man of Steel and Batman v Superman under-performed, WB became gun-shy about their DC films and essentially said “if we can’t beat Marvel, let’s copy ’em”. So they tried that (mostly by adopting a light tone) but failed miserably (because the tone was so light that it undercut the story). Warner Bros so desperately wanted Justice League to be their Avengers that they made a discount Marvel movie. The films even had the same director! WB’s first attempt at Justice League reeks of a business following trends rather than cutting their own trails. And the approach blew up in their faces at the box office as well as with their creators/ consumers.
The theatrical cut of JL was also a slap in the face to fans of both DC’s source material and the previous DC films because we didn’t want JL to be exactly like Marvel. Sure, the DCEU could have learned a thing or two from the competition, but its differences from the MCU weren’t its inherent problem. Though Marvel and DC both provide superhero entertainment, their brands have been distinct from one another for over 60 years! And that’s good. If the entire genre was made up of either Marvel or DC, people would have gotten bored of it decades ago.
NOTE: The most brilliant adaptation of the Justice League comics I’ve ever seen is the old Cartoon Network series Justice League and its follow-up Justice League Unlimited. No live-action DC property is as good as those cartoons were (or Marvel, for that matter).
Of course the real issue with the movie is the way WB pretended to support Zack Snyder, lied to their fans, and then made him a scapegoat when the movie failed. I’m sure this kind of thing happens all the time. But I can’t think of another instance where it was so highly publicized. Oftentimes when this happens the creator genuinely had a role to play in the movie’s failure, even if the studio coerced them in the wrong direction. This time the director had his name was pasted on work that wasn’t even his.
Releasing Zack Snyder’s Justice League (ZSJL) is proof that Warner Bros is learning from their past mistakes in film franchising. Or, at least, they’re making a show of improvement to please people. It’s also a public apology to Snyder without actually saying so. ZSJL gets to organically conclude the story begun in MoS and BvS; the tone gets to be more in line with those movies too; we can be reasonably confident it won’t feel like a Marvel film; and it’s not guaranteed to please anybody (except the people who wanted it released). WB is embracing their own distinctive identity with this version of JL. They are also demonstrating that success can be found playing by their own rules as opposed to Marvel’s or any of their other competition.
WB would do well to take JL’s failures (both behind-the-scenes and commercially) to heart and make sure they don’t happen again. And maybe other studios will take note as well. I respect the confidence that WB has shown in Snyder since they announced his JL cut, and I hope said confidence is extended to their future directors/ movies/ franchises as well.
Is the Snyder Cut damage control to get fans off WB’s back and keep Snyder in their back pocket for future movies? Definitely. But it’s also a smart business strategy on their part. By letting Snyder finish his film, WB is positioning itself as a studio which respects its creators and fans. And by releasing this film on their new streaming service HBO Max, WB is ensuring a reputation boost alongside an influx of subscribers. ‘Cause there will probably be thousands of people who sign up for HBO Max just to see this film and then stick around. They really can’t lose with this one.
NOTE: Alternative to the above, studios will learn the wrong lessons from Zack Snyder’s Justice League and attempt to release 2 versions of every film: a rushed but passable theatrical cut, followed by a markedly better director’s cut to squeeze more money out of fans… Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.
The Snyder Cut demonstrates to creators that, if they rally their support base, they can drive a wedge of discontent between their audiences and their patrons. All they need do is plead a good case for why their studio screwed them over and why they deserve to have their story told. I think it’s a safe bet that average people are more likely to rally around one vocal personality than a monolithic corporation. Who doesn’t like an underdog story?
This technique could easily backfire though… Snyder is already a famous director with some clout. And his movie was the third film in an ongoing story which he created. If someone less powerful tried to pull the same stunt he did, they’d probably get themselves blacklisted from the industry.
But Snyder’s case goes to show what popularity can get you with the right people. It’s amazing that Snyder not only got to finish an edit of his movie, but that WB gave him 70 million dollars to clean up the special effects AND do some more filming! I don’t know if that’s ever happened before.
Most notably, we fans now know that studios hear our cries of discontent and actually listen! But this knowledge is a double-edged sword. It’s amazing that, because of us, an artist gets to complete the vision he was robbed of. But it’s bad that Snyder got this chance because people (me included) bullied Warner Bros into making it happen. This “ReleasetheSnyderCut” campaign sets a bad precedent that, if people whine enough about something (anything), studios will cave into our pressure. Of course they wouldn’t have done so if they didn’t think the movie could be lucrative but the point still stands.
Now that fans have a taste of control, where does it stop? I have this fear that, since movie-goers won this fight, they’ll go looking for more blood. But what happens when a studio stays firmer than Warner Bros on their stance? How hard are people going to push to get their way, whether it’s worth the fight or not? In this case, Snyder’s cause seemed just. Future cases, maybe less so. Where’s the line between standing up for something we believe to be right and simply complaining about things we don’t like? I have no idea, but I anticipate even MORE unnecessary anger on the internet over movies in the near-future…
Just keep this in mind: we don’t want to turn into the new micro-managing studios that force creators into idea-boxes. Most of us aren’t creatives. We don’t make the movies. Our job is to pay for the entertainment and enjoy it. Letting the studios know what we want from them is good, but we ought not to demand anything. Because art suffers when too many people want their way. That’s how you end up with films like Justice League‘s theatrical cut: safe and by-the-numbers. And that’s boring.
Was The Movement Worth it?/ Will it Be Good?
Zack Snyder is one of the most creative filmmakers working today. He has a fantastic eye for the “epic”, and I have every confidence his version of JL will be as grand in scope as the old Hollywood epics, like Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, or Gone With the Wind. Not to say it will be as good as those films, but it’ll be aiming for those same classic heights and more. If it’s a failure, it’ll be a spectacular one (and, let’s be honest, it’ll be a cult film either way).
On the technical side of things: Snyder is a visual director first and foremost. I guarantee the film will look amazing! But Snyder is admittedly a weak storyteller. The quality of his films tends to live or die on the material he’s given to work with. So I guess we’ll have to see how the script delivers.
All the actors in ZSJL are excellent, so I have no concerns there. If anything, I think they’ll be better than in the theatrical cut. Henry Cavill won’t have a CGI face, Ben Affleck will probably act like he wants to be there, Gal Gadot won’t get sidelined, and Ray Fisher is said to have a far meatier role.
I’m almost 100% sure this thing will be more memorable than the theatrical version. Even if it sucks, I still want to support Snyder and his film. Here’s an example to illustrate my thoughts on the matter: I didn’t like Tenet when it came out, but that movie was Christopher Nolan at his most, and I respected the narrative risks it took. JL is in the same boat for me: it’s made by an artist giving their all, for better or worse, and I think that’s worth seeing.
With that: I urge you to support this movie if you’re the least bit interested/ on the fence. If you’re already against it, I doubt the film will sway you… Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a win for creativity in a cold business-like world. It’s an unlikely story, and it’s inspiring, and it deserves to be celebrated.
What’s your favourite superhero movie? What’s your opinion on Zack Snyder’s DC universe, for better or worse? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,