We’re Getting A ‘Snyder Cut’ Of ‘Justice League.’ Yay…?
On Wednesday, May 20th, I felt a little like Jeff Goldblum seeing his first dinosaur in Jurassic Park: mouth agape, in a daze, muttering to himself “you did it…you crazy son of a bitch, you did it.” News was breaking that, after a years-long fan campaign best known for the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, a new cut of the 2017 DC superhero-team-up movie Justice League overseen by director Zack Snyder would be released to the new streaming service HBO Max in 2021.
Released in 2017, Justice League was supposed to be the pinnacle event for the fledgling DC Extended Universe, a franchise that had one bona fide hit (Wonder Woman) by that point while trying to atone for the pair of back-to-back duds from 2016, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. I saw Batman v. Superman at my beloved Alamo Drafthouse, and used their beer service throughout the movie in order to get through watching it. If shots had been on the menu, I would’ve ordered them, particularly right around the infamous “Save Martha!” scene.
Suicide Squad remains one of my worst experiences seeing anything in the theater. I felt my blood began to boil as the movie gradually got worse and worse. When it ended and I was walking out of it, I flipped off the movie’s poster as I passed it. My best friend at the time remarked that he had never seen me so angry at a movie before.
I remember seeing Justice League in the theater with my two cousins over Thanksgiving weekend in 2017. I remember being enthralled and engaged by the first half, but by the time Superman is resurrected about halfway through the movie, the film seemed to lose all of its steam. It didn’t help that Henry Cavill’s CGI upper lip was very distracting, and also that I had seen the original 1978 Superman movie on the big screen at the Smithsonian a week prior. Seeing Superman on the big screen was a moving experience, reminding me of what a classic depiction of the character it was. A month after I saw it, Superman would become the first superhero movie ever inducted into the National Film Registry, only adding to the film’s already considerable reputation.
When Justice League was trying to be invocative by having scenes on the Kent farm very reminiscent of the 1978 film, it all fell flat in comparison. When the action-and-CGI heavy final act happened, involving our heroes flying around, fighting indistinguishable CGI bad-guys while dropping one-liners like “my man!” and “booyah!” for what felt like a geological eon, Justice League had sucked dry any goodwill I had from the first half. From its awkward attempts at humor (a comedic subplot about a Russian family caught in the crossfire in the final act is cringe-worthy bad) to being predictable to a fault, Justice League’s biggest problem was that it assembled some of the greatest characters in all of popular culture and made it boring. One cousin and I agreed that the best thing about the movie might’ve been the cover of “Come Together” performed over the closing credits.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Justice League performed decently at the box office, but fell way below expectations. Critics didn’t like it, fans had a mixed reaction, and the film was vastly overshadowed by the likes of other major superhero films from that year such as Logan, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and even the studio’s own Wonder Woman. Within a few months of Justice League’s release, Marvel had DC back on the ropes, with its one-two punch of mega-blockbusters Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.
But strangely enough, it feels like, in one form or another, every live-action DC property was subsequently impacted by Justice League and its less-than-stellar performance. Startled by film’s disappointing run, Warner Bros. frantically pivoted their DC superhero output to have more family-friendly, crowd-pleasing blockbusters like 2018’s entertaining Aquaman and 2019’s incredible Shazam! This meant the cancellation of the planned Justice League sequel, and indefinite postponement of movies featuring The Flash and Cyborg, which might not even get made now. Even more mature, adult-orientated productions, like last fall’s breakout blockbuster Joker and this year’s Birds of Prey, seemed to be greenlit by merely differentiating themselves from the previous slate of DC Comics’ adaptations. While Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot got to thrive and flourish in their own respective movies based on their Justice League characters, Ben Affleck announced he had moved on from Batman (to be replaced by Robert Pattinson in next year’s The Batman) and Henry Cavill looks unlikely to reprise Superman, all but officially ending the opportunity to do future movies with his iteration of the character. (It might be for the best, Cavill didn’t succeed as easily as the late, great Christopher Reeve did in the role. I always thought Cavill’s performance was too mopey and solemn for the Man of Steel.)
He’s coming… to HBO Max pic.twitter.com/tthWwAqzWp
— Zack Snyder (@ZackSnyder) May 27, 2020
It also didn’t help that, in recent years, shows on the CW network based on DC properties, like The Flash, Supergirl, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, etc. did crossover miniseries with titles like “Crisis on Earth-X” and “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” (The latter of which even included a cameo by Justice League’s Flash, played by Ezra Miller, alongside the lead of the CW show, played by Grant Gustin, implying that both exist in parallel universes.) Those miniseries really did feel like the epic culmination event featuring beloved DC superheroes that Justice League should have been. Rather than be that Avengers-moment that validated their cinematic ambitions, Justice League felt like the proverbial turd in the punch bowl: everyone knows it’s there, no one wants to talk about it.
But fans of the film stuck by it, believing director Zack Snyder’s original vision for the film had been compromised. Despite having filmed the movie and being some of the way through post-production, Snyder stepped away from the project to take time off after the tragic suicide of his daughter. Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy and Firefly, as well as the director of the first two Avengers movies for rival Marvel Studios, was brought on to complete the film. It is here that Snyder apologists and defenders will claim that Whedon inserted a more comedic sensibility, and made what was originally intended to be a darker story into something much more light and peppy. Without Whedon and Warner Bros.’ interference, Snyder would’ve made a Justice League worthy of the darker tone and aesthetic that had been set up in his two previous movies, Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. These fans rallied, asking that studio release the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League. There were banners flown over San Diego Comic-Con, ads at bus stops, billboards in Times Square, all advocating Warner Bros. to “Release the Snyder Cut.” And while the movement had many legitimate fans of the film merely advocating for a director’s cut, it also had its fair share of toxicity and trolls that unfortunately plague many different fandoms these days.
One thing to note: the “Snyder Cut” didn’t ever exist. The people in the movement seemed to believe there was a completed, alternate cut of the film that was scrapped for the version Whedon worked on, but this is not the case. I always believed that, if indeed there was going to be an alternate cut with more control from Snyder, it would be in the form of a director’s cut, primarily working with what had already been filmed but with additional money needing to go to completing CGI effects, finishing and upscaling individual shots and scenes, and potentially bringing some actors back for at least new audio, and possibly even new scenes. This is what the recent announcement of what is being called Zack Snyder’s Justice League sounds like as opposed to a straight-up alternate cut of the film.
In many ways, the troubled production of Justice League resembles that of another DC Comics adaptation, 1980’s Superman II. Like Zack Snyder, director Richard Donner, who so expertly directed the first Superman movie in 1978, could not complete the project. (Though in Donner’s case, he was actually fired by the producers of the film, unlike Snyder voluntarily bowing out after a devastating family emergency.) A new director, Richard Lester, most famous for Beatles movies like A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, was brought in to complete Superman II, just like Joss Whedon was brought on to finish Justice League. (Lester was given full directorial credit on Superman II, while Snyder maintained directorial credit on Justice League.) And, just as is alleged about Whedon, Lester injected a more comedic sensibility into Superman II that didn’t match the tone of its predecessor. However, the story of this alternative Superman II lived on, remaining one of the great “what if?” questions in movie history. Many petitioned Warner Bros. to allow Donner the chance to piece together something that would’ve more closely resembled his unique take on Superman II.
The end result of these efforts was Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, released on home video in 2006, and which many, myself included, believe is the superior version of the film. Donner was able to come back to the movie on his own terms, and make the movie that he always wanted. Sure, sometimes the edits are a little abrupt and transitions a little clunky, but that’s to be expected when trying to parse a unique vision only from what’s available. Still, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a more rewarding, authentic sequel than the film that was originally released.
So, enough beating around the bush. What do I think of this development? First off, I love alternative cuts of films. I own five different versions of Blade Runner, and at least two of something called Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (which is great, BTW). Because of that, I’m glad that the arguably-compromised Justice League that the world saw almost three years ago is being updated to at least be more authentic to the director’s original vision. I don’t necessarily believe this will even turn Justice League into something great, or even good. Snyder is a good director (his remake of Dawn of the Dead, 300, and even Watchmen stand as testament to this), but he never seemed like the right fit for the DC Universe. This doesn’t feel like an alternate cut of The Godfather or Citizen Kane as much as it feels like there was a different version of, say, Batman Forever, that promised to at least be different, possibly better, than the released version. But like the situation with Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, I’m glad that fans who were passionate and advocated for this to happen got their wish (even if I’m not thrilled by some of the toxicity of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement). At the end of the day, this movie that most of us had written off three years ago is now having an unexpected second life, and I, for one, find that incredibly fascinating.