Today is a day for truth: the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement can mercifully rest, because the rebirth of Justice League is coming.
Naysayers decried its existence, with one insider source dubbing it ‘a pipe dream… there’s no way it’s ever happening’. The fabled director’s cut of 2017’s disastrous DC team-up movie – a course-shattering flop of which the effects still ripple – basically became a campfire story.
Like an army – or in some camps, a plague – the fans mobilised with ruthless force: to twist Batfleck’s words, if there was even a 1% chance the Snyder Cut could be released, they took it as an absolute certainty. Yet two words will be etched on the gravestone of May 20, 2020: it’s happening.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will hit HBO Max, Warner Bros’ upcoming streaming platform, in 2021. As per the director’s comments to The Hollywood Reporter, ‘it will be an entirely new thing, and, especially talking to those who have seen the released movie, a new experience apart from that movie’.
While he hasn’t ever watched the renounced theatrical release, Snyder alleges it’s only around ‘one-fourth’ of what he put together, while cinematographer Fabian Wagner previously claimed it only used about 10% of what Snyder shot.
At long last, the real deal is confirmed, but its trail has been as prickly as Henry Cavill’s moustache (pre-blur, of course). Here’s everything you need to know.
Let’s go back to 2013. After faithful, exceedingly-adult adaptations of 300 and Watchmen, Snyder was handed the reins of DC’s feature future, starting with Man of Steel. Stripping away the wink-wink charm of Donner, this post-Dark Knight Superman (Christopher Nolan served as a producer) was a god for a new age, for better or worse.
The tides were already beginning to part. It grossed more than $668 million worldwide, with critics torn between its bombastic, epic stature – Hans Zimmer’s score is arguably the pinnacle of comicbook movie compositions – and an overly earnest hero, one created to represent hope but here, devoid of much warmth.
Snyder’s 2016 follow-up was a titanic beast: black and blue, God versus man, day versus night. It was the greatest headline fight in the history of the world – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Nine years after that cheeky mock-up poster in I Am Legend injected pure hype into my childhood veins, our two heroes faced off to a historic reception – not for the right reasons.
In a billion-dollar box office climate, BvS’ $873 million yield was meager for a mainstream movie-going event, especially considering this was the first-time performance of a new caped crusader in Ben Affleck.
Revisit the hype – check out the original teaser for Batman v Superman below:
Word of mouth travelled fast. While many DC loyalists fell under its dark spell, general audiences and critics gravitated away, mostly bemoaning its incoherent story-telling and off-putting tone. With a 28% Rotten Tomatoes score, the verdict was in: this was a dull dud. My heartbreak walking out of the midnight screening was as brutal as anything I’d ever experienced.
Upon BvS‘ physical media release, the Ultimate Edition was attached: the director’s original 183-minute version of the movie before prior to executive chopping orders. Surprise surprise: it was a more cohesive, fulfilling watch – an early flicker of the storm that lay ahead.
Regardless of returns and reviews, Snyder was put hard to work on Justice League, bringing Batman and Superman back together alongside Wonder Woman (who stole the show in BvS) as well as Cyborg, Aquaman and the Flash (all of whom were also teased in the previous movie).
The circumstances were hardly peaches and cream. Warner Bros. was moving into crash control: aside from the major success of Wonder Woman, Snyder’s grit-toned efforts weren’t necessarily crowd-pleasers; David Ayer’s Suicide Squad left a disappointed bruise; and the shadow of the ultra-lucrative, beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe loomed large.
Snyder’s road map for the DC Extended Universe was relatively straightforward: Man of Steel and BvS followed by a trilogy of Justice League movies – an ‘inverse’ of its competitor, with solo films sprinkled in between the team-ups.
It was all originally anchored around Batman’s BvS ‘Knightmare’ sequence, leading into a not-so-distant future where supervillain Darkseid has taken over the world and Superman has essentially turned evil – the second chapter would end in defeat à la Infinity War, ahead of a climactic triumph.
In an earlier live Q&A, Snyder explained:
There’s a lot of it that we shot [but] the actual idea, the hard, hard idea, the scary idea, we never filmed because the studio was like: ‘That’s crazy.’ And we were so insecure at the time after BvS came out, we were just like: ‘I guess it is crazy. We’re f*ckin’ nuts. There’s gonna be mass hysteria in the streets if we film this.’
In an effort to ‘Marvel-ise’, the studio enlisted the efforts of Joss Whedon (Avengers: Assemble, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Affleck – among others – on Snyder and Chris Terrio’s ‘dark and scary’ screenplay.
The director complied. All of Snyder’s assembly footage ran to around five hours, but his optimal cut – the Snyder Cut – was in the three-and-a-half hour range. He knew execs wouldn’t bite, so a 140-minute-ish version was created, with bigwigs noting how much effort had been made to lighten the script. At this point, it was reportedly 90% complete, still millions in VFX and post-production from completion.
Tragedy struck: in March 2017, Snyder’s daughter took her own life. With the full support of the studio, he and his wife Deborah (who served as a producer) stepped away from the production – however, he declined to delay the release date, instead handing the ‘baton’ to Whedon to finish the job.
At the time of the transition, Warner Bros. COO Toby Emmerich said:
The directing is minimal and it has to adhere to the style and tone and the template that Zack set. We’re not introducing any new characters. It’s the same characters in some new scenes. He’s handing the baton to Joss, but the course has really been set by Zack. I still believe that despite this tragedy, we’ll still end up with a great movie.
This is where fans pinpoint Justice League‘s fall from grace: reshoots with Cavill’s CGI’d lip (due to his Mission: Impossible producers prohibiting shaving), 80 new pages in the script, Junkie XL’s score being replaced by Danny Elfman’s, reduced backstory and characters, massive visual alterations (such as the red hue in the Steppenwolf battle), and a super-trimmed runtime of 120 minutes exactly.
It hit cinemas in November that year, just off racking up a measly $680 million, with a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes to boot. It’s an awful film, with Snyder’s extremely specific visual language and vibe jarringly colliding with Whedon’s shoe-horned humour and cartoonish interplay – simply, an unequivocal mess.
As for the unused, pure Snyder stuff, he ‘always thought it was a thing that in 20 years, maybe somebody would do a documentary and I could lend them the footage, little snippets of a cut no one has ever seen’. Of course, the director’s evangelicals had bigger fish to fry.
Five days after the theatrical’s release, a petition to release Snyder’s version garnered more than 100,000 signatures, and on November 21, 2017, Twitter user @MovieBuff100 was the first to use a hashtag that’d define superhero discourse for the next three years: #ReleaseTheSnyderCut.
The movement’s methods included, but weren’t limited to: flooding every single Warner Bros-related social media post without hesitation, whether it be trailers or obituaries; further petitions, billboards and custom merchandise; and even a plane with a banner of the hashtag gliding over San Diego Comic-Con in the summer of 2019. More than $200,000 has also been raised for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Snyder himself fed into the mythos. Online, he posted images seemingly ripped from his cut: images of Superman alongside ‘He has yet to rise’; Wonder Woman impaling Steppenwolf; and most eye-widening of all, a photo of film reels with his name on them, captioned ‘Is it real? Does it exist? Of course it does’.
On November 17, 2019, Affleck and Gal Gadot acknowledged the campaign online. Later that day, the hashtag hit number one worldwide trending, and became the most tweeted about movie in Warner Bros’ portfolio – a film that had never even been made.
Other co-stars have joined the march – earlier this week, prior to the announcement, Jason Momoa posted a hilarious video pleading with the world: ‘Release the f*cking Snyder Cut, baby!’
Amid the tsunami of impassioned fans seeking the movie they ‘deserve’, however, bad apples quickly emerged. It’s like Alfred said: ‘That’s how it starts: the fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness.’ Albeit, these weren’t good men who turned cruel – their petulance was already potent.
For example, fellow film journalist Helen O’Hara suffered the vitriolic rampage of mostly male Snyder trolls when she offered an honest, detailed observation of the movement’s traction up to that point. Upon the film’s fruition this week, she aptly tweeted: ‘Well thank goodness. Now our long international nightmare of people talking about this will finally end.’
One of the first organisers, Roberto Mata, was exiled by the good eggs for rejecting his critics as ‘feminists, Black Lives Matter advocates and social justice warriors’. The toxic subset of the director’s fandom endangered his legacy, often overpowering the underlying thrill of the elusory cut.
A spokesperson for SnyderCut.com, one of several sites dedicated to the cause, explained to UNILAD that while anecdotal moments of nastiness online ‘taint the impression of the movement as a whole’, they’re very much the minority.
It’s really unfortunate and frustrating that a minority of fans would behave that way. The end of Batman v Superman has Superman’s memorial and it says: ‘If you seek his monument, look around you.’ There’s so many passionate and respectful fans who put in so much hard work and together we raised thousands and thousands of dollars for suicide prevention.
I think that’s a monument to how Snyder inspired everyone. So, on the flip side, it’s so frustrating to see a minority of fans giving the opposite image, especially knowing it influences the way people think of Zack, who, by all accounts, I’ve never heard someone say a negative thing about their relationship with him professionally. Everyone he works with raves about how good of a guy he is. You’d think more fans would want to emulate that.
‘Clearly this wouldn’t be happening without them,’ Synder said of his supporters. Fittingly, he went back to the beginning to unveil his return, announcing the new Justice League’s release date after a live-stream watch-along of Man of Steel – he even allowed a select group of fans to enter the Zoom call, accompanied by Cavill.
The SnyderCut.com spokesperson added:
We feel great. It’s hard to wrap our heads around how immense this whole situation is, but we’re so happy for Zack and Debbie and all the cast and the crew. They all put so much into this, and everyone we’ve talked to throughout this process hoped to one day see their efforts pay off since the theatrical cut wasn’t what they signed up for.
We may have the announcement, but other details are up in the air. It’s currently unknown whether it’ll take the form of a four-hour epic (yes, please) or six-part series on HBO Max. However, Warner Bros. is throwing $30 million its way, with crews and the original cast already being reassembled for post-production work.
You can check out the first trailer from the start of Justice League‘s first marketing run, featuring Snyder’s work, below:
Deborah said: ‘With the new platform and streaming services, you can have something like this. You can’t release something like this theatrically, but you could with a streaming service. It’s an opportunity that wasn’t there two years ago, to be honest.’
Director’s cuts aren’t anything new; if anything, the Snyder Cut has enjoyed a remarkably quick turnaround. Richard Donner’s Superman II cut, a source of comfort for the fans, wasn’t pieced together until 2006 (albeit the fervour wasn’t as strong). Blade Runner‘s Final Cut, the definitive edition of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, dropped a whopping 26 years after its initial release date.
However, this is dissimilar to the likes of Apocalypse Now, Kingdom of Heaven or even Alien 3: superhero movies have established cinematic dominance, and the Snyder Cut is a glimpse back to before Marvel became king of the world.
It seems almost hypocritical of me: while I love Man of Steel, I loath BvS in many ways. Snyder is by no means a sure thing, but his boundless love for these characters, heroes we’ve all grown up with, evokes a certain optimism.
DC has made positive steps since the league’s failure – Joker and Aquaman were stratospheric hits – but it’s lost the allure of a universe, smartly focusing on refining the solo outings. Next year, we’ll have Robert Pattinson don the cowl in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, completely unconnected to any feature before it.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League marks an unprecedented shift: a tent-pole super-blockbuster with exclusive streaming rights, enabled by the perennial furor of fans’ cries. It’s basically critic-proof, with HBO Max ready to bathe in subscribers who’ll herald the film as a masterpiece. Of course, it’s dandy for the nice ones, but the abusive have reaped an unjust reward.
Where does it stop: shall we redo all of Game of Thrones‘ eighth season, or how about we retcon Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker for a more faithful ending to the saga, just because we want to? Commentators gulped when the Sonic the Hedgehog movie revised its design after complaints – we’ve now stepped into the thunderdome of fan entitlement.
Yet, the most important aspect of the Snyder Cut isn’t actually viewer satisfaction at all. Against all odds, a filmmaker is emerging from tragedy to showcase his vision. Justice for all, indeed.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will be released on HBO Max in 2021.
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