The unicorn of modern cinema is finally seeing the light of day. Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League has become one of the most talked-about conversations in pop culture over the past few years. Some people didn’t think it existed while others swore that they had seen it and that it was beautiful. Regardless, no one actually expected to ever see it. But that all changed on May 20th when Snyder revealed his original cut will debut on HBO Max in 2021. So let’s go through the history of the Snyder Cut and discuss what we may see in the movie. As such, minor potential spoiler warning.
Let’s jump back a bit to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. This was supposed to be the movie event for DC Comics. Two of comic books’ greatest characters would throw down while also setting up the events for the first Justice League movie, originally to be released as Part I. Instead, the movie ended up as something that can only be described as messy upon first viewing. I’ll admit to finding the movie a bit boring, but appreciated it’s attempt at telling a layered odyssey, complete with complex subtext (I’m looking at you, John Milton). The film received poor reviews. It holds a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and the audience reception was polarizing to say the least. Many lamented the dark, serious tone and the length (which was made longer in the Ultimate Edition, which also makes the movie better it should be noted).
Because of this, and the poor reception to Suicide Squad, Warner Brothers got a bit anxious when their next big property, Justice League, was set to release. The film saw multiple rewriters over the years, with each subsequent version becoming more hopeful and optimistic-which isn’t a bad thing at all. Long story short though, production wrapped in 2016 and Snyder had more or less finished “The Snyder Cut”, barring visual effects, editing and ADR. So in other words, the entire post-production process. The supposed runtime for this version of the film is three and a half hours long, based on an assembly cut of five hours. Bear this in mind.
In 2017 though, tragedy struck the Snyder family and Zack backed out of the movie after the loss of his daughter. Avengers veteran and pop culture fanboy Joss Whedon was hired as a replacement director, who would oversee post-production and the reshoots. Warner Bros issued a statement more or less saying that the original vision would stay true and that Whedon was merely guiding the movie to the finish line. But the studio also had other plans. Based on the feedback of BvS and Suicide Squad, Warners’ CEO at the time, Kevin Tsujihara, implemented a mandate that the movie could not be longer than two hours long-including credits. The film would also not be delayed in order for the executives to obtain their bonuses, as opposed to waiting and getting a more polished product out later.
Whedon oversaw the reshoots and also rewrote parts of the movie, giving it a lighter and more streamlined tone. In the end, he wrote around eighty pages of script and in movie terms, a script is usually equivalent to around one minute of screentime. Major plot points, characters, world-building and such were scrapped entirely from the movie. Characters like Willem Dafoe’s Vulko from Aquaman, Darkseid, Iris West, Deesaad, Atom and Martian Manhunter were all cut from the movie and established characters in the DCEU, such as Lois Lane and Ares were cut or seriously streamlined.
When the theatrical cut of Justice League came out, it was met with very poor reception from fans and critics. Ignoring the Henry Cavill moustache fiasco, the movie was called out for being a Frankenstein movie, the work of two clashing styles. Let’s not even get into how underdeveloped the villain, Steppenwolf, was. I personally thought the movie was fine when it came out, but nothing worth watching again. Due to the fallout of the movie though, the future of the DCEU was changed. Gone was the ambition to create a cohesive shared universe. Justice League Parts II and III were canned and the studio shifted it’s attention to lighter and more colourful standalone movies, such as Aquaman, Birds of Prey and Shazam!
Of course, after seeing the watered-down version of the movie, the movement happened. Justice League came out on November 17th, 2017 and shortly after it’s release, fans started petitioning the studio to #releasethesnydercut. Those who had followed the behind the scenes stories that were very public and after seeing the final cut knew Snyder’s vision for the movie was not achieved. Some hoped for a Director’s Cut of the movie to be released, akin to Batman V Superman’s Ultimate Edition, which extends the movie by thirty-odd minutes. Petitions were made and signed. Billboards were purchased in Times Square, one of the most expensive advertising spaces on the planet. A plane was flown over San Diego Comic-Con, asking Warners to release the Snyder Cut. Rallies were held. Arguments were had online about whether this fabled version of the movie even existed. Over the months and years, we began to learn more about what could have been, but whether it was shot or not became a hot topic as people argued semantics. Every now and again, a still from the movie detailing an unseen plot point would be revealed, such as the Black Suit of Superman on Henry Cavill’s Instagram.
Then celebrities, chiefly the cast and crew of the movie, began showing support for the cut, giving credibility that yes, it actually existed in some way shape or form. Professionals like Kevin Smith, Steven S. DeKnight and Rob Liefeld all showed some level of support for the movie. A unified front on social media from the cast on the two year anniversary showed that yes, even they wanted to see the original version of the movie. On that day, the hashtag made the Snyder Cut the most talked about movie in Warner’s history on social media-and it technically didn’t exist! Despite this, an insider at Warner Bros told Variety that releasing the Snyder Cut was “that’s a pipe dream. There’s no way it’s ever happening”. This was a statement that many people shared who thought the Snyder Cut was a myth.
In November 2017, Jason Momoa revealed he had actually seen a rough cut of the movie at Snyder’s place and revealed it to be a superior version, hoping fans could one day see it. On the social media app Vero, Snyder would often be sending out cryptic messages, implying that the cut was real and that it could maybe one day happen, thanks to him constantly releasing black and white stills from the movie. On December 4th, he stated that the movie was of, course real, showing actual reels with a supposed running time in a photo (Snyder’s version was shot on 35mm while Whedon’s reshoots were done digitally).
Then on a live stream of Man of Steel, Snyder revealed that his version of Justice League, the fabled Snyder Cut, would be released on HBO Max in 2021. Fan support, determination and passion helped drive this campaign to ultimate succeed when the odds were stacked against them. The studio had no desire to revisit this movie, but it has become one of the most talked-about things in cinema in recent years, along with The Last Jedi of course. The question now is how will the movie be viewed? With around a year until it’s released, Snyder and Warner have some work to do brushing up some special effects and the editing, as well as redoing the score more than likely. Junkie XL (Fury Road was the initial composer before being replaced by Danny Elfman for the Whedon cut).
Clocking in at three and a half hours to four hours, many are wondering if it will be released as a whole movie or in chapters, akin to the Netflix version of The Hateful Eight (which I’ve yet to see because it’s not available in my region). The Snyder Cut won’t be cheap either, coming in at an additional $20-30 million dollars to complete. But with HBO Max looking so damn appealing and the fan demand for the movie, Warner Bros knew there was likely an opportunity here and decided to take one more gamble on Snyder. Whether it was the right move, or what impact it will have on future films remains to be seen. For now, fans can rejoice in knowing their hard work and passion has finally paid off.