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Author: Nathanael Molnár, originally published 5/27/2020
The tale of the Snyder Cut will undoubtedly go down as one of the most fascinating stories in modern film history. It is one of the rare times that movie fans were able to rally together and champion an issue so much so that it actually came to fruition.
The Snyder Cut is director Zack Snyder’s original version of Justice League (2017). It is a cut of the film that Snyder had initially assembled after the production wrapped; a cut that Warners Bros. did not like. They weren’t happy with the direction of the film, and wanted to fire Snyder. It was at this time, in March of 2017, that Zack Snyder’s daughter passed away, and he stepped down from the film on his own.
Warner Bros. then brought in Joss Whedon to oversee massive re-shoots and a full re-edit of the film, all while intending to keep their November 2017 release date. While Whedon and other creative officials lobbied to delay the film until early 2018 in order to properly finish it, studio executive Kevin Tsujihara refused. Delaying the film into 2018 would have ensured a decrease for his end-of-year bonus.
Justice League was released in theaters on November 17, 2017. It was met with mediocre reviews at best, garnering a 40% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans were massively underwhelmed by the film, but what was more underwhelming was its box office results. Justice League made $658 million worldwide. With a production budget of $300 million and hefty marketing costs, Justice League just barely broke even. To put this into perspective, this film was supposed to be DC’s equivalent to Marvel’s The Avengers — bringing all of their heroes together for the big team-up movie — which made $1.5 billion when it debuted in 2012.
For all intents and purposes, Justice League was a dud. A reshuffling of executives at Warner Bros. ensued, resulting in Kevin Tsujihara being replaced by Walter Hamada. Under Hamada, Warner Bros. has seen a successful turn-around with their DC films. Aquaman (2018) became their all-time highest grossing DC movie, bringing in $1.14 billion. Shazam! (2019) was a massive critical success while having modest commercial results. Joker (2019) took everyone by surprise and made over $1 billion, and went on to be nominated for 11 Academy Awards, with Joaquin Phoenix winning Best Lead Actor.
Amidst this new direction, rumors spread within the fan communities of that original cut of Justice League Snyder had shown the Warner Bros. executives before they changed the film. Fans posted #ReleasetheSnyderCut all over social media, calling on Warner Bros. to release this original version. On some thumbdrive somewhere, this cut did exist. However, none of the post-production work had been done.
Snyder had only been able to put the footage together; he hadn’t been able to do any of the visual effects, sound editing, sound mixing, scoring, color correction, etc. It would cost tens of millions of dollars to finish all of this. As much as the fans clamored for it, the chance of a “Snyder Cut” being released was essentially zero. Warner Bros. was never going to release an unfinished version of one of their films, nor were they going to invest more money in a years-old movie that initially almost lost them money. The Snyder Cut, it seemed, was never going to see the light of day. Enter HBO Max.
Today, on May 27, Warner Bros. premiered their brand new streaming service, HBO Max. Filled with an impressive array of Warner Bros. movie titles, including every DC movie, the service has a strong library of existing content. What they needed was something new and significant to draw more eyes. HBO Max gave Warner Bros. an opportunity they never had before: utilize the attention #ReleasetheSynderCut brings by putting the Snyder Cut on HBO Max. And that’s exactly what Warner Bros. is going to do.
Zack Snyder announced on Wednesday, May 21, that his version of Justice League will be debuting on HBO Max in 2021. Warner Bros. will put up the $20–30 million to finish the film, and Snyder would be bringing back together a lot of the original post-production crew to help complete it. Snyder says it could end up being an almost four hour movie or a six-chapter miniseries, elaborating:
“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… you probably saw one-fourth of what I did.”
While I have not necessarily been one of these fans clamoring for the release of the Snyder Cut, I am certainly interested in seeing it. I am however mixed on Snyder as a director, especially when it comes to his DC films. I really liked his first DC movie, Man of Steel (2013), which kicked off their shared cinematic universe. It’s an incredibly compelling character study of what it is like for someone such as Superman to exist in today’s world. Snyder then directed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which introduced several other DC characters including Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot).
While it has its upsides — including what I contend to be the best portrayal of Batman on screen — I was not a fan of Batman v. Superman. The inclusion of the other characters felt forced, and it seemed like Warner Bros. was rushing the process of organically building their cinematic universe. Even though Justice Leauge was ultimately taken away from Snyder and the resulting film isn’t his original vision, I really didn’t care for that movie either. All of this is to say that Zack Snyder has not always made movies that everyone enjoys. Even with the films he had full creative control over, there are many people who simply don’t like them.
In the universal excitement over seeing this Snyder Cut, one thing that needs to be kept in mind by fans is that this new version may not change our perspective of Justice League all that much. It will definitely be different from what was released in theaters — especially if it’s released as a miniseries — but I don’t see any reason for us to think it will drastically change our initial opinion.
People who love Zack Snyder’s films and what he has made in the DC Cinematic Universe will probably love it. People who have been more mixed will probably like it slightly more than the theatrical version, but won’t have any real substantial difference in their opinion. People who haven’t liked any of his movies will probably also not be fans of this version.
From Warner Bros.’ perspective, however, releasing this on HBO Max is a genius move. It guarantees continued interest and publicity for their new streaming service. As a friend of mine pointed out to me, it’s not as if the $20–30 million wasn’t going to be spent somewhere else; it’s better for them that it goes towards this than towards some other project for the service that may not attract nearly as much attention.
Releasing the Snyder Cut on HBO Max gives Warner Bros. an opportunity to change the lasting impression of their Justice League film. Up until now, it has been perceived as a movie riddled with incompetence and misfortune. Now, Warner Bros. can create a new legacy for their movie that may be slightly more positive.
One thing I will say is that Justice League, for all of its missteps, was incredibly diverse — far more than The Avengers. Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) is Israeli, Jason Momoa (Aquaman) is Polynesian, and Ray Fisher (Cyborg) is African American. While traditionally referred to as the “Justice League of America” in the comic books, Justice League took the approach of being the “Justice League of the World”, bringing together characters from across the globe to comprise their team. More importantly, the actors’ own ethnicities accurately represented the characters. As much crap as Justice League takes for being inferior to The Avengers, one thing they absolutely succeeded in was their use of diversity and representation.
At the end of the day, I think it is worth celebrating that something the fans have fought for is finally happening. The studio listened to the fans, and are delivering on something we really wanted. That doesn’t usually happen in this industry, and the fans that rallied the most for the Snyder Cut should be proud of themselves. At the same time, I don’t think anyone should delude themselves into thinking that this cut of the film is going be revolutionary.
The story behind this infamous Snyder Cut is one that film fans will be recounting until the end of existence. With all of its ups and downs, it is fascinating to look at how everything ultimately unfolded. Whether fans will be happy with the Snyder Cut, or if it will be just as divisive as the theatrical version, remains to be seen. I know that I, at least, will certainly be checking it out when it drops on HBO Max at some point in 2021.