A few years ago, Zack Snyder was tasked with making two Justice League movies, a year apart. This was to be in the vein of Marvel’s Infinity War and Endgame, as far as a huge one-two punch at the box office with the biggest heroes around.
Snyder completed pretty much all the principle filming on the first film, just needing to get the rest of the post production done, including effects.
But there were two obstacles to the finished product. One was tragic.
The executives at Warner bros. were, at this time, some of the weakest, sniveling worms ever to infest a backlot. Any time a DC superhero film didn’t meet the expectations of one of their bean counters, they’d hike up their petticoats and rethink the schedule for years to come. Mind you, the box office could have been impressive, but it wasn’t reaching the heights of the corresponding Marvel films, so, in their minds: FAIL.
Also, Zack Snyder’s version of a mopey, dark, “real world” Superman in Amanda of Steel put off a lot of fans. This also made the Warner execs nervous. Even though Snyder was supposed to be the master planner and architect of the DCCU, his dark, grim … everything was giving Warner pause. Their confidence in Zack was starting to get shaky. But again, it was the Warner execs who welcomed Zack with open arms on the recommendation of Chris Nolan, fresh off giving us the Dark Knight trilogy.
Sadly, it was around this time that Snyder’s daughter, Autumn, committed suicide.
Having come so far on the film, Zack decided to work through the pain and finish the movie. The final running time was going to be over three hours. Warner asked him to get it closer to two and a half hours. He did. *Then* they asked him to get it down under two hours, effectively cutting half the existing film. It was at this point, Snyder bowed out. Relentless, brainless interference from the studio making him decide to leave or him just deciding it was time to go home? We can’t know for sure, but what Warner execs did next was interesting.
They hired Joss Whedon to come in and finish the film. Whedon had performed brilliantly bringing the Avengers to the big screen, and was responsible for a 1.5 billion dollar box office bonanza for Marvel. So who better to bring in to save the Justice League? It certainly seemed reasonable on paper. There was also a mandate that Whedon should lighten things up a bit, not have everything be so dark.
Well, we didn’t really hear too much until well after the fact but I don’t believe it was a happy set for anyone. A lot of the stars were well on board with Snyder’s vision, so Warner plopping Whedon down in the middle of everything with orders to change it all probably didn’t go over well. Ray Fisher (Cyborg) was extremely unhappy that so much of his backstory was cut, and would later come out publicly regarding allegations of on set abuse against Whedon and co-producer Geoff Johns. Unhappy set.
The biggest, stupidest obstacle of all was Henry Cavill’s mustache that he grew for the latest Mission Impossible film. Evidently, he had a clause in his contract that said he could NOT shave it off. So when they assembled the cast back for massive reshoots on the Whedon version, Superman… had a mustache. That they had to digitally remove in every frame of the film. They did so. Poorly.
The rest of the Whedon film was much the same. It was a bit lighter, it was…there. It had some moments, but it turns out, the best moments were left over from the Snyder version. The Whedon version was “okay”. That’s about as much as I can say about it. All the CGI in the Whedon version seemed rushed, especially Steppenwolf, which was very surprising, given the stakes involved, and the inevitable comparisons to Marvel’s Thanos.
But whatever, you had a placid, lighter Justice League, with a Superman with a weird lip running around. It’s as if in addition to everything else, Warner told Whedon “Hey, thanks for stepping in, unfortunately, Zack took 95% of our budget, so good luck reshooting most of this film.” In the end, Justice League ended up in the same category as Green Lantern, a middle of the road misfire. Not horrible, not great.
Turns out, Snyder was not happy with what Warner and Whedon had done with Justice League. His friends actively tried to stop him seeing it because they knew what his reaction would be. Time passed.
We had a pandemic. And a lot of people were staying home.
I don’t know exactly what started the events in motion, but it was probably a couple things. I suspect it was partly Warner desperately wanting content, to get something big on HBOMAX, their new streaming service. Perhaps the other half was Snyder wanting to set the record straight on what his movie was supposed to be.
Snyder had well over three hours of footage already filmed. Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, among others, volunteered to return to help with any additional voice work or filming, to help Zack see his vision through. Snyder even shot an additional 20 minutes of all new footage. Finally, word came down that The Snyder Cut would be available in March 2021 on HBOMAX. Its running time: four hours.
Okay, at this point, I should point out all the things that could go wrong with a project such as this.
First, a running time of four hours. Maybe Warner learned their lesson, or just wasn’t as anal about trimming it down since it wasn’t going into the theater, just TVs at home. But four hours is a leviathan of a movie, and it has to keep you interested all that time. Not an easy task.
Second, how’s the CGI going to hold up, considering this is kind of being done in strange, pandemic conditions?
Third, after seeing the misshapen mess that was The Donner Cut of Superman II, I was a little worried that this might not be all that, quality wise. There are a lot of rabid Snyder fans out there, and this would have a lot to live up to.
Fourth, this is a “part one”. The big story with Darkseid was not going to be resolved in this film– and there would be no part two! Imagine Infinity War ending and there would never be an Endgame?
Fifth, Snyder himself. He has a history of screwing up things with his endless disaster porn, non stop skull splitting and ill-conceived usage of mother names. Now, he was being let loose to go hog wild, with seemingly no constraints what so ever, with an R rated Justice League movie. Sorry kids, you don’t get to see this Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Adults only.
So yes, a lot can go wrong, and this was going to be a challenge.
Well, Zack met the challenge. Color me impressed, truly.
I mean sure, there are a couple F-bombs, and the trademark Snyder skull splatters as bad guys get tossed into walls, but over all, not as much as you might expect in a four hour film. If anything, what this cut gives you is a deeper look at the characters, most notably Cyborg and Flash, and just a more well rounded, fleshed out story.
In the Whedon version, I had absolutely no use for Cyborg, because his entire backstory was jettisoned. Here, we see it all, and Ray Fisher is a very good actor. We also see more of Barry’s life, but I think ultimately both characters suffered mostly from Warner’s insistence on slimming the movie down to under two hours.
Having absolutely nothing edited out, the ultimate director’s cut, as it were, there really wasn’t much I would have excised, surprisingly. Maybe a minute or two here and there, like when the women were sniffing Aquaman’s sweater and singing about it (I can only imagine the smell), but seriously, out of four hours, there were maybe only 15 minutes I didn’t need in there. And all the grand cinematic Snyder visuals were on display.
Now, storywise, this isn’t the deepest superhero epic to hit your screen, but it’s got far more depth than the Whedon version by a mile. The big confrontation at the end is far more satisfying on every level. The CGI on Steppenwolf is a vast improvement. When Superman shows up for the big fight this time, it’s very cool. You end up caring a lot more about this team here.
Bottom line, this is a far superior picture to the one we got in theaters, but it’s not all that surprising. As I’ve said in the past, give me a pure Snyder version or a pure Whedon version, but not some shoddy hybrid that serves no one.
And I gotta say, it doesn’t really end on quite the cliffhanger I thought it would. There’s enough of a resolution to the story we’ve just seen, so as not to make us miserable that they aren’t doing a part two.
Which brings us to part two.
Let’s take a brief look at this DCCU film track record with this incarnation of heroes.
Man of Steel: good film about a dark, Superman “like” character, but not really Superman, loaded with way too much disaster porn, divided the fan base and had –according to Warner–disappointing box office around 670 mil. Snyder.
Batman v Superman: very good film which choked during the pivotal moment, same problems as Man of Steel but at least Batman fit right in. Box office was 870 mil but considering it had a good chunk of the Justice League in there, considered a flop because it was only half the Avenger’s take. Snyder.
Wonder Woman: considered the one true hit because this single hero was a critical darling and it did 820 mil. Win win. Jenkins.
Justice League: critical and box office flop. 657 mil. Whedon.
Aquaman: critics hated it, but wonderful visuals and I guess the acting power of Jason Momoa and Dolphin Lundgren (?) propelled it to a billion dollar box office.
Shazam: critically liked but only 366 mil box office.
Wonder Woman 1984: released simultaneously on HBOMAX and in theaters, The Jenkins follow up was not well received. Box office was affected greatly by the pandemic, so it’s hard to say how well or poorly it would have done, but it was a stinker.
The reason I shine a light on the track record here is because even with all those films, featuring characters just as or far *more* popular than the ones at Marvel, there hasn’t been a lot of success. Only a couple to be considered box office wins by Warner, and only a couple really well received by critics and fans.
So, depending on how well The Snyder Cut is received, and how well it does for Warner’s bottom line—I have to imagine there’s an algorithm or equation for determining how much they gained in HBOMAX subscriptions and how it would compare to box office numbers etc.—
Is it conceivable that Warner considers having Snyder do part two?
I mean, a hit IS a hit after all, and Warner has not had many superhero hits at all since 2008’s Dark Knight.
If they did decide to do it, you have to wonder if solidarity would bring the band back together again. Affleck was in and out and in and out on the proposed Batman trilogy, but it was clearly Warner’s flip flopping and endless tinkering with Justice League that drove him out, and I really can’t blame him. Cavill, I believe, was still under contract for one more movie, be it the MOS sequel or the second Justice League film. Gadot, I believe, is just carefree enough, and loyal to Snyder that she’d be in. Really, I get the feeling that as long as Warner doesn’t make the same mistakes, and as long as Whedon’s not in the picture, who knows?
Yes, Warner not making same mistakes… that might just kill it there, but you never know.
What the Snyder Cut does set up by the end is that there is potentially another three or four hour epic in the offing, with bigger stakes and even more heroes. But will it happen? Well…
Marvel was seemingly never going to get the rights back for the Fantastic Four… until they did.
Michael Keaton was done playing Batman… until he took the part in the upcoming Flashpoint.
The Snyder version of Justice League was never going to see the light of day… until now.
So yeah, stranger things have happened.
Justice League: The Snyder Cut – 7.5 out of 10
COMPLAINT DEPT. — in regards to both versions. When Supes has risen from the dead, and has the big confrontation in the park with the rest of the League at his broken monument, Lois and Batman both keep calling him Clark– in public, in front of cops! Way to go regarding Secret ID security there, gang.
Also, I know it might have been too easy, but all the creatives involved knew perfectly well that after Supes got skewered by Doomsday at the end of BVS, all anyone *really* had to do was fly him up and expose him to the sun. I mean, Jesus, people, he’s a living solar battery. Come on, now. He’d HEAL.
A big complaint is team membership, or lack thereof. Listen, I know Warner thought they were being smart adding Cyborg to the team because he’s black and he’s a tech oriented hero like Ironman. But in truth, it’s just lazy. If you want more diversity, open your eyes to the popularity of the animated series and bring in Jon Stewart’s Green Lantern and Hawkgirl.
Poor Cyborg has been sacrificial goat, staking out his natural place on the Titans, getting thrown onto the JL, and also being added to the Doom Patrol. You know, DC, Warner…..you guys HAVE other black characters, really good ones, like Black Lightning, Vixen, the aforementioned Jon Stewart. If you spread one character too thin, that helps no one.
And now… SPOILERS AHOY! This last bit is all spoilers for the Snyder cut.
I can only imagine that in part two, we’d see the Atom appear, since Ryan Choi appears prominently in TSC. Same with the Martian Manhunter, who, I’m sorry, he’s been posing as a general for god knows how long, yet he doesn’t lift a finger when all these events are going down? Here’s a guy who’s a telepath, super strong, a shape changer, has heat vision, flight, and can phase through solid objects. HE WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO HELP AGAINST STEPPENWOLF! Sure, it was nice of him to stop by Bruce’s place at the end and say he’s available… after the fighting’s over. Grumble.
The mid credit sequence on Luthor’s boat had a very different discussion from one version to the other. In the Whedon version, Lex mentions putting together an Injustice League. In the Snyder cut, he simply outs Bruce Wayne’s ID to Deathstroke, which makes more sense, since Batman rattled him before. It’s made all the more interesting since in the ‘Doom Future” flash forward, Deathstroke ends up on Batman’s team.
Jared Leto joined in for the newly shot epilogue material. He comes off better here without the “gangsta” look, grill and tats he had in Suicide Squad. I think they tried to steer him a bit closer to Ledger. Anything would have been an improvement.
On HBOMAX, they also have the black and white version of the cut, which is interesting. I may have to dive into that, or hope it’s an option when it comes out on blu-ray.