Sometime in 2021, HBO Max will unleash Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
The re-cut version of the 2017 super team-up from Warner Bros. has been the subject of much chatter and speculation on the internet since it was announced. But that announcement only came after years of pressure from the fan community.
It’s been a lengthy journey for Justice League, to say the least. With so much having transpired in the time since the first cries for a new version of the movie emerged, we thought it might be helpful to get you up to speed on what Snyder’s Justice League will look like, how it relates to the so-called “Snyder Cut,” and why people get so worked up about them both.
Separate from that, there’s also the drama that unfolded on the original set of Justice League, and the details that have come out about that drama in subsequent years. It’s one more piece of the tapestry to understand.
The movie that was supposed to be DC Films’ version of Marvel’s Avengers is a shambolic mess that never managed to achieve its full potential. If you want to be ready for the HBO Max re-release, here’s a rundown of what you ought to know about Justice League and the factors that led to a new cut.
Why is there so much noise and drama around this?
To understand how and why Snyder’s Justice League gets to exist, you need to know the factors that shaped the original version and how that version landed with fans. Snyder is the director who kicked off DC’s cinematic universe (aka the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU), with 2013’s Man of Steel.
The rebooted take on Superman offered a darker vision of DC’s most wholesome superhero than we’d seen on film before. The idea originated with filmmaker Christopher Nolan, whose phenomenally successful trilogy of Batman movies had embraced a similar tone. He worked out a story with screenwriter David S. Goyer, and then Snyder was hired in 2010 to make a movie happen.
That same writer/director duo delivered a 2016 follow-up in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie that opened the story up into a larger fictional universe. In bringing two of DC’s most prominent characters together, it also set the stage for an eventual Justice League movie, which arrived in late 2017, just a few months after Wonder Woman.
Justice League was a commercial success, but it failed to deliver the same kind of mainstream breakthrough as Marvel’s super-team for a few reasons. It’s a mess of a movie, with too many characters to introduce, a script that fails to sell the plot, and a central conflict featuring an underwhelming villain.
The real underlying problem, however, was a lack of commitment on the studio side. Dawn of Justice was also a commercial success, but critics generally hated it. Snyder had doubled down on Man of Steel‘s dark tone while emphasizing set pieces and dramatic moments, at the story’s expense.
Warner Bros., hoping to fix that issue in Justice League, installed the two-man team of Jon Berg and Geoff Johns to mastermind the DCEU in the same way that Kevin Feige has for Marvel. As production kicked off, rumors floated around that Chris Terrio’s script was the subject of re-writes, with the aim to deliver Justice League as a more “hopeful and optimistic” example of the DCEU.
Then, tragedy struck in 2017 while filming was underway. Snyder’s daughter died in an awful family tragedy, and the director stepped away from the project as a result. This led to Avengers director Joss Whedon stepping in to finish things up. Whedon had already been contributing on the re-writes, but his installment at Justice League‘s helm led to additional scenes and a decidedly different creative vision during the post-production process than Snyder would have brought.
OK. Then what is the “Snyder Cut”?
First, a quick history lesson: There are some parallels to be drawn between what happened with Justice League and Superman II, released in 1980. Richard Donner, the earlier film’s original director, was replaced on the project due to creative differences, but only after the majority had been shot.
Richard Lester, the replacement director, re-wrote and re-shot much of Donner’s work – a process that included removing every scene featuring actor Marlon Brando, who played Superman’s Kryptonian father. But then, in 2006, a “Donner Cut” version of the movie was assembled, incorporating the lost footage.
Now, back to 2017. Fans of DC who were left dissatisfied by Justice League seized on the existence of the Donner Cut and convinced themselves that it was a similar situation with Snyder: Like Donner, Snyder was replaced part of the way through filming. And like Lester, Whedon stepped in and re-tooled the movie’s overall vision while adding new material of his own.
That led to a widespread belief in the more committed corners of DC fandom that another cut of Justice League existed. It only needed to be pieced together. They squared their understanding that Justice League is a bad movie by telling themselves that an all-Snyder version wouldn’t have struggled to tell a coherent story. Snyder himself poured fuel on that fire when he suggested in March 2019 that an alternate version actually existed.
This push for a Snyder Cut became, for all intents and purposes, a conspiracy theory. Fans believed in their hearts that an alternate version of the movie existed on a shelf somewhere, whether or not it was in pieces. They felt they hadn’t gotten the movie they deserved, what with Whedon finishing off Snyder’s work.
This whole situation is tied up in toxic fandom, the sense among hardened members of certain fan communities that there’s a level of co-ownership in a studio or production team’s creative efforts for whatever thing they like. This leads to unjustified feelings of entitlement, which often manifests as angry backlash and social media trolling when things don’t go the fandom’s way.
So it was with the chatter around a mythical “Snyder Cut.” While Warner Bros. would like everyone to believe that the fan-driven push for a new version of Justice League was a wholesome community event, in fact it wasn’t anything of the sort. In the time leading up to the surprise announcement, toxic members of that community waged a sustained harassment campaign that lionized Snyder – who egged on the Snyder Cut push generally – and vilified anyone who dared to speak out against the idea.
For the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement, the efforts of which were documented in this great 2019 report from The Ringer, the Justice League backlash amounted to a pressure campaign. There was a prominent Change.org petition calling for the Snyder Cut’s release as well as a sustained social media campaign on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram aimed at promoting the desire for a new version of the movie while pushing back, often forcefully against the many detractors of the idea.
They even raised money. A GoFundMe campaign that pulled in more than $26,000(!!) paid for an airborne banner at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, as well as billboards and even an ad placement in the widely read industry magazine, The Hollywood Reporter. In one genuinely positive twist, some of that money also went to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, to honor Snyder’s late daughter.
Somewhat dishonestly, Warner Bros. has highlighted the more positive aspects of the pressure campaign – or at least the ones that weren’t openly harmful – without ever openly disavowing the bad behavior that accompanied it. The silence has led to (justifiable) criticism that the studio is implicitly endorsing behavior that has its roots in an online harassment campaign.
So is Snyder’s Justice League the “Snyder Cut” fans have been screaming for?
Not quite. Snyder’s insistence in early 2019 that an alternate cut exists wasn’t exactly right. It’s not like there’s some Warner Bros. film vault where a completed alternate cut of Justice League is just sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. If there were such a thing, it almost certainly would’ve been released by now.
That said, there is Snyder’s original vision of what Justice League was supposed to be. There’s also all the work he did before he left the production, and all the post-production work he didn’t do that’s so critical in any movie for stringing together filmed scenes into a tonally and narratively coherent whole.
Snyder’s Justice League, then, is an in-spirit acknowledgment of the desire for a Snyder Cut. The aim is to give those fans what they’ve been asking for, even though the thing they’ve been asking for didn’t technically exist when the re-release effort was announced. So what you see on HBO Max will be something that didn’t exist previously. Snyder said it himself when HBO announced its plans in May.
“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.” It’s reportedly going to incorporate original (but newly tweaked) production footage alongside re-written and re-shot bits.
Is… is that everything?
Actually, no! There’s more. It’s mostly unrelated to the Snyder Cut situation, but in a way that could influence the outcome of Snyder’s Justice League.
Cyborg actor Ray Fisher made headlines over the summer when he leveled an accusation at Whedon that the director had engaged in “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” on the Justice League set. He also singled out Johns and Berg, who he said had “enabled” Whedon’s behavior.
The allegation snowballed from there, with the studio denying Fisher’s accusation and both parties engaging in a public back-and-forth. You can read through the whole saga in this extensive rundown from The Hollywood Reporter. As for Snyder’s Justice League, it’s not clear how the tension between Fisher and Warner Bros. will affect any hoped-for re-shoots.
OK. So when is this “Snyder Cut” coming out and how long is it?
HBO hasn’t set a release date yet for Snyder’s Justice League. The best we can give you at this point is the originally promised release window of “early-to-mid 2021.” Re-shoots are reportedly ongoing as of October 2020, with Fisher participating alongside stars Ben Affleck and Amber Heard. In an unexpected twist, Jared Leto will also reprise his Joker role from 2016’s Suicide Squad, as he’s participating in the re-shoots as well.
Based on what’s been promised so far, you can expect Snyder’s Justice League to look pretty different from the original. It’s going to be twice as long, clocking in at four hours split up across four separate episodes, presumably to be released on different nights.
Exactly how the story will change remains an open question. The only plot details we have at this point come from the first full trailer, released in August, which set the mood in Snyder’s trademark fashion and introduced Henry Cavill’s Superman in a black-and-grey suit.