- Andrew Lynch
The SNYDER CUT: A History of the Making of Justice League
Credit @BosssLogic for the cover photo
It’s real. It’s all real.
Nearly 3 years of vocal, passionate campaigning has paid off for some DC fans with the announcement that the elusive ‘Snyder Cut’ of 2017’s Justice League (JL) will be officially released on Warner Bros. streaming service HBOMax in 2021. Director Zack Snyder will return along with the crew of JL to finish off his supposedly 4-hour cut of the film, and a $20-30 million budget to do so. This is, like most things nowadays, unprecedented.
There have been Director Cuts of films before (Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition, Blade Runner) and films gone unreleased (Tim Burton’s Superman Lives had a documentary made about it called The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?). A studio has never put funding back into an already released movie to re-release it in its ‘original vision’, especially one on such a massive scale.
So, what is ‘The Snyder Cut’? How did the #ReleasetheSnyderCut fan movement start? And, what can we expect from the finished product? Well, to answer all of that, we need to give context to all of this, so strap in.
HISTORY OF ZACK SNYDER AND THE DC UNIVERSE
Let’s track this from the beginning.
Billions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the earth. Until yadda yadda yadda, there are some wars, lotta death, some nice art, colonisation and other stuff. Let’s jump to 2013.
Zack Snyder, director of the comic book adaptations of 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009) directed Man of Steel (MoS), the latest Superman movie. It introduced Henry Cavil as Superman, and contained Easter eggs to Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor.
For Snyder, MoS was the start of a 5-movie story arc that would have heavily focused on Superman. The films would have included MoS, Batman v Superman (BvS), and JL which originally was split into two films, leaving a fifth movie as either Man of Steel 2 or Justice League 3. Warner Bros. (WB) had…other ideas.
Marvel struck new ground with The Avengers (2012), the first superhero team-up movie that tied 5 movies into 1 and earning over $1 billion USD. WB wanted that for their DC characters. And so, the struggles between the director and the studio began.
The first sign of this was BvS having its release date moved 3 separate times. Initially, WB announced in 2013 that BvS would be released on July 17, 2015 before announcing in 2014 that it would delay that to May 6, 2016. WB settled late 2014 that the film would come out on its official date of March 19, 2016. In all instances, WB commented that it was to allow “the filmmakers time to realise fully their vision”.
Snyder has not disparaged the production of BvS, nor has there been rumours of on-set controversy like with later DC film. Yet, the existence of an 'Ultimate Cut' implies that Snyder had a different view of the movie that wasn’t a cinematic universe starter.
Post-BvS’s release and scathing critical reviews, WB restructured their film division so that instead of numerous people inputting on it, “executive Vice-President Jon Berg and Geoff Johns, DC’s chief content officer…will co-run” the franchise, according to The Hollywood Reporter in 2016.
Then, history repeated itself when JL was released to tepid reviews and a devastating box office result. Jon Berg left to work on other WB properties, leaving comic book writer Geoff Johns in charge of film production until WB found a replacement.
Two months later, Walter Hamada who produced horror films like The Conjuring and It, was named the DC President and Johns would only respond to Hamada, all according to Variety. This streamlined the DC film executives to 2 people as opposed to the board of executives that were involved with BvS and JL. Hamada, also suited WB’s vision, as he worked with smaller budgets, which after the $300 million budget of JL, WB wanted and possibley needed.
So, the Too Long; Didn’t Read version is; Zack Snyder wanted a 5-film Superman story arc; WB wanted a cinematic universe ala Marvel; egos collided; the studio blamed and fired executives for box office failures; and now things appear to be on track with a streamlined process.
Now, it’s time to look at JL.
THE CIRCUS OF THE MAKING OF JUSTICE LEAGUE
Production on Justice League began on April 11, 2016 and not long after that, WB invited numerous entertainment outlets for set tours and interviews with the cast. The scene that all the journalists saw was the exchange between Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen. It was a departure from the dower tone of BvS, with parallels drawn between Tony Stark and Peter Parker's interaction in Captain America: Civil War (2016). WB wanted people to know that JL was not going to be grim like previous DC films and more upbeat.
Then, in May 2017, Zack Snyder stepped away from directing the film.
Tragically, Snyder’s daughter, Autumn, committed suicide in March that year and Snyder said at the time, “I thought it was a cathartic thing to go back to work, to just bury myself and see if that was the way through it…I’ve come to the realisation…to take a step back from the movie to be with my family”.
Snyder and WB had consulted with The Avengers director Joss Whedon to help write the film. With Snyder’s departure, WB turned to Whedon to finish off the movie, still intending to release it on November 16th 2017. Whedon oversaw the scheduled additional photography of the film over June and July. Zack Snyder held the directing credit, and Whedon was give partial writing credit for his work.
Justice League was released.
And then the behind the scenes stories started trickling out.
First, we need to address the elephant sized moustache in the room. That of Henry Cavil’s.
Henry Cavil was filming JL before moving on to film Mission Impossible: Fallout (MI), where his moustache was required for the role. All was fine, until Hollywood daredevil Tom Cruise broke his ankle, delaying the production of MI. That delay forced MI’s production to coincided with Cavil coming back for the JL reshoots in June 2017. WB and Paramount, who were making MI, went into negotiations as to who had to budge first.
MI director Christopher McQuarrie revealed on an episode of The Empire Magazine Podcast, that Paramount estimated it would cost an extra $3 million to digitally add-in Cavil’s moustache into MI. The idea would have been that WB would pay Paramount the $3 million to cover the cost. WB allegedly refused and pushed on to get the film released by November 2017, by digitally altering his face to remove the moustache. Even more indications of the reshot scenes in JL can be identified by when Superman’s face suddenly turns into a weird, smooth blob.
Why didn’t WB just stop filming and give Cavil time to finish on MI and shave?
Well, the answer is greed.
Around 2017, WB was being bought by American telecommunications provided AT&T. Warner Bros. President Kevin Tsujihara and CEO Toby Emmerich, it was revealed in a report from The Wrap, forced JL to be released in 2017, as they “wanted to preserve their bonuses they would be paid before the merger” and feared “if they pushed the movie, then their bonuses would have been pushed to the following year and they might not still be at the studio”. This being the same studio that said they delayed BvS so that they could give “the filmmakers time to realise fully their vision”. Funny how that works.
SNYDER AND WHEDON’S VISION(S)
Months after JL’s less than satisfying release, entertainment reporter Josh L. Dickey, who was retiring, tweeted that Zack Snyder was fired from JL in January, 5 months before he walked away. The tweet was taken down, but Collider also reported similar details, giving more weight to the theory that WB fired Snyder. There’s no way to know if they would have publicly announced his firing, had he not unfortunately, voluntarily stood down.
Whedon coming on to finish directing the film, must have come as a blessing in disguise to WB who wanted to steer away from Snyder’s darker tone to the more light-hearted tone established by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. JL producer Charles Roven said in a Washington Times interview, “Let’s just say 80, 85 percent of the movie is what was originally shot. There’s only so much you can do with other 15, 20 percent of the movie”. Snyder and Whedon’s tones could not be further apart, so stitching together two director’s works together, would be difficult to make seamless. Clearly, it was not as seamless as WB would have hoped.
Vanity Fair also reported that even Joss Whedon faced scrutiny from WB, with the opening scene of the film being altered from being too comedic. The scene sees Batman pursue a criminal played by Holt McCallany. McCallany said “My scene with Batman was originally conceived as a comedic scene. I thought it came out great, but the studio felt it would be a mistake to open the film with a completely comedic scene, so it was re-edited a little bit”. So, WB wanted their film to be light-hearted, but not noticeably light-hearted. Got it.
So, in-fighting between directors and executives; family tragedy resulting in the director stepping away for the consulting writer to finish it off; conflicting directing styles; rumours that the original director was fired long before he left; Tom Cruise’ broken ankle; Henry Cavil’s glorious moustache; money hungry executives; and not to mention Ben Affleck’s ongoing divorce and mid-life crisis/waning interesting in the role. The fact that JL is watchable at best, is in itself a miracle. And, from all of that chaos, was born, The Snyder Cut.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FRANKENSTEIN MOVIE
It was Joss Whedon’s hiring that lead to the inception of the ‘Snyder Cut’, with audiences noting massive differences between the released film, the marketing material, and footage within the film itself. The whole final battle was seen in earlier trailers to be set at night time, but is then depicted under a bright, oversaturated red sky. The exchange between Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen, the one that reporters witnessed, is also clearly altered in the film with actor positions and lighting changing and the background quality change from real set, to digital mimicry.
Below are just a handful of moments in the film when there is a clear contrast in quality, indicating reshot sequences. Note the difference between background quality, actor positions, lighting and CGI quality.
The other tell-tale sign of a film that had been drastically altered from its original vision, can be seen in the number of shots in trailers that have been altered in the final product. Below are examples of altered shots from the trailer in the film.
All of this resulted in the online fan protests for WB to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. And so, a movement was born.
Airplanes with Snyder Cut banners flew over San-Diego Comic Con 2019. A bus shelter was adorned with adverts and details about the Snyder Cut, and raising awareness about suicide prevention. A GoFundMe page was created which has a current total of over $26,000. There was a minor protest outside the Warner Bros studio in Burbank, California with people in cosplay holding a Snyder Cut banner.
Even the actors in the film got involved, with Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot tweeting the hashtag on the 2nd anniversary of the film, and Zack Snyder’s retweeted approval. Actors like Jason Mamoa and Ray Fisher, have long advocated for the cut’s release, particularly Mamoa. It has resulted in countless memes, and become synonymous with alternate versions of films, such as the disturbing #ReleaseTheButtholeCut for 2019’s monstrosity Cats, or Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and the #ReleaseTheJJCut.
While not started by him, Snyder appreciates the fan support and has returned the favour by adding fuel to the fire and releasing storyboards and story details about the Snyder Cut.
THE SNYDER CUT
So, after all of that; what can we expect in the now official Snyder Cut? Thanks to Snyder himself and his support for minor social media platform Vero, as well as interviews with himself and crew members, there is an idea of characters and storylines that would have been included. The question will be if these actually make the final release or if Snyder alters them for story purposes.
So, the details are as follows:
-As a part of Snyder’s 5-film plan, JL would have ended with the League seeing Darkseid, the ruler of Apokolips and master over Steppenwolf, and Darkseid seeing them, setting the stage for Justice League 2 (JL 2).
-JL 2 would have been a darker film, with Lois Lane being killed by Darkseid and Superman being corrupted. This would have resulted in the Knightmare sequence seen in BvS . In JL 3, Batman and Cyborg would send The Flash back in time to save Lois and prevent everything from happening, which would give context to the Flash’s appearance in the Knightmare sequence.
-General Swanwick, who appeared in MoS and BvS, was going to be revealed to be Martian Manhunter in JL, with a storyboard of the sequence revealed by Snyder. The scene would have started with Martha Kent and Lois Lane talking over coffee before Martha turns into Manhunter and then into Swanwick.
-Snyder would have focused a lot more on Cyborg and his backstory, with many behind the scenes photos of scenes never seen in the theatrical film. One sequence would have seen Cyborg in a dream like sequence on an alien ship that Snyder hinted may have been a Green Lantern ship.
-Involved with the Cyborg storyline would have been the introduction of Ryan Choi, better known as The Atom, who has the same power set as Marvel’s Ant-Man.
-An anonymous visual effects member of Justice League posted on reddit, so take this with a massive grain of salt, that two members of the Green Lantern Corps, Kilowog and Tomar-Re would have appeared in a post-credit scene talking to Bruce Wayne. The implication being more Lantern involvement in later JL films. The eventual post-credit scenes saw a fun, Flash v Superman race and a tease of the Legion of Doom with Deathstroke meeting with Lex Luthor.
-Joe Manganiello was cast as Deathstroke with the intention of appearing in Ben Affleck’s version of The Batman, based on test footage that was released by Affleck in late 2016. Manganiello teased on Instagram recently that he is hopeful for the ‘original’ post-credit scene in the Cut.
-Besides Steppenwolf, another Darkseid lieutenant would have appeared known as Uxas, with rough CGI footage shown as Gal Gadot provides Automated Dialogue Recording (ADR).
-Aquaman characters Mera and Vulko would have appeared in the film, with Vulko handing over the trident Aquaman uses in the film. There are at least 2 different scenes revealed by Snyder, one showing Mera and Vulko on-land talking to Arthur; and another with them in Atlantis.
-JunkieXL, who helped compose MoS and BvS with Hans Zimmer, would have scored the film, but was replaced in June 2017 with Danny Elfman. At this time, XL is set to return to compose for the Snyder Cut in 2021.
Along with all of this, there were a few deleted scenes found on the home release of the film. One saw Superman wander the Kryptonian ship and come across a black-and-silver Superman suit, which in the comics is referred to as the Recovery Suit. Snyder shared an image of Cavil in the Black suit, and confirmed he would have worn the suit for the entirety of the film. Later in the scene, Alfred interacts with Superman (in his classic, blue and red suit) before Superman arrives at the final battle. This scene was shown as the stinger at the end of the second trailer for the film.
There was also a rough visual effects version of a Flash scene released online by an anonymous source that saw Flash have a meet-cute with Flash love interest, Iris West who was to be played by Kiersey Clemmons.
And now, here we are. After 3 years of petitioning, from fans, the director and the cast, the Snyder Cut will be released on HBO Max in 2021. Either as a 4-hour version or a mini-series, much like Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was adapted into a mini-series for Netflix. It could be either one of similar quality to the theatrical version, prove the executives right on trying to move away from Snyder’s vision, or be the superior version that fans and Snyder fought so hard for.