We don’t know when theatrical movies will return. Perhaps it will be late summer, but until the theaters are officially open we can’t say for sure. But we do know of one film that doesn’t need theaters in order to be released – Zack Snyder’s long sought after cut of Justice League. It was only a little over a month ago that Snyder himself made the announcement that Snyder fans and DC diehards had been anticipating for over two years, and the reaction among those groups was incredibly joyous. It wouldn’t surprise me if 8 months from now that a bunch of Snyder babies are born as a result of the passionate celebration.
But now that the film we thought we’d never see is on its way, can it actually live up to its legendary hype? What is the hype even about, or what are we expecting to see? The original Justice League (2017), directed by Snyder and then partially re-shot by Joss Whedon, was a very bad film. For an event film that should have been Warner Bros. biggest moneymaker in studio history, it felt underwhelming and lacking compelling stakes. The finished product was a studio-mangled Frankenstein of a film with a whimsical tone that felt out of place with the darker brand that DC had built up.
It’s not that a DC film can’t have a lighter tone, as evidenced with last year’s excellent Shazam (2019). But after watching Batman brutally murder criminals with little remorse, it was jarring to see him reduced to making dad jokes. It was equally jarring to see Superman go from existential angst to reciting forced, corny lines about truth and justice. Characters can be multi-faceted, but this was the first time we saw this version of the characters in this light, and it appeared disingenuous, not organic. Essentially, Justice League took a dark, nearly R-rated, property and turned it into a sitcom.
The production itself was a mess, the nadir of which was the drama surrounding Henry Cavill’s mustache. Eventually, the VFX team was able to digitally remove the stache, but at the expense of Superman looking more like an evil Inspector Gadget. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. intends to spend at least $30 million on post-production work that will mold this new cut into Snyder’s vision, but what is that vision?
If we can look at Snyder’s filmography, it becomes apparent what type of movie DC fans are hoping the Snyder cut will be. His DC films, including Watchmen (2009), were dark, gloomy, and ultra-violent. By contrast, Whedon’s version of the Justice League was not only whimsical but featured more toned-down violence. What excites Snyder fans about his work is that, from 300 to Man of Steel, there is a commitment to not shy away from the brutality of combat. But was that brutality captured in what Snyder originally filmed? And will the $30 million spent on effects give DC fans the action they crave, especially when there’s apparently no actors being called for re-shoots?
As far as where the storyline will go, the original film featured a battle with the villain Steppenwolf, a character no one gave a shit about. Snyder counters this by promising that we will see Darkseid, DC’s equivalent of Thanos. But Darkseid was originally promised to be an antagonist in a future Justice League sequel. So will Darkseid be re-purposed as the film’s villain, or will his appearance be limited to a flashback or cameo? The latter would be incredibly underwhelming. In addition, it has been long rumored that Henry Cavill donned the black Superman suit while filming Justice League, a rumor that Snyder himself has teased. Obviously, this points to Superman having a more grim personality upon his resurrection, but it’s unclear whether that will lead to an interesting character arc for Kal-El.
Seeing a director have the chance to grace the world with his preferred vision is certainly worth advocating for, and almost no director is guaranteed that luxury (somewhere in the distance, you can still hear a belligerent Josh Trank complaining about Fantastic Four). It takes an army of artists to make movies, but clearly, directors often leave a signature stamp on their work. Since film fans have become more analytical, there’s been a greater interest in a director’s artistic vision. But it’s far from a guarantee that Zack Snyder’s Justice League, as it has been marketed, will be an improvement on the theatrical cut, especially given the obstacles in front of Snyder during the post-production process. Yet, perhaps the quality of the film isn’t what matters, it’s about fans having the choice to view another interpretation.
Altering a work that was already deemed complete is nothing new to cinephiles. Star Wars fans famously compiled “anti-cheese” edits for the Prequel Trilogy (ironic, given their disapproval for George Lucas altering the Original Trilogy in any way). This fervent desire to see an alternate cut has even more variables in the comic book genre – there’s a familiarity with the characters and source material, so it’s a lot easier to imagine what the unseen product could look like. This is alluring to fans because so many blanks can be filled in. In addition, films such as Tim Burton’s Superman Lives and George Miller’s Justice League never saw the light of day, perpetually stuck in development hell. So the Snyder cut, to an extent, is the vindication for fans who have been curious to see not just this film, but so many superhero films that were sabotaged before the public could get their hands on it.
If the Snyder Cut never saw the light of day, the promise of it would still live on. But now that it will be a reality, it no longer has the luxury of being just a legend. It has to perform, and it will be critiqued and dissected, no matter how unfair that is given its unorthodox production history. If it’s universally panned, will it quell the interests for future unseen films? Can both sides, the Snyder lovers and haters, be objective? None of these questions can be answered until the film is released, and I certainly hope the movie is incredible as every film fan should. But we should all strive to lower our expectations – this is a bizarre production that is being completed during a global pandemic. Perhaps the Snyder cut will live up to every fantasy every fan has ever had about it. But we’re quite familiar with normal films not meeting our expectations. This is unchartered territory – we don’t even know what our expectations should be for a film that wasn’t supposed to be seen.