For the last three years, the most sought-after superhero movie has been one that doesn’t fully exist yet.
The movie in question is Zack Snyder’s fabled director’s cut of Justice League — the blockbuster that was supposed to be DC’s team-up counter to Marvel’s Avengers. Snyder left the project before its final form reached theaters. The version of the Wonder Woman-Superman-Batman-Flash-Cyborg friendship formation that screened in theaters would go on to flop, and ultimately lead to the ousting of Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.
Amid its critical and commercial failure, Snyder was absolved from the mess. Since Justice League’s November 2017 release, Snyder’s defenders have gathered under one demand: “Release the #SnyderCut.”
Snyder’s version of the movie, his fans have come to believe, is better than the movie that everyone ultimately saw — the version of Justice League that Warner Bros. execs and replacement director Joss Whedon corrupted. Like an urban legend, Snyder’s cut existed only in whispers, rumors, and teases. That’s no longer the case: Snyder and HBO Max announced last week that the so-called “Snyder Cut” will be released on the streaming platform in 2021, as the culmination of years of chatter.
But that announcement, while simultaneously thrilling fans and confirming the existence of the Snyder Cut, opens up the project to a different set of questions. Now we have to wonder about the cut’s current shape, why the fight for its release matters, and what this release means for the future of the DC superhero movie fandom.
The reason the Snyder Cut matters is because it’s mattered to fans for the last three years
Perhaps “Release the Snyder Cut” wouldn’t have become such a rallying cry if Justice League had been more successful.
After months of anticipation, Justice League turned out to be a critical and box-office disappointment. The more time that passed, the more fans blamed Snyder’s departure and Warner Bros. for the film’s incoherence and low quality. As a result, their hopes for some unannounced director’s cut of the film grew. Snyder fans consider his previous directors’ cuts of 2009’s Watchmen and 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to be improvements upon the theatrical versions, and that fueled a belief that a similar redux of Justice League would also be much more satisfying than the one they got originally.
An online petition by one fan that started in late 2017 asked for a director’s cut and garnered more than 179,000 signatures. That kicked off a full-on movement that, among other things, spurred a site called ForSnyderCut.com, which become a hub for all Snyder Cut news. Then there was a January 2018 “march” on Warner Bros.’s Burbank studio to show how serious fans were, along with YouTube videos (in many languages), letters, and phone calls to Warner Bros. itself.
The Ringer has a good breakdown of the various teases Snyder himself has participated in to further fan the flames. It wasn’t until March 2019 (just prior to a Snyder Cut believers-led GoFundMe campaign) that Snyder confirmed the existence of his director’s cut, while attending a fundraiser for the ArtCenter College of Design’s Ahmanson Auditorium:
Only a few people have said they’ve seen the cut. Most of this hinges on the word of Snyder himself or secondhand accounts. And others, like director (and early champion of the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement) Kevin Smith, say they’ve heard the cut isn’t in good enough shape to actually screen.
“There is a Snyder Cut. For sure. That’s not a mythical beast. It exists. Now, it’s not a finished movie by any stretch of the imagination,” Smith told CinemaBlend earlier this year. “The ‘Snyder Cut’ that, again, I haven’t seen, but the one I’ve heard everyone speak of was never a finished film. It was a movie that people in production could watch and fill in the blanks. It was certainly not meant for mass consumption.”
The rumors kept moving closer to home throughout 2019. In August, Aquaman actor Jason Momoa posted on Instagram that Snyder let him see the cut and that it was, in Momoa’s words, “ssssiiicccckkkkkk.”
On November 15, 2019, Snyder posted pictures on the social media platform Vero, images that fans quickly believed were from the Snyder Cut itself. These included a still of Henry Cavill’s Superman in the hero’s trademark uniform, and another of the character in what appears to be a resurrection scene that differs from the one in the original Justice League:
Adding fuel to the fire were tweets from former Batman actor Ben Affleck and Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot on November 17. Affleck, who vacated the Batman post after Justice League, simply tweeted the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut:
Gadot tweeted a black-and-white image of her character looking wistful, using the same hashtag:
It’s worth keeping in mind that Momoa and Gadot are still playing the heroes they portrayed in Justice League in upcoming standalone sequels. Drumming up interest in Justice League also drums up interest in their upcoming projects; tweeting about the Snyder Cut keeps their names in the news.
Supporting the Snyder Cut shows they also care about what fans want. These actors are essentially saying, without explicitly doing so, that they want the best for their fans. And since Justice League was so universally trashed, Gadot and Momoa aren’t really burning bridges by saying a better version of that movie exists somewhere.
When Wonder Woman 1984 comes out in August 2020, fans will likely remember that Gadot asked for the Snyder Cut to be released. And Gadot will likely be asked about the Snyder Cut again during that press tour — should the coronavirus pandemic allow for one.
The Snyder Cut unfortunately also represents a toxic side of fandom
Despite the motivation or intent behind the Snyder Cut campaign, it’s worth noting that some of the fans involved have gained a bad reputation. Their demands for the Snyder Cut grew more and more intense in the years leading up to its release, and it’s emblematic of how toxic some fandoms have become in the past decade.
Followers of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement frame their demands to make it seem as though Warner Bros. is keeping fans from the high-quality superhero movie they desire. The movement is not simply about wanting a director’s cut to be made available — these Snyder Cut defenders say it’s about artistic integrity.
Some of its supporters actually use the slogan to suggest that Warner Bros. executives, like ex-DC Entertainment president Geoff Johns (who takes the brunt of the fans’ blame for Justice League, as they theorize he sabotaged Snyder’s vision because it was incongruent with his own); reshoots helmer Joss Whedon; and even Marvel Entertainment, film critics, and many people in between have it out for Snyder fans. According to the Snyder Cut believers, none of these bigwigs care whether fans get a good movie out of Justice League, a beloved property many DC Comics fans wanted for years to see adapted: They just care about making money.
This notion continues to send fans on the more paranoid side of the argument into attack mode online:
I really hope Geoff Johns does the right thing and stay far away from #ReleaseTheSnyderCut as he is greatly responsible for what happened with Zack’s departure, Cyborgs story getting cut/redone, hiring the pig that is Joss Whedon. It’s best he stays far far away from this!— Jason Laboy Photography (@Jason24cf) November 18, 2019
Those motherfuckers Whedon and Johns turned Barry Allen from a badass who was gonna reverse time and stop the motherboxes from destroying planet earth, into a bumbling fucking buffoon who falls on womens tits and pushes a fucking pickup truck. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut— Dr. Chris Ω VOTE LABOUR! (@vinaldo7) November 12, 2019
The online harassment aimed at DC, Marvel, critics, and naysayers grew so fierce that a former DC exec deleted her Twitter in fall 2018 to avoid the rage in her mentions. A year prior, a writer from Pajiba received an avalanche of vitriol for criticizing the campaign online.
The reaction, albeit far more intense than previous Snyder-fan antics, is nothing new. It’s reminiscent of the great conspiracy theory of 2016, when a vocal sect of DC and Warner Bros. fans were convinced that Marvel had paid off critics to trash Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Supplemental to that theory is the narrative pushed by Snyder that his movies are made for fans, not critics.
The Snyder Cut contingent subsists on an “us versus them” mentality, where if you aren’t a fan of these Zack Snyder-produced DC movies, you must not be a “real” fan of the heroes themselves. Real fans are the ones who matter. Brushing off negative criticism becomes a lot easier when it’s coming from people who aren’t real fans.
This creates a strange paradox, in that true fans ostensibly should enjoy the Justice League movie no matter what, according to Snyder himself. But Snyder Cut’s followers will argue that the movie they were served was actually the work of other people — Whedon especially — and that they never got to see Snyder’s vision.
Hating Justice League means hating everything that was tinkered with by outside forces. The Snyder Cut is what “real” fans should want.
Pitting fans against critics and movie execs creates an environment in which a silly idea like Marvel paying off the media to trash Warner Bros. can take flight. It also encourages some fans to verbally abuse anyone with a negative opinion of the movie or any of Warner Bros.’s DC movies.
Just prior to the release of last October’s Joker, fans sent misogynistic tweets and emails — some that vaguely warned of theater shootings — to critics who saw the movie and gave it a poor review. This behavior continues and, in some ways, is entrenched in modern fandom culture, particularly among fans of DC superhero movies, which have suffered poor reviews over the years.
“To put it bluntly, although they’re not quite as abusive and bloodthirsty as Gamergate, their campaign has led to a tremendous amount of online bullying of critics, executives, and average schmoes who don’t agree with them,” Vulture’s Abraham Riesman wrote in May about what the release of the Snyder Cut will mean to this sect of fans.
Now that the Snyder Cut will be released on HBO Max next year, there’s also a question of what happens after fans — especially the particularly toxic ones — get what they want. They could very well see the release of a Snyder Cut as something they earned by acting and lashing out, as though Warner Bros. is caving in to their demands or rewarding their bad behavior. And it’s hard to believe that’s the best course of action.
The Snyder Cut of Justice League will reportedly cost as much as $30 million to finish
It’s currently unclear how complete the Snyder Cut is — right now or at all.
During the production of Justice League, Snyder was the creative lead for Warner Bros.’s DC superhero movie franchise. But Snyder left his Justice League project to deal with the death of his daughter just before the film began reshoots. (There are reports that dispute this, however, and claim that Snyder was fired much earlier.) Avengers director Joss Whedon was then called in to handle the movie’s long reshoot process.
Knowing this, how do you then separate Snyder’s work from the final version of the movie, the cut that came to theaters?
In terms of general storyline, it’s hard to believe that there would be much deviation from what we got in Justice League in the Snyder Cut: An evil force is going to take over the world and Earth’s only chance is in the hands of superhumans — Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Cyborg, and The Flash — joining forces.
The movie’s style, though, is where one would expect to see the biggest changes.
Based on his past work, like 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and 2013’s Man of Steel, and his filmography at large, Snyder’s version of Justice League is assumed to be a grittier and darker film than the one that came to theaters — especially when you compare it to Whedon’s lighter and more glib sense of humor.
So perhaps in the Snyder Cut, we lose the moment of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman accidentally sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso and being compelled to tell the truth about how beautiful she is and how they’re all going to die:
But trying to deduce which scenes were Whedon’s work and which were Snyder’s is a futile exercise. What we do know about the Snyder Cut, specifically, is scant. We know that executives at Warner Bros. are ready to spend $20-$30 million on the project, according to Warner Media Chairman Bob Greenblatt in an interview with Recode’s Peter Kafka; and we know that the cut Snyder envisions is around four hours in length, according to the Hollywood Reporter’s sources.
“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,” Snyder told THR, explaining that he never saw the final version that made it to theaters. “You [people who saw Justice League] probably saw one-fourth of what I did.”
Whatever this entirely new movie is, it’s still in the building phase. THR reports that Snyder is in the midst of assembling his original post-production crew to mix sound, add visual effects, finish the existing visual effects, and re-edit the movie. Actors might be brought in to record additional dialogue as well.
The other big thing to keep in mind is that Warner Bros.’s DC universe has largely moved beyond Justice League. Wonder Woman 1984 is, pandemic willing, scheduled to be released in theaters this summer. Sequels for Aquaman, including a spinoff, and Shazam! have already been confirmed. While the Snyder Cut will get hype and fanfare, it will exist in its own bubble. The movie’s story, no matter how different or new, likely won’t have an impact on the other DC superhero movies — but the story of its creation certainly has and will continue to do so.