Trigger Warning: This article mentions suicide.
Believe it or not, Zack Snyder has never seen Justice League. The 2017 blockbuster that hit the theaters has his name in the credits, is composed of shots he took, and features actors he cast. However, it is not a Zack Snyder film, and the director has never seen it.
His wife, Debbie Snyder, a producer of the film, did see it. “It was just…it’s a weird experience,” she said in a recent interview with Anthony Breznican of Vanity Fair. “I don’t know how many people have that experience. You’ve worked on something for a long time, and then you leave, and then you see what happened to it.” After watching the new version, she told her husband that “he could never see it.”
“Because I knew it would break his heart.”
On March 12, 2017, tragedy struck the Snyder family.
Autumn, the oldest daughter of Zack and his ex-wife, committed suicide while at home from college on break. After two months of trying to find some solace or peace in their work, the Snyders withdrew from post-production work on Justice League in May 2017, which resulted in Warner Bros and Joss Whedon completing the film.
Snyder stepped away from the project. Warner Brothers had been losing faith in Snyder’s ability since the mediocre success of Snyder’s first two films in the franchise, Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, so they took the opportunity to go in a different direction. The executives at Warner Bros’ appointed Joss Whedon, the director of 2011’s Avengers and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, to direct the reshoots of the movie and make the rewrites.
Whedon, who was handpicked by DC Entertainment Creative Chief Geoff Johns, made extensive rewrites and reshoots to the film, which led to a variety of different issues when the film was finally released. Most infamously, Henry Cavill, who had been working on Mission Impossible: Fallout, had to have his new mustache removed by CGI for the reshoots, resulting in awkward and clearly edited closeups of the Superman actor’s face.
And of course, we all know how the movie was received in 2017. Whedon’s version of the movie had to trim significant footage from Snyder’s four-hour epic. Thus, a lot of scenes that developed the new characters, such as Ray Fisher‘s Cyborg and Ezra Miller‘s Flash, were cut, leaving the finished project like a collection of poorly fleshed-out characters.
In addition, the tone shifted to a more comical, lighthearted movie akin to that of the rival Marvel universe. Cheap jokes, cartoonish colors, and ill-fitting dialogue pushed Justice League away from Snyder’s vision to a extremely expensive knockoff Avengers movie.
Despite the studio’s efforts, the fans wanted more. Comic book fans and Snyder fans alike took to social media, demanding that Snyder be reinstated and his vision fulfilled. Meanwhile, Snyder, who avoided public eye for a while, communicated with his most loyal followers and acolytes via the Vero social media platform. The now (in)famous #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement gained traction as time past, and in November 2019, a massive and sustained hashtag push took place on Twitter, which Snyder promoted. Soon thereafter, stars Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck, who play Wonder Woman and Batman, were also calling for his cut to be released.
Finally, in March 2020 and with the soon-to-be released streaming service HBO Max struggling to gain much attraction, HBO and Warner Brothers decided to release the Snyder Cut. The original plan was to just release the version on the drive, but Snyder objected.
Snyder pushed for total creative control and the ability to go in whatever direction he chose with his characters with the impression that he would not be compensated for this release. The studio gave in, and in March 2021, the Snyder Cut was finally released, exclusively on HBO Max.
So, how different is the Snyder Cut?
The Snyder Cut fulfills the director’s original vision, and it plays like such. Gone are the cheap jokes and one liners, replaced with powerful and provoking lines. The characters are much deeper, particularly Flash and Cyborg, who receive intense background and development that deepens the emotional connection with the audience. The movie is shot in darker shades, reflecting the world post-Superman, whose death casts a long shadow over the film. The movie chooses to show more often than tell, something different than the original film or even the rival Marvel films. The four-hour runtime gives Snyder all the time in the world to craft the exact story he wants, and the result is an epic piece of cinema.
The history of the Snyder Cut is perhaps one of the most interesting tales in recent Hollywood history, but the result is a piece of art that may very well reflect the future of movie-making: long epics made by inspired directors with no restrictions by any studio or production company.
For Snyder, though, it is much more. For Snyder, the film was an opportunity to finish his vision, complete his trilogy, and find a semblance of comfort in the tragedy that started it all.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available exclusively on HBO Max.
Media by Isaiah Atkins.