A ‘League’ of its Own?: Can the ‘Snyder Cut’ both ways?

Hit or Myth? The mythical 'Snyder Cut' of 'Justice League' IS to be released. What happens next?

The existence of a ‘Snyder Cut‘ of Justice League had become something of a joke and a cause celebre in the last few years. It relates to the fact that during a possibly turbulent production, controversial director Zack Snyder had to cut short his duties on the Justice League film due a family tragedy in May 2017 and that the film was completed by Joss Whedon. However in the process sources indicated that some of the original scenes intended for the movie were either edited out or rewritten with Whedon and the studio having a different take on what was wanted. Some original estimates said that Whedon reduced the running time by a third but added 80 pages of his own. Another estimate said Whedon changed about 20% of the movie, though Snyder recently said the film differed by as much as 75% from his original vision. That finished film (still technically listing Snyder as its director) got decidedly mixed-to-bad reviews on release in November 2017 and ultimately fell far short of the box-office behemoth that Marvel‘s Avengers franchise was reaching.

Ever since there were a group of fans that said they wanted to see Snyder’s original vision of the film and campaigned passionately for a way for that to happen. While it was an interesting idea on some levels, it seemed entirely unlikely that it would ever occur… though many a film has had a slightly different or expanded director’s cut released after the main event, few fan campaigns (and there seem to be many nowadays) have succeeded in fundamentally altering an existing work simply because they didn’t like the result. Yet the term ‘Snyder Cut’ kept resurfacing, partly due to relentless and effective  campaigning and even some of the actors involved appeared to be lending support (perhaps joking at first, more seriously later) saying they’d be happy to see the version of the film more as originally intended.

However it was still something of a surprise last week when it was announced that the ‘Snyder Cut‘ of Justice League was indeed going to become an actual reality and that it would be shown on the new HBO Max streamer some time in 2021.

But what does that actually mean and what are the implications?

It appears that the project had been under serious consideration for longer than many expected and that the decision to show it on HBO Max next year was a serendipitous sequence of timings that aligned to make it viable. To be clear, a finished cut itself doesn’t actually exist as anything more than an intent as yet and Snyder has said that there will be no actual reshoots for this release – that it will largely amount to some new FX, many chopped scenes being reinserted or replaced and re-edited to form the narrative intended. For example, the character of Darkseid (in layman’s terms the DCU answer to Thanos) who was a pivotal off-camera character in the released film will be more prominent in this, with actor Ray Porter confirming he played the Darkseid role and would be seen in the 2021 release. But that material does appear to be fairly extensive – the new editing and construction rumoured to be costing over $30million and changing the very ebb and flow and story of the film… and with some wondering if the new and lengthier version of the film (which was once believed to be on target for over three hours long) will be seen in a single sitting or be split out as an almost episodic ‘event’. The difference between it being a recut or what amounts to a largely ‘new’ film (if the 75% figure is true) could also have legal and union implications according to a recent interview.

Though some other fan campaigns may feel energised by the news, it’s still unlikely that many others will be as successful. The released version of the Justice League had the double-whammy of having a lot of material existing that had been discarded and then major and sometimes obvious changes made by a new director for release – not something that often happens in tandem (usually a director will leave early having shot very little or a new director will only shoot a handful of scenes… and even if that’s not the case, a studio is rarely interested in revisiting and showing what might have been). It’s unlikely you’ll ever see any of the recent Star Wars movies that had major behind-the-scenes and ‘creative differences’  problems for that final reason. Perhaps the most famous parallel could be the years-later release of Richard Donner’s original vision for  Superman II (Donner having being fired originally and Richard Lester brought on to direct).

The news may be an excellent promotion for this week’s launch of HBO Max, but there are also implications for the DCU going forward. The very release of the Snyder Cut  – and not even to cinemas – somewhat undermines the Warner/DC efforts to create a cohesive universe of interconnected stories and emulate its Marvel counterparts in movie theatres… and probably does nothing for Whedon’s once untouchable reputation, acknowledging the creative problems and disappointing box-office that ensued. Of course, while the Snyder Cut (or Zack Snyder’s Justice League as it will now be formally titled) has received almost mythical status in its absence, its release into the cinematic wilds will mean that it can be scrutinised as much as the original hybrid and though there’s genuine anticipation for it, Snyder’s previous output has always had mixed reactions. In itself a shortened version of a possible three-movie and much darker concept that Snyder first intended, there is no guarantee that the ‘new’ film will be ‘better’, just different… but there’s little doubt the internet will be there to discuss such opinions sometime next year…