If you’ve been on Twitter over the past two and a half years, then you may have come across the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. For those of you with lives, let me regale you.
In 2017, Zack Snyder stepped down as the director of Justice League after the suicide of his daughter Autumn Snyder, and the film was handed over to Joss Whedon to complete reshoots that had been ordered by the studio. These reshoots ended up being rather extensive; well over half the movie was reshot and retooled in some way, from cut characters to digitally removed mustaches. The resulting film was poorly received and was considered a financial bomb, largely due to a lack of interest from audiences after so many mediocre predecessors; the opposite problem of their distinguished competition.
In most cases, that would be the end of Justice League’s story, but many fans were left more than unsatisfied; they felt cheated. While many thought Zack Snyder’s DC films were dreck, wallowing in self-seriousness, this vocal minority of defenders saw movies of substance and maturity. For them, it was validation that characters like Batman and Superman were important and complex. They believed Justice League would have delivered the same level of depth they had come to expect from the previous installments had Zack Snyder been able to finish his vision. Snyder apparently had all the footage and claimed a cut of his movie did exist, it just had to be given the green light.
Thus, a concentrated spam attack on every Warner Bros. twitter page began, with comment sections and replies full of pleas to the studio to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. They bought bus ads and billboards advertising the crusade during San Diego Comic Con. They stood outside Warner Bros. dressed as DC characters, peacefully protesting and asking for their request to be taken seriously (yes, this happened). They were more than a little annoying.
Zack Snyder quietly stroked the fans’ egos, teasing Easter eggs left on the cutting room floor. Several of the film’s leads, including Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot (Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively) shared the infamous hashtags on their personal social media pages (mainly as a favor to Snyder, whom they respected regardless of the movie). The crusade went on and no one ever truly believed anything would come from this; it just didn’t seem feasible. But yesterday, after years of these people badgering and whining to one of the biggest film studios in the world, Warner Bros. announced they would be giving Zack Snyder 20 million dollars to complete his Justice League edit to be streamed on HBO Max. It has not yet been decided whether it will take the form of a four-hour director’s cut (Darkseid have mercy) or a six-part miniseries, but one thing is certain: the nerds won.
There’s a lot to unpack here. For starters, it should be noted that as much as fans were saying The Snyder Cut was a finished edit of the film, that wasn’t true. What did exist was something closer to a workprint. During post-production, there are several forms a movie takes; a workprint is a rough version of the film without any color correction, unfinished sound design, temp music as opposed to a finished score, and storyboards/rough outlines of any kind of visual effects. Snyder most likely showed that to Warner Bros. when he was still involved, which according to some rumors, was deemed unwatchable (if you’ve seen BvS, that doesn’t sound so far-fetched). So, completing a watchable cut was always going to be costly. That was the biggest road block towards green-lighting the thing; that amount of money for a three year-old flop sounded like a fool’s errand.
But we live in crazy times, and Warner forked over the cash. So, with money in place, it seems like an easy enough decision to make. Warner Bros. see these dorks as a viable market, and that’s all the foresight they need, right? Well, now we get into the morals of taking advice from internet nerds. I am not a parent, but I think most people can agree that if a child whines and complains about not getting what they want ad nauseam, the last thing you want to do is reward the child’s demands. This is how you breed entitlement. With Warner Bros. making this call, they are placating a group of people who carpet bombed their social media for literally years. And worst of all, when you really look critically at this whole crusade, and what the goal has been this entire time, you have a lot of teenagers and grown adults begging a corporation to make a version of Justice League that pretends that Batman and Superman weren’t characters created in rag magazines for children in the ’40s. That’s the truth. Moving on with your life? Nah. This is the cause worth championing: getting Cyborg more screen time! At some point, you just have to ask if it’s worth it. And the Snyder Cult never thought to ask.
That last bit may come off a bit harsh. They’re just trying to find their joy, what’s so wrong about that? But I know the people who are asking for the Snyder Cut, I know them very well. I know the feeling they want out of seeing this movie that they think will make them happy. I know them because I used to be in their shoes.
In 2015, it’s safe to say I was a very different person. I was still in college and I didn’t have a lot of aspirations, nor was I looking for any real emotional growth at the age of 21. All I really cared about, more than any person should have, was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, where Batman and Superman would finally meet in the same film. Zack Snyder wanted to ask big questions and take this fight deathly serious, unlike those fun but silly Marvel movies! I went to a fan event that gave out free posters for the movie and ended up taking well over 50 posters back home. I lined an entire wall of my college home with them. I was so hyped, even when people told me the trailer looked bad. I told them they needed to have faith, and at worst, I would shut down bitterly at the criticism, almost like their criticism was saying something about me.
Suffice it to say, I was maybe too invested in this commercial film about men in spandex pummeling the crap out of each other. When the movie turned out to be bad, I had to swallow a lot of pride. Once again, taking my fandom and somehow feeling like I was going to be shamed for this movie that had no tangible impact on my life whatsoever. Later that year, Suicide Squad, a film I felt similarly about, had the same reception and the cycle started over again. I look back at that time with a lot of pity. I never thought of myself as unstable, but I was clearly trying to fill a hole in my heart and I didn’t understand what it needed to be filled with. It ended up being the wake-up call I needed. About a month after Suicide Squad, I googled “gender fluidity” for the first time and my life changed forever (I fully give credit to the collapse of the DCEU for jump-starting my eventual gender transition).
I get what it means to these people seeing movies about these characters succeed. I get wanting to be satisfied by this escapist fiction. But when you’re a grown-ass adult, you’ve gotta let that shit go. That’s where my sympathy runs dry. The question of rewarding bad fan behavior has come up a lot over the past two years (for example, Rick and Morty fans bullied McDonalds into releasing a long forgotten McNuggets sauce after it got mentioned in an episode). It’s vindication that if you complain enough, you’ll get what you want, whether or not you deserve it. It sets an unstable precedent between studios and fans.
But like all things, there are shades of grey that deserve to be talked about. The Snyder Cut cult has had a number of moments they should be proud of among the moments they shouldn’t be. The fact that Snyder left the film after the loss of his daughter was not lost on fans. There have been several fundraisers in the name of the Snyder Cut donated to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
They managed to raise over $150,000 in donations. Subway donated 15,000 sandwiches to Feeding America while also tweeting out the hashtag in exchange for retweets from a fan. It’s acts like this that remind us that while it started from a shallow place, the movement has learned to present itself less as a bunch of nerds with too much time on their hands and done some real good in the name of their cause. I think that’s important to remember when they’re compared to, say, Star Wars fans, who boycotted 2017’s The Last Jedi over its inclusion of female lead characters and a diverse cast. The Snyder Cut cult is immature, but they aren’t generally bigoted (it’s why I have a problem with this clip).
So it happened, The Snyder Cut is going to be a real thing you can watch. There’s still one last Parademon in the room we need to talk about, however. At the end of the day, Zack Snyder’s DC films weren’t memorable or well liked films by the general public. Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman both received poor reviews and were considered financial disappointments, Justice League even more so. In fact, Snyder was given a much tighter leash making Justice League after BvS was such a PR disaster for the DC brand. So, when this is all said and done, is it even going to be good?
In my opinion, no it won’t. I think Zack Snyder fundamentally doesn’t understand the characters he’s making movies about. He wants to make something of substance, but can’t keep his metaphors and themes together. He resents the building blocks of the material (these characters were never meant to be taken that seriously). And frankly, I don’t think he’s great with actors. Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa (Aquaman) have had great success in their solo features, cementing their ownership of these roles; but if you only saw their work in Snyder’s films, that would not be the case. They really struggle under his direction. Same goes for Henry Cavill (Superman), who has maybe suffered the most from Snyder’s non-direction and has the most to lose in this new cut. At least Whedon knew how to make Cavil likable for once. A director is there to do just that, direct, and Snyder is focused on too many other things to really service his performers. People come to these movies for the characters, and when they don’t work, nothing else will.
Despite all that, Warner Bros. is in a pretty nice situation besides being out $20 million. They aren’t putting this movie out on Blu-ray; it doesn’t have to generate revenue. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (the official new title) is going to be content for streaming, they’re generating views now. On HBO Max, anyone with a fleeting interest can just scroll over the damn thing and watch it for as long or little as they please. Time Warner is getting a bump in subscribers the week before the service launches, despite JL not coming for another year. Most of the work needed to finish the cut is all post, so it can largely be finished remotely. In the age of Covid-19, a $20 million superhero movie that can actually begin production in a currently frozen industry is a win. Plus, 2016 was a long time ago. DC isn’t tainted like it used to be. They’ve got a number of hits, and even the softer grossing movies received the best reviews they’ve gotten since Christopher Nolan was steering the ship. Even if The Snyder Cut is worse than what’s come before, it’s way less pressure on them than back when it needed to gross $750 million to break even. Now, it’s just an Elseworlds movie, what could have been in another timeline.
We still don’t know a lot about what’s to come; that’ll be learned over the next year. There’s a lot of questions about what this means for the future of fan voices in media. But for now, in these unprecedented times, there’s not many things for people to get excited about and if this news made someone’s week? Well, who am I to say what they should be happy about? As much distancing as I’ve done with this fandom, I’m still an absolute sucker for Batman and the DC comics pantheon. I’ll certainly be watching with very low expectations. Either way, however the movie turns out, the authentic version of this movie birthed from Snyder’s weird brain will be far more interesting than whatever it was Warner Bros originally released three years ago. A movie without passion is as useful as Superman strapped to a block of kryptonite.