Explaining the origins of the movement to release Snyder Cut of Justice League is not a simple task. While the actual movement is really only a few months old, it's actually the culmination of a trend started years ago with Christopher Nolan and the Dark Knight trilogy. Prior to the release of Batman Begins, superhero movies, particularly Batman movies, weren't known for taking a sincere approach to the source material. There were certainly some excellent stand-out comic book movies over the years, including a number of more serious takes, but the general perception was that it took a healthy dose of cheese for any of them to work.
Nolan quickly dispelled that notion with his more grounded take on Batman, and for years, almost any adaptation of a geek or sci-fi property was described as trying to fit that "grounded" and "gritty" model of The Dark Knight, many times to failure. Then Zack Snyder entered the scene. He quickly gained popularity for his revolutionary stylistic take on Frank Miller's 300, showing audiences just how extreme and stylistic an adaptation of a graphic novel could be. This reputation landed him in the director's chair for the adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen, one of the most popular graphic novels of all time. Snyder brought a style and tone to the movie that was, again, unlike anything audiences had seen before, yet his no holds barred approach proved to be polarizing, gaining some loyal fans for his unflinching depiction of the violence and moral quandaries in the source material, while others found fundamental disagreement with his interpretation of the movie's core themes or characters. This divide was only the start.
One of those that appreciated his approach was Christopher Nolan, who was looking for someone to direct a Superman movie following the conclusion of The Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan valued Snyder's sensibilities and thought his larger than life cinematic senses would be great for depicting the power of Superman in Man of Steel. Snyder brought a level of moral complexity to the story that ignited some people's love for the character, but, again, divided fans on the whole - a trend that continued when he doubled down on a darker story, bringing the heroes to blows through his introduction of Batman and Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Justice League was well on its way to becoming aesthetically and tonally similar to Batman v Superman (although a lighter, more hopeful movie had been promised since before Batman v Superman even released) and Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment execs were tired of getting the same criticisms every time, so Snyder was finally pushed out of the project after completing 100% of principal photography and some post-production, and Joss Whedon reshot a large portion of it to change the story, brightening the lighting and colors, and adding more jokes. Fans were told Snyder left due to a family tragedy (he did suffer the loss of his daughter during production) and Whedon would simply finish his existing vision, but it was very clear upon release that finishing Snyder's vision hadn't been the intent, and fans started campaigning for the movie Warner Bros. had promised them.
- This Page: A Snyder Cut Exists
- Page 2: How Complete is the Snyder Cut Actually?
- Page 3: How Different is the Snyder Cut and Why Wasn't it the One Released?
- Page 4: Will the Snyder Cut Be Released? Will it Be Better? What's Next?
A Snyder Cut Exists
This might be the most contentious point of this whole issue, yet the answer is very simple and we've known it for over a year. The Snyder Cut is real. No, that doesn't necessarily mean it's 100% completed or ready for distribution (more on each of those points later), but there was a cut of the movie completed by Zack Snyder before he left, and this fact has been openly acknowledged since the day it became public that he was no longer the director.
Snyder completed 100% of principal photography and had begun post-production. He screened his cut of the movie for Warner Bros executives, and that early cut was either good or "unwatchable," depending on your source. So we know there was a cut under review as early as January 2017, which was several months before Snyder left.
Page 2 of 4: How Complete is the Snyder Cut Actually?
Why Do People Say The Snyder Cut Doesn't Exist?
If the cut exists, and it's so well documented that it exists, why do so many people claim it doesn't? There's a combination of factors at play here. Some people that haven't followed the topic very closely assume that because Snyder was off the project nearly a year before release means he was a lot farther behind than he actually was, but the issue is only exacerbated by the fact that there's no clear definition as to what anyone actually means when they say "the Snyder cut."
When it comes to most media sources, the line is that "the Snyder Cut doesn't exist." This may be true that there's not a cut that's finished and ready for theaters (although some people would say the same of the actual theatrical cut of Justice League), but thanks to reporting from many of these very same sources, we know that there is a Snyder cut, so we can only assume that when they say it "doesn't exist," they simply mean "a 100% completed and ready to distribute Snyder cut doesn't exist."
But that still leaves a big question. If there is a cut, but it's not a 100% complete cut, just how far along is it?
How Complete is the Snyder Cut?
We know that there is a cut, but it's not clear how much of it is completed. Fortunately, thanks to some behind the scenes info and a trail of breadcrumbs left by Snyder on social media, we have a pretty good understanding of just how complete it was prior to Snyder's exit.
First, we know Snyder completed 100% of principal photography. That's not contested.
Second, we know Snyder presented a cut of the movie to WB executives. There's been some debate over whether or not it was an "assembly cut," but given it was being screened, it was likely further along than that, probably closer to a director's cut with unfinished VFX, temp music, and incomplete audio mixing.
Third, Snyder posted a video of an Aquaman VFX shot from Scanline VFX with the label "for final approval" and a February 2017 date stamp. This hardly speaks to the status of the VFX as a whole, but at least some scenes had 100% completed VFX work.
Fourth, Snyder posted an image of him working on a shot of Batman with Stefan Sonnenfeld of Company 3, who does digital intermediary, AKA color timing. This stage of post-production is typically one of the last steps in the process, and at the very least is usually done after "picture lock" is achieved, meaning he had a complete edit of all the scenes he intended to include in the theatrical cut.
Fifth, Snyder posted an image of Gal Gadot doing ADR (automated dialogue replacement), meaning, again, picture lock had been achieved and sound mixing was taking place, which is typically one of the last stages of post-production.
So, we don't know exactly how far along he was, but we do know he was conducting a lot of activities normally reserved for the very end of post-production.
The other part that's not clear is the status of original composer Tom Holkenborg, AKA Junkie XL's soundtrack. He'd spoken about it in ways that suggested it was being worked on, and even collaborated on the "Come Together" cover with Gary Clark Jr., but there's no evidence one way or the other showing how far along he was with the actual soundtrack recording.
Then, of course, there are rumors that Snyder has continued work on the cut in private. These rumors are difficult to substantiate, but it's safe to say the cut has been on Snyder's mind a lot since he's consistently posted images (including deleted scenes) to his Vero account. It's certainly a possibility, but he would need to have a collaborator to finish any incomplete VFX. Outside of that, there's no solid evidence to prove this rumor, and, if true, Snyder will probably keep it that way until he has something official to reveal.
Is The Snyder Cut Even That Different?
The line delivered by Warner Bros. and the cast in the lead-up to the movie was that Justice League was still Snyder's movie and Whedon was merely completing that original vision. As a result, many have claimed that the Whedon cut basically is the Snyder Cut, since the changes were supposedly minimal and supposedly requested by Snyder himself.
The theatrical cut arrived and it felt nothing like a Zack Snyder movie. The tone and story were inconsistent with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the CGI was obviously incomplete in multiple places, and a significant amount of trailer footage was missing. As if the evidence itself wasn't enough, Justice League storyboard artist Jay Oliva recently confirmed that the theatrical cut was not the story Snyder intended the movie to tell.
It's not clear exactly what all the changes were, but large chunks of backstory for The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (whose story was apparently significantly altered) were cut, Superman was almost entirely reshot, and a subplot building up Darkseid was completely removed. Even some of the original scenes appear to have been recontextualized with new ADR lines and reshoot inserts. The central storyline about the Mother Boxes is also introduced through a Joss Whedon scene that introduces the idea that parademons smell fear and are drawn to a particular siren sound, all elements that serve as a sort of MacGuffin throughout the rest of the movie, meaning even the core motivation was altered in some way.
If the Snyder Cut Was So Far Along, Why Wasn't It The One Released?
When it was first announced that Snyder was stepping down, the messaging from Warner Bros. was that Joss Whedon wasn't making any significant changes. In fact, they said Snyder had brought him aboard and asked him to write some additional scenes already, so he'd merely be completing scenes Snyder asked him to make in the first place and executing the rest of post-production according to Snyder's original vision.
We now know that wasn't the case at all. Chris Terrio's script was under fire by Geoff Johns very early on, so a writers summit was held, including Whedon, to try and steer the movie in a different direction. When Snyder was finally forced off the project, the resistance to change was presumably all but gone, meaning more drastic alterations could be made.
After Man of Steel and Batman v Superman had come under fire for their tone, it can only be assumed that Warner Bros. wanted to use the opportunity of Snyder's exit to steer the movie closer to the more popular tone of the Marvel movies. Geoff Johns reiterated multiple times during production that DC properties should be full of "hope and optimism."
Even though Wonder Woman saw success with a tone that wasn't that far off from Man of Steel, the reshoots continued, giving Batman more one-liners, making Aquaman less gruff, lightening a dark Cyborg origin, and completely replacing Superman with an ever-smiling mustacheless Henry Cavill who regularly spouts lines like "I believe in truth, but I'm also a big fan of justice" to the tune of John Williams' original Superman theme incorporated into Danny Elfman's score.
The resulting movie has been referred to as a "Frankenstein monster," and, instead of being the DCEU's biggest hit so far, it's actually the lowest earner in the franchise. Warner Bros. was clearly pushing for a significant franchise course correction and saw Snyder's departure as the perfect opportunity. At the end of the day, they were half-right. Snyder's departure did allow them to make a much lighter, more humor-filled film than Snyder planned on releasing. Where they had it wrong was that critics, and especially the box office, didn't reward them for doing so.
Will the Snyder Cut Ever Be Released?
With the amount of energy behind the Snyder Cut movement, it's hard to believe it won't come out eventually. A number of popular belated director's cuts have come out over the years, such as Blade Runner: The Final Cut, or Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (which probably has the most similarity to Snyder's situation), both of which required additional work to be released, and neither of those had this kind of grassroots movement behind them.
Warner Bros. holds all the cards when it comes to distribution rights, so it can't happen without them giving the green light. The big question is just when they will acquiesce. Maybe it will go under the new non-canon DC Black/DC Dark/Elseworlds movie label or get released via the DC Universe streaming platform. As long as Warner Bros. is trying to build the current iteration of the DCEU, it's understandable that they'd be resistant to the idea since it exposes the breadth of their mishandling of the issue and challenges the continuity of the other films. That's not to say it can't get a release in the next year or two, but it could also take years for Warner Bros. to come around on the idea. But one thing is for sure: so long as Zack Snyder keeps showing interest in it coming out (which his Vero activity would suggest), and fans keep pushing for it, Warner Bros. will be less and less able to sweep it under the rug.
It probably won't see a wide theatrical release (or any theatrical release at all), it may not get a marketing push, and it might not even get any money put into finishing any incomplete VFX scenes, but it's fair to say that A Snyder Cut of some kind will eventually be released.
Will the Snyder Cut Be Better Than the Theatrical Cut?
Zack Snyder movies have almost always been polarizing, so it's difficult to make an absolute statement regarding the hypothetical reception since there would obviously be a number of people who dislike it merely because of his association. The safe statement would be to say that if you liked Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, or were on the fence and needed to see more payoff to existing character arcs (particularly Superman's), then the Snyder Cut may have been the movie for you.
If, however, you didn't like Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it's doubtful you would have been a big fan of the Snyder Cut either. However, some detractors have pointed out that a strong directorial vision - even if it's one they don't appreciate - could have made Justice League a more enjoyable experience.
Could the Snyder Cut take all the negative reviews and flip them around, resulting in a fresh score on review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes? Probably not. It's abundantly clear by this point that Snyder's movies strongly appeal to a specific segment of audiences and turn off the rest. While that might bring great satisfaction to some, it's the kind of movie that suffers the most from the mechanics of review aggregators.
What's Next for the Snyder Cut Movement?
If the Snyder Cut is released, the controversy will presumably die down, Zack Snyder will continue with his next project, and the fans will have what they want. The community that formed around the cause likely won't disappear altogether like most communities of its nature, but it will get smaller without an immediate rallying cry, and they will move on to other passions like the upcoming DCEU slate and/or future Snyder projects.
More recently, Snyder Cut fans have also begun campaigning for other movies that saw the directorial vision hampered, such as Suicide Squad, asking for "the Ayer Cut," and while it's certainly a distant possibility, the behind the scenes situation with that movie is a little different, and there may not even be a "pure Ayer Cut" to simply be released and that could be a matter of re-editing the entire project. Fortunately, earned a lot more money than Justice League, and didn't even get a release in China, so long term it may actually be easier to entice Warner Bros. to return to that well.
If the Snyder Cut isn't released in the near future, the movement will likely also stick around. At this point, an actual subculture has formed around the campaign, including fan art, fan edits of Justice League, and a full scale forensic examination of the film and any behind the scenes material available to piece together together a rough idea of what the Snyder Cut was supposed to be, aided occasionally by a new revelation from Snyder himself on the Vero social platform.
While the whole situation may be odd, it might actually become a more common occurrence moving forward, especially if the Snyder Cut is actually released. In the age of the internet and social media, fans are more plugged in and organized than ever before. If the same situation had played out just a decade ago, fans wouldn't have known or connected as easily, and Snyder may not have had such an activated group of fans to root to see his vision. Snyder and Warner Bros. seem to have both learned their lesson and will approach future projects a little differently, but succeed or fail, the movement to release the Snyder Cut could have more of a lasting impact on the film industry than people realize.