At last, it’s here. After years of online campaigning, messages plastered across the sky or Times Square and a LOT of hashtags the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League is finally out in the world, released on HBO Max in the US and on Sky/NOW in the UK as a kind of event miniseries.
Will this re-edit of 2017’s Justice League be the world-conquering, quasi-religious experience that all the build-up has led fans to expect? At time of writing, it’s hard to know, but there is one thing we know for sure.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not the Snyder cut. Because you see, in many ways the Snyder cut isn’t something that ever existed.
When Snyder departed Justice League, it’s not like he had a film ready to go that evil executives cruelly cast aside, cackling as they drew up their destructive plans for “Josstice League” instead. Rather, he had an awful lot of footage that was unfinished and unfit for release (no CGI or colour grading – not a quality judgement, don’t write in), which he locked away in a cupboard somewhere and never expected to revisit.
The largely reshot Joss Whedon version of Snyder’s film was released instead, didn’t do that well and left fans disappointed – and keen to see what might have been, fans started to call for Snyder’s original vision. This “director’s cut” campaigning has a long history in movies, perhaps most prominently in the various cuts of Ridley Scott’s seminal Blade Runner (with or without the voiceover or the weird ending? You decide!), but with Justice League it combined with the growing power and influence of online fandom to create a massive, and often toxic, campaign.
The fact that Warner Bros. eventually decided to bow to this pressure is nearly unheard of – the fact that they gave Snyder millions of dollars to shoot new scenes and finish the CGI is unprecedented. But the end result is that the fans got what they wanted, or at least what they thought they wanted – Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League, as it would have been in an alternate 2017.
But will this really be the film they wanted? I’m not so sure. Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t necessarily a re-do of the original film – instead of seeing what Snyder would have made to be released in cinemas, fans are being given a four-hour-plus miniseries which would never have been released (and is only being done so now to help sell HBO Max). The real “Snyder cut” would have been shorter and snappier, and the daunting length of what’s being released instead feels almost like too much of a good thing even if you are a huge fan of Snyder’s vision.
And perhaps that’s true more generally of this entire project. Last year when this re-release was confirmed, the satirical YouTube channel Screen Junkies created an entire response video to the “finished” Justice League, which apparently included every plot hole fixed, a Darkseid origin story, a “heartfelt apology from the cast of Ghostbusters 2016” and a 20-minute interlude where Jeremy Irons’ Alfred reads Atlas Shrugged over the intercom, concluding with the revelation that the film was so good, so seminal that it ended the comic book movie genre for good and pre-emptively cancelled the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s a funny riff, but it also highlights just how ludicrously high some expectations are for this movie – and raises the question over whether this Justice League will be as good as the hazy, unlimited potential version that has hovered in people’s imaginations for the last three or so years.
At time of writing, I haven’t seen the Justice League re-edit, and neither has any other member of the general public. It could be that it actually fulfils every expectation fans have had for its release, converts everyone to the DC cause and actively forces Warner Bros. to return to the original Snyder plan for their shared superhero universe (rather than the new Batman and Superman movies in the pipeline).
But somehow, I feel like this Snyder cut won’t be as good as the version people have been carrying in their heads, untouched by reality or the harsh realities of filmmaking. How could it? Your mind has limitless budget, an all-star cast and an extremely generous audience. The real world isn’t like that, and I could imagine Zack Snyder’s Justice League inspiring at least some disappointment when it finally arrives.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. In some ways, the true story of the Snyder cut isn’t about the film itself – it’s what it represents. Depending on your opinion, that could be the toxic pressure of fandom and social media crushing originality and new ideas out of the industry, or an inspiring tale of how loyal fans managed to push back against apathetic, nervous executives to protect the artistic expression of a director.
The Snyder cut is the journey, not the destination. And whether you’re thrilled to see Batman punch some parademons or not, you can’t deny it’s been quite a journey.