At San Diego Comic Con 2019, one of the biggest stunts didn’t come from Marvel’s smash-hit Phase 4 panel, or the Game of Thrones retrospective, or from some imaginative marketer on the show floor – instead, it came from the sky, specifically from a hired plane as it pulled a message through the sky on a banner.
“Release the Snyder Cut.”
For those not in the know, the message may have been confusing, but for those who’ve followed this unusual and protracted campaign for a while it came as no surprise.
The Snyder cut refers to a near-mythical version of 2017 superhero movie Justice League, far different from the version that actually made it to cinemas – and with Justice League star Jason Momoa claiming that he’s actually seen this mystery cut, and his co-stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Ray Fisher also calling for its release, it looks like the campaign won’t be going anywhere.
The basic background to this conspiracy theory is that director Zack Snyder (who exited the film early following his daughter’s death) had finished a cut of the big-budget team-up movie, but jittery Warner Brothers executives decided to reshoot large swathes of the film after the poor critical reaction to Snyder’s previous movie in the series, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
To be fair, some of this is definitely based in fact. It’s a matter of public record that Warner Bros brought on board Avengers director Joss Whedon to perform reshoots and rewrites to finish the film, and it’s fairly public knowledge that the film’s events and tone were altered significantly in the process – even if WB played down these concerns at the time.
“The directing is minimal and it has to adhere to the style and tone and the template that Zack set,” said then-Warner Bros Pictures president Toby Emmerich.
“We’re not introducing any new characters. It’s the same characters in some new scenes. He’s handing the baton to Joss, but the course has really been set by Zack. I still believe that despite this tragedy, we’ll still end up with a great movie.”
Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot in Justice League (Warner Bros, HF)
Scenes including an extended introduction to villain Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), teases of ultimate baddie Darkseid, an origin story for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg and others were reportedly (via Snyder himself) removed from the new version and new jokes and other scenes were changed or added. Some of this can be gleaned from watching the film’s original trailers, which often contain scenes and lines of dialogue absent from the theatrical cut.
But does all this add up to a big conspiracy?
Well, it depends who you ask. Dedicated Snyder fans maintain that the perfect, “true” version of Justice League does exist, and that if they argue loud enough Warner Bros will be forced to release it and they can finally see the version of the story that Snyder intended. Fans of the direction in Superman movie Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman, they hope a version exists closer in tone to those releases, and believe they can bring it into the world through social media bombardment alone.
For his part, Snyder did eventually reveal that he’d left a 151-minute cut of the film behind when he departed the project (a notably longer version than the 120-minute film that was actually released, though also a notably shorter version than the 214-minute cut than had been rumoured by Snyder cut campaigners) but despite fans’ beliefs, this version was almost certainly nowhere near ready for release, with few (if any) special effects scenes, sound editing or grading added and a lot of greenscreen remaining.
“The movie was still months away from delivery when Joss came on board,” an anonymous VFX editor told The Telegraph’s Helen O’Hara of the Snyder cut.
“It seems very unlikely to me that there was anything close to a releasable cut of the film. Put it another way: if there was a near finished movie that everyone was happy with, then WB would have got the editor to complete it rather than drop another $30-40 million [in reshoots] into it.”
In other words, a ‘Snyder cut’ may exist – but it would be impossible to release it without millions more dollars of effects work, and even then it might not be in a state that Warner Bros would be happy releasing, especially considering how poorly the theatrical release was received.
That, perhaps, could have been that – but the reason we’re talking about all this again (apart from the fact that the Snyder fans have remained admirably focussed on their goal) is because one of Justice League’s stars, Aquaman actor Jason Momoa, has now claimed to have SEEN the Snyder cut, and is already extolling its virtues.
“Well let’s be honest if it wasn’t for this man we wouldn’t have Aquaman,” Momoa wrote on Instagram.
“I love u Zachary synder (sic). Mahalo for showing me the synder (sic) cut..[..]..The Snyder cut is ssssiiicccckkkkkk.”
Three months later and, within hours of each other, Batman actor Ben Affleck, Wonder Woman’s alter ego Gal Gadot and Cyborg star Ray Fisher all posted on social media demanding that the Powers-That-Be #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, in what appeared to be a organised campaign.
So does an enjoyable, releasable Snyder cut exist after all? Clearly, something had to exist for Snyder to show to Momoa (assuming he’s not just joking) but was it a version that actually had effects and polish, or just a very rough outline that a fellow industry professional could appreciate?
And clearly, whatever Snyder did cut is something he has in his possession if he can show it to his friends – so with Warner Bros’ permission, could he just release it on his own to satisfy his fans’ curiosity?
We may never know the answer. Warner Bros would never want to spend money on completing an alternate version of a film that they clearly thought wasn’t working, and Zack Snyder showing a rough cut to his (probably quite kind) friends doesn’t immediately mean that a recut rerelease would be financially viable.
But look, #releasethesnydercut devotees can take some comfort from the fact that someone, somewhere got to live their dream, and enjoy a Snyder-approved version of Justice League.
And maybe, just maybe, they’ll find that the REAL Snyder cut was the friends they made on Reddit along the way.