Oh, wow. The #SnyderCut is real. It’s coming to HBO Max in 2021. And all matters of past and future quality aside, the very existence of writer-director Zack Snyder’s original vision for the contentious 2017 superhero flick Justice League—and the very fact that next year, you’ll actually get to watch it, if that is something you’ve really, really wanted to do—is spectacular.
“It will be an entirely new thing,” Snyder told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. “And especially talking to those who have seen the released movie, a new experience apart from that movie.” (Snyder adds that he’s never seen the theatrical Justice League himself, even though he’s credited with writing and directing it.)
Parent company Warner Bros. is reportedly allotting $20 million to $30 million for this nigh-unprecedented endeavor. The result will be either a nearly four-hour movie or a six-chapter TV deal, or some other fearsome beast entirely. (Hell, sell the rights and make it 10,000 Quibis!) But the finished product, in whatever form, will undoubtedly thrill the vindicated #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, which for two years has tirelessly clamored for this outcome in the face of industry indifference and online ridicule. Holy shit. Good for them.
I wrote a lengthy feature on #ReleaseTheSnyderCut in June 2019; summarizing it has somehow become a huge part of my job. Snyder is a polarizing comic-book-movie auteur famed for the 2007 blockbuster 300, the less blockbuster-y 2009 adaptation of Watchmen, and the first two films in the DC Comics Extended Universe, 2013’s Man of Steel (introducing Henry Cavill as Superman) and 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (adding Ben Affleck as Batman). Both of those DC jams were box office hits but derided by many critics as too dark, too grim, and way too long. Maybe you loved them, maybe you hated them. But nobody walked out of the theater indifferent.
Snyder intended Justice League, which also featured Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman around the time of their own solo breakouts, as the triumphant final chapter of his own trilogy within the DCEU. But late in the film’s production, Snyder’s daughter, Autumn, died by suicide, and he left the project to be with his family. Joss Whedon, himself a polarizing comic-book-movie auteur with a notably brighter and quippier touch, stepped in to finish Justice League, amid much talk by Warner Bros. about preserving Snyder’s vision.
The movie hit theaters in November 2017, and (arguably) sucked, and inarguably did not preserve Snyder’s vision in the slightest. (It was exactly two hours long, for one thing.) It was choppy and goofy and disoriented, and Cavill’s mustache, grown for the imminent Mission: Impossible—Fallout, was humiliatingly CGI’d out of existence. It played like a wannabe Marvel movie. It made way less money than it was supposed to. Critics hated it. Fans hated it. And Snyder fans especially hated it, and didn’t consider it to be a Zack Snyder movie at all.
And so, when detailed rumors first spread about a rough, pre-Whedon cut of the film—fully three and a half hours, and not yet complete but oh so very close to completion—those fans responded with online petitions, and an airplane banner over Comic-Con, and phone-bank campaigns, and a hashtag that online skeptics used as a punch line until, well, today. “#ReleasetheSnyderCut is the most-tweeted hashtag about a movie that WB has ever made, but it’s a movie they’ve never released,” Snyder told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a weird stat, but it’s cool.”
The very few precedents for this—ousted original director Richard Donner’s cut of 1980’s Superman II, for example—don’t really offer much precedent. (It took the Donner Cut 26 years to hit DVD.) The Snyder Cut reveal would likely not be possible, for starters, without the existence of HBO Max, the WB-affiliated would-be blockbuster streaming service launching on May 27 and in need of all the buzz it can get. Per the Hollywood Reporter piece, the near-total Hollywood shutdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has already slowed down this new Justice League, but the content vacuum the self-quarantine era created probably helped make Snyder’s case, too, in that this project is already partially done.
What does partially done even mean, though? Will Affleck, Cavill, Gadot, and the rest of the cast record new dialogue, or even new scenes? (“What’s so lovely about this,” Snyder enthused, “is that we get to explore these characters in ways that you’re not able to in a shorter theatrical version.”) Will the end result smash the four-hour mark? The Snyder Cut movement was built on hypotheticals, on pipe dreams, on surreal but absolutely sincere arguments about what a not-quite-done movie looks and feels like, and what sort of pressure a small but tremendously dedicated group of fans would have to apply to convince a company the size of Warner Bros. to finish it. This is all incredibly weird, and as a show of pure collective willpower, incredibly cool. And no matter how long (and how polarizing) the end result, for true believers, a happy ending is already assured.