The official trailer for Justice League unfolds like a joke. Zack Snyder lays out the basic premise, sets up the dramatic stakes, and pays close attention to timing like a skilled comedian. “Hey everyone, I’m excited to show you the first official trailer for Zack’s Synder’s Justice League,” he says, seated in a director’s chair.
From the outset, the audience is primed for Snyder’s version Justice League being different from the 2017 version. In two minutes and 16 seconds, we’re treated to CGI cities burning, a Ben Affleck voice-over, and clips of a messianic Superman. So when the dystopian punch line arrives it feels inevitable.
“We live in a society,” Jared Leto says, decked in full Joker makeup.
With that sentence, the quixotic journey of Snyder and his fans to release his cut of a widely panned movie felt completed. Whether Snyder is in on the joke or not ceased to matter. The history books are written by the winners.
Immediately after the trailer dropped, “We live in a society” trended on Twitter. Leto posted a tongue-in-cheek tweet to capitalize on the moment. For years, the incel-baked line had been parodied and recycled to death on Reddit, Twitter, 4chan, and wherever else memes are birthed. A petition demanding Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker say the line in the 2019 film garnered more than 58,000 signatures. Explaining the labyrinth of the meme is mostly beside the point—so too is whether the Snyder Cut can live up to nearly five years of demand. The success of Snyder’s “first official trailer” lies in the fact that it merely exists at all.
In 2017, Snyder left the filming of Justice League after the death of his daughter Autumn. Joss Whedon, the director of 2012’s Avengers, stepped in to finish the remainder of the movie, and a minor, but crucial swath of comic book fandom drew a line in the sand. The MCU was everything the DCEU was not—comedic, bright, and commercially and critically successful. Meanwhile, Snyder had built a dark, brooding, and adult universe where Superman and Batman kill and everything is shaded in gray and brown. Whedon’s Justice League was a dismal hodgepodge of both. In the years since, multiple Justice League stars also denounced Whedon’s on-set treatment of the cast.
A movement began asking Warner Bros. to release Snyder’s version. Emotionally, #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement began to represent a myriad of battles. If successful, DC fans could reverse engineer the Marvel-ification of their Snyderverse, and there was a chance—however slight—that the people who railed against the quality of Snyder’s CGI-laden movies were wrong.
The main difference between the 2017 theatrical version of Justice League and Snyder’s first trailer is how much the controversial director doubles down on his aesthetic. There’s no comedy or lighthearted moments. The audience isn’t introduced to any characters—mostly because we’ve already seen them appear in a host of other movies in the past four years. Instead, we’re treated to Superman writhing in agony, video game shots of destruction, and heroes standing around looking pensive. The shots that are new—Superman angrily shooting lasers out of his eyes, Darkseid standing next to Granny Goodness—have been touted as examples that this four-hour version will be different. Watching them, I got the sense that we’re most likely getting more of the same. The more than $30 million invested in this director’s cut will most likely be cosmetic.
“There would be no chance on Earth that I would use a shot that was made prior, er, after I left the movie. I’d destroy the movie, I would set it on fire before I would use a single frame that I did not photograph,” Snyder said in July. “Anything you see in this movie which reminds you of the other theatrical release, which again famously I have not, I literally have never seen, would be because that was a thing I had done, and he borrowed for whatever that monster [was] that you guys saw in the theater.”
Snyder isn’t wrong. The 2017 version of Justice League was Frankenstein’s monster. It was stitched together and quickly ripped apart by anyone who touched it. But if Snyder has yet to see what went so devastatingly wrong with the original Justice League, it’s hard to fathom how he will avoid making the same mistake. On March 18, a four-hour version of Justice League will arrive on HBO Max. It will be impossible for everyone involved to hide the seams of the miniseries. So many are waiting for new life to be breathed into a once-abandoned corpse. For now it’s unclear whether Snyder and Co. are reviving another monster or on the road to redemption.