Zack Snyder, and the ramifications of his Justice League cut

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With Zack Snyder’s Justice League now confirmed for March, its success or otherwise could have real ramifications for the film industry.

Next month, director Zack Snyder gets to realise what no blockbuster movie director has ever been able to do before to anywhere near this extent. His four-hour cut of what’s nominally his 2017 movie Justice League debuts on HBO Max in the US, and on video on demand services elsewhere in the world.

It’s a move that’s been avidly watched within the movie industry, because if it all works, the repercussions here could be really something.

The brief story to this point if you’re entirely new to what’s been happened. Snyder never got to oversee the final cut of the film’s 2017 release, with Joss Whedon taking over in post-production and shooting extra material too. Allegations have arisen over Whedon’s conduct on the site, as we’ve reported here, and it’s little secret to say that the resultant film didn’t go down very well at all. Savaged by critics, it grossed $657m at the box office, when the bare minimum Warner Bros would have been looking for was a billion.

Snyder had a family tragedy in the midst of all of this, which also led to him stepping away from the movie. But also, there have been stories of studio interference and decisions that also contributed to him not getting to put his cut together.


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Since the release of the ill-received film, a fervent and primarily positive fan campaign for the ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League to be completed and released gathered steam. Warner Bros eventually ceded to the request, with Snyder given a modest budget to redo the film’s post-production. With a limit lifted on what the running time of the film could be (it was mandated by Warner Bros that the film needed to be two hours, after criticism of Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice running time), Snyder finally had the freedom to put his take on it all into the world.

Quickly cottoning on that it was quite a big deal, and in need of high-profile projects for its HBO Max service, the budget for the Snyder Cut has ballooned to $70m, according to reports. Reports that Warner Bros has little intention of playing down, because it all adds to the story.

Furthermore, the running time has been confirmed at around four hours, and there are rumours of fresh material being shot.

Bottom line: this has become the kind of event project that Warner Bros would struggle to generate the same level of interest in should it have spent the cash elsewhere (with the glaring exception of the $60m Joker, that grossed over $1bn and took home Oscar gold).

It’s been a heck of a journey to get to this point, and the more I think about, the more incredible the opportunity is that Snyder has been afforded here. An opportunity, let’s be frank, that no filmmaker has had on this scale before.

What’s more, perhaps the unsaid is it’s the confluence of hard-to-repeat circumstances that have led him here.

If he hadn’t been replaced by Joss Whedon, and things hadn’t gone so horribly wrong with Justice League, this wouldn’t be happening. Had the original film been a three star, that’ll do job, then arguably that would have been that as well.

Likewise, if Warner Bros didn’t need ammunition for its battle in the streaming market, Snyder wouldn’t be getting the resources he’s getting. What’s remarkable too is it’s all for arguably his least-liked film (his name, after all, remains on the credits). Snyder’s final cut of Man Of Steel for instance is pretty divisive, but once it was done, that was that, warts and all.

In this case? His most disliked film, a box office disappointment, and he’s given $70m to sort it out, over three years later.

The extended cut of Justice League now also lands in a month – March – that’s bereft of other blockbuster cinema stories. There are no big films competing scheduled to open around the same time, and the stage belongs to it.

Again, had times been normal, then at one stage Marvel had Eternals set for February 2021 for a start. Now? It’s arriving at a point where – film-wise at least – there’s nothing else on the immediate radar where comic book movies are concerned. Circumstances are playing to its advantage.

I’d also suggest that what Snyder delivers is likely to be pretty review-proof. I know people actively groaning at the thought of watching a version of the film twice as long, others who simply can’t wait. I can’t imagine either camp is going to move its position come release time.

But what particularly interests me here – and I’ve chatted about it before – is the pathfinding that the Snyder Cut is going to do.

I’m reminded that when Walt Disney originally conceived the animated opus Fantasia, the idea was for it ultimately to be a living movie, that would be updated over time and would evolve. There were ultimately 60 years between that being realised though, the jump from the original to Fantasia 2000.

But isn’t that, to a degree, what’s happening with Justice League now? Because tales of studios interfering in movies and final cuts that veer away from what filmmakers intended are hardly in short supply. And granted, there’s been no shortage of director’s cuts and such like over the years, but they tend to be the domain of well-received films or big name directors. That, or a large amount of time – decades – has passed, and an original version is pieced together.

This one, though, changes the rules.

Let’s go hypothetical. If Zack Snyder’s Justice League proves to be a revelation and a huge success, there’s a potential here for floodgates to open, not least where streaming services are concerned. That the director of any comic book movie in particular that’s floundered in the last decade might just be contacting their agents.

Appreciating that it’s superhero movies where mainstream cinema’s core interest is at the moment, it’s hard to think that the already hinted David Ayer’s Suicide Squad wouldn’t be next in line for this kind of treatment (stories of studio interference on that one are rife as well). Not least because that’s a Warner Bros film too, and HBO Max won’t fill itself. For the same studio? Might Martin Campbell ask to recut Green Lantern? Heck, Pitof may at least send a speculative enquiry about Pitof’s Catwoman.

Far-fetched? Sure. But isn’t this what’s happening now?

Any commercially-disappointing comic book film could have a fresh path to a do-over. One or two of them may well be fascinating, too. I can’t say I wouldn’t be interested, for instance, in what Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four film would have looked like before studio meddling. Or what about Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, a movie that Ed Norton always protested was far more interesting before it was hacked into the version we saw? Heck, outside of comic book movies, give David Fincher the money to do his actual take on Alien 3 (an impossible hope, but may as well ask).

But conversely, a studio has a finite amount of money to spend. There’s a precedent being not-so-quietly set here. Do we want studios fixing failures with a big in-built audience as some kind of norm?

Perhaps, of course, it’s the fact that the new Justice League cut is a novelty that’s making it so eagerly observed though. That if other studios charged their way through and followed suit, it’d be Hollywood having another go at savaging what it saw to be another golden goose.

It’s hard not to see the appeal to a movie executive, of course. In theory, you’re paying for a new go-around at post-production, without the years of script development, without the physical production and without the bit of a marketing campaign that introduces the idea of a film in the first place. Each time it allocates spend to a project like this, there’s an opportunity cost of course. It makes some film out there somewhere less likely to get made. That, or they’ll be fewer vol au vents at the company Christmas do.

There’s an argument too that isn’t there a point when these movies are done. When they have to be let go? I’ve read interview after interview with movie directors who are adamant that the audience completes the story of a film. Talking of letting a film go into the world, when it’s never yours again. And, in truth, that’s likely to – for the vast, vast majority of films – likely to be ever so.

Still, not being reported as loudly is that Snyder – alongside his Justice League cut – will be presenting his third different take on Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice on home formats at the same time. That as well as the theatrical cut, and the ultimate cut, there’s now a new IMAX-framed remastered cut that he’s got the budget to complete.

The likelihood is that Justice League is a special case, due to those circumstances that got it this far, and Batman V Superman’s remaster is something of a bolt-on to that. Still, it feels a bit uncharted waters this. And the rules of Hollywood can be ripped up in an instant if something becomes a gigantic hit.

Things will become clearer when the Snyder Cut arrives worldwide on March 18th. It’ll bring to an end what’s been quite a journey. There’s just an outside chance it might start a few more off as a result…

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