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Zack Snyder’s Justice League | What’s the Big Deal?

So, if you are a huge superhero-movie watcher this probably isn’t for you. You’ve followed the trends, you know who J’onn J’onzz is, and you watched the Snyder-cut as soon as it was released. But we know there are some of you out there that aren’t quite sure what all this “Snyder-cut” talk means. You like a good comic book movie every once in a while, but haven’t been paying close attention to all the drama. Well, never fear, The Buzz has got you covered. Let me take you back a few years and explain how we got here, why here is significant, and where we might be going – spoiler free! And don’t be offended because I’m going to take my friend Michael Scott’s advice and explain to you like you’re five.

First, Some Minor Comic Details

Marvel and DC are the archrivals of the Comic Book world. Marvel was the lesser-known of the two, featuring heroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, etc.

DC has the more recognizable roster of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern, Aquaman, etc.

For whatever reason, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) struck just the right balance of seriousness and camp with Iron Man in 2008 that it managed to capture moviegoers and launch a winding journey lasting over 20 films and now spawning into television shows, major mono-cultural miniseries events, and has created career-level legacies for some top-tier acting talent (none more than Robert Downey Jr). On the other hand, the DC Cinematic Universe (DCU) has failed miserably. It has not managed to consolidate its character rights in any meaningful way (resulting in multiple active Batman representatives), it has failed several times at the box office (none worse than Ryan Reynolds maligned Green Lantern film), and it had the Zack Snyder debacle. The Snyder debacle, which I’ll get into, has created an interesting flashpoint which may in fact have changed the cinematic process forever.

The Director

Zack Snyder is a fairly well-regarded but somewhat avant-garde director known for his dark, over serious interpretations of comic-book level material. His first major hit was an adaption of Frank Miller’s 300 graphic novel which is a very romanticized retelling of the events prior to the Battle of Thermopylae. He also adapted two other graphic novels (Sucker Punch and Watchmen) before being tabbed as the creative force for the DCU. Incidentally, he is also close friends with the auteur director Christopher Nolan.

Snyder directed Man of Steel, a reboot of Superman, in 2013 using a script written by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan. It was moderately successful, and DC (owned by Warner Bros) decided they would try to build their own universe in the fashion of their rival Kevin Feige (the MCU super-producer).

Snyder followed Man of Steel with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It was definitely ambitious, with loads of foreshadowing, dark and brooding characters, and featured not just 2 but 3(!) of the core superheroes in the “Snyderverse.” This was possibly the first mistake. It took the MCU almost 5 years to have a second core Avenger show up in a film without their name on it (outside of some cameos and Hawkeye’s brief showing in Thor). Snyder went a different direction, and while it paid off decently in Dawn of Justice it put a lot on the shoulders of the next film. What followed was the catalyst of our current situation.

Tragedy

Snyder began filming Justice League which promised to bring Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg together in one film. While we really didn’t need to know how Batman became the caped crusader (in Snyderverse, it’s an older, wearier Bruce than his on-screen predecessors), only Superman and Wonder Woman had origin films supporting their characters. The others were being introduced in a single ensemble film. However, a visionary like Snyder confidently forged on and may have made it work, until tragedy struck. Snyder’s 20-year-old daughter Autumn took her own life. Snyder was devastated as of his 8 children, he was particularly close to Autumn. Understandably, Snyder stepped away from the project and with the blessing and support of Nolan (an executive producer of the DCU) completely detached from the project.

The Whedon-cut

Money runs the world, so the DC couldn’t wait for Snyder to decide he was ready to direct again (without any real reason to believe he would ever want to) so they went and found an equally experienced, and acceptably nerdy director Joss Whedon. Whedon directed a couple of the key MCU films (Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron) and has a pretty strong resume of Sci-fi writing and directing to his name. He’s also infinitely goofier than Snyder. The result of Whedon taking over was tangible. The film was rushed, disjointed, too short, emotionally stunted, bipolar in tone, lost most of its coherent reference to Dawn of Justice, and was a box office disaster. In the years after its release, reports surfaced that Whedon mistreated the actors, most specifically Ray Fisher who played Cyborg. Fisher is still battling the WB hierarchy for acknowledgment of Whedon’s inappropriate behavior.

The DC marched on and surprisingly found some success. Wonder Woman had been heralded as one of the great superhero films of all-time (exaggerated) and that momentum allowed them to continue past Whedon’s Justice League to another successful standalone Aquaman. In both cases, allowing the characters some development made them easier to understand and root for. However, while these standalones were successful, a movement began in the back corners of the internet to change the way movies are treated.

Studio interference is an almost ubiquitous specter which hangs over big budget productions. The more money is involved in a project, the less risky the investors want to be. There’s a tendency towards safe, tepid, boring, test-tube choices which almost always result in a squelching of identity and creativity. Directors like Snyder make bold choices and scare production teams. Guys like Joss Whedon are viewed as safer, more palatable, and in this particular case his leash was likely extremely short and there are rumors the writing team for the theatrical cut of Justice League was huge. Many chefs make poor soup.

The Movement

Because of Snyder’s sudden departure from the project, Whedon’s disastrous product, and the ever-building evidence of studio interference – people started asking for Snyder’s vision. They’d ask Snyder in interviews, they’d write think-pieces, they’d ask Christopher Nolan about it, they’d ask Joss Whedon, they’d ask Ben Affleck (Batman) and Henry Cavill (Superman), and it started to become a movement. A seemingly hopeless movement. A movement asking for the impossible. But it had two things going for it – 1) Superheroes are THE thing right now in mono-culture and 2) Zack Snyder is a colossal nerd for DC Comics. Snyder started releasing tidbits of what his vision would’ve been and of course it was measurably better than the theatrical cut. He revealed that, on the advice of Nolan, he had never watched the Whedon-cut. That showed (if true, and hard to know why he’d lie) that his ideas were not reactions but truly his original creative vision.

The clamor to bring the so-called Snyder-cut to life reached such a fever-pitch that Warner Bros. did the unthinkable. They figured out a way to leverage it for their benefit. They had been working with their subsidiary HBO for some time to transform the HBO streaming app into a more inclusive WB streaming app to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and join the new new-media. They realized that a significant group of eyeballs, already committed to WB helmed projects (as evidenced by their investment in the Snyderverse) wanted a very specific thing. So, WB approached Snyder and said they’d allow him to create his own version of the film, no strings attached, as long as it would launch as a flagship on their platform. Snyder wanted his vision realized as much as anyone, so he agreed.

The Snyder-Cut

To understand the Snyder-cut, you need to know some things about Zack Snyder. His most significant weakness as a director is the cutting floor. His movies are always tough edits (or extremely long). He likes drawn out, slow-mo action sequences, stylized “money shots” of his protagonists, and to linger in the wake of events. So, for the newly dubbed Zack Snyder’s Justice League he announced it would be 4 hours long. Not only that, but he began releasing concept art. Snyder draws many of his own designs. He released them on his personal Instagram to what had become an absolutely rabid fanbase. It appeared that Snyder had creative control to a degree not many blockbuster directors ever achieve.

It turns out, WB still had some stipulations and there were a couple specific non-story related things Snyder was forced to pivot on to his 2nd-best option. But in the end, Snyder crafted a stylish and exciting origin for the DC’s core superhero team and has received very strong reviews from the critics that mattered most to him – the ones who begged for it to happen. It was, by nearly every account, a rousing success. It’s not Star Wars, Snyder won’t win an Oscar, but the audience he was aiming to please, came away happy.

The Future?

It would seem to end there. WB had already announced that the Snyder-cut would not be “canon” and development for the next film in line – the Flash’s standalone – appears to be on schedule. However, Snyder had a trilogy (or more) in mind originally, and the Snyder-cut oozes potential storylines. The villain in the story is but a steppingstone to the real threat. The relationships between the heroes all foreshadow more significant events. And Snyder was true to his word and put in every ounce of “sequel-bait” he could muster. A full 40-minute Epilogue trailed the conclusion of the primary conflict, introducing characters, calling back to others, and teasing a robust possible direction for the story. Will there be a Zack Snyder’s Justice League 2?

Of course not. That’s impossible, just like the first one was.

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