Throughout the history of filmmaking, movies have been edited contrary to their directors’ wishes. Producers and studio executives often butcher films post-production, leaving directors devastated and viewers frustrated. Many supposedly brilliant scenes have been left on the cutting room floor, leaving us to wonder how the director intended the finished film to be.
Fans of Justice League (2017) don’t have to guess anymore. On March 18, 2021, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, often called The Snyder Cut, was released on HBO Max. The editing, score, visual effects, and additional filming required to complete this extended version of the superhero film cost $70 million. This updated version of the film is dedicated to director Zack Snyder’s late daughter, Autumn, whose death prompted Snyder to quit the original production in May 2017.
Justice League, the fifth film in the DC Extended Universe, stars superheroes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash, who form the titular Justice League. Upon its initial release, the film was a flop, losing Warner Bros. $60 million. The theatrical version is now nicknamed The Whedon Cut after director Joss Whedon, who completed it.
This film’s extended re-release was announced in May 2020 in reaction to the powerful #ReleasetheSnyderCut campaign, which some have described as an often-toxic group of social media bullies. However, Snyder himself was involved with this movement and remains very supportive and appreciative of his loyal fanbase.
The biggest criticism of Snyder’s Cut is its excessive runtime of four hours. Without the usual editing for theatrical release, this is a completely fan-serving experiment in what happens when a director is given carte blanche. Snyder divided the doubled runtime into six chapters and an epilogue, but that failed to placate many critics of its excessive length.
The Snyder Cut includes at least ten comic book characters who were removed from The Whedon Cut. Actors Ray Porter (Darkseid), Peter Guinness (DeSaad), Kiersey Clemons (Iris West), and Zheng Kai (Ryan Choi) must be glad that their roles in the film, which hit the cutting room floor in 2017, have been reinstated! Meanwhile, some footage you remember from the theatrical release is absent from Zack Snyder’s cut. Any additional footage Whedon shot was not included, including the criticized scenes of Superman with a CGI-removed mustache and the Russian family subplot.
One of the biggest differences is that Zack Snyder took time to explore the backstories of The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, whose story he called “the heart of the movie.” The visual experience is different because he restored the original open matte aspect ratio of 1.33:1, returned to his original darker, higher contrast color palette, and reinstated Steppenwolf’s original threatening design. He also replaced Danny Elfman’s lighter score with a bombastic, four-hour “Mount Everest” from composer Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL), whom Snyder originally hired to pen the score.
Although Joss Whedon is estimated to have used only 10% of Zack Snyder’s extensive footage, additional shooting with Ben Affleck (Batman), Ezra Miller (The Flash), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), Joe Manganiello (Deathstroke), Amber Heard (Mera), Harry Lennix (Martian Manhunter), and Jared Leto (The Joker) in October 2020 was necessary to complete Snyder’s vision. Lennix and Leto never participated in the original shooting, since Lennix’s scenes were not shot before Snyder left. Snyder decided to use Leto only when planning the re-release, although he always hoped to include The Joker in his Justice League films. Snyder repurposed brief footage from two separate films, Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman because Henry Cavill (Superman) was unavailable for reshooting.
Good, bad, or indifferent, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a rare opportunity for fans to directly compare two very different takes on one story. If this re-release is successful, it may inspire even more directors’ cuts of controversial films, such as the hotly debated The Rise of Skywalker (2019).