Okay… I covered every best picture in Oscar history… ranked this year’s nominees to explain why I’m blasé about Nomadland beating Promising Young Woman… Comic TV Awards are at least two months out, longer if I stall to let the CW wrap the season… What’s left…
Well… guess I can talk about Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Okay so for anyone who doesn’t know, here is the story as best as we understand it. You probably know the part where Zack Snyder left the movie during post-production, and Warner Bros. brought in the second unit director of Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods to overhaul the movie into something quicker and more crowd-pleasing and accomplished only one of those things, but we have to go back a little.
You see, back in 2013, all of Hollywood was watching upstart Marvel Studios rake in money hand over fist after mega-hit The Avengers, and everyone wanted a piece of that Cinematic Universe pie, and nobody seemed in a better position to do it than Warner Bros., the owners of DC Comics. And man did WB need this, because after a decade and a bit of regularly-scheduled Harry Potters bringing in massive dollars, plus Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Warner no longer knew how to function as a studio without at least one massive franchise to lean on.
This leads us to the two Cardinal Sins of the DCEU.
Number one: Warner Bros. wanted to get to The Avengers as quickly as possible. I mean, compare the box office tallies of Captain America: The First Avenger and the much, much worse but post-Avengers Thor: The Dark World, I see where their heads were at, but it demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of why Avengers was a hit.
Number two: they also wanted a new Dark Knight saga, and Dark Knight was the singular vision of Christopher Nolan… once he scraped some stupid off some first drafts by David S. Goyer, who clings to the comic book movie industry like a parasitic vine. So despite how divided audience and critical response was to the Nolan-produced, Snyder-directed Man of Steel, they went all in on Snyder’s pitch for a Justice League series that would sprinkle solo spin-offs in between Synder’s core Justice League story.
Again, a savage misunderstanding of how Marvel pulled off their big trick. Avengers worked because it brought all of these previously established characters (and also Hawkeye) into one movie, not because it introduced us to a bunch of heroes and spent the middle third of the movie nudging us in the ribs about their spin-off potential.
I was also going to discuss how Marvel has never locked into one director to steer the whole franchise, but that just gets into a debate on the Marvel House Style and how few directors managed to break out of it so let’s just move on from that.
So our two Cardinal Sins are a) rushing to the finish line, and b) going all-in on a divisive filmmaker’s five-film arc. And these problems went critical in a very predictable fashion in spring of 2016. Batman V Superman was a critical bomb, and may have opened huge, but had a massive, massive second-week drop-off, and was largely reviled for being dark, murdery, and joyless, and stopping midway through to set up sequels and spinoffs in very hamfisted manners*. And also it was seen as a bit of a mess, narratively speaking. The Ultimate Edition fixes that, but I dunno, maybe stop assuming you get to make all of your superhero movies Godfather length, Zack. It became very clear that Snyder’s grimdark vision was not clicking with the general audience, who much preferred Captain America: Civil War, which had more fun with its obligatory “heroes punch each other for a while” sequence but also managed higher emotional stakes.
(*If you want to tease the rest of the League through Wonder Woman clicking an email attachment, put that shit in the end credits where it belongs, did anyone pushing for Marvel-esque success actually watch a single Marvel movie**, Jesus Christ)
(**Other than Iron Man 2. Did everyone trying to start a Cinematic Universe only watch Iron Man 2? And then base all your plans off it? That is… that is nobody’s favourite Marvel movie.)
However, Justice League rolled cameras just weeks after Batman V Superman opened, so by the time they knew that Snyder’s initial plans were not going to play in Poughkeepsie, it was too late to switch horses and maybe find a director who didn’t think that Superman is only interesting if dead or evil. But it was clear that a course-change was still necessary, so studio execs pushed Snyder and writer Chris Terrio (who has a much-deserved Oscar for Argo, the dude can write) to lighten up Justice League*, pulled the plug on filming a sequel back-to-back, and also demanded David Ayer shove some jokes into Suicide Squad, eventually turning the final edit over to the people who made the “fun” trailer, but that’s a whole other thing.
(*Terrio always meant to do that, as with Batman V Superman he was desperately re-writing and trying to add character arcs to an overly dark script from… David Goyer, Jesus, someone remove him from DC Films, by force if necessary)
And then a year later, Snyder finished a three and a half hour rough cut, and shortly thereafter the Snyder family was rocked by a horrible tragedy as Zack’s daughter Autumn took her own life. As such Snyder had to step away from the edit, and was unable to deliver the shorter cut the studio required. Because not even Lawrence of Arabia needed to be that long, Zack, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series delivered two massive, beloved hits but he still had to produce a shorter cut of Return of the King for theatrical release, Zack. And so Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to overhaul the movie. Official accounts claimed Zack was fully on board, and even chose him to write/film a few additional scenes. Snyderbros view it very differently, and honestly everything we’ve learned since suggests Zack was just saying he was on board to avoid more bad publicity than this magnitude of re-shooting already attracts, just like how the cast, even Ray Fisher, claimed the reshoots were a fun and smooth experience and we know that wasn’t true.
So anyway the theatrical cut of Justice League was a weird hybrid, part super-serious Snyder action and part Avengers-style goofy banter, the villain plot was word salad, nobody had an arc, it was a major box-office disappointment. I was trying as hard as I could to like it, but the only review I was willing to write was as a subplot in a different post to highlight how much better the Arrowverse’s Crisis on Earth-X was.
And thus began the fan campaign to hashtag release the Snyder Cut, with fans believing that Zack Snyder had made a much superior version to what they called “Josstice League,” fed by Zack Snyder single-handedly keeping would-be-Twitter-replacement Vero in business by constantly sharing screenshots and behind-the-scenes photos, attempting to release his entire movie frame at a time.
Nearly three years later, in the midst of a global pandemic that had shut down the entire entertainment industry, Warner Bros was unable to release movies theatrically on the scale needed to turn profits, filming was being delayed everywhere, and they needed content for their fledgling streaming service HBO Max, so they said “Eh, screw it,” and gave Zack $70 million to finish his version of the movie to debut on streaming, something people had been expecting since HBO Max was announced. And now here it is, it’s out there, you can watch it, and I’m here to help you decide if you should.
A little over a month after that was a relevant question. Look I was busy with Art Vs Commerce at the time, Slumdog Millionaire and The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy weren’t rewatching themselves.
Given that it’s four hours of movie, there’s a lot to cover, so I asked myself what one of my favourite video essayists, Jenny Nicholson, would do, and organized my thoughts into an internet-friendly numbered list.
(Patrick Willems would have made a framing sequence in the visual style of his subject but I’m not currently equipped for that.)
- Yes, it’s better, calm down
- The League: Better or worse?
- Style over substance
- The theatrical additions
- Worst arguments from Snyder fans
- Why I hate Knightmare
- The best version
- The ideal Justice League sequel plan
Next Page: Yes, it’s better, calm down