Most days, I write about something awesome at the corner of biblical faith and fantastical stories. But it is not this day, in which I speak again as a DC film fan and supporter of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut fan movement for the movie Justice League.
Over the weekend, that hashtag trended on Twitter—a few weeks before Justice League theatrical version’s two-year anniversary.
I don’t join a lot of fan movements. I’ll sleep tonight even though Firefly will never get a second season. I felt vexed at the notion of yanking Spider-Man back out of the Marvel-verse, but not enough to sign petitions about it. And, apart from supporting Young Justice season 3, I haven’t thought about even slacktivism to insist that my favorite cancelled show get another chance.
But the night after I saw Justice League‘s theatrical cut in theaters (in November 2017), I headed straight for the internet to find a petition to release the real movie. Two years later, the movement has only grown. They’ve posted banners near cons, started a website, and everything.
Stephen M. Colbert (DC fan, not TV comedian) summarizes the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut battle cry:
Justice League was well on its way to becoming aesthetically and tonally similar to Batman v Superman (although a lighter, more hopeful movie had been promised since before Batman v Superman even released) and Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment execs were tired of getting the same criticisms every time, so Snyder was finally pushed out of the project after completing 100% of principal photography and some post-production, and Joss Whedon reshot a large portion of it to change the story, brightening the lighting and colors, and adding more jokes. Fans were told [original director Zack] Snyder left due to a family tragedy (he did suffer the loss of his daughter during production) and Whedon would simply finish his existing vision, but it was very clear upon release that finishing Snyder’s vision hadn’t been the intent, and fans started campaigning for the movie Warner Bros. had promised them.
Those are the basic facts. But here’s why I support the hashtag and suggest that even Snyder critics should at least not get all grumpy about it.
1. No one is a raving fan of Justice League‘s theatrical version.
Some folks didn’t hate the theatrical (per)version of Justice League. But it has no raving fans.
Which makes little sense, if it were true that people really only wanted “fun” and “light” DC heroes without challenging themes and ideas.
Here on SpecFaith, for the series Justice League v the Legion of Doom, Kerry Nietz, Austin Gunderson, and I didn’t hate the film. We enjoyed quite a few parts of it. But we still lamented wasted opportunities:
Stephen: The characters are great. I love each and every one of them. But this rushed story and world around them felt shallow and empty. Sometimes literally. … Cities around them had no life. It needed another full hour. It needed Snyder’s deft hand in the editing and post-production.
Austin Gunderson: Steppenwolf was no match for Superman. That’s been the key strength of the previous films to me: that Superman wasn’t boring. I thought this movie managed to Make Superman Boring Again. Not because he was unlikable, but because he won so much I got tired of winning.
Kerry Nietz: If I had to name a fault, it would be in the stakes. They needed to create more of a sense of global peril. That could have been easily done with more small scenes in different locations. Possibly those are the types of things that were left on the cutting room floor.
By contrast, all (leaked) images and plot details from the originally planned film promise a far more epic and complex storyline.
2. Imagine if this same thing happened with Avengers: Endgame.
Let’s say that Avengers: Infinity War (2018) had been met with some controversy as well as enthusiastic fan-praise.
Or, even if not, suppose that Avengers directors Anthony and Joe Russo had already shot their three-hour epic hero-fest Avengers: Endgame. They’d begun early marketing and showed some amazing stuff in the trailers. The film’s score would be similar to previous films (from composer Alan Silvestri). And fans already knew to expect this three-hour epic that would celebrate united heroes and finally resolve the previous film’s cliffhanger.
But then suppose the Marvel producers had balked at the idea of releasing the movie like this.
Suppose they really, really didn’t want to spend the first 30–45 minutes of the movie showing how hopeless everything was.
And suppose that instead they cut down Tony Stark’s story, refused to let any hero die, and bluffed past consequences of the Decimation. Oh, and fired Silvestri and replaced him with John Debney (last seen doing his best with Iron Man 2).
Result: a shallow, two-hour version of Avengers: Endgame designed to avoid risks, please “masses,” and get shown more often in theaters.
You and I would have done our best to like it. But then we would have headed to the internet to join the movement #ReleasetheRussoCut.
3. Even if you disagree with #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, why deny fans the chance?
Let’s say you’re one of those chaps (including some of my friends) who despised Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Like many fans (and critics), you associate the film with “grimdark” nastiness, or all the Wrong Ways people try to hijack superheroes.
Either way, the DC films moved in the direction you said you wanted: with “fun” Aquaman (2018) and “fun” Shazam (2019). (I loved both.)
And the dream of an epic theatrical Justice League team-up film—much less a story split into two or even three parts—is now dead.
So it’s not like, if the Snyder Cut were actually released, that’s going to take away from those more crowd-pleasing DC hero films.
Aren’t you even the least bit curious if those “grimdark”-supporting fans were right, and the original, non-tampered Justice League would have been more to your liking? Especially when that risk comes with equal odds that #ReleasetheSnyderCut fans won’t really like what they see after they get it, anyway?
4. Anyhow, folks wrongly accused earlier DC Universe films of being ‘grimdark.’
I’ve been around this debate a few times, partly as a DC fan, and partly because I’m also a fan of respecting story creator’s stated intentions.
In this case, when a creator says, “I made the story to do X,” then it’s unfair at best, and slanderous at worst, to act like they’re lying.
Back after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice released, we shared this argument versus the “grimdark” accusation:
Austin: I think anyone who calls this movie “grimdark” probably doesn’t know what the word means. Wikipedia defines it as describing a “tone, style, or setting” that is “markedly dystopian or amoral, or particularly violent or realistic.” . . .
Batman v Superman dares to go where few superhero films have ever gone before: into a moral universe so similar to our own that even the good guys sometimes get it wrong. And only when the right choice isn’t blindingly obvious can a film such as this provide a meaningful commentary on the world.
For a while I’ve claimed Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Justice League were/should have been perceived as nobledark:
A kind of epic fantasy meets grimdark in that the world is dangerous and horrific and scary, is stuck technologically because larger than life monsters tend to destroy everything every once in a while or the world is dying out for some reason, but there are noble warriors that rise up to protect people from the horrors and / or save the world.
Nobledark ≠ grimdark. Know the difference.
5. Either way, original Justice League would have been (or will be) amazing.
Folks who’ve tracked the #ReleasetheSnyderCut campaign have followed the behind-the-scenes “leaks” about what awesome twists, complexities, and heroic moments Zack Snyder’s originally planned Justice League would have offered fans.
And that’s after pushback that saw the film reduced from part-1-of-2, and made even “brighter” and into a more easily accessible standalone.
It’s just those “leaks” that have changed the minds of my friends and I.
We went from saying, “Well, Justice League as-is wasn’t that bad,” to lamenting “Yeah, we was robbed.”
Of course, I say that tongue-in-cheek. But recently, Kerry, Austin, and I talked again about our support of the #ReleasetheSnyderCut push:
Austin Gunderson: It’s really something to see. Time was when a Joss Whedon script physicking was a seal of quality. Now people are kickstarting grassroots campaigns to get his contributions expunged.
Kerry Nietz: It is a matter of tone and intent. What we got clearly wasn’t what was originally intended. So if you’re a fan of the other two movies, yeah, you’re going to wonder. And part of me suspects that Whedon was lackluster in being brought in the way he was. I imagine some Warner exec bringing him in and saying “Just make it like Avengers! We want Avengers!”
Stephen: Which, I’m sure, can’t have been impressive or respectful of him. Whedon can do “nobledark” when he jolly well wants to.
Austin: I dunno. I actually think Whedon’s pretty one-note. Which, granted, is a note that everybody typically loves, but I haven’t seen or heard of much from him that doesn’t fall into the crew-of-charming-rogues-crack-wise-and-chew-scenery-whilst-in-dire-peril category.
Austin: He was perfect for ‘The Avengers,’ because it was a movie about a crew of charming rogues cracking wise and chewing scenery whilst in dire peril … and nothing more than that.
But Justice League was in another league entirely. As the third in a series of dark, somber, mythopoetic examinations of superhero sociology, it needed to maintain a continuity of tone while upping the stakes. Whedon wouldn’t have been capable of doing that even if WB had prohibited him from straying from Snyder’s vision.
The strength of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman comes from their sincerity: Snyder really felt that he was making something epic and important, and he had sufficient skill to convey that sense instead of coming across as pretentious. But no one—no matter how skilled—can pull that off unless he himself has the degree of sincerity (innocence? faith?) he’s seeking to elicit in his audience.
People say that comedy is the hardest kind of writing because laughter is an objective metric. But I actually think that mythopoeia is dang hard, too, because of the degree of sincerity involved. Even the tiniest bit of cynicism—Whedon’s calling card—will kill it dead.
Stephen:But this also explains why the two films thus far met with such hostile reception.
Apart from any particular quibbles (e.g. Jonathan Kent would Never Say That, and Batman Would Never Ever Kill), the fan and critical response was influenced by particular expectations about how superhero movies should behave. And at least at the time, the zeitgeist declared that Marvel movies (or their perception of Marvel movies) were the in color, and anything else was last year’s fashion.
Of course, to the extent that these criticisms were based on vapid trend-following and –forecasting, they were not sustainable. The genre still had to grow up, and Batman v Superman and original Justice League were simply a few years ahead of trend.
Now, however, “serious” superhero films are becoming cool again. Studio meddling with “Justice League” showed people just exactly what they claimed to want—“lighter” DC movies—and it failed so hard. Then Marvel tried to “go dark” and epic in its own way—but only after winning fans’ trust on other terms. (Anyway, it’s doubtful we’ll get more Marvel films anytime soon with the scale and thematic sweep of Infinity War/Endgame.)
Meanwhile, Logan and now Joker have proven that you can try a more-serious (even R-rated) story inspired by superhero universes, and I think critics begrudgingly admitted the results worked. And DC hit its stride with Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam. None of these has a bit of cynicism, and two of the directors even explicitly said so! Yet these films worked better as crowd-pleasers. They bridged the expectations gap. Now, people feel comfortable enough to be curious about the Justice League Snyder Cut.
I’m going to say it: I think it will happen, if not now, then sometime in a year or two.
#ReleaseTheSnyderCut. #UniteTheSeven. #MakeMyChristmas.