The fans are right: now, with millions of people on lockdown and Hollywood in chaos, is the time to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Zack Snyder's cut of Justice League has become a bone of contention between hardcore DC movies fans and Warner Bros., with virtually any tweet even remotely connected to DC (and many that are not) swarmed by "Release the Snyder Cut" messages. It has been going on for more than two years, and in recent month it has seemed that Warner Bros. -- under new management due to the company's merger with AT&T -- may have softened somewhat to the idea of releasing the cut.
Backing up a bit for anybody who doesn't know all the background: filmmaker Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) was tapped to spearhead a new, interconnected universe of DC Comics adaptations around the same time that Marvel began to be themost unstoppable force in Hollywood and Christopher Nolan was wrapping up his time with Batman. Snyder helped chart a course for DC's new film universe, as well as directing Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League.
Man of Steel proved more divisive than Warners had expected. After positive initial reviews, the movie slowly sank on Rotten Tomatoes, while the discourse around it became toxic and increasingly fixated on the destructive final fight between Superman and General Zod -- a Michael Bay-style disaster that left billions of dollars in property damage, a lot of people dead, and saw Superman eventually kill Zod in order to save a family the villain was targeting.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice both deepened the divide between people who enjoyed Snyder's take on the DC Universe and those who didn't...and continued the thread from Man of Steel, following up on the plot lines left dangling by all that death and destruction, but not necessarily doing it in the way that Man of Steel's critics would have wanted. The film was also cut down significantly in the editing process, resulting in a movie that felt disjointed to some. An "Ultimate Cut" released on home video, which restored a number of cut and deleted scenes, played a lot better, but still did not appeal to some. The movie made almost $900 million but was considered a source of frustration for the studio, since it featured two top-tier superheroes and not only could not crack $1 billion but also generated yet more angry discourse online.
After Batman v Superman, Warners announced that Snyder would direct two Justice League movies, filmed back to back in the style of things like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But it was pretty early in production when it became clear things were a little off. During a set visit to the production, Snyder and his wife Deborah indicated that Justice League Part Two was no longer a given, and that the movie they were making, previously Justice League Part One, was officially just Justice League. Reports of studio meddling were present throughout production, but came to a head after Snyder had to leave the project following his daughter's death. Joss Whedon, said to be a close friend of Snyder's, was tapped to complete the film -- which involved directing some reshoots and editing the movie. While Snyder had already shown Warner Bros. a 214-minute assembly cut of the film, it is said that the studio wasn't happy with it and, among other things, wanted the movie down below two hours in order to maximize the number of screenings in the financially-key first two weeks of release. Batman v Superman had produced one of the biggest box office openings of all time before the numbers sank amid poor word-of-mouth for the film.
Snyder's reshoots were reportedly extensive, as were the changes made to Snyder's original vision to bring the film into line with what Warner Bros. wanted. Entire scenes and perhaps even subplots were dropped entirely, and a number of shots or lines seen in early trailers did not make their way into the final product. Eventually the film was released and landed with a wet thud, earning just a little more than half of what Batman v Superman had in its opening weekend. It drew marginally better reviews than its predecessor, but while Man of Steel and Batman v Superman had been polarizing, Justice League was widely regarded as just...there. The hardcore fans who supported Man of Steel and Batman v Superman wanted nothing to do with Justice League, while those who didn't like the others were not especially impressed by Whedon's tonal pivot, leaving it a movie with a relatively limited audience and almost no really passionate supporters.
Fans immediately started mobilizing in support of releasing Snyder's assembly cut of the movie as a completed feature film, something that film journalists and scholars scoffed at for quite a while. Over time, though, as the fans have refused to go away and more and more notable names have lent their support to the idea of seeing Snyder's vision brought to the screen, the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag has gone decidedly mainstream. Whether it's taking out billboard ads or donating thousands to suicide prevention charities, the fans -- who view themselves as a "movement" at this point -- have remained incredibly visible.
Snyder, meanwhile, has been tossing a steady supply of wood onto the fire. He frequently posts behind-the-scenes photos from scenes that were cut from the movie's theatrical release, and has gradually waded more directly into the "Snyder cut" debate. The filmmaker stayed quiet for a while, and first made waves by way of silent moves like social media "likes" of comments critical of Whedon, Warner, or the theatrical cut of the movie. He recently said that he had never seen that version, and has released photos of film cans denoting the 214-minute runtime of his version of the movie (Whedon's Justice League cut, for which Snyder is the sole credited director, weighs in at 120 minutes).
Back in November, to celebrate the 2-year anniversary of Justice League's theatrical release, the film's stars (minus Henry Cavill) took to social media to share messages that supported the release of Snyder's cut of the movie. While Cavill has never rejected the idea of releasing a Snyder cut, he is much more pragmatic about it, seemingly more relucant than people like Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher to rock the boat with Warner.
The Snyder Cut has also finally started to get noticed beyond the walls of geek and film Twitter circles, with companies like the Subway sandwich chain chiming in to support the movie's release. Star Jason Momoa hinted during an interview that Snyder could have completed his movie from the assembly cut using his own time and money. And around the same time that the actors united to support the movement, fans noticed that Warner Bros.-related accounts had started following Snyder on social media.
All of these things had come together to convince a not-particularly-small group of fans that the company had decided to release his Justice League after all, possibly as part of the HBO Max streaming service set to debut in May (and now likely delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic). But with numerous DC projects already impacted by the coronavirus chaos, someone at Warner has to be looking at all the content planned for HBO Max and the coming year and asking, "is any of this screen-ready yet?"
Well, with the Snyder Cut, you have a project with a built-in fan base that would watch either way. If it's just animatics over ADR, they would watch. If it' something closer to a completed film, they would gleefully watch. And if it's something that WB has even been mulling quietly in the back of their head, now might be the best possible time to try it out.