It’s pretty common for a notable director to have a director’s cut.
But the circumstances surrounding Zack Snyder’s re-approach to his 2017 opus Justice League are quite an anomaly from both a filmmaker and studio perspective.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t exactly a case of restoring footage that was on the cutting room floor or polishing up the edit, rather for the filmmaker it was a journey of redemption, passion and finally correcting cinema history and his legacy with the version of the movie which was intended — even if Warner Bros. doesn’t recognize the recut as part of its DC canon (read on).
Zack Snyder’s Justice League on a whole other level serves as a purging for the cast involved: In the months leading up to the recut’s release, the pic’s actor Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg, strongly voiced his opposition to Justice League‘s replacement director Joss Whedon, alleging him of gross and abusive behavior on-set years ago. This fired off a recent investigation by WarnerMedia into what went sideways during Whedon’s involvement. Snyder departed Justice League four years ago in the wake of his daughter Autumn’s tragic death by suicide, in addition to Warner Bros’ tapping Whedon to bring a lighter tone to what was already a dark feature DC superhero ensemble; planned to be the comic book franchise’s version of Marvel’s Avengers (which Whedon directed as well as its 2015 sequel). It has been presumed that Whedon whittled down Fisher’s Cyborg character to a great extent in the first theatrical release of the film.
Fisher is finally breathing a sigh of relief and tweeting his joy about Snyder’s restored vision:
This is for those that fought.
This is for those that believed.
This belongs to each and every one of you.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
— Ray Fisher (@ray8fisher) March 18, 2021
At the same time, what sets Zack Snyder’s Justice League apart, is that it’s not every day that we hear about a major studio investing a substantial amount of money again (gulp, $70M), in a feature which wasn’t a commercial hit the first time around. Not to mention, it’s not evident that this recut will see a theatrical release, however, Snyder below talks about an Imax cut. Justice League was ten years in development prior to its November 2017 release, delayed at a certain moment by the 2007-08 WGA strike. In the wake of Christopher Nolan stepping away from the Batman and DC films as director, Snyder, who made his mark with 300 and Watchmen, took the reins starting with 2013’s Man of Steel and continuing onto 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Justice League grossed $657.9M worldwide (compared to Disney/Marvel’s first Avengers’ $1.5 billion) off what was an estimated $300M production cost, and according to Deadline film finance sources, lost $60M at the time. That price tag on Justice League is now at $370M as Warner Bros heeded the social media call of the pic’s fans and cast to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, seeing a worthy reinvestment and making it a hopeful jewel to its frosh streaming service HBO Max. Snyder got to do three days of reshoots in October during Covid as well as additional VFX work on his new version with the running time of the feature jumping from the original release’s 120 minutes to 242 minutes, literally double the movie.
Below is our conversation with Snyder:
DEADLINE: So on the list of the longest running movies of all-time there are such movies as Abel Gance’s Napoleon at 332 minutes, Cleopatra is 248 minutes, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet is 242 minutes, Gone With the Wind is 221 minutes. Usually, these are the running times reserved for these epic movies. What warranted, for you, a four-hour cut of Justice League?
ZACK SNYDER: It’s a good question. I mean, literally, I think it has a lot to do with what the ask is. The ask is to unite these characters characters or six characters into a team. If you want them all to be fully realized, you’re asking for a lot of movie, and it just, it wasn’t my intention to create a four-hour movie. It was just the way…that’s just what happened when the question was asked: What does a full Justice League banquet look like, and it looks like the whole thing, the trimmings, the appetizer, the three courses, the dessert, the after-dinner drinks, the whole thing.
DEADLINE: In regards to Joss Whedon’s cut of the movie, what elements of that left you unfulfilled and made you want to go back and redo?
SNYDER: Well, I’ve never seen the theatrical cut of the movie. You know when Chris [Nolan] and Debbie [Snyder] saw it, they saw it, and then they came back to report to me, and they said, “You should never see that movie.”
DEADLINE: What were their specific notes?
They were just like, “Never see it, never talk about it.”
DEADLINE: Were there any characters that you felt got the short shrift? It’s been widely reported that Ray Fisher wanted more. I believe he was under the impression Cyborg would have more of a storyline. What were some of your discussions?
SNYDER: I’m not exactly sure what they did to his character in the theatrical cut, but I could tell you that in my version of the movie, you know, Chris Terrio and I, from the very beginning, when we first sat down to talk about this, we were like Cyborg is a super important character, and remember, that was 2015 when we wrote the script. We felt like that character, it was long overdue, having, frankly, a person of color superhero at that important position, at sort of the center of the movie. He also is emblematic of what it is to suffer loss and then have to find yourself and find your family, frankly, through this struggle.
DEADLINE: When you returned to making this movie, was there a notion to make your version more of an anchor to the greater DC Universe, Warner Bros. is building? Watching the movie again, it certainly feels more interconnected to recent DC films.
SNYDER: Warner Bros told me when I started this process that they consider the theatrical cut as canon to their DC Universe that they want to build out and that my version will always be like this outworld non-canon version. I’m like, fine, you know, it’s your IP, it’s your universe, of course, that’s your decision. At the time we made the movie, when the story was written and sort of developed, the plan was to make two more Justice League movies while these other solo films were spinning out.
DEADLINE: Yeah. I remember that.
SNYDER: Yeah, and so, this was really the setup for the two more Darkseid Invasion films that basically we were gearing up for.
DEADLINE: Was there ever a Cyborg spinoff planned?
SNYDER: I always figured that by now — we hadn’t done the work, but we just assumed that in a lot of ways. The Cyborg origin movie is Justice League, and then, we just assumed that, you know, Cyborg, by the end of Justice League, is standing on his feet. He’s ready to go for any kind of solo effort you can imagine, right? Like, he’s all set. Chris and I, we just assumed that they would’ve just in success, would just jump right on a Cyborg movie because, you know, he is not only like this amazing character, but I just feel like he kind of comes out the back end of Justice League as fully realized and ready to roll.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about your new ending, because it looks like you’ve set us up for more.
SNYDER: Frankly, the reason I did that was because the ask was for like the purest version of the movie, and so, that’s what I was planning. All those years ago, was this epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. Starting with this movie, I wanted to be true to the sort of structure that we were creating and sort of the look that we had been creating. Even if there’s never another movie, it just felt like in-genre and in the tone to really have this kind of bigger sort of cliffhanger look at the very end. It just made sense to me.
DEADLINE: So, after this epic battle, essentially, what happens? There’s an alternative timeline shift, and Batman is in this apocalypse?
SNYDER: Yeah. Yeah. So, basically, in a nutshell, the elevator pitch of the next two movies would’ve been that Darkseid comes to Earth, Superman succumbs to the Anti-Life Equation, which is the thing that allows Darkseid to control the universe. Superman joins him in his sorrow over the death of Lois, and the Earth falls, and then in the post-apocalyptic world, Batman and Flash run time back to save Lois Lane, and therefore, Superman does not succumb, and at the very end. There’s a giant sort of redo of the sort of history lesson battle that we saw where the armies of men, the Atlanteans, and the Themyscirians all join together with the Green Lantern Corps and a few other of the Justice League to finally defeat Darkseid once and for all. So, it would’ve been this ridiculously gigantic third movie.
DEADLINE: And the last scene with Joker and Martian Manhunter, that was in your original script?
SNYDER: Well, the only difference is there was…we had done a version of the movie with…the only scene, really, that added to the structure is the Joker thing that I did because, I thought, okay, if I never make another DC film, it would be a shame not to have had a scene where Joker and Batman faced off, and so, I kind of wrote that scene and then, fate would have it that it worked out that we could shoot it and that the Martian Manhunter scene, though, yes, it did change, it was based on a scene that we had shot. It was based off scenes that we had shot during principal photography in England.
DEADLINE: So, there was a Martian Manhunter scene that was shot years ago?
SNYDER: There was a scene that existed there that had the exact same structure, but it was with a different character.
DEADLINE: And none of this, by the way, is a jumping-off point for anything else in their DC Universe? This was just your ideal cliffhanger?
SNYDER: Yes, and I mean, that’s what we planned for years to do, and then they went in another direction after I departed.
DEADLINE: So, at DC FanDome, you spoke about four separate one-hour installments. What happened?
SNYDER: Frankly, I think that there was some legal rumbling about the dividing up of a movie into four parts, and does it become a TV show, and does it void all the contracts. And I was like, look, guys, I don’t want to become…this sounds like we’re going to get in the weeds on this, and it’s a disaster, so let’s just not make legal precedent out of this movie, and I’ll just stick to my four-hour opus.
DEADLINE: While there was the social call for your version of the movie from fans and the cast, but what event made this recut real? Did you pick up the phone to [Warner Bros. Pictures Chairman] Toby [Emmerich]? Did Toby pick up the phone to you? Was [WarnerMedia CEO] Jason Kilar involved because it had to do with streaming? What event made this recut real, especially after everything you experienced on the first film, with Joss coming in for the rewrite and replacing you?
SNYDER: Can I point to a single moment that really kind of was the catalyst and said I think there was a call? There was a call to my agent, and basically the ask was, “Can Zack just release the movie in a rough-cut form, if we don’t want to like spend any money on it?” And then, I said to that a hard “no,” and then, after that, I said, “But, shit, can I at least come in and pitch you guys what I would propose to be a cool way to experience the movie on HBO Max?” and the ask was to release it on HBO Max from the start.
And so, then we went in and pitched them what the finished movie would look like, and then, all the executives came over and watched the movie at my theater at the house, and then, from there, there was a how much are the visual effects, and then it was a back and forth, and you know, it was like negotiating a movie from scratch.
DEADLINE: Do you plan to do any more DC films, or are you completely in another direction now? I know you want to do a super micro-budget film.
SNYDER: I just finished this really awesome movie for Netflix called Army of the Dead. We had an amazing experience with them, I’m trying to write them another movie, and I have two animated series I’m doing with them, and I also have a German-language prequel to Army that we did. So, we’re really like trying to stay on that franchise, the Army franchise, and I really want to go do Horse Latitudes, this summer, if I can. I’m just having a great time shooting these movies right now. So, I don’t know. I haven’t really, to be honest, you know, Warner Bros. hasn’t really expressed any interest in making more movies with me, and that’s 100% fine. I understand.
DEADLINE: Is there a comic book property you want to make? Is there a dream project in your back pocket?
SNYDER: Well, look, there are some comic books that I’m a fan, so there are comic books I love, you know? I’ve always wanted to do Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and a couple others, but I don’t know. I’m just, I’m pretty happy with just kind of working, the movie that we just finished, but I don’t really have like a burning desire to make another comic book movie, I’ll say.
DEADLINE: Despite the huge box office success of Batman v Superman, critics were very hard on it. Do you have any wishes to go back and do anything in that movie differently?
SNYDER: You know I did the ultimate edition, which came out on DVD and that movie is; that’s exactly the movie I wanted it to be. You know I think if you look at the ultimate edition and then watch Justice League, there’s a lot of symmetry, and the movies are very similar.
DEADLINE: The entire journey of Justice League from the onset; coming aboard, stepping away, and through it now, having gone through this gigantic experience, how do you feel about everything? What have you learned about grief, humility, nature of life, the unexpected nature of things? Quite touchingly, you dedicated this movie to your late daughter Autumn.
SNYDER: I’m definitely, you know, on some sort of cathartic journey through this process, and I’ve healed a lot in the course of finishing this movie and sort of reflecting back on it, I just think that the movie has served to kind of — I went through a really difficult time of my life and struggled through that, and I think, for all of us, it has offered some sort of a perspective on what it is to live, and lose, and love, and all those things, and how important family is and the support of it, and frankly, the work that we’ve done for suicide prevention and mental health is really the real reward of this entire process for us, and we continue to do that work.
DEADLINE: Can you talk about the resonance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”? You used the song in the trailer, and there was that beautiful piano version in the end credits.
SNYDER: Allison Crowe did that for us, and she played that at my daughter’s service. She’s been a friend of ours forever, Allison. She’s an amazing singer. She’s in Man of Steel, actually. It’s her in the bar in Man of Steel that’s playing “Ring of Fire”, the Johnny Cash song. I asked her to come and play that at my daughter’s service, “Hallelujah,” because it was my daughter’s favorite song. And she did, and then, when we were trying to figure out what to do with the end titles, I just said, you know what, Allison, can you just do a 10-minute title sequence, and she goes, “No problem,” and she just did that amazing version, and it’s really heart-wrenching, and it’s amazing, and it crushes us every time we hear it. So, it’s a little difficult to watch the end of the movie, but it’s still amazing.
What I’d really say, but it’s true, you know, it’s just we make movies. So, that’s the way we express. If I was a cabinet maker or something, I would’ve made like some chairs and a table to sort of figure out how to get through this grief and get through this sort of, this relationship that I’m having with life and death and everything, but we make movies. So, you get a big movie out of it. So, this is just what it is. That’s what we do. I know it’s a public venue, but it’s just how we — I can’t write a symphony, so I do this.
DEADLINE: In addressing the elephant in the room, Joss Whedon’s alleged mistreatment of castmembers on the set, in particular the accusations brought forth by Ray Fisher, which many of the Justice League cast backed; was it cathartic for them to come back together and work on this recut with you?
SNYDER: You know, I don’t know exactly. I can only imagine it might’ve been, but again, I wasn’t there. I was kind of dealing with my own thing, so I don’t really know what happened, exactly, except I really respect those guys as actors and as people, and I just want them to be in the most safest and most respectful places. So, yeah, that’s all I really know. For all of my friends there; if they went through any sort of mistreatment or anything like that, I just, I wish that wasn’t the case.
DEADLINE: Going back to your other DC films, when you hear these criticisms of the humor versus the heavy drama, what’s your feeling about that? What’s your take on that?
SNYDER: It’s hard to say that the movie you want as opposed to the movie you get. It’s an odd way to judge a film, that it’s not the movie that I was expecting, and so, you know, I’m mad at it, which is fine. It’s a fine reaction. It is what it is, but yeah, I think the DC characters — I just take them incredibly seriously. It’s this mythological world I have invested a lot of time in, and it’s kind of had its own language and its own iconology, and you have to sort of use the Rosetta Stone that you have to decipher it. You can’t wish for another version. I mean you can, of course, and that’s fine, but for me, the way I see it, this is the world.
DEADLINE: How happy are you about movie theaters coming back?
SNYDER: Very excited. Incredibly excited. I think we all need to like just like, hold the line. We’ve got a little ways to go, but it’s really exciting to be able to get audiences in a big theater and enjoying a big movie. I think that’s great, and look, I’ll be honest. HBO Max is a great platform for this movie and an amazing way to see it, and it looks great on the platform, and I’m happy for people to see it that way, not to mention the fact that it’s four hours. It’s easy to watch four hours on your sofa. Our binge-watching society is very geared for a four-hour movie. It should be no problem.
DEADLINE: In the wake of Warner Bros. taking their 2021 theatrical slate day-and-date with HBO Max, are you concerned about the theatrical window going entirely away?
SNYDER: Look, I’m not in the distribution model business. I mean I certainly have a dog in the hunt, but as far as I’m concerned, protecting theaters is an important thing to do, and protecting the theatrical experience is important. We take it for granted. Having this year away will respark our love of movies. I know that a lot of people feel the opposite way, but I think when you sit in the theater and watch — I recently had the pleasure of watching Justice League in Imax because we created Imax versions of this film, and when you sit and watch that movie on a ten-story screen, it is pretty breathtaking, and I just think that that experience is sort of unmatched, and I am excited for people to get back to the theater. So, anything to protect that experience, I think, is an important thing to do.
DEADLINE: So there will be an Imax theatrical release of the movie?
SNYDER: I don’t know if there’ll ever be an Imax release, but what I can tell you is that we are doing charity screenings of this in Imax for AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), and that’s the reason I asked the studio to create those versions of the film, because it had been my hope that in the future, as theaters open, we can get ahold of some Imax screens and get some fans in to raise money for suicide prevention.