This week saw the release of the infamous “Snyder Cut”. After a disappointing instalment of Justice League in 2017, finally, fans received the supposed version that they were originally promised, and had been asking for through the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign. What we got was a four-hour epic, from the vision of original director Zack Snyder, retelling that 2017 story but with new added scenes and others stripped away. The reception has been extraordinarily mixed at best, with The Hollywood Reporter citing it as entirely unnecessary – while The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin gave it a full five stars. IMDB, meanwhile, currently has this latest Justice League as the highest-rated superhero film going (IMDB’s rating system is fan led).
Justice League 2017
Likewise, the Snyder DC output has been divisive at best. Whilst clearly trying to veer away from Marvel’s sweet spot of rough and tumble jungle gym cinema, Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman gave us rain-drenched gloom fests. Dreary and brooding in slow motion, they were received reasonably poorly across the board by fan and critic alike. Despite this, fans were unhappy at best with the incoherence of the Justice League film that was released in 2017. Having replaced Snyder after a personal tragedy, director Joss Whedon, former Marvel alumni no less, opted for that trademarked back-and-forth banter. Superman had a moustache. Aquaman said “MY MAN”. Warner Bros lost an estimated 60 million dollars. And fans felt cheated.
#ReleaseTheSnyderCut Campaign and Star Support
On November 11th, 2017, Roberto Mata started a Change.org petition addressed to Warner Bros. to release a Zack Snyder cut of the film. Even though at the time no such cut existed, nor were there any plans to create one. But rather a dogged and loud online movement would not stop shouting for over three years to make it so.
Gradually though, the movement gained traction through a densely choreographed campaign that involved billboards and bi-planes coinciding with San Diego Comic-Con. This lead to major stars and DC figureheads showing their support, actually keen on the Snyder Cut becoming a reality. Going as far as Batman himself, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) tweeting simply: #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. This was becoming more than just a stunt, or a running joke of a meme.
Add to that a growing outcry from Cyborg actor, Ray Fisher, claiming that he was bullied on set by stand-in director Joss Whedon at the time (claims that have only been backed up by fellow actors who have performed under Whedon’s helm) and the hopes of a new picture grew stronger, if nothing more than to cleanse the taste of 2017s effort.
Edits, Alternative Versions and Directors Cuts
It was fair to assume that a fresh new cut, from the original director back in the saddle with first-hand control over the output could create a whole new version too. For years, dwelling upon racks, terrible American comedies with stickers slapped on claiming “unseen, outrageous cut!” lined our stores like the naughty child putting a crab in their kid sister’s pants. Other examples added solid extra run times, bulking their beloved stories with even more scenes. And sometimes with fair reason: the Lord of the Rings trilogy’s hulking original 9 hours and 3 minutes run time was lengthened even more to a gratuitous 11 hours and 36 minutes with the release of the extended cut editions. Infamously, 1982s Blade Runner has a supposed seven entirely different cuts, vastly and quite rightly changing the storyline entirely when compared to one another. These specific versions completely altered the ending for Harrison Ford’s Decker, turning him from man to replicant and vice-versa, and giving director Ridley Scott his definite ending.
Perhaps the most well-profiled fan edit belongs to actor and self-professed dork, Topher Grace. Only a select few have seen his secretive cut of the Star Wars prequels (entitled coyly “The Editor Strikes Back”) as legally it can’t really exist. In his spare time from not playing an unconventional villain role, Grace was keen to sharpen his own editing skills, taking aim at the trilogy and realigning it into one stand-alone 85-minute picture. And whilst this example acts as an exercise and nothing more, I can’t help but think that with its publicity it somehow misses the point, even going as far as to say it muddies George Lucas’ original vision of that trilogy (be that what it is…).
The Ugly Side Of The Campaign
Although, this sort of saying something enough times until it becomes fact is a dangerous game and is only echoed by recent parallel years of politics. Donald Trump, sworn in in 2016 as President, could lead a likeminded movement of supporters – nearsighted, unwilling to listen to reason, bullish and only willing to see what they want to. He would coin terms like “fake news”; something so very much in the current vernacular, and go on with zero evidence to claim voter fraud in the biggest current election on the planet. In a day and age where misinformation is rife, and the uninformed can simply choose not to believe in things they don’t agree with, it perversely only seems like fertile soil for an initiative like #R.T.S.C to be able to go so far. Almost reverse-engineering the idea of fake news to create something that was not formally there and had no intention of being either, and ultimately forcing a new form of art into the world.
And whilst Zach Snyder fans are not comparable to capitol storming thugs, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut’s captain, Roberto Mata, only seemed to follow this unfortunate trend… and scarily so. What started as a real – if ambitious – plea from a genuine fan to promote his pride in a medium he loved, was turned in to a platform used to spread hatred. In May 2018, A concrete clear statement was posted by ForSnyderCut.com addressing Mata’s wrongdoings and abuse of newfound online power:
“Aside from extreme unprofessionalism shown to his collaborators like Fiona Zheng, myself, and more, going as far as to fabricate lies about fans trying to steal attention or his idea, his true acts were worse. After blocking and cutting off all the fans that made his petition successful, Roberto took his petition to a very racist level. Disgustingly racist, Islamophobic, sexist remarks were made; all enveloped with lies about us throughout. Through various “petition updates” that spend many paragraphs saying very hateful and Islamophobic rhetoric against Islam & all Muslims, Roberto also continually made sexist remarks against women, calling them inferior and treating them as such. A few quotes from his petition updates and social media show his hateful nature: he brushes the entire faith of Islam as “the most disgusting belief on earth” and a “majority of terrorists.” He also says “Women are not as strong as men and they are more violent and abusive” and “Black people are criminals. Black lives matter and white supremacy are the same.” Simply put, he is racist, sexist, and Islamophobic.”
This fandom however feels like a dangerous turn for film. For all we know, following such an awful tragedy through the death of his daughter, Snyder wouldn’t even have wanted to return to work, but perhaps felt compelled to by such strong typing from an online community. Then again, Snyder is very much a fan of comics and has always been one to communicate first hand with his fans. For all we know, another shot at creating his version will only have helped the man’s grieving.
At best, this was a voice that mirrored fan theories – something that didn’t exist but could reshape and mould pre-existing characters to whomever’s poorly written will. Again, echoing current day fears, this felt like a wordy equivalent of a DeepFake, only growing traction and more belief with each new day. Where does that end? I’m sure for all its flaws, Justice League version 1 has its fans too, content with the picture that they got and for what it is. Whilst I recognise that #ReleaseTheSnyderCut is a unique moment, plumped by a disastrous pocket of time in human history, I fear it starting a very real trend for cinema.
Whilst we live in a world of major properties, and film studios adopting and nurturing franchises, where does a subjective and picky audience simply sit back and accept their favourite superhero, space wizard or time traveller releasing a film… and it be nothing more than OK? The majority of fans bemoaned the most recent Star Wars picture, say, but does that give them any right to meddle, start a petition and attempt to alter what they got? And certainly Warner Bros. saw an opportunity in Justice V2 and supported it, but by doing so it has opened the floodgates for other major film umbrellas to do the exact same, bowing down to a fan base and perhaps even welcoming fresh edits of pre-released films if WB’s gamble pays off.
On the other hand, this can only give inspiration to similar sorts of movements and online petitions. In a year spent so frequently within our homes, and with so much time to stream, binge and consume, other call-outs of this ilk can only be hopeful that finally they may be heard, listened to even. I personally would love to see the never-going-to-happen #MakeADreddSequel and there’s even word that with the success of the Snyder Cut that we could be getting a redux version of Mrs Doubtfire. Power to the people on that one, I suppose.
Zack Snyder’s work will continue to divide opinions. But if nothing else I can confidently say that this retooling from a fanbase’s help marks a moment that will change how we go about supporting the things that we love on screen from here forward. Whether or not that will only be used for good or the chaotic forces of evil, I have no idea.
You can watch the Snyder Cut of Justice League on HBO Max now.
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Jon Holmes is a writer based in the UK. Alongside his work writing for film, he is a multi-accoladed filmmaker in his own right, and also performs. He can be followed on Youtube at Hans HS and on Twitter on @jonnyjonjon1