Zack Snyder, who fronts our April 2021 issue, shares on the epic restoration of Justice League.
When principal photography for Justice League finished back in late 2016, Warner Bros. executives had already lost faith in the chief architect of their DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movies, Zack Snyder. Upset with the critical reception of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the studio desired a course correction from Zack Snyder’s vision for the franchise. Already fighting an uphill battle, Zack Snyder lost the will to carry on following the suicide of his 20-year-old daughter Autumn, eventually stepping down from the project halfway through post-production.
Following Snyder’s departure, the studio brought in Joss Whedon to oversee the film’s completion and to lighten up Snyder’s bleak tone. No stranger to the comic book movie genre, the director of The Avengers made substantial changes to an already moulded shell, and Warner Bros. released a hastily patched-together monstrosity of a film. Primed to be the studio’s equivalent of Disney and Marvel Studios’ hugely successful The Avengers, the 2017 Justice League ended up being a critical bomb, costing the studio a ton of money and its operational structure.
In the wake of the film’s release, an unprecedented mobilisation of fans worldwide began to take on a life of its own, with the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Demanding that the studio return the film to its rightful director, Zack Snyder enthusiasts were adamant that an original cut of the film was available somewhere behind closed doors. Even though there was no substantial confirmation that the Snyder Cut existed at that time, it did not stop the petition form gathering nearly 180,000 signatures.
The development of the Snyder Cut movement was nothing short of historical. Aside from being spent on billboards and advertisements, funds raised for the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign were also donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in homage to the director’s daughter.
Mainstream interest in the Snyder Cut reached an all-time high as major celebrities began supporting its release. Film stars Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck both took to social media to advocate its release, triggering a seismic shift in the movement. The subject also received extensive support through social media posts by Cyborg actor Ray Fisher, Suicide Squad director David Ayer, as well as former DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson. Since then, it became clear to the studio that there was no stopping the Snyder Cut movement.
With the studio under new management, a new streaming service to boost, and a fan base that could not be controlled, Snyder himself announced during a Q&A session after an online watch party of Man of Steel that his cut of Justice League would be released as Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max (HBO GO in Asia). Released to critical success, the Snyder Cut is exactly what is promised in its name: Zack Snyder’s epic version of Justice League in all its four-hour, untampered glory.
Twice the length of the theatrical cut, Zack Snyder’s Justice League features an aesthetic overhaul more in line with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, a new score by Junkie XL, as well as a deeper exploration towards members of the titular ensemble. Under the director’s supervision, Justice League is reconstructed into a spectacular team-of-heroes origin story that is as heavy on character development as it is on breath-taking visual effects. Presented in the boxy 4:3 format typically reserved for IMAX presentation, the Snyder Cut is the expression of a director’s unapologetic vision, one that changes the movie for the better.
As the film closes with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with the words “For Autumn” displayed at the end, it is apparent that the film is deeply personal to the director. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not merely a story about gods, monsters, aliens, and superheroes. On a metatextual level, it is about a filmmaker’s journey of redemption, his chance to secure his legacy, as well as a loving tribute to his late daughter. In the following interview, the filmmaker lets us in on everything you want to know about Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
For a long time, the existence of a Zack Snyder cut of Justice League was considered a myth. Nobody was sure if it was real or not. Prior to the announcement of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, what actually existed?
What existed was probably a close to four-hour cut – not quite four hours, but close to. It existed on my laptop as a QuickTime file. It sat on my desktop on my computer for two years. I would show it from time to time to my friends and say, ‘Here’s a movie you’ll never see!’ All the visual effects were pre-viz. And I had turned the movie into black-and-white. That was what this movie was for me for two years.
Did you think you’d ever do anything with it?
I thought that maybe in 10 years or so there might be interest in revitalising it, or showing parts of it in a documentary.
This release really came about because the fans wanted it. What did that fan campaign mean to you? And when did you think this release might become a reality?
It was a slow burn realisation, I’ll be honest. It didn’t just switch on. Except for finally, on November 17, 2019, the second anniversary of the release of Justice League, the fans rallied together into this giant voice [via a Twitter campaign] to call for ‘The Snyder Cut’. That was really the moment where I went, ‘Holy smokes!’ That’s where I thought, ‘Wow, this could happen.’ It wasn’t long after that, that I got a call from Warner Bros., saying, ‘What would it take [to do this]?’
How would you describe the movie? What was your vision?
It’s in the name. It’s Justice League. It’s putting together all these incredibly iconic characters and building them into a team – or a league, if you will. I really wanted to make sure that we took a deep dive into every character, to understand psychologically and emotionally where they were, so that when they came together as a family we understand why the unification of that family is not an easy thing to do. And I wanted to make sure the villains they faced were not going to be easily tested. That was my hope for the movie. Thank god I had an amazing cast and an incredible writer in Chris Terrio, because I feel like they all were on board with that.
In the four years between shooting and the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League did much change in the cut? Did your view on the story change?
This is the cut that I had finished in January of 2017. It was the first cut I did of the movie. Frankly, it was the purest, untouched version of the movie. In working on this release, it was nice to jump over the middle process of re-cutting and go right to finishing. Movies tend to crash into rocks (during post-production) and get mired in politics. This version, when we dusted it off and looked at it, we felt there was a purity of vision there. We put it up in the theatre for everyone to watch. I hadn’t seen it in a while and we all thought, ‘Geez, that’s cool.’
You did a little bit of additional shooting to complete this film. What was it like to return to directing this world after several years?
We spent three days shooting. We only shot two little scenes. They’re not huge but they’re important. It was fun being back with the guys and a lot of the same crew. I was working with actors I know and love, so it was a lot of fun.
In this movie we really get to meet Cyborg properly for the first time. What is it you love about that character and what does he bring to the movie?
Cyborg is really the heart of Zack Snyder’s Justice League in a lot of ways. I think he represents, on a really personal level, someone who’s struggled through a great loss and is now adrift in the world and really looking to find his place. What is he? I think that story also kind of mirrors all the other members of the Justice League. With them coming together as a family, we really use Cyborg as a detailed and thorough look at his experience of becoming whole again, as a member of a community.
This movie is also the first time we’ve seen Darkseid. He’s a legendary comic book villain, so how was it bringing him to life?
Darkseid is a brawler. He’s a conqueror and a destroyer of worlds. I really love the political world that he comes from and his relationship to his underlings and how they work together. I think that it’s really fun. I love our Steppenwolf in the movie. Ciaran Hinds is a genius and voices him with real sympathy and heart – If you can for a villain. I find him incredibly interesting and fun to explore.
You also revealed a look at Jared Leto’s return as The Joker, Batman’s ultimate nemesis. It’s the first time you’ve put Joker in one of your films. Why did you want to bring him in?
I hinted at the existence of Joker in my universe in Batman vs. Superman, in a couple of ways. There’s the dead Robin; his suit is in the Batcave in sort of a shrine. He’s memorialised by Batman to remind him of pain that was inflicted on him by Joker. Written on Robin’s suit is, ‘Ha ha, the joke’s on you’. That suggests a larger relationship between those characters. I really wanted to add a scene between Joker and Batman. Their relationship is so important to this universe. The fact that I’d hinted at a Joker in my world and yet he and Batman hadn’t met up, that seemed like a bit of a crime. I wanted to try to remedy that.
It was your first time directing Jared Leto. How was that experience?
He’s an incredible actor who is really dedicated to the process. He and I got along incredibly well. He is just as obsessive as I am about this character and this world. He was a joy to work with. I would do something with him again in a heartbeat.
The film was scheduled for a worldwide release on the same day. Why is it important to you that everybody gets to see it at the same time?
My fan community is so international and they’ve been so incredible in their dedication to not only the movie and the work I’ve been trying to accomplish, but also to the causes I support. Two of the causes that are super close to my heart are mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Through this fandom we’ve been raising so much money and so much awareness, literally saving lives through the work that they do. It was important to me that the whole world got to share this.
This movie has been such a long journey for you. How do you feel now that journey is complete?
I feel great. It’s been incredibly cathartic. I couldn’t imagine a year ago that this would be a thing we’d be talking about, but here we are. Miracles do happen. For all involved it’s been not only this mountain of a movie but also a real healing process and a joy. It’s been a joy to work on and to interact with the fans on this level.
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(Feature image by Carolyn Cole/Contour by Getty Images)