The fight to release the Snyder Cut of Justice League (which may not even exist), explained

A still from Zack Snyder’s alleged directors’ cut | Vero/Snyder

Zack Snyder’s fabled cut of Justice League and the corporate conspiracy theory behind it.

The most anticipated Warner Bros. superhero flick is one that might not even exist: the infamous “Snyder Cut” of the movie Justice League. It’s an alleged version of director Zack Snyder’s Justice League that has become something of a myth among fans.

Diehard DC Comics fans will tell you that the fabled Snyder Cut is exactly the Justice League story fans wanted: a darker, more cohesive, and overall better director’s version that completely changes the movie for the better.

Whispers of a possible Snyder Cut began soon after Justice League hit theaters in November 2017. The movie that we got, according to Snyder’s biggest fans, is a twisted, gnarled, ignorant work that was knee-capped by outside forces that suffocated Snyder’s true vision. And since its release, a hashtag movement has simmered, bubbling up with each Warner Bros. premiere with increasing fervor.

This week, coinciding with the two-year anniversary of Justice League’s theatrical release, the Snyder Cut — which until now has mostly existed as a myth spread by word of mouth among fans — is the closest it’s ever been to a reality.

On November 15, Snyder posted pictures on the social media platform Vero, which fans quickly believed were from the cut itself: a still of Henry Cavill’s Superman in the hero’s trademark uniform, and another of the character in what appears to be a resurrection scene that differs from the one in the original Justice League:

 Zack Snyder/Vero
Henry Cavill in a still that’s allegedly from Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League.
 Zack Snyder/Vero
A screenshot of Zack Snyder’s Vero post teasing a potential director’s cut of Justice League.

The shots Snyder posted might seem like typical superhero-movie fare of an actor in costume. But to devoted fans, the stills are evidence that the superior Snyder Cut does exist, and that it’s just being withheld from the public for whatever reason.

Adding fuel to the fire were tweets from former Batman actor Ben Affleck and Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot on November 17. Affleck, who vacated the Batman post after Justice League, simply tweeted the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut:

Gadot tweeted a black-and-white image of her character looking wistful, using the same hashtag:

For the heroes themselves to be spreading the hashtag has given what’s been dubbed the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement more legitimacy than ever before. It’s one thing to have DC Comics enthusiasts get the hashtag trending, but Gadot and Affleck are actual Justice League members.

If even they want the Snyder Cut released, is the fan-driven movement onto something? Could the Snyder Cut really exist?

Warner Bros. hasn’t officially addressed the campaign, which has expanded beyond tweets and hashtags to include real-life demonstrations and events held by wanting fans. But according to the Hollywood Reporter’s sources at the company, there’s no imminent plan to release any such cut — nor has the studio confirmed it even exists.

That said, DC Comics fans’ interest in an alternate, higher-quality version of the poorly received team-up movie is natural, especially when stars and the film’s own director say one exists. But the “Release the Snyder Cut” campaign has darker motives too, as it galvanizes the fandom’s toxic sect, which has previously clung to conspiracy theories about film criticism and the business of Hollywood that threaten to damage the reputations of all of the above.

#ReleaseTheSnyderCut is a genius marketing push — if that’s all it is

The origin story of the Snyder Cut starts in May 2017, when Snyder left the Justice League project just before reshoots to deal with the death of his daughter. (There are reports that dispute this and claim Snyder was fired much earlier, however.) Avengers director Joss Whedon was called in to handle the movie’s numerous reshoots. The reshoots with which Snyder was reportedly uninvolved, combined with fan theories that Warner Bros. was rushing the film to meet a year-end release date, led fans to believe the finished product had strayed from Snyder’s original vision.

Perhaps “Release the Snyder Cut” wouldn’t have become such a rallying cry if Justice League had been more successful.

After months of anticipation, Justice League turned out to be a critical and box-office disappointment. The more time that passed, the more fans blamed Snyder’s departure and Warner Bros. for its failure. In response, their hopes for some unannounced director’s cut of the film grew. Snyder fans consider his previous directorscuts of 2009’s Watchmen and 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to be improvements upon the theatrical versions, and that fueled a belief that a similar redux of Justice League would also be much more satisfying.

An online petition by one fan in late 2017 that asked for a director’s cut garnered over 179,000 signatures. That kicked off a full-on movement that, among other things, spurred a site called ForSnyderCut.com, which become a centralized hub for all Snyder Cut news. Then there was a January 2018 “march” on Warner Bros.’s Burbank studio to show how serious fans were, along with YouTube videos (in many languages), letters, and phone calls to Warner Bros. itself.

The Ringer has a good breakdown of the various teases Snyder himself has participated in to further fan the flames. Fans sunk their teeth into every one, culminating in a nearly $27,000 GoFundMe campaign to fly a banner at San Diego Comic-Con 2019. It wasn’t until March 2019 (just prior to the GoFundMe campaign) that Snyder confirmed the existence of his director’s cut to a fan while attending a fundraiser for the ArtCenter College of Design’s Ahmanson Auditorium:

Gadot, the flagship actress of Warner Bros.’s superhero universe, tweeting about the Snyder Cut is another sign of how much this movement has grown — and the possibility that the edit may eventually see the light of day.

But despite the star-studded endorsements and Snyder’s crafty hints, only a few people have said they’ve seen the cut. Most of its existence hinges on the word of Snyder himself or secondhand accounts. And others, like director (and early champion of the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement) Kevin Smith, say they’ve heard the cut isn’t in cinematic shape to actually screen.

“There is a Snyder Cut. For sure. That’s not a mythical beast. It exists. Now, it’s not a finished movie by any stretch of the imagination,” Smith told CinemaBlend earlier this year. “The ‘Snyder Cut’ that, again I haven’t seen, but the one I’ve heard everyone speak of was never a finished film. It was a movie that people in production could watch and fill in the blanks. It was certainly not meant for mass consumption.”

The rumors kept moving closer to home throughout 2019. In August, Aquaman actor Jason Momoa posted on Instagram that Snyder let him see the cut and that it was, in Momoa’s words, “ssssiiicccckkkkkk”:

It’s worth keeping in mind that Momoa and Gadot are still playing the heroes they portrayed in Justice League in upcoming standalone sequels. Drumming up interest in Justice League also drums up interest in their upcoming projects; tweeting about the Snyder Cut keeps their names in the news.

Supporting the Snyder Cut shows they also care about what fans want. These actors are essentially saying, without explicitly doing so, that they want the best for their fans. And since Justice League was so universally trashed, Gadot and Momoa aren’t really burning bridges by saying a better version of that movie exists somewhere.

When Wonder Woman 1984 comes out in June 2020, fans will likely remember that Gadot asked for the Snyder Cut to be released. And Gadot will likely be asked about the Snyder Cut again during that press tour.

Even if the Snyder Cut is never released, the Justice League stars who support the movement will have garnered goodwill from fans.

But releasing the Snyder Cut also courts a toxic aspect to this fervent fandom

Gadot and Momoa’s support may be good for them, but it’s not great for those who are less concerned about the Snyder Cut. Despite the motivation or intent behind the Snyder Cut campaign — and regardless of the shape it’s in, if it does exist — it’s worth noting that some of the fans involved have gained a bad reputation. Their demands for the Snyder Cut’s release have grown more intense, and it’s emblematic of how toxic some fandoms have become in the past decade.

The #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement frames the scenario to make it seem like Warner Bros. is keeping fans from the high-quality superhero movie they desire. The movement is not simply about wanting a director’s cut to be made available.

Rather, its supporters actually use the phrase to suggest that Warner Bros. executives like ex-DC Entertainment president Geoff Johns (who takes the brunt of the fans’ blame for Justice League, since it’s theorized he sabotaged Snyder’s vision because it was incongruent with his own); reshoots helmer Joss Whedon; and even Marvel Entertainment, film critics, and many people in between all have it out for Snyder fans. They don’t care whether fans get a good movie out of Justice League, a beloved property many DC Comics fans wanted to see adapted for years. They just care about making money.

This notion continues to send fans on the more paranoid side of the argument into attack mode online:

The online harassment has grown so fierce that a former DC exec deleted her Twitter in fall 2018 to avoid the rage in her mentions. A year prior, a writer from Pajiba received an avalanche of vitriol for criticizing the campaign online.

The reaction, albeit far more intense than previous Snyder-fan antics, is nothing new. It’s reminiscent of the great conspiracy theory of 2016, when a vocal sect of DC and Warner Bros. fans were convinced that Marvel had paid off critics to trash Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Supplemental to that theory is the narrative pushed by Snyder that his movies are made for fans, not critics.

The Snyder Cut contingent subsist on an “us versus them” mentality, where if you aren’t a fan of these poor movies, you must not be a “real” fan of the heroes themselves. Real fans are the ones who matter, of course. Brushing off negative criticism becomes a lot easier when it’s coming from people who aren’t real fans.

This creates a strange paradox of sorts in that true fans ostensibly should enjoy the Justice League movie no matter what, according to Snyder himself. But Snyder Cut fans will argue that the movie they were served was actually the work of other people — Whedon especially — and that they never got to see Snyder’s vision.

Hating Justice League means hating everything that was tinkered with. The Snyder Cut is what “real” fans should want.

Pitting fans against critics and movie execs reflexively creates an environment in which a silly idea like Marvel paying off the media to trash Warner Bros. takes flight. It also encourages some fans to verbally abuse anyone with a negative opinion of the movie or a Warner Bros. property.

Just prior to the release of October’s Joker, fans sent misogynistic tweets and emails — some that vaguely warned of theater shootings — to critics who saw the movie and gave it a poor review. This behavior continues and, in some ways, is entrenched in modern fandom culture, particularly among fans of DC superhero movies, which have suffered poor reviews over the years.

With stars like Affleck, Gadot, and Momoa urging Warner Bros. to release the Snyder Cut of Justice League, it seems like it would be in the company’s best interest to eventually release it — if that edit of the film does exist in some watchable form. There are countless fans who want it and the studio could cash in, especially on the anniversary of the movie. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing more of Gadot and Momoa superhero-ing.

But there’s also a question of what happens after fans — especially the particularly toxic ones — get what they want. They could very well see the release of a Snyder Cut as something they earned by acting and lashing out, as though Warner Bros. is caving in to their demands or rewarding their bad behavior. And it’s hard to believe that’s the best course of action.

Author: Alex Abad-Santos

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