Can the ‘Snyder Cut’ Save the DCEU?
Oliver Leader de Saxe explores the controversy spawned by the production of Justice League and discusses the merits of the recently announced ‘Snyder Cut’.
After years of speculation, the ‘Snyder Cut’ of the much-maligned Justice League is finally being released on HBO Max. In an unprecedented move from a major studio, the film is being entirely reedited, rescored and repost-produced to meet Snyder’s original vision. With $20 million being spent on the project, in addition to the original $300 million that went into the first cut, this is one of the most expensive undertakings in cinematic history. But is it worth it?
The story of ‘Snyder Cut’ is a tumultuous one. Zack Snyder was originally at the helm of a project meant to go head-to-head with Marvel’s Avengers. His dark, gritty vision was not shared with Warner Bros. who, following the previous box office failure of the infamous Batman v Superman, wanted a more jovial and light-hearted tone. So when a family tragedy forced Snyder to step away from the film, Joss Whedon, director of the first two Avengers films, was brought in to reshape the film and fulfil Warner Bros.’ temperamental desires.
Justice League ended up a commercial and critical failure. Fans were understandably upset. But, like most fan disappointment in the age of the internet, things quickly spiralled out of control. Devotees on the internet started unreasonably believing that the hours of unreleased, unrefined raw footage shot for Justice League meant that there was a complete Snyder edit of the film just waiting to see the light of day. A Change.org petition demanding this be released reached 180,000 signatures. And, instead of dousing those flames, stars like Jason Momoa simply added more fuel to the fire with a slew of hints. Yet it still came as a surprise when Snyder announced that his cut of the film would actually be released in 2021.
The once-earnest ‘Snyder Cut’ fan campaign quickly succumbed to an endless barrage of trolls, making the discourse increasingly vitriolic.
The reasoning behind this announcement likely has more cynical motivations than pleasing fans. In recent years, Hollywood has found itself under threat from streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. Big studios are having to find ways to compete in this new market. Naturally, Warner Bros. is also trying to find their own flagship to launch HBO Max with. With lots of public interest in the project and a ravenous set of fans behind it, a restored version of Justice League makes a lot of sense for attracting attention to the service. And with rumours that the new cut could be edited into a six-part limited series, it certainly makes sense from an audience-retention perspective.
The issue is that Justice League has been made largely redundant. It was meant to play a key role in establishing a lucrative shared universe, plans which have since gone awry. With other self-contained DC films like Shazam proving to be box-office successes, do we need another version of a flawed film that had little artistic purpose to begin with? The ‘Snyder Cut’ seems like the epitome of the sunk-cost fallacy, with the need to recoup profits driving the decision-making.
This irrational “profit-first” mentality is made even more worrying by the implications it has for fan culture. The once-earnest ‘Snyder Cut’ fan campaign quickly succumbed to an endless barrage of trolls, making the discourse increasingly vitriolic. Supporters cyberbullied and harassed those who held differing opinions. This harassment got so bad that former DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson was hounded off twitter.
Letting this project go ahead creates the impression Warner Bros. isn’t just condoning this behaviour, but rewarding it. There’s a worrying trend of harassment by fanbases, be it against the showrunners of Game of Thrones, following a disappointing final season, or against Rian Johnson for his innovation in The Last Jedi. In this context, Warner Bros.’ encouragement of such heated entitlement and anger from people waging an endless culture war on the internet isn’t just morally bankrupt, it’s potentially dangerous.
The ‘Snyder Cut’ represents everything wrong about fan-culture and studio trend-chasing. The failure to condemn the outrage online in favour of profit taints any artistic merit this project could have had. No matter how well received this final cut, there will always be a part of me that thinks this money would have been better spent on new, more relevant projects, rather than yet another tired, cash-grab superhero movie. God knows we’ve had enough of them already.