Movies

All Your Questions About Justice League’s Very Long, Very Wild Snyder Cut, Answered

Four years and $70 million later, it’s here. But what is it?

Justice League characters in a row with questions marks over them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HBO Max.

Let’s start with the basics. What actually is the Snyder Cut?

It’s a four-hour version of the 2017 superhero film Justice League that adheres more closely to the vision of Zack Snyder, the movie’s original director. Snyder had to step down during postproduction, and the film was finished by Joss Whedon, who rewrote it and oversaw extensive reshoots. It’s coming to HBO Max on Thursday.

Has anyone seen it yet? And is Tom & Jerry involved somehow?

Advertisement

Critics have seen Snyder’s cut, although the first reviews won’t be up until Monday. But the movie accidentally (or perhaps “accidentally”) leaked on HBO Max this week when some users hit play on the movie Tom & Jerry. It was taken down before anyone could get through the whole thing, but one Twitter user called the first hour “the best DC movie I’ve ever seen.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

How did Zack Snyder end up directing Justice League in the first place?

Warner Bros. had been talking about making a Justice League movie for years, and came close in the late ’00s, when George Miller was set to direct a version starring Armie Hammer as Batman and Megan Gale as Wonder Woman.

Advertisement

Wait, George “Mad Max: Fury Road” Miller was originally supposed to direct Warner Bros.’ Justice League movie?

Yeah, but this was before the era of superhero cinematic universes, so it wasn’t quite “Warner Bros.’ Justice League movie” yet. Miller’s version was scrapped, partly due to the 2007–08 writers’ strike, partly because the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies pushed the studio in a different direction, and partly because of a tax-credit dispute with the nation of Australia, which wanted more Australians cast in the movie. (Unfortunately, Chris Hemsworth was not yet A Thing.)

So why did Warner Bros. take another run at Justice League

Because Marvel released The Avengers in 2012, and Warner Bros. and DC saw its box office results and decided they, too, should be in the Superhero Cinematic Universe business. At 2014’s Comic-Con, Warner Bros. laid out its road map for the DC Extended Universe, and confirmed that Zack Snyder would direct a Justice League film after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice—part of a road map that would have included solo films for Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Green Lantern by the end of 2017. Those other movies never materialized, but by 2016, Snyder was at work on a planned two-part Justice League saga. However, negative reviews and lukewarm box office for Batman v Superman, which fell off nearly 70 percent in its second weekend, caused the studio to scale back its plans again, reworking Justice League as a single, stand-alone film.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Why didn’t Zack Snyder finish directing Justice League?

By all accounts, the production of Justice League was a difficult one, with executives and additional writers working to lighten the tone of Snyder’s movie. Then, on March 12, 2017, with Justice League still in postproduction, Snyder’s 20-year-old daughter Autumn died by suicide. Eleven days later, Snyder tweeted out the first poster for the film, but after his personal tragedy, Snyder said, he “lost the will to fight” for his original vision. On May 22, Snyder and his wife and longtime producer, Deborah, announced they were stepping down from the production. Snyder explained his thinking to the Hollywood Reporter:

In my mind, I thought it was a cathartic thing to go back to work, to just bury myself and see if that was the way through it. The demands of this job are pretty intense. It is all-consuming. And in the last two months, I’ve come to the realization … I’ve decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me. They are all having a hard time. I’m having a hard time.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Warner Bros. announced that Avengers screenwriter Joss Whedon would be finishing the film in Snyder’s absence.

Who hired Joss Whedon, and why?

Originally, Warner Bros. said that Snyder himself had brought Joss Whedon on board, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Warner Bros. executive Geoff Johns, who was already working with Whedon on a Batgirl movie, brought Whedon on for rewrites and had already raised the possibility of him directing new scenes before Snyder withdrew. When Snyder stepped back, Warner Bros. handed the movie off to Whedon.

Whedon—who, crucially, wrote and directed The Avengers for Marvel—rewrote most of Snyder’s version and shot extensive reshoots over the summer of 2017. The rapturous reception that greeted Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins’ sunnier contribution to the DCEU, confirmed to Warner Bros. that a lighter tone was the way to go.

Advertisement
Advertisement

What’s all this about Joss Whedon’s on-set behavior during the Justice League reshoots?

On July 1, 2020, actor Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg, tweeted that Whedon had been “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” during the reshoots. Fisher initially didn’t give many details, saying he was still bound by a nondisclosure agreement, but when Warner Bros. launched an investigation in August, he tweeted that Whedon and Warner Bros. executives Geoff Johns and Jon Berg all shared responsibility for creating a toxic environment on set. Whedon has never responded to the charges.

Advertisement

Did other actors confirm Fisher’s allegations?

Yes, although only in general terms. In September, Jason Momoa backed up Fisher’s claims in an Instagram post, writing, “Serious stuff went down. It needs to be investigated and people need to be held accountable.” In an October interview with Forbes, Fisher described the reshoots:

Advertisement

Race was just one of the issues with the reshoot process. There were massive blowups, threats, coercion, taunting, unsafe work conditions, belittling, and gaslighting like you wouldn’t believe.

Whedon’s public image, already damaged since his ex-wife Kai Cole’s open letter from November 2017 detailing his infidelities during their marriage, imploded and took more damage this year as the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV show that made Whedon a household name, began to share their own stories of his behavior.

How did Joss Whedon’s version of Justice League turn out?

Not well! Critics hated it, but more importantly, so did fans. The movie made $657 million worldwide, which seems impressive until you realize it’s less than half what Whedon’s Avengers earned, and downright piddling next to Avengers: Endgame’s $2.7 billion. Rather than supercharging the DCEU, Justice League turned out to be the lowest-grossing movie in the franchise’s history, which caused the studio to scrap its plans and follow the example set by the sunnier, and much more successful, Wonder Woman.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

When did the idea emerge that a superior Zack Snyder version of the film existed?

Fans began tweeting with the #SnyderCut hashtag the day after Justice League’s Nov. 17, 2017, release, but the movement to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut began in earnest in early 2018, with an online petition gathering nearly 180,000 signatures.

Did a Snyder Cut of Justice League actually exist at that point?

It depends what you mean by “cut.” According to Vanity Fair, Snyder did leave the production with a four-hour version of Justice League on his laptop. But it was “devoid of visual effects, music, and all the fine-tuning that make a movie a movie”—which is to say it would have been nearly unwatchable for anyone who’s not familiar with rough assemblies of effects-driven superhero blockbusters. So there was, technically, a version of Justice League that had been cut together by Zack Snyder. But the fact that it eventually took a reported $70 million to finish that footage indicates how far from being #releasable it actually was.

Advertisement

Who are the fans who have been pushing to see Snyder’s Justice League cut?

It’s a broad-based coalition. There are Zack Snyder die-hards mad that the studio undercut his vision, not just for the movie but for the DCEU as a whole, some of whom have been downright toxic in their demands—even driving Warner Bros.’ Geoff Johns off social media entirely. More recently, there are those who consider the theatrical cut tainted by Whedon’s alleged harassment and want his fingerprints removed. And there are disappointed DC fans who just hope there’s a better version of the movie out there. The release of the Snyder Cut has raised the specter of corporations giving in to the worst elements of modern fandom, but its completion has as much to do with Warner Bros. wanting to boost subscriptions to HBO Max—especially after a year in which theatrical revenue took a huge hit—as anything else.

Advertisement
Advertisement

When did Warner Bros. decide to actually finish Snyder’s version?

That’s kind of an interesting question! In November of 2019, on the second anniversary of Justice League’s release, stars Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck both made social media posts urging Warner Bros. to release Snyder’s version.

From the outside, it looked like the fix was already in, but according to Snyder, Warner Bros. didn’t contact him to see if there was any way to release his version of the film until after Gadot and Affleck joined the cause. Even then, their initial plan was to simply release Snyder’s rough assemble as is.

They wanted to just dump it on HBO Max without finishing it?

Advertisement

Apparently! Snyder told them that was a hard no, and the studio committed to spending $20 million to $30 million to finish the film. Snyder announced that the Snyder Cut was definitely, officially coming, for real this time, after an online screening of Man of Steel in March of 2020.

I’m guessing it went over budget.

And how! Snyder eventually had to do reshoots with the original cast, raising the cost to somewhere around the $70 million mark. That’s enough money to make six Citizen Kanes, even accounting for inflation!

Advertisement

What’s different about the Snyder Cut?

A lot! According to Snyder, Whedon may have rewritten and reshot as much as three-quarters of his Justice League. According to producer Deborah Snyder, there’s only one newly shot scene, involving Jared Leto’s Joker, but that leaves huge masses of stuff that Whedon cut out of Snyder’s version (some of which, given the Snyder Cut’s nearly four-hour length, Snyder would probably have cut as well). Some of the most notable parts, based on the trailers and published reports:

Advertisement
Advertisement

• Darkseid. The villain of Joss Whedon’s Justice League is Steppenwolf, a massively powerful, world-wrecking creature who DC fans know is still just an underling for Darkseid, who has historically been the Justice League’s greatest nemesis. Snyder’s original plan was for the first Justice League to tease Darkseid’s appearance and for him to be the principal villain in the second, but when the second movie was scrapped, Darkseid got cut out of the first. If you’re a fan of his hangers-on DeSaad and Granny Goodness, well, we’ve got more good news.

• The Knightmare. Batman v Superman features several inexplicable—and, thanks to Whedon’s reworking, never-to-be-explained—scenes foreshadowing Snyder’s Justice League, including an appearance by a ponytailed, time-traveling Flash who warns Bruce Wayne that “Lois is the key!” and a nightmare that seems to prophesy Darkseid’s conquest of Earth. The Snyder Cut gives us more of those visions, although the future they foretell is extremely unlikely to ever make it to the screen.

Advertisement
Advertisement

• The history of the Mother Boxes. Snyder told journalists visiting the set of Justice League in 2016 that the movie would feature flashbacks tracing the history of the movie’s Mother Boxes—basically three magical cubes that, when joined, will destroy life on Earth as we know it—through the ancient history of the Amazons, Atlanteans, and humans. Those sequences, which appeared in extremely truncated form in Whedon’s movie, have returned, and along with them what would have been the first appearances of Willem Dafoe’s Vulko and Amber Heard’s Mera.

• Henry Cavill’s actual clean-shaven face. Henry Cavill was in the middle of playing Mission: Impossible—Fallout’s mustachioed villain when he was called back for reshoots, so every new Superman scene in Whedon’s version features Cavill with an extremely unconvincing digital upper lip. No reshoots means no moustache, which means that the Snyder Cut’s lips are all Cavill’s own.

Advertisement
Advertisement

• Origins and backstories for Cyborg and the Flash. Much of the material Whedon cut had to do with establishing Victor Stone (Cyborg) and Barry Allen (the Flash) as full-fledged members of the DCEU. (A stand-alone Flash movie, currently scheduled for 2022, has gone through several sets of writers and directors; a prospective Cyborg movie was canceled altogether, and Fisher says that after he spoke up, scenes featuring Cyborg were removed from The Flash as well.) That footage is back, including a scene, shot for Justice League and then deleted, introducing Kiersey Clemons as Barry’s eventual wife, Iris West.

Advertisement
Advertisement

• Tom Holkenborg’s score. As part of Justice League’s retooling, the entire score by Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, was discarded, replaced with music by Batman composer Danny Elfman. Elfman’s music tends to carry an undercurrent of whimsy (he famously wrote the theme for The Simpsons), but the snippets of his Justice League score that Holkenborg has shared are straight-up bombastic, with pounding drums and earth-shaking bass (not for nothing does he sometimes collaborate with Hans Zimmer). Even the scenes that both Justice Leagues share in common are likely to feel very different with Holkenborg’s music underneath them.

Advertisement

• A scene where the entire Justice League goes out for shawarma. Not really, just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.

Do I … actually want to watch the Snyder Cut?

Well, look, I don’t know your life. The Snyder Cut is—and I cannot stress this enough—almost four hours long, which is a lot of Zack Snyder even for Zack Snyder fans. But if the Ultimate Edition is the only version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that you’d consider sullying your eyeballs with—or you’ve just had enough of that dumb Russian family—knock yourself out.

Advertisement