The Genesis of Justice League
Justice League was produced as the fifth film in the DC Extended Universe. It was supposed to be the first climax of the franchise, and expectations and pressure were correspondingly high - especially considering the enormous success of Marvel's competition with the Avengers. In May 2017, six months before the movie's release, director Zack Snyder announced that he would not finish work on Justice League himself following a family tragedy. Principal photography started in April 2016 and ended in October 2016, after which Snyder was busy with post-production. At the time, there was already a rough cut, which Snyder is also said to have shown in the inner circle. According to the report at the time, Joss Whedon was only supposed to write a few additional scenes that Snyder wanted to reshoot. After the above incident, however, Whedon took over the shooting of these scenes and the complete finalization of the film. So he probably worked a bit on Justice League before Snyder's exit and was supposed to help finish Snyder's vision.
While it was first said from officials that the reshoots would be minimal and most of it would be the footage from the main shoot, news came a little later that the reshoots would stretch over a two-month period and be more extensive than the public suspected (which was reported again at the end of July 2017). Again, fans were first reassured that this was only due to the busy schedules of the actors. Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) was replaced in this course by Danny Elfman, who composed a completely different soundtrack. And also overall, Whedon made the film even less gloomy in terms of the basic tone. In addition, the ending was changed (originally planned as a cliffhanger, since Justice League was announced as a two-parter in 2012).
Was Joss Whedon just a stopgap replacement or was Snyder fired?
It was later reported that Snyder was in fact fired by Warner because his film was "unwatchable" (which does not necessarily mean "bad", but could also simply mean "not in line with the studio's ideas", such as "too dark after all" or something else) and it was speculated that Warner might have just been looking for an excuse in the family tragedy to explain this circumstance and change of director to the public.
When the film finally hit theaters in November 2017, the disillusionment that had already been feared due to all the chaos became apparent: entire characters were cut out, the plot was changed (the ending, as already mentioned, as well), Elfman's soundtrack remained mostly rather pale (as he later admitted, he had to compose on storyboard images) and there were a few "Whedon-typical comedy interludes".
In reality, there was hardly anything left of "it should help to finish Snyder's vision" in the end, even if shortly before the theatrical release, producer Charles Roven was still saying that about 80-85% of the theatrical version would be by Snyder and during that time, big plans were still being made for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), for example with the sequel to Justice League, as well as individual films on Batman with Ben Affleck, The Flash, Cyborg and Green Lantern Corps.
Poor box office and angry fanbase: #ReleaseTheSnyderCut
But what else did those involved have to say until the film's release, with plenty of money at stake with an estimated production cost of $300 million? Especially after Batman v Superman didn't gross as much in theaters as Warner Bros. studio bosses had hoped ($873 million instead of the more than $1 billion they probably wanted), they took the reviews in stride, some of which complained that the film was too dark and too serious. They were probably expecting an "easier" film to consume like most other comic book adaptations. More gags to lighten things up and a slightly lighter mood. So the pressure grew on Zack Snyder for the following Justice League; the studio expected something different from its predecessor. This movie had to pull it out. But the theatrical version didn't; they even fell short of Man of Steel (2013) and Suicide Squad (2016) (see comparison) in terms of box office.
The film was nowhere near as successful as hoped, Ben Affleck no longer wanted to be Batman, the sequel and the individual films were put on hold for the time being, and Warner' s/DC's plan to release three films a year in theaters, like competitor Marvel Studios did, died as well. However, voices were quickly raised that wanted to see Snyder's film version released. In addition to a fan petition that ended up with nearly 180,000 signatures, cast and crew members such as Fabian Wagner (Cinematographer), Ciaran Hinds (Steppenwolf), Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Ben Affleck (Batman) and others supported the request. Zack Snyder also kept releasing new behind-the-scenes photos. The "#ReleaseTheSnyderCut" fan movement also campaigned intensively for years for a release of the original version, placing billboards and ads at bus stops at Comic-Con 2019, among other things.
Believe the Hype: Snyder, Cast & Crew Are Riling Up Fans With Hints
It has been confirmed by various people that the "Snyder Cut" exists, according to Claims Zack (concept artist) Snyder shot all the scenes, except for the few planned reshoots, at the time, only the visual effects were not all ready. Jason Momoa also stated several times that he had seen the cut during a meeting with Snyder. In addition, Junkie XL confirmed that his soundtrack for the film was completely finished and VFX supervisors John Desjardin and Bryan Hirota stated in November 2019 that many visual effects had also been created.
In late November 2019, it was reported that Whedon was reshooting around 80 script pages, which by rule of thumb would be about 80 minutes from the theatrical version, which was already quite short at 120 minutes. The short runtime of the theatrical version seemed uncharacteristic of Snyder anyway, as he likes to deliver very long works, especially with his comic book adaptations [Man of Steel: 143 min, Batman v Superman: 152 min. (theatrical)/183 min. (Ultimate Cut) (see comparison), Watchmen: 155 min. (theatrical)/186 min. (DC)/215 min. (Ultimate Cut) (see comparison)] and especially when there are three main characters, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg, who have to be newly introduced and didn't get a solo movie or backstory before.
There were also rumors about a release of the "Snyder Cut" on Warner's streaming service "HBO Max", which launched in May 2020. In early December 2019, Zack Snyder finally published a photo of film cans with the inscription "JL Director's Cut, Running Time: 214" and once again personally confirmed the existence of its original version. By the way, the running time of more than three hours, or exactly 214 minutes, was already reported in 2017 and in March 2019. As he wrote, the long running time is also not a rough cut version, because that went about five hours.
Chris Terrio (writer) stated in an interview about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker when asked that he couldn't say anything about it yet, but would eventually. According to Fabian Wagner (Cinematographer), only 10% of the theatrical version was actually shot by Snyder, with everything else being Whedon's reshot scenes. This is the complete opposite of what producer Charles Roven said shortly before the theatrical release at the time, who, as mentioned above, spoke of 80-85% being by Snyder.
The release of Zack Snyder's Justice League
Warner Bros.' own streaming service "HBO Max" launched in the U.S. on May 27, 2020. After a few days before the reports piled up on various film sites, which claimed to have learned from various sources of an imminent announcement of Zack Snyder's original version, it was finally officially confirmed on May 20, 2020 after two and a half years of waiting.
This was because, as Zack Synder announced on his Vero profile after the Man of Steel watch party in a Q&A in which Henry Cavill also participated, the "Snyder Cut" should be available to watch on "HBO Max" in 2021. As Hollywood Reporter reported at the time, the effects were to be completed by then, as well as the rest of the post-production. Additional costs of between $20 million and $30 million were expected, according to the report, and a few months later The Wrap even spoke of $70 million.
When it was announced in May 2020, reshoots for new scenes were still strictly denied. At the end of September 2020, however, it was then reported that Zack Synder was at least reshooting something with Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher and Jared Leto. As he revealed in an interview, it was about four to five minutes of footage: as it turned out, another "Knightmare scene", which was already shown in a different form in Batman v Superman. The initial plan was to release the film as a four-part miniseries, each running about an hour. The plan was then discarded, however, and the title was released as a continuous film, but divided into six chapters including an epilogue.
The Snyder Cut: Much longer and a bit more violent
What could be expected: the "Snyder Cut" would not simply be a greatly extended version of the film, but a completely different film with totally different music, partly new characters and many new and different storylines. There was reason to be curious.
In the U.S., the director's cut titled as Zack Snyder's Justice League started on March 18, 2021 on "HBO Max". As with the Ultimate Cut of Batman v Superman, there was again an "R" rating issued by the MPA as opposed to the PG-13 that the first theatrical version received in 2017. Scenes that are very likely responsible for the "R" rating are the dead Superman with the hole in his chest, Wonder Woman throwing one of the terrorists against the wall and his head leaving a big bloody stain there, Darkseid's fight with the Green Lantern (whose hand he cuts off in bloody fashion) and Ares in the flashback, as well as Steppenwolf's death. And, of course, a few more expletives. The Director's Cut's runtime, which was teased in 2019 as being 214 minutes, grew even further: the runtime is 242 minutes in the end. On "HBO Max," another black and white version was released on 25 Mar 2021, called Justice is Gray.
Comparison between Justice League (Theatrical Version) and Zack Snyder's Justice League (Director's Cut / "Snyder Cut").
The differences between the Theatrical Version (2017) and the Director's Cut (2021):
1. The music:
As mentioned above, the music is completely different between the two versions. Tom Holkenborg, who previously worked with Hans Zimmer on the Batman v Superman soundtrack, provided a selection of 54 tracks for the Director's Cut, with a running time of 234 minutes. He also picks up Zimmer's "Flight" theme from Man of Steel at the end. For the Theatrical Version, Danny Elfman compiled 27 tracks with a running time of 101 minutes.
2. The picture format:
There were also changes in the aspect ratio. Was the theatrical version in 1.85:1 or subsequently in 1.78:1 home theater, other image formats for the Director's Cut first buzzed through the Internet, there was even talk of 1.66:1. In the end, however, Snyder opted for his favored 1.33:1 because it comes closest to the IMAX format (1.43:1). Although not shot with IMAX cameras, he wanted to keep open the possibility of showing the title in IMAX theaters in just that format. So the film was already originally geared more toward a vertical format, since superheroes also tend to be less horizontal, according to Snyder, except when they fly. Whether the studio would have brought the film into the "normal" theaters at that time, however, may at least be doubted. Probably they would have insisted on a widescreen format for that and for the home theater.
3. The plot and characters:
Zack Snyder announced in July 2020 that he will not use a single frame that he did not shoot himself, so none of the reshot Joss Whedon scenes are in his version. This also automatically means that all the scenes featured in both versions of Justice League are from Zack Snyder's original 2016 shoot.
But what exactly is different from the Theatrical Version now?
Quite a lot. True, the frame story is the same, which means that Batman teams up with Wonder Woman, Steppenwolf wants to take possession of the Mother Boxes and is the main antagonist of the Justice League, Superman is brought back to life and together they take on Steppenwolf. However, the way to get there is completely different.
Even the beginning is fundamentally different. While in the Theatrical Version we first see a shot of Superman conducting a brief interview with two schoolchildren about his character and the Earth; then a scene of Batman messing with a parademon; as well as some shots of the effects of Superman's death on Lois, Martha and others (underlaid with the song "Everybody Knows"), Zack Snyder first shows us a flashback to the end of the previous film, as he did in Batman v Superman. So here we see again the death of Superman in the fight against Doomsday, Lex Luthor in the spaceship together with the hologram of Steppenwolf and the three mother boxes, as well as the effects of Superman's death: Snyder captures his death cries in images that reach from Cyborg's apartment with the hidden mother box to the hidden Amazon island Themyscira and to the sunken Atlantis, where thereby also the mother boxes are activated. Remember here also Luthor's words in prison in Batman v Superman, when he told Batman that "he" has found us and is coming, now that the "God" is dead.
So Bruce Wayne/Batman is hunting a parademon right at the beginning of the Theatrical Version, in which he uses the fear of a burglar caught in the act to lure it in. So here he already knows about the servants of evil and knows their nature. How? Unclear. After a short fight against the parademon, it destroys itself and leaves behind a sign of the three mother boxes on the wall of the house, in addition to a lot of green blood. The meanwhile tame burglar still gives the explanation bear for the spectators and says, the scouts from the universe come, because Superman is dead.
Theatrical Version Only:
While especially Barry/The Flash and Victor/Cyborg seem relatively pale in the Theatrical Version and their backstories are hardly or only very briefly explored, Zack Snyder takes enough time to introduce the two new characters. Thus, Barry's conversation with his father in prison is longer and he meets Iris West for the first time at an interview for a job, whom he also has to save right away in a traffic accident with the help of his skills. The humor overall is also more appropriate in Snyder's version, especially in the scenes with The Flash.
Director's Cut only:
Victor's past is only elaborated on in Zack Snyder's version. We learn that he was a good football player, stood up for other disadvantaged people, and that his relationship with his father was complicated. We also see that his mother died in a car accident. In the accident that also almost took his life and after which his father Silas Stone used a mother box to save him. Part man and part machine, he must first learn to cope with his new body and feelings. After a conversation with his father, he begins to realize what he is now capable of as a cyborg (including flying and changing digital networks at will).
Director's Cut only:
Arthur/Aquaman also benefits from some additional scenes in Snyder's Director's Cut. For example, his scene with Vulko was completely removed in the Theatrical Version. In it, there is also a brief preview of the Aquaman solo film that will follow story-wise: Arthur's half-brother King Orm and his attempted war with the humans are mentioned once before, and he receives his mother's armor and trident from Vulko (in the Theatrical Version, he gets both from Mera). In the scene we also see a statue of King Atlan and the legendary trident of Poseidon in his hand. This also plays a crucial role in Aquaman.
Director's Cut only:
Through Diana/Wonder Woman, we also learn much more about Darkseid, who was completely removed from the Theatrical Version. She finds millennia-old murals of him in a hidden chamber and tells Bruce Wayne about his first attempt to conquer Earth. In that battle, the humans, Atlanteans and Amazons allied with the Olympian gods and a Green Lantern to fight off the all-powerful alien invaders. This also succeeds when Ares deals out properly against Darkseid and Zeus separates the mother boxes. The three mother boxes are left behind on Earth as the aliens retreat and each race keeps one. Zack Snyder sets up this retrospective in the usual epic way. In the Theatrical Version, all of this is severely shortened or replaced with other scenes and instead of Darkseid, you see Steppenwolf as the leader of the invaders.
Let's stay right with Steppenwolf. The biggest change is the different design. While in the Theatrical Version he has more "human" features and his armor is made of solid material (his helmet here also looks like a real helmet with horns), Snyder's design makes Steppenwolf look more menacing and alien: he has seven fingers on his hands, his armor seems to be alive because the many small plates can move and stand up like spikes, and his helmet is basically an extension of the armor that wraps around his "horns". His motivation also only really comes to light in the Director's Cut. So he wants to conquer Earth for Darkseid, to make up for past mistakes and be allowed to return home. So his relationship with his "boss" Darkseid could be described as strained and difficult. He definitely has to deliver here and can't afford to fail.
As mentioned earlier, Darkseid was replaced by Steppenwolf in the flashback to the first attempt to conquer Earth in the Theatrical Version. So here his motivation in the invasion is to try again and take revenge on the inhabitants of Earth for his disgrace.
During this flashback, in the Theatrical Version, we also see the Earthlings transform into Parademons. They are described as creatures that feed on fear and can scent it. This is also picked up at the end, when the Justice League defeats Steppenwolf, fear strikes him, and he is grabbed by his parademons and goes back to his world through the wormhole. Whether they kill him or what becomes of him remains unclear.
In Snyder's version the whole issue with the "fear" is not mentioned and you don't see people turning into parademons. It is mentioned, however, that the inhabitants of the conquered worlds become parademons. And instead of fear, they smell the scent of the mother boxes; even on people who were close to them.
Theatrical Version Only:
And Clark Kent/Superman? He went through quite a few changes visually, too. For the Theatrical Version, as already mentioned, almost everything was reshot. This includes scenes with Superman, e.g. the interview with the students at the beginning, his short fight against Batman after his revival or scenes at the end. Since Henry Cavill was also in the middle of shooting Mission: Impossible - Fallout for Paramount Pictures during the reshoots and had to wear a moustache because of his role there, which he was not allowed to shave off, this had to be digitally retouched for the Theatrical Version. Unfortunately, the end result didn't look the way they had hoped. We are spared all this in the Director's Cut, because all these scenes are not included.
His suit is also different: Superman wears his typical blue suit with a red cape in the Theatrical Version, and this was also the case during Zack Snyder's 2016 shoot, because he couldn't convince the studio of anything else at the time. For his Director's Cut, however, the studio gave in and so Superman's suit was digitally inserted in a black version. So here he only wears the one he decides to wear on the spaceship. Clark had a choice of blue and red suits, which we have already seen in Man of Steel. By the way: Superman already wears the black suit in one scene there, namely during his nightmare, when he talks to Zod and sinks between the skulls.