Explaining 'The Snyder Cut,' Zack Snyder's Lost Version of 'Justice League'

So what exactly is ‘The Snyder Cut’ & why did fans want it released so badly? Here’s what happened when HBO Max premiered ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’.

Justice League
Warner Bros.

Image via Warner Bros.

Justice League

Remember Justice League?

What was originally supposed to be a cinematic event for the DC Extended Universe that matched the hype and anticipation levels of The Avengers never fully reached the, ahem, marvel of its competitor. The team-up movie between Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg was released in the fall of 2017, losing an estimated $60 million and failing to break even on its production budget of $300 million.

In the years since its release, there have been numerous attempts to Monday Morning Quarterback the situation, with a number of potential different solutions. The most accurate of these is that Warner Bros. simply tried to do too much, too soon. While Marvel and Kevin Feige took their time—albeit with a few stumbles along the way—to build Avengers into something meaningful for its audience, Warner Bros. didn’t have the same luxury, as they had to try and play catchup to an already dominant force. In short, Justice League was reactionary, just like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was before it; each movie tried to respond to the criticisms of the film prior, spectacularly missing the point each time. The other main point is the film’s rocky production. For those unaware, director Zack Snyder was initially at the helm of the film, before dropping out due to a family tragedy; Warner Bros. then enlisted Avengers director Joss Whedon to come in and rework the script through a series of reshoots that involved a horribly removed mustache among other things.

After the film’s failure, the DCEU largely moved away from the dour, joyless tones Snyder had imbued into Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League opting for a full turn into a lighter, bouncer feel readily seen in films like Aquaman and especially Shazam!. But for a certain devoted group of fans, there was always a desire to see what Snyder’s vision of the film could be...and thus #ReleaseTheSnyderCut was born. What follows is a story about a lot of different things: fans who feel inherent ownership of a property and are therefore entitled to a certain outcome, how social media can be weaponized, and what means to ultimately be a “real fan.” It also discusses the allegations Ray Fisher (who portrayed Cyborg in Justice League) has made against Whedon about what happened during his time on the Justice League set, all of which culminated in the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max on March 19, 2021.

If this is somehow the first time you’re learning about what The Snyder Cut is and means, I envy your ability to live a happy and healthy life. The movement, if you want to call it such, is based on the idea that Warner is somehow sitting on a finished, pre-Whedon Snyder cut of the film, that they refuse to release in order to protect the version that was ultimately released in 2017. Most of this speculation initially hinged on shots from the first trailer that didn’t end up in the final version of the film, leading to a larger conspiracy that there was something afoot. The first salvo was a Change.org petition that asked Warner Bros. to include Snyder’s version with the film on a home release. From there, the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag became a rallying cry amongst certain groups within the DCEU fandom. But most interestingly, Snyder himself and some of his collaborators began fanning the flames, confirming that yes a cut exists, and going so far as to reveal the drastic differences in plot and tone that it would’ve contained.

Zack Snyder and 'Justice League' cast at CinemaCon 2017

Perhaps Snyder was emboldened by Aquaman. Jason Momoa was one of the first people to publicly acknowledge the different cut and imply it had different narrative implications, explaining to Chris Van Vliet that “Zack’s cut” had a different ending involving his Aquaman co-stars Amber Heard and Willem Dafoe that would’ve set the stage for where his solo film opened. Momoa leveled up from acknowledgment to direct support the next time he mentioned it, when he admitted to MTV News that he, like the legions of fanboys trolling the annals of twitter and Reddit, was “obsessed” with the idea of a Snyder Cut, emphatically stating “Fuck yeah, I wanna see it” while also hinting at studio politics being the reason we hadn’t already. “That’s one thing that sucks with our business,” he said, “Where you just can’t speak your mind.”

From then on, Snyder’s used social media (especially Vero, his platform of choice) to incrementally tease what his original vision of Justice League contained. Here is where it’s prudent to recall that the original plan for Justice League intended for what was essentially a two-part film. Then, when the Batman v Superman reaction was largely sour, DCEU brass realized people were barely willing to give one Justice League movie a chance, and hastily buried plans for an immediate sequel. Anyway, Part One would’ve heralded the arrival of Darkseid, an intergalactic warlord who isn’t really far off from the version of Thanos depicted in the Avengers films. (Let’s just say if he did half of what he did on the ‘90s-aughts Bruce Timm cartoons, which included brutally beating Superman then brainwashing him to hate and destroy Earth, his on-screen depiction in the hands of Zack Snyder of all people would’ve been savage.) Batfleck’s "Knightmare" fever dreams of a villainous Superman and Parademons—Darkseid foot soldiers from his base planet Apokolips—in BvS, as well as Lex Luthor’s ominous warnings in the climax, were heavy enough hints that he was the DCEU’s Big Bad. Justice League enlisting Steppenwolf as the main villain only confirmed it—Steppenwolf is, primarily, a Darkseid lieutenant.

Of course, no such rocky-faced being makes a grand entrance in the final Justice League cut. But about a year ago, Snyder shared sketches of Darkseid’s likeness, following that up a few months later with the bombshell that character actor Ray Porter was set to play him. He tripled down on that thread not too long ago with more sketches of a younger version of the villain in battle, captioned “Uxas,” i.e. Darkseid’s pre-megalomaniac government name. That implied we were due for a flashback explaining his origins and original beef with the Atlanteans, Amazonians and humanity. The Zack Snyder OG Cut dispatches got shadier, too. He captioned a storyboard revealing Wonder Woman would’ve killed Steppenwolf in his version with “Not sure how they killed Steppenwolf in the theatrical version...but I use Gods to kill Gods.” So he didn’t even see the uh, Whedon Cut, then huh? Ouch.

It’s around this time that we got confirmation of The Cut from someone outside of the DCEU, when Kevin Smith appeared on CinemaBlend’s Reel Blend podcast to corroborate its existence. “I've not seen it firsthand...That being said, I’ve spoken now to enough people at various levels in that production. There IS a Snyder cut. That's not a mythical beast.” Smith went on to allege that most of what Snyder shot before exiting was pre-visual effects and therefore not suitable as a coherent, finished film to ever be shown.

Snyder Cut

The 'Snyder Cut' of 'Justice League' made official

Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Zack Snyder working on Zack Snyder's Justice League
Ray Fisher as Cyborg in 'Zack Snyder's Justice League'
Zack Snyder's Justice League

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