Ahead of the arrival of Zack Snyder’s heavily reworked director’s cut of Justice League arriving on HBO Max next month, the story behind the troubled production of Joss Whedon’s version is coming to light. In a new profile in Vanity Fair, Snyder and those close to the production of 2017’s Justice League opened up about the tragedy that led to his exit, the “passionate” fanbase, why he returned to the project after the fact, and what Warner Bros. thought of Whedon’s extensive reshoots.
The Avengers director took over Justice League when Snyder exited post-production duties to be with his family following his 20-year-old daughter Autumn’s death by suicide. “From what Snyder can gather,” VF writer Anthony Breznican writes, Whedon reshot roughly three-quarters of the film. The result was met with a mixed-to-negative critical reception, and fans were mostly unhappy with how Snyder’s vision was essentially tossed aside for what some might call a more typical superhero movie.
One Warner Bros. executive was particuarly scathing about what Whedon did to the project. “When we got to see what Joss actually did, it was stupefying,” said the exec, who remained anonymous. “The robber on the rooftop—so goofy and awful. The Russian family—so useless and pointless. Everyone knew it. It was so awkward because nobody wanted to admit what a piece of shit it was.”
When fans campaigned to get the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League released, Warner Bros. and Snyder took notice. Initially he was contacted about lightly brushing up and releasing the four-hour he shot, but Snyder said that was a “hard no” for him. Instead, he wanted to do some reshoots of his own, simply because he didn’t trust the studio to make good on that.
“They’re like, ’But why? You can just put up the rough cut,’” Snyder explained. “I go, ’Here’s why. Three reasons: One, you get the internet off your back, which is probably your main reason for wanting to do this. Two, you get to feel vindicated for making things right, I guess, on some level. And then three, you get a shitty version of the movie that you can point at and go, ‘See? It’s not that good anyway. So maybe I was right.’ I was like, No chance. I would rather just have the Snyder cut be a mythical unicorn for all time.”
The estimated budget for the reshoots is around $70 million or so, Snyder says. The resulting product is, as he once intended, four hours long—double the length of Whedon’s version. Despite the cost, the director said he’s intentionally not getting paid for the #SnyderCut work. “I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone, and it allowed me to keep my negotiating powers with these people pretty strong,” he added, indicating it really is a passion project for him.
That’s clearly a very different situation than how he was treated during the film’s original production, where creative limits were imposed on him more. After he shared an early cut before he exited post-production, he was informed that Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara mandated the movie only be two hours max. “How am I supposed to introduce six character and an alien with potential for world domination in two hours? I mean, I can do it, it can be done. Clearly it was done. But I didn’t see it,” he added.
In the profile, Snyder revealed he still hasn’t seen Whedon’s cut, even if he was initially hopeful about his involvement. Christopher Nolan and Snyder’s wife and producer Deborah saw a private screening of Whedon’s version, and told Zack he should “never see that movie.” Deborah said she “knew it would break his heart.”
As for how he feels about the overly passionate fans that helped green light the release of the Snyder Cut, he said he doesn’t agree with some of the more abusive tactics they engaged in. “I 100 percent think it’s wrong. I don’t think that anyone should be calling anyone anything. I’ve always tried to give people in the fandom attention who do good things.”
The Snyder Cut will finally premiere on HBO Max on March 18, and it ends with a tribute to his late daughter. “At the end of the movie, it says ‘For Autumn,’” Snyder said. “Without her, this absolutely would not have happened.” His fan base has already contributed half a million dollars to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Snyder hopes the tribute to Autumn—and the #SnyderCut overall—will continue to raise both awareness and money for suicide prevention programs. On that note, if you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.