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There is a Groundswell to Re-release ‘Justice League’, but There is Little Reason

Director Zack Snyder, from left, and actors Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, and Henry Cavill (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

With stars joining the grassroots push for Zach Snyder’s version the voices are louder, but no more sensible.

This weekend the fanboy social media universe had an upwelling of excitement. Both Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot tweeted out a simple hashtag — #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. For two cast members of a now deposed superhero film to do wass giving credence to a long-in-the-works fan movement.

It was just about two years ago that the Warner Brothers/DC Entertainment production “Justice League” landed, and the aftershocks are still being felt at the studio. Positioned as the next grand phase of the DC Comics cinematic universe the film stumbled on multiple levels, and Warners has been off balance with its property since.

When “Justice League” was released it was done so with numerous intentions. It was supposed to be a grand epic on the scale of “The Avengers”, it was going to be the introduction of numerous characters and launch independent films for each, and it was supposed to see the Warners/DC universe rise to the level close to that achieved by the Marvel films. It fell short on almost all those counts, and it is regarded as one of the bigger misfires in comic book film history.

The movie was a failure financially, dramatically, from a franchise perspective and as a standalone property. There were issues during its production which became massive problems after the initial shooting was completed. An anticipated sequel had been set for this year but that became delayed for a standalone ‘’Batman’’ film, which itself has never materialized and has now seen Ben Affleck departing from the role entirely. Thee problems for the studio have unspooled and led to many in the executive offices concerned with the franchise having departed.

 

The Shaky Foundations
The central issue on the bad fortunes of ‘’Justice League’’ has to do with director Zack Snyder, a name that nearly defines the term ‘’polarizing’’. Snyder is a director of numerous comic book adaptations and his presence in being involved in a film generates equal parts admiration and revulsion. Snyder’s comic films have a trademark darkness, in both visuals and storylines. Muted colors and gauzy set pieces populate his heavy reliance on computer imagery. His murky realms can be considered distancing, and this is a problem when a studio hands over its biggest property.

Problems began to emerge right way when shooting of the film began in the Spring of 2016. Snyder’s last film, ‘’Batman Vs. Superman’’, was currently in theaters and the studio became uneasy. Despite the fact that “BvS” eventually became profitable it was seen that it ended making money due to being seen as an event picture, rather than drawing on long term affection. It sported a massive opening over $165 million, but experienced one of the largest second-week drops ever. Gradually there became a wave of negative word-of-mouth about that film, and this got the studio nervous about its new venture.

Rewrites to the script were taking place by producer Geoff Johns, which angered some on the production. The studio was also beginning to question Snyder’s vision after the negative responses to “BvS”. Following the production Snyder showed an initial cut of the film to executives and they were underwhelmed. Kyle Buchanan, writing at The Vulture, said the studio began holding screenings with numerous writers, which included famed writer/director Joss Whedon, to see how things may get repaired.

Adding to the turmoil was then CEO of Warners, Kevin Tsujihara, placing demands on the film. Possibly looking at the negativity swirling around “BvS” he issued the order that “Justice League had to be cut to a 2 hour run time. (“BvS” was over 151 minutes. “JL” was trimmed to 1 hour, 59 minutes.) Then, as if there were not enough problems swirling, tragedy struck.

 

Snyder Out For Good
In May 2017 Zach Snyder pulled himself out of the work of post-production on the film, due to the death of his 20 year old daughter. The studio turned to Whedon to undertake some significant rewrites as well as shoot numerous new scenes for the completed film. This led to problems, such as a noticeable shift in tones throughout the movie, with Whedon’s trademark levity appearing in contrast to the somber nature of Snyder’s work.

There was also a ridiculous technical challenge that has become legendary. Henry Cavill, as Superman, was committed to filming “Mission Impossible 6” in England. While Paramount allowed him to fly back to the States at times that studio had a requirement: the mustache that his character had could not be shorn during production. Faced with a hard deadline of the holiday season the “JL” production found itself forced to shoot Cavill in costume with facial hair, and then digitally remove his mustache. The result is an uncomfortable, and at times laughable display on screen; you almost get the “uncanny valley” effect in watching a live human.

Once “Justice League” was released is was notable in its failings. Throughout the weekend of its debut, the predictions kept getting scaled back, and by Monday it was known the movie would not even break the $100 million mark, well below initial projections. Things only stagnated through the holidays, with the film only totaling just over $225 million in North America. Overall it grossed about $650 million worldwide, except that with a budget of $300 million (estimated to be the costliest film) it needed to clear over $750 million to see a profit.

Warners faced a loss of over $100 million at the box office, and only recouped $50 million in the home market. For this event picture that was supposed to launch a new universe to fail this miserably was stark and set back the entire DC slate at Warners. The only saving grace was the following Christmas “Aquaman” proved to be a hit for the studio.

This new hybrid version of the original version of Zack Snyder is not a quality affair. The reasons fans rebelled are rather evident. The dark tones at times make things difficult to see, let alone get absorbed into while watching. Case in point; things are so muddled the Batmobile, always a notable feature in these titles, is barely acknowledged by fans.

The storyline of Steppenwolf coming from another realm to reclaim 3 boxes of power to destroy Earth is a stretch for even the most generous of viewers. Superman being dead had to be addressed of course, so we get that patch job in the plot of having him regenerated by the ship that previously brought Zod to life, a recycled plotline. (To say nothing of having to watch as his coffin is dug up in a cemetery.)

The entire enterprise is one where you feel disconnected. The CGI work is so pervasive that the entire affair feels artificial, and when dealing with characters possessing otherworldly powers you need to immerse the crowd in order to make that believable. The visuals feel fake, and much of the time you feel like you are viewing them through a veil, which only extends that problem.

The question: would the actual cut that the director intended prove to be that much of an improvement? As one voice I would have to say I am dubious. I am certain that Snyder had a specific vision, and he has been lobbying that his cut of the film gets some kind of release for the public. It is still possible, in maybe a DVD/VOD release. Warners has balked at this idea in the past, but many of the executives around for the “Justice League” production are gone. Tjujihara has stepped down, and Johns has moved on to another venture, as have others. It remains possible the new suits could be swayed, but there would have to be an assurance of it being cost-effective to do so.

At a fundraiser screening of his film in March Snyder was asked about a curious number on the poster for the event — 214. The director confirmed that this alluded to the run time of his director’s cut of “Justice League”. In looking over the current film it does not seem like a 3.5 hour cut would be the fix. There are numerous issues with “Justice League”. It seems like the solution is not going to be “more”.