The famed director has not been simply replaced — he’s being erased.
After years of speculation, fan fervor, hopeful expectations, and, finally, funding and reshoots, the world is being graced with the mythical release known as The Snyder Cut. This is the entirely revamped version of the misbegotten superhero opus ”Justice League” (JL), debuting on HBO-Max. It is a multi-chapter, 4-hour epic — and it does not contain a trace of former, backup director Joss Whedon.
Whedon, the one-time darling of Hollywood and hero of a generation of fan-boys, has not only fallen on hard times but has also fallen completely out of favor — and it remains to be seen if he will resurface once again in the industry. The odds are he will (bankability will always turn heads in Burbank, after all), but if he becomes ostracized, it will be understandable. His efforts on ”Justice League’’ becoming deleted are both noticed and symbolic.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of the film, here is the brief backstory. Warner Brothers has the theatrical rights to the DC Comics superhero characters. After years of lagging behind the more successful Marvel films, Warner/DC was poised to achieve its own broadened stature. Marvel had seen massive returns with the combined hero universe leading up to ”The Avengers,’’ and Warners had similar plans. ”Justice League’’ would become both its magnum releas,e as well as being a launching pad for new characters to have their own franchises.
But after sinking about $300 million into the production, problems erupted. Along with the expected studio battles, after initial photography director Zach Snyder had a family tragedy, when his daughter committed suicide. There are conflicting stories on whether Snyder was removed from the studio or he chose to step away, but the completion of the film was turned over to Joss Whedon, who had directed two of the ”Avengers’’ movies.
One of the bigger issues was that Snyder had shot his principal scenes on film, while Whedon shot his new footage digitally. To go with this was Whedon’s story and dialogue sported a looser and comedic tone, in contrast to Snyder’s darker vision. The film severely underperformed during its holiday 2017 run and, despite sporting box office returns of $650 million worldwide, the studio lost at least $100 million, once marketing costs are factored in.
In the ensuing years, fans had expressed hope at seeing Zach Snyder return to complete his vision; meanwhile Whedon endured his share of controversies. That previous summer, he had a sexual harassment charge emerge, but this was just prior to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the ensuing #MeToo movement. He mostly avoided instant cancellation, as so many had experienced. But his past has caught up to him.
As more stories came out of his abusive behavior on the set of his breakout TV show ”Buffy The Vampire Slayer,’’ his dark cloud gained permanence when Ray Fisher, who played the character Cyborg in ”JL’’ confirmed some of the behavior he, and others, experienced during the reshoots of their film. As a result, this seems to have led to his stepping down from his current project last November, the TV drama for HBO, “The Nevers.”
Whedon gave a statement that he was doing so out of exhaustion. More than the timing seems to be at play. Despite some words of agreement from the network, there is also the reality that HBO is a division of Warners. His departure also signals another reality; despite a name attached to significant cultural properties and with works earning into the billions of dollars, currently Whedon does not have anything in production nor any announced plans for work.
Now, with all the attention on the new version of ”Justice League,’’ just released on March 18, Whedon is finding himself further fading from significance. Rave reviews have been pouring in for the new version of the film, with most attesting to the fact that this truly is Snyder’s cut of his vision. Not only has Joss Whedon seen his work on the landmark film completely eliminated, but he has also begun to face a reality that his services may no longer be in demand in the industry.
As fellow entertainment writer and my podcast partner, Paul Young has attested during our recent broadcast, this movie carries that tone. “You need to see this film,” he informed me, “if for no other reason than to wash out the taste of Joss Whedon from your mouth.” It will be worth watching to see if Hollywood feels the same way in the years ahead.