Something miraculous happened this week – confirmation of Zack Snyder’s Justice League directors cut.
In many ways I struggled through the DCEU (DC Extended Universe). As an ardent DC fan I felt like the cinematic universe didn’t really explore what made DC great – a sense of optimism and aspiration. At least, that’s how I interpreted it.
There are many reasons the DCEU made the choices it did – beginning with Man of Steel there was a noticeably grittier vibe compared to the more light-hearted MCU. This was not only due to needing to differentiate itself from its competitor, but also drew upon the critical and commercial successes of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Unfortunately, Nolan’s Batman is steeped in the post-9/11 politics of its time and lent itself to a darker outlook … Superman, not so much.
There is certainly ambition with the Snyder-directed DCEU films: Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League. For Snyder fans each instalment elevated the superhero genre into something more *quote unquote* “philosophical” above than your typical Marvel film.
But as with Dark Universe the structure of these films was fundamentally flawed, putting a franchise before characters, and ultimately leading to diminishing box office returns – Justice League (2017) cost $300 million and brought in $600 million at the box office. For comparison Avengers (2012) cost $220 million to produce and brought in a whopping $1.5 billion at the box office – then making it the third highest grossing film of all time!
So, with fans desperate for an authentic Zack Snyder film, memes, hashtags, and campaigns were launched to get Warner Bros. to listen. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut became a rallying cry for fans who wanted their ideal Justice League; the one WB promised.
It’s almost impossible not to bring up Marvel when discussing Justice League, not only because Warner Bros. wanted to replicate their success, but also because Joss Whedon was brought on board to direct. Supposedly this meant a more family friendly film, something to appeal more to a mass audience instead of the more niche Zack Snyder audience.
Now, in 2021, it looks like those fans are going to get what they want on HBO Max – and a top incentive to sign up for the service. There are drastic implications for what this means, with a streaming service offering a movie that was literally suppressed by the Hollywood machine.
But this is a real first for both fans and directors, and certainly merits discussion.
WHAT IS “THE SNYDER CUT?”
For context, Justice League was a mess. Snyder was dealing with a family tragedy that took him away from the project, Joss Whedon was brought in by Warner Bros. (the architect behind Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron) and both had vastly different styles. Snyder has a love of exploring a re-examination of the modern Superhero, first with Watchmen (2009) and then with the DC pantheon.
Whedon is almost the complete opposite. His superheroes are quippy, his movies are brightly coloured, and he delivered successful hits for Marvel that appealed to Disney’s family demo.
It’s reported that Snyder’s been given anywhere between $10 – $20 million to finish the film how he wanted and is being hailed as a win for directors everywhere, with the film itself expected to be roughly 4 hours long … a bit of a stretch for a theatrical release, but perfect for home viewing.
This is a real win for directors, with nothing obstructing their artistic vision; something that can only happen in a home-viewing environment. With theatres shut, on demand media is soaring. For these audiences, there’s no need for the four-quadrant blockbuster when you can cater to a passionate fanbase, it’s a great chance to try something bold and innovative – especially after the four years since its original release.
Even if I wasn’t impressed with the storytelling and commercial model of Marvel’s Infinity Saga, I find myself struggling with some of their more recent films. Neither Captain Marvel nor Spider-Man really won me over, and so part of me is looking forward to Snyder’s Justice League.
But part of me also realises the issues this presents – a triumph of fans over the studio raises some serious questions about the commercial and artistic nature of film, and the role the fans have over a franchise.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR FANS?
After the lacklustre response to Justice League, fans did everything from petition, to buying out billboards, to bombarding Warner Bros. suggestion boxes. Fans were so passionate that they were actually destroying theatrical cut disks.
This puts fans and studios in a weird relationship. With box office sustainability now in question, studios need to reach out to their audience in more direct means; especially if they’re willing to pay for a premium viewing.
Worse still, after the years of hype there’s no way the Snyder Cut will be able to live up to expectations, but at the very least it proves to fans that studios are listening.
Perhaps this is the future of media, niche audiences willing to buy into a luxury and exclusive experience; all from the comfort of your own home. No doubt fans who’ve been begging for this release since 2017 would be happy paying a premium viewing price.
But what does this mean for fan entitlement? We’ve already seen rises in “toxic fandom” with things like Rick and Morty, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Ghostbusters (2016), and our relationship with media is fundamentally different than it was in a pre-social media landscape. It’s understandable that there are concerns about the future of cinema. After all, even if a film is mildly disappointing, what’s to stop fans pestering studios for a “better” version?
For an interconnected superhero franchise like the DCEU or MCU any substantial changes after the fact could have implications for the overarching narrative going forward.
It’s certainly important to listen to fans, but this supposedly gives them an edge over the artistic integrity of studios. I’m sure many of us would love the chance to redo the final season of Game of Thrones, but who’s to say that we should?
We’re potentially going into a post-blockbuster, post-theatrical world. With the pandemic as a springboard for home distribution, we’re seeing a shift in the global media landscape. Potentially we could see films and franchises catering to more niche audiences. In the future we could see more auteur-driven films, media that only the most hardcore fans would clamber to, and theatres reserved for only the most safe and marketable media out there.
The question is, is the Snyder Cut just the start?