The movie’s origin story is why all lovers of cinema — all believers in the primacy of auteurs and the application of unique and personal vision to the medium of film — should be taking a quick victory lap over the announcement that Warner Bros. is going to release the so-called Snyder Cut of ”Justice League," a long-rumored and super-long version of the movie that never made it into theaters, on the new HBO Max streaming service.
Snyder is the rare filmmaker who was given huge budgets and a huge world to play in and actually did something interesting with that freedom. In the superhero movies he directed, produced and helped develop for Warner Bros.’ subsidiary DC, Snyder and his colleagues took Superman, an incredibly dull character with limited relevance, and turned him into a way to think about myth and modernity. “Man of Steel” asked how the world would react to the knowledge that gods exist. “Batman v Superman” explored how the most powerful man on Earth would handle being removed from the top of the food chain. “Wonder Woman” imagined how gods would deal with the problem of human free will. And “Suicide Squad” looked at how governments would respond to the problem of a supra-national threat.
And “Justice League,” judging by the snippets of Snyder’s original vision that we’ve seen, was to be about how humanity would react to losing its newfound god. What happens when a savior is stripped from the world? How would normal people respond? How would the world’s champions? And would our loss of faith leave us vulnerable to damnation and domination?
Of course, we never got to see that movie, since someone in the WB offices got antsy and brought in Joss Whedon instead to rewrite, reshoot, and — let’s be honest here — mutilate the film into something more pleasing to the corporate eye. Supposedly the most important thing: getting the run time under two hours, plot and thematic unity be damned.
And the story probably would have ended there, honestly, if it weren’t for a committed and passionate base of fans. The sort of people who would happily share each and every morsel of news, keeping hope alive over the years. The sort of people who would raise more than $150,000 for suicide awareness charities in the midst of raising money to buy billboards and T-shirts. For all the talk of bad fans out there — and there are certainly bad Zack Snyder fans, as there are bad fans of all stripes; no one should deny the existence of the sort of Snyderista who spews invective on Twitter and levels impotent death threats over Rotten Tomatoes-score-lowering critics — this is one of the subsets of fandom that has done more good than harm.
Despite years of mockery and bad-faith attacks, they persevered. Despite slings and arrows, they pushed forward. Despite people telling them repeatedly that there was no Snyder Cut, that they were being led around by the nose, that they were dupes in the thrall of a megalomaniac who couldn’t handle losing control of a project, they stuck to their guns.
The irony of all this is that the film itself will be largely superfluous to the reactions around it. Critics who hate Snyder will hate having even more Snyder in their life. Fans who adore him will be enraptured by being granted more of his vision. Given that his director’s cuts — extended takes on “Watchmen,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Sucker Punch” — have all been superior to their studio-mutilated predecessors, my hopes are admittedly high that what he has in store for us will be worth the wait.
But even if it’s a bloated, messy, self-indulgent disaster — these have been known to happen from time to time, and odds are Snyder will get to indulge most anything he desires in this cut — it’s still worth celebrating an artist, even a corporate one, who gets a chance to realize his vision. And for that, we need to thank, and salute, his fans.