Sometimes, even superheroes need saving.
After a yearslong fan campaign on social media to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, Warner Bros. announced Wednesday that the studio would allow Zack Snyder to recut the 2017 comic-book film “Justice League” for a planned debut on HBO Max in 2021.
“Since I got here 14 months ago, the chant to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has been a daily drumbeat in our offices and inboxes,” said Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of Warner Media Entertainment. “We are thrilled to finally deliver.”
The move will return Snyder to a cinematic comic-book universe where he once served as the primary architect. In the early 2010s, as Warner Bros. searched for a way to compete with Marvel Studios and its lucrative stable of big-screen superheroes, the company tapped Snyder, the “300” director, to reinvigorate several well-known DC Comics characters, beginning with Superman (played by Henry Cavill) in the 2013 blockbuster “Man of Steel.”
Snyder added Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to the crew for the 2016 “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but the film’s dark tone and dismal reviews spooked Warner Bros. executives, who pushed Snyder to lighten up as he began shooting an even bigger sequel, “Justice League.” After a troubled production, Warner Bros. announced in May 2017 that Snyder would be stepping down from “Justice League” in the wake of his daughter’s suicide, and the studio tapped “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon for extensive reshoots.
Whedon scripted 80 additional pages for the endeavor, but his quippy tone and more colorful aesthetic proved to be at odds with Snyder’s grim, chiaroscuro take on the crime fighters, and the reshoots presented a significant scheduling problem: Cavill had already moved on to “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” and the mustache he grew for that film had to be inelegantly erased from his new Superman scenes. Whedon’s patched-together “Justice League” was released in November 2017 to scathing notices, earning significantly less than Gadot’s solo film, “Wonder Woman,” which had debuted just a few months earlier.
Though that seemed to spell the end of “Justice League” as a franchise, Snyder’s fans continued to clamor for his director’s cut, and last November, Affleck and Gadot added their online voices to the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. Warner Bros. Pictures chairman Toby Emmerich then contacted Snyder to gauge his interest in remaking the film for the soon-to-launch streaming service HBO Max, and the director assented.
Since the Snyder cut of “Justice League” was never completed, the studio will probably pour $20 million to $30 million into an extensive, effects-heavy postproduction process to bring it up to snuff. It may also prove to be significantly longer than Whedon’s two-hour version: In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Snyder said that he was mulling a four-hour director’s cut of “Justice League,” or even a six-part episodic series that could restore several trimmed subplots, including separate story lines for the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
Though this is an unprecedented about-face for Warner Bros., the move makes sense as studios reel from a pandemic-forced shutdown: Snyder’s “Justice League” guarantees HBO Max a high-profile project that can be fashioned out of already-shot footage, and it provides a visibility bump for its stand-alone superheroes. Gadot’s sequel “Wonder Woman 1984” was moved to a late-summer berth after movie theaters closed for the season, while new films starring Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Miller’s Flash may not be able to go into production for a long time.
There’s even a chance that Snyder’s revised take on “Justice League” could pre-empt the studio’s fresh look on Batman: Matt Reeves was in the middle of filming a Batman reboot with Robert Pattinson when Hollywood shut down, and its summer 2021 release has been delayed as the studio scrambles to figure out how to resume production. Would Warner Bros. really give us two completely different takes on the Caped Crusader in such short succession? Better add some new bulbs to the Bat signal.