Justice League is finally in theaters, and the numbers have been ... underwhelming. Domestically, the film failed to crack $100 million in its opening weekend. And while international numbers will help bail the movie out, it's clear that the version served in multiplexes is not the one fans were looking for. There's even a petition being circulated by rabid DC fans to secure a release of Zack Snyder's cut of Justice League, seeing as how he had to leave the project for family reasons, and handed the final cut over to Joss Whedon.
I'm here to tell you those fans are right.
Warner Bros. should be thinking long and hard about getting the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League prepped for a theatrical release. It would be an unprecedented move... and I think it would be the wisest move. Here's why:
The Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman is a vast improvement
Zack Snyder did this before. Hearing from fans that they wanted a longer cut of his Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Snyder put together the Ultimate Edition of the story, including it on the Blu-ray and home video release of the film. And in virtually every aspect, it was an improvement. It filled in story gaps that were brushed over in the theatrical cut. It fleshed out character moments, elaborated on the manipulations of Lex Luthor (Jess Eisenberg), and clarified why Batman (Ben Affleck) was falling into the deep distrust of an "alien" (Henry Cavill) who really should have been his ally. Yes, it was longer. But the length served a purpose, and led to a better movie.
An "Ultimate Edition" of Justice League could serve a similar purpose, filling in crucial character moments for members of the League that felt shortchanged by the tight edit of the theatrical cut of the film. Analysis of Justice League scenes that were in early trailers suggest a lot more footage for Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and even more time in Atlantis with Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard). There's no telling how those scenes could have affected the pacing and the tone of Justice League, and I think that including them -- maybe even addressing Snyder's real plans for Superman's resurrection -- would give fans an improved look at this ensemble story.
It'd give the DCEU a movie before 'Aquaman'
The next DCEU movie due in theaters is James Wan's Aquaman... which arrives a YEAR FROM NOW! That's a long time to wait for the next chapter in the ongoing DC saga. And all that fans will be able to do between now and then is discuss their reactions to Justice League -- be it positive or negative.
One way to fill that content gap would be to release a Zack Snyder-supervised cut of the movie he started working on, giving a theatrical cut to a longer (and allegedly darker) version of the uniting of DC's super-powered team. The Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman was relegated to home video and streaming. If WB really wanted to pay tribute to Zack Snyder -- the filmmaker who launched the DCEU -- they would give the extended Snyder cut of Justice League a theatrical run. And it doesn't have to happen right away. This is something that Snyder could work on, prepping for a March or April release in 2018. Again, it would fill the vast scheduling gap between this JL cut and the pending Aquaman. And it would create a buzz around the property if fans knew that there was a different, original take on the story that was coming from the director who set sail on this "ship" in the first place.
It'd be a rare opportunity to build buzz around an already released movie
This can't happen all of the time. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of any real blockbusters who could pull this off. But because of the director switch mid-stream on Justice League, we have ended up at a point where there legitimately are two versions of the movie: the one that's in the theaters now, and; the one that the original director intended to deliver. Fans have seen the first. They deserve to see the second.
From a marketing standpoint, it's a win for the studio, as well. Generating buzz for a project after it has been released is very difficult. Quite often, new competition storms the theaters right after your movie has bene released, so you generally need positive word of mouth to maintain momentum and drive people into theaters.
But with Justice League, a way to change the narrative and swing more momentum back into the film's favor would actually be to tell fans that they were going to get a different cut of the movie. A longer cut. The original, intended cut. As explained, the precedent of following up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with a preferred Ultimate Edition means that DC fans could potentially embrace a meatier take on the superhero team up. And the collective narrative shifts immediately from "I didn't love this version" to "I'm excited to see what the next cut could offer."
Naturally, some will think it's a cash grab. And that's justified. But if Zack Snyder's take on Justice League is significantly different from the one that's in theaters at the moment, with more story beats for Cyborg, Flash, Aquaman and more (maybe even Darkseid?), then I think it's fair for Warner Bros. to contemplate giving Snyder the time to finish it, and giving fans the opportunity to screen it in theaters, where it belongs.