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I will freely and openly admit that I was one of the people who never truly believed we’d ever find ourselves here. It’s not that I didn’t want to see the Zack Snyder original cut of Justice League. I did, it’s simply that I thought there were too many reasons why we wouldn’t see it. And yet, here we are: Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a real thing coming to HBO Max next year.
Except is it really?
While we don’t have any real confirmation of exactly what Zack Snyder’s Justice League is going to look like on HBO Max, the reports have been that what we’re getting could either be a movie that’s four hours long, or it might be broken up into multiple episodes and released as a sort of limited series.
This is an interesting idea to say the least, and those who have been fighting for the Snyder Cut to see the light of day deserve to call it a win, as this certainly wouldn’t have happened without them. But something that is upwards of four hours long, doesn’t seem like exactly what fans were actually looking for.
What Exactly Was The Snyder Cut Supposed To Be?
At this point, it feels like the Snyder Cut needs no explanation, but perhaps it does need context. The entire movement sprung up around a simple, and perfectly valid, idea. By anybody’s argument, the theatrical release of Justice League was a jumbled mess. It combined aspects of both Zack Snyder’s original work and a collection of extensive reshoots that were not only directed by another director (Joss Whedon), but written by him as well. Maybe the combination works for you, maybe it doesn't, but what the movie certainly wasn't was the singular vision of its director, as movies generally are.
The feeling was that if Zack Snyder had been given the chance to complete the film that he wanted to make, it would have been something quite different, and quite possibly better. Even if it wasn't, fans still wanted to see the movie that Zack Snyder wanted to make.
The thing is, if we could turn back the clock and Zack Snyder could have been given the chance to finish Justice League his way, wouldn’t the end result have been a pretty standard theatrically-released movie of something in the neighborhood of two-hours long?
Theatrical movies can certainly have a wide range of run times, but generally speaking ,a movie you’ll find in theaters is no shorter than about 90 minutes. On the high end, we've started to see more mainstream movies, i.e. films of the blockbuster variety, creep up above the two hour mark, but they frequently fall somewhere tween two and two and a half hours.
When Avengers: Endgame clocked in at three hours long, it was kind of a big deal. It happened, and it worked, but any movie that hits three hour mark is running risks.
There are some real and practical reasons why movies tend to hit these normal 90-120 minute run times. Audiences can potentially be turned off by a movie they feel is too long. In addition, and much more importantly, there are only so many times a day a three hour-plus movie can be run in a theater. Both of these things mean that longer movies run the risk of taking a box office hit, so studios tend to not be fans. Movies are art, but they're also a business, and every director, including Zack Snyder, understands this.
Now is it possible that Zack Snyder fully intended to release a three and a half hour Justice League movie into theaters in November 2017? Sure it is. Is it possible Warner Bros. was cool with that? Again, yes, it's possible, though less likely. What’s more likely, however, is that this three hour-plus movie, which hadn’t been through reshoots yet, was going to see some edits from Snyder himself (of course) before it actually hit theaters.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice clocked in at two and a half hours long in its theatrical cut, and so seeing a Justice League movie a full hour longer than that seems unlikely. Zack Snyder would have known such a film wasn't going to fly, and so the man, who is not an idiot, would have been working toward a smaller film, in length if not in scope.
If what you wanted was a movie that you could directly compare to the existing Justice League, something that would allow you to go through it and see exactly what pieces were added or changed, and what scenes were cut, then this version of "the Snyder Cut" is really the movie you were asking for.
But the movie in those film canisters isn't that movie. This movie appears to be more akin to the Ultimate Edition of Dawn of Justice, which added 30 minutes to the movie and, by all accounts, is a superior version of the film. The movie in those canisters looks to be the "director's cut" of Justice League, i.e. the version that Snyder would make if he could include everything in it that he wanted to without having to worry about any other factors. If what you wanted wasn’t a true comparison to the Justice League we got, but Zack Snyder’s complete vision of what he wanted Justice League to be, then the 214 minute cut is the movie you’ve been waiting for. That's "the Snyder cut."
We're Getting A New Justice League, But Is It Really The Snyder Cut?
And yet, what we’re getting under the heading Zack Snyder’s Justice League may still be something else; a separate third thing that isn't the movie we would have actually seen in theaters in 2017 or an extended version of that. If it really does clock in at four hours or more, then this is an entirely different approach to Justice League. That’s not a bad thing. It can still be amazing, but it’s not really the Snyder Cut then, is it?
I said at the outset that I never really thought the Snyder Cut would happen, but I was always curious. Few have argued that the version of Justice League we got was mostly the work of Joss Whedon, and thus seeing another director's take on the material was quite exciting from an academic point of view. How would another filmmaker, given the same setup and the same actors in the same roles, picking up from the same events following Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, make a different movie? How could the scenes actually filmed by Zack Snyder the first time around potentially be given an entirely different context by being surrounded by other scenes we never saw? Being able to compare and contrast the two movies is the sort of scenario that we've never had before, and likely will never get again.
But if Zack Snyder's Justice League ends up being six hours long, we can't really compare them. This version, if it's really what we're getting, will, by its nature, give characters more time to develop and will give the plot more depth. It will simply be able to do more than the theatrical version of the movie ever could have, regardless of who the director was. It will be all but impossible to compare the two versions of Justice League. If the point of this whole exercise was to see if Snyder's version would have been better, we'll never really know.
And that, of course, is the point.
Releasing anything that's even vaguely comparable to the original Justice League is a no-win scenario for Warner Bros. If we got a two hour-ish version of Zack Snyder's version of Justice League and the movie was truly demonstrably better that the version that was released, then the studio looks foolish for spending the time and money to change it. If the new version was seen to be even only slightly better, or god forbid, worse, then Warner Bros looks equally foolish for having spent the time and money necessary to complete this alternate version.
There's also the fact that a lot of time has passed, and Zack Snyder has been through a lot in the last couple of years. Is he the same man, the same director, that he was then? This isn't a question of being better or worse, but simply different.
At the same time, opinions about the original Justice League are out there. Zack Snyder knows better than anybody what aspects of the original movie were his, and if some of the criticism of the original film were in regards to that, isn't it possible that, even if it's entirely subconscious, the director could approach those things differently this time around? Even if things like the format and length were the same, is the version of Justice League Zack Snyder would have made three years ago truly identical to the version he would make today?
Zack Snyder's Justice League is certainly still going to be a highly anticipated, and potentially interesting, piece of media. I'm still looking forward to seeing it, but for a variety of reasons, I feel like we won't really ever know what the Snyder Cut could have been.