By the time Zack Snyder tackled Justice League, he was already incredibly experienced making not just comic book movies, like 300 and Watchmen, but also operating within the DC Extended Universe, having helmed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But lessons can still be learned from directing on your fifth comic book movie, and eighth movie overall. For Snyder, he walked away from his Justice League experience fully realizing just how restrictive the studio system can be.
Zack Snyder currently making the press rounds promoting his latest movie, Netflix’s Army of the Dead, but it was just a few months ago that his definitive vision for Justice League dropped on HBO Max, so naturally there are people still interested in his time working on the DC movie. During a Q&A with The Guardian, Snyder was asked what his biggest takeaway from shooting Justice League was since it seemed like the production was a “nightmare.” The filmmaker responded:
I did learn a lot. Even before we shot it, the studio were worried, saying it was too dark and how are you going to put more jokes into this thing? You realise that you are in a big machine and if you want to say particular things as an individual or as an artist, to be philosophical and muck about, it can get you.
It’s no secret that the major studios love to give notes on their movies in development, especially the ones based on popular IP. And considering how polarizing both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were to the general public, I can’t say I’m shocked that Warner Bros was wondering if Snyder was going to make Justice League a more lighthearted affair even before the movie began principal photography. For Snyder, that was a frustrating experience.
As Zack Snyder sees it, while the goals of making a movie simply to collect money and making a movie to express an artistic vision aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s definitely difficult for the two to meet in the middle. As he put it:
The why of doing it is the most important thing. Are you creating a piece of commerce? Do you care? If the objective is simply to make money you have one set of rules. And if the other is to provoke or to inspire or challenge, then that’s a slightly different set of criteria. The two can certainly meet, but you have to be wide-eyed about the consequences of both. Because you can be the greatest film-maker in the world, but if no one sees your movie …
Of course, as anyone who followed along with the creation of Justice League knows, Zack Snyder’s Justice League troubles weren’t just limited to his disagreements with Warner Bros. Snyder left during the post-production stage to be with his family following his daughter Autumn’s suicide. From there, WB brought in Joss Whedon, who’d already done some Justice League rewrites, to direct the reshoots, which drastically altered the movie’s story. The end result was Justice League’s theatrical cut underperforming both critically and commercially in late 2017 and, more importantly, barely resembling what Snyder had originally envisioned.
Luckily for Zack Snyder, following years of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaigning, WarnerMedia eventually greenlit what’s now known as Zack Snyder’s Justice League to premiere exclusively on HBO Max. That’s not to say that Snyder didn’t clash with executives again this time around, and as of right now, it doesn’t look likely that he’ll return to direct Justice League 2 or any spinoffs. But at least this time, for the most part, he was able to deliver the Justice League tale he wanted the masses to see, with this version of the movie running a little over four hours.
As for what’s next for Zack Snyder, Army of the Dead premieres on Netflix tomorrow, May 21, and he’s also still working on his adaptation of The Fountainhead. Stay locked on CinemaBlend for more updates on Snyder’s career, including whether he returns to the DCEU after all.