Filmmaking is a team effort. A “David Fincher Film” does not feature David Fincher as the director, writer, producer, cinematographer, gaffer, production designer, costume designer, visual effects artist, etc. (though, to be honest, he could probably do those jobs incredibly well). It takes a team of artists working together, in line with a director’s vision, to create what we see on screen. Sometimes, especially when it comes with a larger budget, it’s more of a compromise with a studio. But it’s still funneled through that director’s vision for what that movie should be.
Justice League, Warner Bros.’ $300 million superhero team-up, is a curious case. It’s the product of two directors, and yet neither of them at all. The film entered production under the direction of Zack Snyder with a Chris Terrio script, but filming began mere weeks after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit theaters. Warner Bros., Snyder, and others involved were making Justice League under the assumption that Snyder’s vision for this DCEU would be a success, but BvS suffered a harshly negative critical response and triggered something of a panic with execs at WB.
Nevertheless, filming continued on what was reportedly planned as a lighter script to begin with, but all involved knew there would probably be some tweaking down the road. Filming wrapped, Snyder turned in his first—and very rough—director’s cut, but then he left the production altogether to tend to a personal tragedy. There was still a lot of work to be done, so Joss Whedon—who had already been brought on to script the planned reshoots—was tasked with directing and overseeing the extensive (and costly) reshoots as well as post-production. But Whedon does not carry a co-director credit, only a WGA-contracted co-writer credit for his significant additions.
Thus, Justice League is not Whedon’s film. But it’s not exactly Zack Snyder’s film either. It’s this weird mishmash spearheaded by the executives at Warner Bros., who no doubt had final say over the final cut (as evidenced by the two-hour-runtime mandate). And it shows. The film lacks personality. It just sits there, existing. It’s not a disaster, not a masterpiece, not even a good movie. It has its moments, and Whedon/WB did a great job of smoothing over the rough edges so as not to feel like a Frankenstein’s Monster of Snyder and Whedon’s footage—it’s surprising how relatively seamless the movie flows from scene to scene. But it left much to be desired.
I’m not exactly a Zack Snyder superfan. I think Man of Steel is alright, and I like Batman v Superman somewhat more than most (the Ultimate Edition, to be specific) but still find that film to be a something of a joyless slog. And yet, in the wake of fan petitions to see Zack Snyder’s director’s cut of Justice League, I can’t help but agree I’d like to see that version too. As is, Justice League stands as a hollow, forgettable superhero trifle. The narrative is bland, the motivations uninteresting, and the villain is beyond boring. No doubt Whedon’s work results in some of the film’s finer moments, like Aquaman sitting on the Lasso of Truth or Superman being—gasp—heroic in the grand finale, but I find myself yearning to see Zack Snyder’s full, unaltered version of Justice League, even if it may have been a disaster.
At the very least, even if Zack Snyder’s Justice League was more in line with Batman v Superman, digging into the gritty, hardened, hopeless vision of the DCEU, we would have gotten a film with authorship. Maybe it would have been terrible. Maybe I would’ve hated it. But it would have been somebody’s vision, not the puff of empty air that exists now. What did Snyder want to say with Justice League? How did he want to frame Superman’s return in the context of his shunning in BvS? The director’s cut may have shed some light on these questions—it would have been about something—even if we didn’t like the answers.
So yeah, I contend that even if the result is a worse film, I’d rather see Zack Snyder’s director’s cut of Justice League than the current, extremely compromised version that exists now. But that’s probably never going to happen.
No doubt petitions for a Snyder cut of Justice League were predicated on the fact that Snyder created director’s cuts for his previous films like Watchmen and Batman v Superman. But there’s a major difference between Justice League and those films—he saw them through to release. Snyder hasn’t been involved with Justice League since he turned in his early rough cut. At that point, visual effects were far from finished, editing was nowhere near done, and the film still needed a lot of work. Warner Bros. isn’t going to pay for visual effects for scenes they aren’t going to use in the final film (especially since JL’s cost ballooned with the reshoots), so the scenes in Snyder’s rough cut that didn’t make the final cut likely remain far from complete, on the cutting room floor.
Moreover, since Snyder hasn’t been with the film since early this year, he hasn’t had a chance to edit together a releasable cut of the movie. That rough cut was just that—a rough cut. There’s no director’s cut sitting at Warner Bros. right now that Snyder put together in the hopes of releasing into the world. He was still toiling away on the film when he had to suddenly depart. So again, unlike Batman v Superman where he was playing with the edit all the way up to release and able to arrange the Ultimate Edition fairly easily, he wasn’t involved with Justice League long enough to even craft a director’s cut.
And as we can see from Henry Cavill’s rubbery lip that lets us know what was part of the reshoots and what was part of Snyder’s initial production, the third act had some major changes (it really feels like Superman was “bad” for a lot longer in Snyder’s version). That portion of the film is VFX heavy, so in order to get Snyder’s version together in a releasable form, a lot of money would no doubt need to be spent on finishing those effects. That’s money Warner Bros. can’t afford to spend at this point, just to maybe make a few extra bucks on the home video market. So it’s highly unlikely that’ll happen.