It’s taken some time, but Zack Snyder’s Justice League — the director’s cut of 2017’s Justice League — is finally with us. The Snyder Cut is a phenomenon that you likely won’t have been able to ignore if you have been anywhere near social media in the past few weeks. Receiving generally better reviews than its predecessor — although still below the bar compared to what many of Snyder’s fans were hoping for — it is easy to see the Snyder Cut as the end product of an overly-obsessive fandom who rabidly campaigned for the cut’s release. And to an extent it is, but arguably it is also something more. The journey from Justice League to Zack Snyder’s Justice League was not a simple case of ‘they asked, and eventually they got.’ The Snyder Cut, and the years of speculation surrounding it, managed to become a defining part of mythology and conspiracy in the digital age.
Countless reports and articles from the past two years refer to the Snyder Cut as a mystery or fable, taking on mythical qualities and at times feeling akin to a conspiracy theory. But what exactly is a myth? Myths are stories told by historical civilisations to explain natural phenomena around them, drafting legendary tales or heroes and villains as justifying pre-existing social, political or religious norms. King Arthur is a legendary example, as is Betsy Ross and the origin of Old Glory. Religious deities like Jesus or the gods of Ancient Greece also fit the bill, as do legends of pagan spirits widely shared by Celts and the early Britons.
Such a description is apt, but also smacks of modern bias. The likes of UFOs, Bigfoot and countless other stories dismissed as mere conspiracy (implying something ridiculous rather than meaningful) do in fact share mythical qualities. They too provide explanations where seemingly none exist, and organise people together across spatial and temporal disparities with a unique shared experience or purpose. Most importantly, they remain an endless source of fascination even for those who cannot boast a first-hand account. Myths are not confined to the cognitive fancy of past civilisations. New myths, legends and folklore tales are created every day, reborn for the digital era where the internet gives these phenomena the room to thrive. The Snyder Cut, and the process that led to its eventual existence, is a perfect example.
Justice League isn’t the first film to get the alternative cut treatment, be it directors, final, or extended. Furthermore, some of these have also dipped their toe into the realm of myth. One such example is the original cut of The Shining, which at 146 minutes is two minutes longer than either the US or European versions. It included a now-destroyed final scene where Wendy is recovering in hospital after Jack’s bloody rampage. Although no footage of the scene exists, the script is available to view online as a relic. Other famous director’s cuts include the Redux and Final versions of Apocalypse Now, both overseen by director Francis Ford Coppola (although he has stated a preference for the latter), and the director’s cut of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which managed to save him some face after the film nosedived critically and commercially upon its release in 1980. Alternative cuts of classic films are far from uncommon, yet Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a unique addition to a this cinematic tradition.
The troubled production of Justice League is well known by this point, as is the manner in which it bombed financially and alienated a large number of disenfranchised fans. After Snyder left the project midway through production to be with his family after the death of his daughter, Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the film. Whedon reportedly added up to 80 pages to the original script and steered the film away from the darker style that Snyder had already established in the DC Extended Universe, opting instead for lighter, comedic touches. Once the film was released to lukewarm reviews and disappointing box office returns, fans laid the blame at Whedon’s feet, believing that Snyder’s completed film would have been superior had he been able to complete it.
Polygon were among the first to catch on to the potential existence of an alternate Justice League Cut, which was becoming an increasingly vocal demand from a large number of Snyder’s fans. Such articles described the idea of the cut as a conspiracy and mythical story: “one of the biggest mysteries plaguing the fandom” at the time. Such was the growing movement around it that it became a focal point for disgruntled fans — a way to express mutual dissatisfaction with studio interference and a longing for what was supposed to be one director’s unfiltered creative vision. Most importantly, this all started to happen before the existence of such a cut was proven to exist. As it would later turn out, it didn’t — or at least, the version fans had in mind didn’t exist at the time the demands were becoming louder by the day. The rough assemblage of footage would need much work done to it before resembling anything like a ready-to-release film.
In the past, myths were carried down through generations by word of mouth, written accounts and inconclusive newspaper reports. But today, there is only one way for a rumour born on the internet to really reach the masses: Reddit. Threads upon threads claiming to boast new evidence related to the Snyder Cut began to spring up. Some were rebuked, others not so much. The movement began to resemble a cult, online forum sleuths digging up every scrap of information they could find, undeterred even when evidence went against them. Because, as is the case with nearly all myths, the chase is more meaningful than the catch.
And then, in March 2019, Snyder himself finally confirmed that such a cut of the film did indeed exist. The stars of Justice League added their voices, with Jason Momoa going as far as saying he had actually seen it. Just like when a Roman claims to have been visited by the Gods, or a bewildered local claims with sincerity that he has been abducted by aliens, conspiracies and myth thrive on and fetishise first-hand accounts such as these. It added legitimacy and staying power to something that might easily have faded away into memory. Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher and Ben Affleck then all chimed in, plastering #ReleaseTheSnyderCut all over their timelines after the demand had already started to trend like wildfire on Twitter. Eventually, Snyder himself broke his silence yet again. He responded to both Gadot and Affleck by simply stating “This ancient Amazonian can’t be wrong… neither can Batman.” This served a double purpose: to fuel the speculation and mythos surrounding this fabled alternate version, and to pile more pressure on Warner Bros. to release it.
Although the existence of the Snyder Cut was confirmed over time, the mythical status remained: a holy grail worthy of pursuit by any means, even if the chance remained that such a pursuit would be fruitless. Fans bought billboards in Times Square, flew banners outside Comic-Con, and even advertised during the FA Cup by purchasing four minutes of run time on a digital banner. This kind of targeted propaganda and emotive advertising feels akin to religious groups who use social media advertising to attract new converts or, more saliently, billboards being used to promote the QAnon conspiracy. You wouldn’t put it past them to travel round houses in pairs, knocking on doors and asking bemused strangers whether they had heard of their lord and savior Zack Snyder.
Placing the Snyder Cut into the realm of myth also broadens the understanding of the fandom’s more toxic elements. A sorry fact of modern Hollywood is that easily triggered franchise fanatics won’t think twice before hurling abuse towards those who don’t believe the same as them, abusing critics who dare to review their treasured films in a negative light. The furiousness of the fandom, and the obvious emotional power that fabled stories of an alternate Justice League possessed, is a sign of how obsessiveness over certain creative visions obstructs the decorum and empathy that we should be able to take for granted. Some fans are shouting over others simply because they can, review-bombing other big releases such as Godzilla vs. Kong like a gang of overly-zealous prophets. This is hardly new, of course; prejudice, scorn and even violence have always erupted from cesspools of differing beliefs, especially when it comes to belief over something even existing in the first place. The Snyder Cut is simply an example that has the additional factor of the internet, allowing verbal violence to reach further afield than ever before.
Right up until its existence became fact and production began in earnest, the Snyder Cut settled into its rightful spot in a 21st century, internet-driven and fan-made mutation of mythology. To understand the Snyder Cut as a myth is to understand it as something with great cultural significance, something that provides collective unity and purpose for people all over the world, and a phenomenon that thrived off apparent first-hand testimonies and the ever elusive pursuit of evidence. In this way, the earliest believers in the Snyder Cut are akin to those who would set off in pursuit of the Loch Ness Monster, or who journey in vain to find the lost city of Atlantis. It contextualises the sensational actions some fans took, while never justifying the ugliest sides of this four-year-long endeavour. With #RestoreTheSnyderVerse now assuming the myth hunter’s mantle, this entire saga shares another crucial quality with every other unexplainable story of our times — and it is here to stay.
Words by James Hanton
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Image: © Warner Bros.