There’s a great “what if” documentary to be made about Warner Bros.’ 2017 Justice League movie someday. Until that day, we’ll have to settle for little dribbles of information here and there about what, exactly, went down behind-the-scenes. Today a big piece of that puzzle arrived, as director Zack Snyder himself spoke a bit about his original plans for Justice League and why they were changed.
To recap, Snyder launched the “DC Extended Universe” with his gritty 2013 Superman reboot Man of Steel, which was followed up by the 2016 blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Batman v Superman pushed the gritty aesthetic even further, presenting a harsh and unforgiving take on the titular superheroes as flawed mythic figures, but when it opened in theaters on March 25, 2016, audiences and critics were somewhat taken aback. Critical response was negative, and while the film grossed a solid $873.6 million worldwide, to Warner Bros. that was a disappointing number considering this movie teamed up the two most iconic superheroes in history for the first time on the big screen.
This posed a major problem for Justice League, which was due to start production less than a month after Batman v Superman hit theaters. Indeed, WB put all its chips on Snyder’s take on the DC characters, and quickly became concerned by the response to Batman v Superman, concluding that Justice League needed a course correction. From there, the film’s production went forward as planned, albeit with the script having been reworked.
By May of 2017, Snyder had stepped down as director to tend to a personal matter, although rumors have since swirled that perhaps Snyder was out of the director’s chair earlier than that for purely creative reasons. Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to oversee reshoots and post-production, and his new contributions were so significant that he earned a co-writer credit on the film’s screenplay. Ultimately, however, it was Warner Bros. itself that had final cut.
Justice League was eventually released in November 2017 to little fanfare, disappointing box office, and mediocre reviews, and now Warner Bros. is kind of just pretending like the film never existed—Ben Affleck is out as Batman, Ezra Miller’s days as Flash could be numbered, and successful characters Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) are forging ahead with their own, separate, standalone films.
But what did happen to Justice League? What was Snyder making before Warner Bros. got cold feet? We got a bit of an answer last night as Snyder was in attendance for a screening of his superior director’s cut of Batman v Superman, and he took some fan questions during the Q&A. Somewhat amazingly, no one asked him if the Snyder Cut was real, but he did reveal that his original screenplay for Justice League—which he co-wrote with Chris Terrio—was never shot.
I would say it’s somewhat unfair to call those who disliked Batman v Superman a “vocal minority”—again, the film failed to reach the box office heights that a film featuring Batman and Superman should have, and the reviews across the board were largely negative.
But this also seems to negate the cries for the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League, as Snyder says his version of the film was never actually shot. What he ended up shooting was a rewrite of his original plans, and no doubt the film was constantly evolving on set as Warner Bros. was dealing with the fallout of Batman v Superman.
Snyder went on to detail some of the original ideas he had planned for Justice League, and they sound dark:
So yeah, apparently Darkseid was going to murder Lois, and Batman was going to send Flash back in time to save her. Or something. It doesn’t sound like Snyder expounded upon his plans for Superman, and I’d be curious to know where that was heading. Kevin Smith previously said that he was told Snyder’s Justice League trilogy would have gone cosmic for the sequel, heading to Apokolips, with Justice League 3 focusing on a “last stand” against Darkseid. But again, that’s all hearsay and Snyder didn’t appear to confirm any of those plans during his panel Q&A.
As I said at the top of this piece, there’s a great documentary to be made about the conception of and making of Justice League—perhaps even the entire Snyder version of the DCEU—when the time comes that you can get everyone on record. Until then, little tidbits like this are mighty curious, especially when they come from Snyder himself.
I’m no Snyder acolyte, but I do think Warner Bros. made a mistake in trying to reconceive Justice League when the film was already that far along. They should have just let Snyder’s full vision stand, for better or worse, and released his full vision. At least that would have been interesting, as opposed to the watered-down, personality-less Justice League we got. Alas, now it’s simply another “what if” scenario we’ll never see to fruition.