Let’s go ahead and get all the vitriolic stuff out-of-the-way: Zack Snyder’s vision for the DC Extended Universe is divisive. Fans have been polarized for his emotionally obtuse versions of some of comics most iconic heroes. There are some of us who have appreciated the radically different choices Zack Snyder made with Man of Steel and the Ultimate Cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Others have been driven to madness by Snyder’s creative choices that have sometimes bordered on the baffling. Still, I think at the end of this troubling trilogy of films one thing is abundantly clear:
Warner Bros. should have left these movies alone and let Snyder make the stories he set out to tell.
You are rarely going to see a column where someone sides with a studio. Naturally our loyalties lie more with the writer and director of a movie over the faceless executives and their money-making motivations. I’m a firm believer that the creative process sometimes requires pushback. There needs to be people willing to tell filmmakers when to reign in the excess or force them to work within a specific creative framework. Often times this task falls to producers rather than studio shills. It’s why the first three Star Wars films are great and the prequels are garbage. At the start of the Star Wars phenomenon, there were still people willing to say ‘Whoa George, this is a little bit crazy’ instead of the army of ‘Yes-Men’ that surrounded him while he was making terrible pieces of weaponized fiction like The Phantom Menace.
The knee-jerk reaction to seeing a movie that has been molested as badly as Justice League is ‘Hey Warner Bros., leave Zack Snyder’s vision alone’. That’s why you end up with 100 different columns and petitions from people wanting to see what his finished vision would have looked like. The one before Joss Whedon came in and shat up everything with his textbook mediocrity.
We all want Zack Snyder to sit down and show us all of Joss Whedon’s inappropriate touching. But the truth is we’ll probably never see a Zack Snyder cut of the film. Much like we’ll never see Josh Trank’s original second half of the Fantastic Four or the original third act of World War Z. Right now Warner Bros. is trying to figure out who to shit-can for this disaster, not dump more money into a Snyder restoration.
There’s another reason why Warner Bros. should have left Snyder’s DCEU movies alone: They’d be better off if they had.
Right now Warner Bros. is taking a brutal beating in the press and the court of public opinion that is social media. Not only is Justice League a huge financial disappointment, but the blame for the film’s failure is being heaped onto the studio’s shoulders. Batman v Superman was a disappointment. A movie that was not engineered as a four-quadrant crowd-pleaser. Snyder was attempting something loftier. Though you could argue his success level, the film they approved and financed was always going to struggle to please audiences. The financial returns for Batman v Superman and Justice League were flawed at the engineering level. For the kind of money Warner Bros. wanted, entirely different creative blueprints would have been needed.
Warner Bros.’ tinkering on Batman v Superman gave audiences an incoherent blockbuster. Their wholesale chop-shop reassembly of Justice League created a personality free, cringe-inducing monstrosity. Their attempts to ‘fix’ Justice League ended up creating something infinitely less interesting and worthy of derision. Instead of coming out on the other side like a studio that had let a polarizing filmmaker finish his vision, they come across looking wholly incompetent for putting Snyder in charge in the first place and stripping away anything that made this films remotely interesting.
Does anyone think Justice League would have performed any worse if they had ditched the $100 million dollars worth of re-shoots and let it ride one more time under Snyder’s guidance? Did Warner Bros. really believe that they could fix what was broken in Justice League with some of Joss Whedon’s terrible dialogue? They should have let Snyder complete his vision for these stories, given him the boot when they failed to meet audience expectations and the financial thresholds required to continue and handed the reigns over to someone else at their completion.
Warner Bros. is in such a perilous position right now. They have a hit with Wonder Woman, and whether you like Aquaman or not there’s a finished film being readied for release in 2018. I understand why Warner Bros. thought they needed to destroy Snyder’s Justice League and use the pieces to create something more four-quadrant friendly, but they should have seen this coming.
If they’d let Snyder finish the job, we’d have ended up with another polarizing film with a clear identity, instead of this freakish personality-free hybrid. Then, when the film disappointed at the box office Snyder could have taken the fall and the DC Extended Universe could be handed over to someone else. Because when I watched Justice League, I wasn’t thinking about how Snyder screwed this up. I was thinking that the execs at Warner Bros. have no idea what they’re doing. Not if they think Justice League is a movie anyone wants to ever sit through again.