Ricky Church on Warner Bros.’ handling of Justice League…
Justice League. Where to begin with this? The production on this film has been an insane one, stoking controversy over issues big and small on what seems like a weekly basis. Whether its Superman’s CGI moustache removal, reshoots or people who just don’t like the direction director Zack Snyder took these stories and characters, there always seems to be something. As we look back on the events leading up to Justice League’s release and its aftermath, a lot of people are asking… what the hell was Warner Bros. thinking?
This week Justice League once again garnered headlines as former Mashable writer Josh Dickey claimed Snyder did not in fact leave in May 2017 after his daughter’s death, but was actually fired and replaced in January, months before he ‘officially’ left the film. Several outlets have reported on and seemingly backed up Dickey’s claim and how they knew something happened long before he departed the film in the wake of his tragedy. The outlet Revenge of the Fans even goes so far to say WB had “taken ownership of the narrative by mentioning this unspeakable tragedy.”
You’d think the new controversy would have stopped there, but then we’re hit with a new discussion immediately after: two deleted scenes, clearly shot by Snyder, and storyboards were released online. One of which teases Superman’s black suit and the other is the missing scene from last year’s SDCC trailer where Superman visits Alfred and the butler “hopes you’re not too late” while the storyboards revealed Darkseid, Steppenwolf’s ruler, was set to make a physical cameo. The deleted Snyder scenes have been a hot topic for fans of Justice League and especially Zack Snyder for months now as they’ve demanded, and gone so far as to petition, a Snyder Cut of the film that restores his vision instead of using many of the reshot Whedon material.
All this news has left me pretty raw. In my original review of Justice League, I had foolishly stated it “can be tough to ignore some of the changes this film went through, but ultimately Justice League feels like a Zack Snyder film.” That feeling has slowly evaporated in the months since the release as more and more information has come out regarding what exactly was deleted. Meanwhile, the additions Whedon included were much more light and humourous moments, some of which worked and plenty that didn’t, such as Martha Kent calling Lois a “thirsty” woman in a crude innuendo, Flash falling into Wonder Woman’s breasts, or the Russian family trapped in their home for half the movie by a group of Parademons (I already wrote at length about why Whedon’s choices don’t make him an ideal candidate for a Batgirl film anymore). Were any of his scenes necessary to the story? No, they largely didn’t add anything and detracted from the emotion the film was trying to imbue.
The deleted scenes have only added to my rawness. While neither really does much to advance the plot in any major way, they are great character moments for Superman that reflect his journey from the beginning of Man of Steel. The black suit scene represents a visual and thematic callback to his first flight of that film, showing that he’s choosing to be Superman once again, even after his death and the world’s rejection of him in Batman v Superman. One of the best aspects of both scenes, however, is the music; after WB fired Junkie XL from Justice League and replaced him with Danny Elfman, the music suffered greatly. The film’s soundtrack is extraordinarily weak and bland, even with the use of Elfman’s Batman theme and John William’s Superman theme. The use of Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme brings so much more emotion in those deleted scenes than anything Elfman did in Justice League.
Who is to blame for Justice League’s financial and critical failure and the pummelling it has gotten from fans and detractors alike? Is it Joss Whedon, who added in so many unnecessary elements into the film? Is it Snyder for not aligning his vision with WB’s? Or is it WB’s, namely president Toby Emmerich and CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who reportedly did not wish to postpone the film’s release in order to claim some financial bonuses?
The answer is really a mixture of all three with plenty of blame to go around, though WB shoulders much of it. WB has always been a reactionary studio that in many cases have overreacted to a potential problem instead of doing something simple to fix it. They first overreacted to Man of Steel’s box office earnings, hijacking Snyder’s original plans for a sequel by putting Batman in it, yet at the same time signing the director on for three additional films that would have fast-paced production schedules. Then, instead of postponing production on Justice League after Batman v Superman’s reception, they went straight into production weeks after the film’s release with Snyder in tow in order to catch up to Marvel, never giving themselves or Snyder enough time to really address the film’s reception and flaws. I say this as someone who likes Batman v Superman (at least the film’s Ultimate Edition) yet still recognizes the flaws within that film.
WB’s leadership has been one of the core problems all of this drama, from their handling of Batman v Superman’s reception to Snyder’s departure from Justice League. Whether or not it is true they fired him or he left of his own volition is probably something we’ll never know, at least not for several years. It aggravates me that they interfered so much, yet still used a majority of Snyder’s scenes in the film’s marketing even when they knew those would be cut due to their strict 2-hour runtime demand and desire to want as little connection to Man of Steel and Batman v Superman as possible. From the music to the plot, there’s only the barest connection to the previous two films in Justice League.
What’s more were WB’s efforts to pander to the very group of critics and fans who did not like Batman v Superman by adding so much lightness and removing many of Snyder’s fingerprints. After all, they invited many of the outlets and bloggers who decimated the film to the London set of Justice League in the summer of 2016. Yet for all WB’s interference and pandering to their critics, those same critics and bloggers still decimated Justice League upon the film’s release.
This constant cycle has drained and upset me. Justice League is a good film, yet with the deleted scenes that have emerged and other information we’ve gotten about Snyder’s vision, I can’t help but feel there was a great film underneath that was neutered by WB and Whedon. Maybe Justice League would have been just as divisive as Batman v Superman if Snyder had remained onboard, but we’ll never know. The situation shows WB’s complete lack of leadership, thought and care to this film and series as money seems to be the only thing that was on the minds of Emmerich and Tsujihara. WB completely botched Justice League in a situation where everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
I still enjoy and mostly stand by my review of Justice League. The cast makes the film and it does deliver some good superhero action as the Justice League is together for the first time on-screen. However, I’m always going to miss Zimmer’s score and the connective ties to Man of Steel and Batman v Superman that would’ve made this feel more like a trilogy. The information that has been pouring out make it seem there was a better movie underneath, but I highly doubt WB will ever release a Snyder Cut of Justice League.
Yet who knows? Maybe a group of fans will put a Snyder Cut together as they did Superman II: The Donner Cut in 25 years.