Zack Snyder’s Justice League: A case of history repeating itself?

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available now on Sky Cinema

It is one of the most hotly anticipated releases of 2021 so far, its journey to our screens long overdue. Of course, I am talking about Zack Snyder’s Justice League. His film never making it to cinema screens the way the director intended due to personal tragedy—its 2017 release mired in poor reviews, haphazard editing and poor visual effects. Post-Snyder Justice Leagues journey to cinemas was one of re-shoots, cuts and a clash in artistic vision. With Warner Brothers executives using Snyder’s departure as an opportunity to press the reset button. Many having lost faith in the chosen architect of their DC cinematic universe.

As a result, Joss Whedon joined the team, his work on the first two Avengers movies offering Warner a potential Marvel-inspired recut. The result, a messy and uninspiring adventure full of holes as Snyder’s nearly completed film found itself butchered in editing. Whedon clearly holding little love for the characters so carefully crafted over the proceeding years. The lovingly created backstory of both Cyborg and The Flash airbrushed away in favour of a quick runtime. While Cavill’s superb man of steel faired no better, his role reduced to a simple ‘Superman saves the day’ cliche.

However, Warner’s choice also highlights a much deeper divide in the studio, one that has haunted its DC movies for years. And the release of Snyder’s epic, beautiful and sweeping film is not the first time Warner has found itself succumbing to the will of movie fans. In 2006 after decades of campaigning, fans finally persuaded Warner to release Superman II, the Richard Donner Cut. Donner’s vision never fully realised after being fired from the Superman franchise before its release. His directing duties handed to Richard Lester, who, in turn, conducted re-shoots to lighten Superman II’s core narrative. It was a vision that would continue with Superman III, where Warner presided over an almost comical take on the Superman franchise. Their obsession with a light, frivolous Superman universe ultimately ending Christopher Reeve’s iconic man of steel.

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But this is far from the only example, with Tim Burton’s Batman Returns also marking the end of his tenure in the director’s chair. His movie, while highly successful, too dark for Warner executives. His replacement, Joel Schumacher, tasked with bringing a lighter, more comical tone to the franchise. A franchise that would ultimately lose its audience after Tim Burton and Micheal Keaton’s departure. However, where directors have been allowed to interpret DC Characters freely, Warner has largely achieved success. For example, Christopher Nolans epic Batman trilogy, where Warner executives stood back from the vision and production. Here, Warner allowed Nolan to create a darker, modern Batman, much to their credit. Their obsession with family-friendly comic book outings placed on the backburner.

Equally, when lesser prized assets from the DC Universe have found their way to the screen, Warner has shown less preoccupation with the final picture. Both Shazam and V for Vendetta prime examples of this hands-off approach. Now at this point, it’s worth mentioning that not all modern DC Movies have suffered; for example, Wonder Woman and Joker are superb examples of DC and Warner at their best.

Whatever your take on the constant changes and re-imagining of the DC universe, one thing seems to stand out above all else; Warner Brother’s unease with the darker, adult side of DC Comics. Studio bosses obsessed with creating lighter, family-friendly movies that dismiss the darker edge of the DC brand. Of course, that does not mean every DC movie has to be R rated. But, it does point to a continuing unease with the darker stories and characters who surround many of the comic books aimed at a young adult audience. While at the same time highlighting a marked difference between DC and Marvel in readership.

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Marvel has long attracted young readers to its comic book heroes; in fact, one of my nephews is an avid fan of Marvel’s comic book world. However, more often than not, when these readers become teenagers, it’s DC that picks up the mantel. Its universe of darker heroes like Batman alongside deadly villains such as Lex Luther and the Joker playing to the teenage imagination. Now, I am sure many of you will completely disagree, and yes, I know there are life-long Marvel and DC Fans. But, most readers adjust their interests and allegiances with age. The characters they love aged 8 or 9 no longer holding their attention at 16 or 17.

For example, while I loved Spider-Man and The Hulk as a kid, I ultimately found Batman, Robin, Superman and The Flash more exciting and engaging as a teenager. This does not, of course, mean Marvel lacks more adult characters, but these are often wrapped in a far lighter tone.

Therefore, it only stands to reason that there should be a space for superhero movies that reflect our changing tastes as we grow. After all, is it not common sense to provide cinema audiences with a mix of child-friendly, teenage and adult movies in this vast and diverse genre? There is a renewed hope at Warner that this diversity can shine through by embracing DC Comics’ multi-verse. But, central to this is the understanding that comic book movies do not just appeal to kids. Suppose Warner can embrace this, just as it did with Joker and Nolan’s Batman trilogy, allowing directors to fly free from constraint. The effect would surely be a studio that thrives as a place of diversity in storytelling. Its executives embracing the DC Comics world like never before while understanding its broad appeal.

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Opinions on Zack Snyder’s trilogy of DC films will continue to rage for many years to come. But, no-one can deny the vision and bravery of his work. And for what it’s worth, I believe Zack Snyder’s Justice League to be one of the finest superhero movies of the past decade. His film a sublime, beautiful and loving exploration of characters who carry a deep place in my heart.

The fatally flawed Justice League that hit our cinema screens in 2017, therefore, sits firmly at the door of executives who mistakenly believed audiences wanted a lighter superhero movie. The result, a continued cycle of mistakes that date back to Superman II in 1980. With studio executives worrying about the impact of a directors vision on box office returns, budget and potential criticism. The very notion of risk in artistic vision steamrollered out of production. This gulf of opinion between artists and executives ultimately leads to continued calls for films to be released as the director originally intended them to be seen. Something easily avoided if visionary directors were allowed space to create the movie that sits in their imagination; the audience left to decide its place in movie history.

However, this also brings me to my final point; the audience. Fans do not own a character; any more than one religion owns faith over another. However, in recent years, fandom has become divided into groups that mistakenly believe their vision is the only vision. This has occurred in Marvel, DC, Star Wars and many more iconic franchises; its existence a threat to creativity and risk. Fans must therefore accept that these beliefs only tie the arms of studios further. The opportunity for change, creativity and unique visions stifled before a character ever reaches the screen. And while fans can achieve amazing things. For example, Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Superman II, the Donner Cut. They can also erect unnecessary barriers to rebirth and evolution.

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