After years of rumors and speculation, Zack Snyder’s Justice League cut will finally be released on HBO Max in 2021. The troubled production of the original 2017 version combined with disappointment from fans created a movement for the release of Zack Snyder’s original vision. Despite initial denials from the studio, the Snyder Cut was confirmed to exist in 2019 and was recently announced as an HBO Max exclusive. But what exactly is this version of Justice League? And what does it mean for the industry?

Director Zack Snyder gave birth to the DC Cinematic Universe with Man of Steel after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy finished in 2012. The choice made sense to Warner Bros. as Snyder had experience adapting comic books and graphic novels to the big screen after directing Watchmen and 300. The studio's hope was the director’s unique style would distinguish the DCEU from Marvel’s cinematic universe, using DC’s classic superheroes to surpass Marvel’s success at the box office.

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In 2013, Snyder’s Man of Steel was released, followed by 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Despite earning over $1.5 billion combined globally, both movies proved divisive with critics and audiences and didn't match the same box office highs by the Marvel movies at the time. The future of DC’s expanded universe seemed to be on shaky grounds. While the script for Justice League was completed before the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the negative reception resulted in Snyder and Terrio rewriting their script before starting production on Justice League. Shooting wrapped in December 2016, and Cyborg actor Ray Fisher said there was enough shot to make two movies. Snyder's early assembly cut was five hours, and he says his director's cut was over three-and-a-half hours long. He screened a two-hour cut for the studio, but they weren't satisfied and assembled a writers room to implement changes to Snyder. Unfortunately, before he could complete another version, Snyder had to step away from his directing duties due to a family tragedy. To finish production, Warner Bros. hired director Joss Whedon.

Even before Snyder’s exit, studio executives were already pushing for creative changes. Producers Jon Berg and Geoff John were brought on the project to make Justice League more hopeful and optimistic. It was clear Warner Bros. wanted to move away from Snyder’s darker style after the reception of Batman v Superman. Snyder’s departure and Whedon’s involvement represented an opportunity for the studio to change the movie even further. However, they had no intention of pushing back the release date.

The new director adding about 80 new pages to the script, earning him a screenplay credit. A significant chunk of Snyder’s footage was tossed in favor of a two-month reshoot. Scenes with more humor and a brighter tone replaced the more violent ones from Snyder’s version. Comic book lore and character’s backstories were cut. A conflicting schedule with Mission: Impossible – Fallout meant actor Henry Cavill’s mustache had to be removed digitally from every Superman scene. The production cost also went up, adding at least $25 million to the film’s budget.

The result was a movie stitched together from multiple tones, often referred to as a "Frankenstein movie" failing to please audiences. It earned $658 million worldwide, a disappointing sum by any standard.

Dissatisfied with Whedon’s Justice League and upset with WB's treatment of Snyder, fans created an online petition calling for Warner Bros. to release Snyder’s original cut. To them, the movie in theaters didn’t realize Snyder’s vision as promised by the studio. The petition gathered almost 180,000 signatures and started a movement that would later adopt the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. In 2018, a website was created to draw attention to the cut by a fan named Fiona Zheng and would become a gathering spot for fans. ForSnyderCut.com organized a photoshoot of cosplayers holding a banner outside the Warner Bros. studios to promote the campaign.

Fan efforts would continue for two-and-a-half years despite a release being considered far-fetched by industry insiders. The campaign did mass letter-writing drives, paid for billboards near conventions and Times Square, and raised over $150,000 for suicide prevention, all hoping to convince Warner Bros to release the director’s cut. Unfortunately, some also harassed those critical of the movement, such as journalists and former DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson.

Related: Here's Why We Still Care About Snyder's Cut

Overall enthusiasm for the Snyder Cut remained strong long after the original Justice League, especially because many of the cast and crew voiced their wish for the release. Snyder was thankful for all the fan support. He also helped fuel excitement for the cut when, in early 2018, he began releasing still images and storyboards from his version of the movie on social media. The director would continue to share these tidbits and outright confirmed he had a cut of the movie in 2019. Yet the decision to release it still had to come from Warner Bros, so the campaign persisted. On the two-year anniversary of Justice League's release, the #ReleasetheSnyderCut became the top trending topic on Twitter, with nearly 1 million tweets. This is reportedly the moment when fans convinced AT&T and Warner Media to change their mind.

Over the years, details about the Snyder Cut began to emerge. The basic plot with the League uniting to fight against Steppenwolf and the Mother boxes is basically the same; however, many things were cut, including the backstories for new characters, some characters were removed entirely, and multiple subplots were removed or replaced. Besides story changes, the Snyder Cut will also have a different tone than the theatrical release. While Snyder always said Justice League would be lighter than Batman v Superman, Whedon’s numerous additional jokes and quips won’t be part of this version, and the overall colors will be less oversaturated, particularly in the final battle.

There’s a lot more backstory for Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg in the Snyder Cut. Since Justice League would be their first official cinematic appearance, Snyder wanted to introduce them properly – something Whedon struggled to achieve. These scenes contain other side characters such as Iris West, Cyborg’s mother, and Martian Manhunter. Cyborg’s role will be much bigger – he’s described as the “heart” of the movie. More scenes with his father and his life pre-transformation are expected. Hopefully, this will translate into better-developed characters the audience can enjoy.

Related: Could Snyder's Full Original DCEU Slate Still Be Completed?

Another change will be Superman’s storyline as Whedon modified his resurrection arc significantly. In Snyder’s version, the entire League appears to be involved in his digging up his grave, and Cyborg is the one who comes with the idea of using the Mother Box to bring back Clark. After being brought to life, Clark also is shown visiting a Kryptonian ship to get his suit back.

Finally, Snyder’s original plan was to set up Darkseid as the future main villain of the series, with Steppenwolf simply being his agent in Justice League. Much like Thanos’ first introduction, or Sauron in the Lord of the Rings, Darkseid would be present as a shadowy figure or, perhaps, showing up in the History Lesson flashback, with a few teases throughout the rest of the movie, and a major cliffhanger ending teasing his impending invasion. It’s unclear how much material of him will be in the cut, considering his role as the main villain would only happen in later movies.

There’s no doubt that the Snyder Cut is a special case. Studios and directors have clashed creatively before, and ultimate cuts and extended versions of movies have been released over the years, but nothing quite like this. Even Blade Runner, which is famous for its multiple versions (the latest made in 2007, 25 years after its original release), and director Richard Donner's Superman II didn’t go as far as spend well over $30 million to add to and complete the Snyder Cut. Bringing the Snyder cut to the screen means going beyond the addition of unused footage. An investment this big requires a studio believing they will turn a profit. This is where #ReleaseTheSnyderCut comes in.

Another aspect that is unique to the Snyder Cut is the persistence of the fan campaign behind the hashtag. Even after three years, the excitement never died down. Instead, efforts became increasingly professional, and no doubt this was seen by HBO and the studio as a sign it was worth the money to give fans what they wanted. The push for a release by fans combined with the need for original and exclusive content for HBO Max’s launch represents a perfect storm that is unlikely to happen again. Yet, this might set a precedent for fan-backed director’s cuts finding new homes with streaming services.

But not everyone thinks the release of the Snyder Cut is a good thing. Some people are worried about studios fueling fan entitlement by releasing it. There are those who believe the toxicity present in elements of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut should've not been rewarded. Also, while the Snyder Cut was a fan movement, not all DC fans like the director. There is a part of the fandom who strongly dislikes his gritty version of Superman and other DC superheroes. To them, this is a sign DC and Warner Media are following a creative path they have hated for a long time.

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