Yesterday’s surprise announcement that the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League is being completed and released via HBO Max, AT&T’s new streaming service, has sent ripples throughout the entertainment industry. While not entirely an unprecedented move, the news seems to validate a vocal contingent of Snyder fans who have begged (you could also say ‘bullied’) DC Entertainment and its parent company, Warner Brothers, to “Release the Snyder Cut” of the 2017 film.
The theatrical cut of Justice League was already a massive undertaking, with a reported budget of $450 million between production and marketing. With a worldwide gross of just $658 million, though, the film was considered by the studio a commercial disappointment, and critics panned it as well. For Warner Brothers to commit to spending a reported additional $20 million on a director’s cut of what was already an expensive embarrassment may seem strange to people who don’t spend much time on the geeky corners of the internet.
“So they want a director’s cut,” said a non-geeky family member some months back, after I failed to adequately describe the toxicity of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement (which you can read about here). “That’s it, right? What’s the big deal?”
The release of a director’s cut, in most cases, certainly isn’t as big of a deal, though they are exciting for fans. Blade Runner seriously suffered from studio meddling in its 1982 theatrical cut, and after several modifications, Ridley Scott’s “Final Cut” is widely accepted as the superior version of his sci-fi classic. Tolkien fans swear by the “Extended Editions” of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which were already upwards of three hours each theatrically.
DC fans may point to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, representing the preferred version of the 1980 film as directed by Donner, before he was replaced by Richard Lester. After all, while Zack Snyder remains the only credited director of Justice League, he left production early to mourn the tragic suicide of his daughter, and Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the film in post-production. Extensive reshoots followed, which were reportedly micromanaged heavily by the studio, and Whedon received a screenwriting credit alongside Chris Terrio, who wrote the initial script.
All things considered, the case for a director’s cut may sound relatively clear-cut, even if it does raise the question of why Warners couldn’t have pushed back the film’s release as Snyder took time away to cope with his loss. Yet the filmmaker’s legions of fans built up an entire mythology surrounding his exit with cult-like fervor. It would be impossible for me to provide a comprehensive guide to the movement’s conspiracy theories in this piece, or to adequately summarize the movement’s history of harassment.
The main thing to understand is that an almost religious devotion developed around the director, with his elusive “Snyder Cut” becoming their holy grail. Had the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement existed merely as an enthusiastic contingent of DC fans expressing their desire to see a film as its director intended, we’d be having a different conversation. But that’s not what happened.
To be clear, I‘m not claiming that everyone involved in the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign is a bully. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, why shouldn’t you be able to express your desire to see your favorite director’s preferred version of an ambitious superhero movie uniting Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash? Nor do I fault Snyder or anyone else heavily involved with the film’s production for wanting to see a finished product that more closely fits their original vision.
But the fact remains that a loud portion of the “Release the Snyder Cut” fandom did hurt people. Critics and executives were harassed via social media, and some were even driven off of those platforms as a result. The history of harassment is well-documented. Any community, including fan communities, is bound to have its share of bad apples, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that by releasing the Snyder Cut, Warners is giving in to the bullies.
All of that said, the “Snyder Cut” itself isn’t really the issue here. I’ll probably end up watching it, and I might even enjoy it. What I’m concerned about is the precedent it sets.
Toxic fandom has been a problem in fan communities since long before the phrase entered the popular lexicon, and as new technologies and communication platforms have emerged, it has only seemed to get worse. What it really comes down to is an intense sense of ownership over one’s interests. Some people’s identities are so tied to their favorite TV shows, football teams, video games, or superheroes that they feel compelled to fiercely protect these things they hold so dear. If that means targeted online harassment, gatekeeping, or even death threats, so be it.
In a very real sense, that all worked out for the Snyder Cut movement. Sure, it took a few years, but they’re ultimately getting what they wanted. They’re so satisfied that they’ve already started a new campaign, this time for the “Ayer Cut” of Suicide Squad.
And that right there is the problem. Toxic fans have always made demands of the entertainment they consume, and the internet has only made it easier. But now that the Snyder Cut movement has shown that such demands can be met if they’re persistent enough, the floodgates have opened. This will likely make fandom, as a concept, worse for generations.
It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a slippery slope. There will be more “Release the [Director] Cut” movements, and each one will be insufferable. More fans of other franchises will view their pursuit of idealized versions of the things they like as a form of activism, a noble pursuit for justice and purity. When production problems on a high-profile piece of entertainment are reported, more fans will find reason to believe their favorite artists are caught up in a complicated web of lies, and thus it is their duty as a True Fan to expose the conspirators.
More harassment, more perceived culture wars, more death threats. Remember when Star Wars was actually fun to talk about?