It’s the sort of thing that sounds like the plot of a classic underdog movie — a group of ordinary people that start a movement, take on the big guys and get a win.
Only, in this case, it’s a movie that would be about a movie, or actually two movies. Sounds confusing? Perhaps, but that is the story of the fight to release the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League.
Sean O’Connell is the managing director of pop culture website CinemaBlend, a 20-year veteran of reporting on the entertainment industry and the author of Release The Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Of The Fight That Saved Justice League.
“In what world is this normal? Years from now, history is still going to be boggled that these guys accomplished this,” he says.
He says there was already huge interest in Justice League because it was DC’s version of the Avengers, which was by now a multibillion-dollar franchise for Marvel.
That only increased when Avengers director Jos Whedon was brought in to replace Zack Snyder after Snyder left following the tragic suicide of his daughter.
Then fans arrived at the cinema in 2017 expecting to see beloved characters such as Batman and Superman teaming up with other DC legends.
Instead, what they got was: “Completely unacceptable on every level … a Frankenstein’s monster that was butchered by so many hands,” O’Connell says.
As well as Cyborg (Ray Fisher) having his backstory cut, fans were angry that The Flash was essentially just used as comic relief. And then there was the horror of Henry Cavill coming back for reshoots with a moustache — and having to get that digitally altered.
“The moustache controversy! Oh, how they butchered his CGI face,” O’Connell says.
There was also fury that the studio had chosen Whedon, associated with the “enemy” Marvel, to finish a jewel in the DC crown.
“From a filmmaking voice perspective, they don’t make the same movies, they are completely different,” he says.
“Whedon is all pop culture references and sarcastic quips while Snyder was darker, more serious and was going for a ‘Gods among men’ tone.”
Almost instantly fans began to call for the Zack Snyder version. Now this is not unusual. Fans called for the last season of Game Of Thrones to be reshot, for both The Last Jedi and The Return Of Skywalker to be redone. None of those things have happened. Like almost everyone else, O’Connell essentially dismissed them at first. But then the movement kept growing.
“The one that caught my eye was in San Diego for Comic-Con in 2019, where they bombarded downtown San Diego with Snyder Cut advertising,” O’Connell says.
“They wrapped glass bus stations, hired a plane (to tow a banner) … I said, I’ve gotta start finding out about them.
“In October 2019, at New York’s Comic-Con, they rented a digital billboard in Times Square. I thought: ‘You guys are insane’!”
After talking to some of the group who “would cringe if I called them the leaders” but some of the more senior members who “carry the torch and point the direction”, he learned how it wasn’t just about pushing for their movie.
“They did all the fundraising themselves and every time they paid for a billboard, they raised the exact same amount for suicide prevention,” he says.
“They were constantly raising money on that behalf, so they weren’t just entitled fans. I learned about how passionate they can be.
“They are just regular people, truly regular people.
“They had a mentality, us against the big studio, a real David vs Goliath mentality.
“I collected their stories and what stunned me the most was how global they were — fans from the Middle East, India, Europe and Australia. Yes, it was largely driven by social media but there are just as many who aren’t online.”
So he managed to land a book deal last year but he didn’t have a proper ending. He tried to speak to Snyder but the director’s representatives told O’Connell that Snyder couldn’t go on the record.
“So I thought that he was either negotiating with the studio and didn’t want to jeopardise that or he was working on his own documentary about it!” O’Connell says.
The closest previous example, ironically, was Superman II. Director Richard Donner was able to release his version about 20 years after its original release but that was unfinished.
“So I thought the book would have an open-ended finish. I asked the fans, if they had a message, what would you like to tell him (Snyder),” O’Connell says.
He received hundreds of messages from around the world from fans saying how much the films meant to them. “Then the most amazing stroke of luck, a month before I had to turn the book in, HBO Max announced the Snyder Cut,” he says.
And this was not just a rough of the previously shot footage. This was money to shoot new scenes, including bringing in Jared Leto as The Joker to shoot a scene with Ben Affleck as Batman.
He quickly rewrote the ending and even had the chance to speak with Snyder about it.
“He is as stunned as anybody,” he says.
“He also envisioned it would be 10-15 years and then he would be able to show some of the footage.”
The other extraordinary thing about it was how the actors took up the cause.
Fisher, Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and even Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) and Ben Affleck (Batman) used their social media to keep things moving.
O’Connell says he can understand the likes of Fisher agitating for a new cut, given his storyline was greatly diminished. But Gadot and Affleck still had deals with Warner Bros and were essentially attacking their own employer.
As a fan himself, O’Connell is excited by what the four-hour epic Snyder Cut will offer.
“It’s going to be a rousing, throwback superhero movie,” he says.
“A four-hour bombastic epic and team-building exercise. I think it’ll be closer in tone to the first Wonder Woman or Aquaman.”
He’s excited about what it will mean for a “more epic” Flash and also seeing Superman’s resurrection done properly.
“Seeing the team together, to see them interacting properly … I think it will be like the first Avengers,” he says. “I guarantee fans will lose their minds!”
He’s unsure if it will lead to a sequel, where the heroes get to take on the big baddie of the DC universe, Darkseid. But, after what has happened, it seems anything is possible …
The Snyder Cut of Justice League will be available exclusively on Foxtel/Binge from March 18. The book Release The Snyder Cut is out March 1 and is available to pre-order from Amazon and Book Depository now.