Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the DC stable of superheroes are some of the most recognizable characters in popular culture. Free from the complicated licensing deals and business entanglements that prevented Marvel from launching a shared cinematic universe for years, Warner Bros. entrusted filmmaker Zack Snyder with shepherding their most famous heroes into the Justice League, in what we’ve come to call the DCEU. As every film fan knows, following Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman, Snyder’s original vision was recalibrated, at best, or just outright dismissed.
In our video above we take a look at everything we know about Zack Snyder’s original plans for his DCEU, based on interviews, social media posts, and well-researched reports from before, during, and after the process that eventually led to the Justice League movie.
We here at Movieweb champion the DC Comics stable of heroes, villains, and supporting characters. We’ve loved so many of the films and TV shows featuring these beloved icons, from the campy ’60s Adam West Batman to the Kevin Conroy voiced iterations, the wonderful The Batman that ran from 2004 to 2008, and we even have a soft-spot for Val Kilmer. We’re big fans of all of the current Arrowverse. Wonder Woman was awesome, we think Ben Affleck is great as Batman, and we honestly didn’t hate Jared Leto as the Joker. The point is we want to see great movies starring these characters. We are always rooting for them.
In an early 2018 editorial, The Washington Post declared, “The Zack Snyder Era of Superhero Movies is Over and You Should Be Sorry.” While calling Justice League “certainly bad – a product that reeked of overbearing corporate meddling; a movie that reportedly cost upward of $300 million to make and yet somehow looked cheap and shoddy,” they lamented Snyder losing stewardship over the DCEU, as “he brought a unity of vision, both ideological and aesthetic, to Warner Bros’ effort…”
Like many of Snyder’s most ardent supporters, the editorial praises his “aggressively unique artistry.” To many, the story of Snyder and the DCEU is one of the auteur vs. the corporate mandate, of personal vision vs. sanitized storytelling.
The guy you’re listening to first had an opportunity to meet Zack Snyder on the set of Dawn of the Dead, his runaway surprise box office hit remake of the zombie classic. His zombies were fast, his movie was visceral, he kicked things off with Johnny Cash! I knew he’d made music videos for Morrissey and Peter Murphy, which is some serious cred, if you ask me. I loved his Dawn of the Dead. When I interviewed him about Sucker Punch I began by asking him if he had any advice for the filmmaker who would eventually remake his movie. He laughed.
Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are such well-known characters with largely understood and accepted backstories, mythologies, and personalities, it’s a heavy responsibility for anyone to tackle, let alone in some fresh, unexplored way.
Snyder’s take on Superman in Man of Steel was deconstructionist, retelling the familiar origin with new shades of pathos, alienation, and loneliness. There were Easter Eggs in Man of Steel that pointed to a larger shared universe, even if Snyder never intended to build one that would crank out 20 movies in 10 years like the MCU. Regardless, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice introduced even more bits for future exploration, for better or worse, hinting at other stories to come. The Knightmare sequence; the time traveling Flash; the Quicktime videos; the Robin costume… (The end result, particularly with the theatrical cut vs. the Extended Cut, was often criticized as containing too much plot with too little plot development.)
We all know what happened next. Plans for The Justice League were shortened from two movies into one; massive shifts in tone were introduced; large portions of Suicide Squad were reworked. Eventually, Snyder stepped away after the conclusion of principal photography because of a personal tragedy, ‘though more recent reports suggest he was actually fired by the studio long before that was announced. Either way, Joss Whedon, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer mastermind who directed the first two Avengers movies and was working with Warner on a potential Batgirl movie, was hired to oversee new scenes and reshoots. Depending on who was speaking and when, he was brought on either to complete Snyder’s vision, or to totally rework it.
Whether it exists or not, the speculation continues about a fabled “Snyder Cut” and what that would look like. In the months since Justice League was released, we learned from the actor who played Cyborg’s dad that his character was originally going to die. VFX leaked showing a pre-Cyborg Victor Stone playing football, with his mom cheering him on in the stands. Whedon added the Russian family. There were more scenes between Lois Lane and Martha Kent. Iris West was cut from the movie.
By many accounts, Snyder showed some kind of assembly cut to executives, but it was surely devoid of finalized visual effects and like most movies, destined for reshoots and pickup shots whether Snyder had left the project or not. Shortly before Comic Con 2018, The Wall Street Journal received official word from Warner that there are no plans in place to release any alternate version of Justice League. Snyder himself declined to comment for the article, but a spokesperson for the director did reveal an interesting tidbit: Zack hadn’t seen the theatrical version.
So what of Snyder’s greater vision for the DCEU? He’s revealed that his plan consisted of a single self-contained story arc, presumably including Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, Justice League 1 and 2 and an unnamed fifth movie. Spinoffs and standalones were always part of the puzzle, but he wanted the five films to work on their own, similar to the way Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is self-contained.
Snyder has been very active on the social media platform Vero, answering fan questions, posting a few insights into his vision for the DCEU, and liking comments from others that seem to confirm or deny various speculation and fan theories.
The Knightmare sequence, where Superman turns villainous, seemed like a seed planted to lead to an eventual big screen adaptation of the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us. When one fan specifically asked Snyder if he planned to explore that arc, the writer/director responded simply, “oh yes.”
When someone asked him if the evil Superman in Bruce Wayne’s vision was tied to the Mother Boxes, Snyder countered, “Or if someone lost someone close to them they might become susceptible to a certain equation and blame a certain Bat for events that a too soon Bruce would know nothing about.” That may sound cryptic, but DC fans quickly translated that to mean: Lois Lane would die and in his grief, Superman would become susceptible to the mind-controlling Anti-Life Equation.
The Anti-Life Equation is a tool of Darkseid, the larger villain of the DCEU Snyder likely intended to introduce at the end of Justice League, as the guy pulling the strings of Steppenwolf, setting him up as the big bad for a Justice League sequel.
Speaking of Justice League 2, which was originally announced as part of a Hunger Games or Twilight style two part story, similar to the way plans for Avengers 3 and 4 were first rolled out, Snyder has confirmed via Vero that the three crosses seen in the background in BvS were meant to foreshadow something in Justice League 2.
How about that Robin suit? A VFX reel from Suicide Squad shows a cut scene where Batman says to Harley Quinn, “The Joker took something from me,” a scene described in the film’s novelization. In the comics, it’s Jason Todd, the second Robin, who is killed by the Joker, but when asked who the suit in Batman v Superman belonged to, Snyder said, “Richard,” meaning Dick Grayson, the original Boy Wonder. Snyder later said he planned to eventually introduce Carrie Kelley, the Robin who first appeared in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, in the DCEU.
How about Supergirl? Warner Bros. is developing a Supergirl movie, but Snyder said the open pod Clark discovered in Man Of Steel wasn’t meant to hint at his cousin, Kara Zor-El, but “something more” (contradicting a Man of Steel prequel comic, which Snyder co-wrote). This doesn’t mean he didn’t plan to introduce Supergirl. “There’s another way to get her in that we put right in plain sight,” he posted.
The Justice League post-credits scene introduced Deathstroke to the DCEU and setup plans for a potential Legion of Doom. Back in 2016, Ben Affleck shared footage of Deathstroke on his social media accounts, later confirming plans to make him the primary villain in a standalone film called The Batman, which he would write, star in, and direct. As of the time of this video, Affleck’s role with The Batman is TBD. At the very least, he’ll be a producer. As recently as July 2018, Joe Manganiello said a Deathstroke movie was still “in the works,” but with no firm release in sight.
(Shout-out to Manu Bennett, who is excellent as the Arrowverse’s Slade Wilson.)
Speaking of the Arrowverse, we loved what they did with Flashpoint on the CW. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was excited to play the grizzled Thomas Wayne version of Batman in The Flash standalone movie, which was set to adopt a version of the Flashpoint storyline. Since Snyder’s role with the DCEU has diminished, those plans have shifted. Morgan has said The Flash movie will likely be more of an origin story.
It’s possible we could have seen Mark Wahlberg or Tom Cruise in the DCEU as Hal Jordan, ‘though what role those Green Lantern plans played before and after Snyder is unclear. We do know that Green Lantern comics legend Geoff Johns expressed concerns about the Man of Steel script and it’s lack of levity before it was even made.
Snyder “liked” a post on Vero celebrating Whedon’s exit from Batgirl. A story on the Batman News site said Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins favorited a tweet about it. Plenty of Snyder friends have made their support for the filmmaker’s original vision clear. Snyder is still listed as producer on Aquaman and Wonder Woman 1984.
We know that the Dark Knight trilogy is still highly regarded. At the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton poked fun at his reputation for being difficult to work with, while also roasting Marvel. “I did a big action movie called The Incredible Hulk. You know what went wrong? I wanted a better script. I thought we should try to make one Marvel movie that was as good as the worst Chris Nolan movie.” Host Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has made more than one movie with Nolan including The Dark Knight Rises, could be seen laughing heartily at Norton’s joke.
Yes, it’s hard not to compare the DCEU with the MCU. We shouldn’t pretend that, for better or worse, the MCU hasn’t been more commercially and critically successful, nor should we pretend that the success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe didn’t influence some bad decisions in Warner’s scramble to play commercial catch-up.
Some fans of DC’s recent slew of movies are such passionate defenders that they’ll paint any criticism of the Snyder steered films as mean-spirited snark or worse, as evidence of some kind of Hollywood conspiracy paying critics to praise the competition. The rivalry, sometimes cruel but more often than not friendly and fun, between DC and Marvel Comics stretches back decades, so it makes sense that it would play out in some way with these movies. There’s no denying that both brand names were slapped on a fair share of duds before the introduction of the MCU or the DCEU. And we will always salute the almost universally beloved comic book movie masterpieces from before, like Superman, Spider-Man 2, and The Dark Knight.
At present, the DCEU films we know are happening are Aquaman, Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984. Beyond that, movies in development include Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps, The Flash, Supergirl, Suicide Squad 2, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, The Batman, Deathstroke, Lobo, a Joker solo movie starring Jared Leto, New Gods, a Black Adam movie with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Steven Spielberg’s Blackhawk, and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker origin film, which takes place outside of DCEU continuity.
So, seriously, tell us your thoughts, because we know you’ll have them. What do you think about Zack Snyder’s original vision for the DCEU? Do you think there’s a Snyder Cut and if so, do you want it to be released? What are your thoughts on how all of this has played out? Which upcoming DC movies are you most excited about?