With the announcement that next year will see HBO Max cynically leverage a vocal and demonstrably toxic fan movement to launch their new service with a Zack Snyder-autered reinterpretation of 2017’s disappointing but ultimately adequate “Justice League” (as a vaguely defined four-hour movie, or possibly six-hour mini-series) we at least have proof, finally, that there never really was a Synder Cut in the first place. It was a Schrödinger’s cat which allowed Snyder to sell the fans a pup.
What was announced yesterday wasn’t the long-overdue restoration of the original director’s vision of a movie which went in another direction. After all, not since J K Rowling has a creator indulged in such a concerted campaign of heterodoxical retconning regarding their own work, acidly teasing a seemingly endless supply of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ to fluff up his (apparently deceptively) flaccid vision. No, what was grandiloquently announced yesterday – during an already self-congratulatory “Man Of Steel” watch party – was a revisionist vanity project conceived with the benefit of four years of hindsight and the focus group feedback gleaned from Synder’s disingenuously drip-fed Wormtongue-esque fan baiting. And, if you doubt the ego-driven nature of it, just cast your eyes at the publicity material for ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE.
However you feel about “Justice League” or, indeed, the works – DC and otherwise – of Zack Snyder, unless you are in that narrow self-styled ‘movement’ who now stand to get the polished turd their emotional constipation has for so long withheld from them, the announcement is little short of disastrous news. The golden age of ‘genre entertainment’ is coming to an end and it’s the ‘fans’ who have killed it.
“Justice League” is by no means the first sign of the impending collapse, but it is by far the most high profile. Of course, “Star Wars” had already fallen to the seemingly unstoppable power of a minority of hostile, toxic fans who, elevated by the amplifying power of social media, compelled J J Abrams to deliver “The Rise Of Skywalker”, a craven capitulation to the vitriol and scorn heaped upon the previous movie, which, at least, deservedly underperformed (by the franchise’s own standards) at the box office. Of course, Abrams has a long track record of homage and fan service himself and has effectively done to “Star Wars” what he did to “Star Trek” (and those who learned their trade under his tutelage are continuing to do to Rodenberry’s venerable sci-fi staple), although “Star Trek” was already trapped in a navel-gazing spiral of prequels before Abrams and Co came along and accelerated the decline.
Series and movie franchises are being planned or replanned or commissioned based on fan ‘feedback’. Sequels and subsequent seasons are retooled and rewritten based on fan feedback to such an extent that the creative teams are quite open about it (“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”, “Star Trek: Picard”, “Fantastic Beasts”). Creative vision is now at the beck and call of the consumer and Art and storytelling are now secondary considerations to fan service and appeasement. This, inevitably, can lead to only one thing: a lack of fresh new ideas and storytelling which will drive the decline of the very properties those fans purport to love so, so much.
Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Superheroes are big business right now and big business doesn’t like to take risks – especially in the age of ever-ballooning production budgets. But art requires creative risk otherwise it stagnates. Fan approval is anathema to good art, the kind of fan power demonstrated by the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign even more so. Artists and storytellers must be free to tell the stories they want to tell in the way they want to tell them. Studio interference has always existed, of course – it’s how we got the “Justice League” debacle in the first place – but this is infinitely worse. Militant fandom is the Anti-Art Equation.
Did I like the story Zack Snyder was telling or the way he was telling it? Nope. Do I think he should have been allowed to finish the story his way? Absolutely. That he wasn’t and the fact that, in turn, mobilised a militant fandom to weaponise social media to prosecute any perceived injustices on his behalf is something we will all, in time, come to regret. The mob has won, so everyone will lose.
Of course, I’ll watch “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”. I’m curious to see what it’s like and where the differences are. Will it be better than the theatrical cut? Maybe, maybe not. My guess is it will improve on some things and make others worse but however it turns out, it will be a fascinating glimpse into the power and complexity of cinematic storytelling. If only it didn’t come with such a hefty price tag.