Controversial director Zack Snyder has played a major role in shaping the nascent DC Extended Universe, but his involvement came to a tragic (and hopefully temporary) end in May this year. Struggling with grief after his daughter's suicide, Snyder stepped aside, allowing Joss Whedon to take charge of additional photography on Justice League in order to guide the film through the final stages of production.
But to what extent is Justice League still a Zack Snyder film? Ben Affleck — that's #Batman to you and me — gave us our first solid comment. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, he's noted:
"[The film is] an interesting product of two directors, both with kind of unique visions, both with really strong takes. I’ve never had that experience before making a movie. I have to say, I really love working with Zack, and I really love the stuff we’ve done with Joss."
It's an intriguing quote, suggesting that Justice League will be a film like no other, capturing the vision of two skilled directors. On the one hand, there's Zack Snyder's beautiful, cinematic style and on the other, Whedon's focus on dialogue and character interaction should come to the fore. Hopefully, Justice League will benefit from the best of both worlds.
Here's What We Know
So how has Whedon's involvement changed Justice League exactly? We already knew reshoots and additional photography have been extensive; Variety reported that Warner Bros. was spending around $25 million on them, and that stars were struggling to juggle their commitments in order to be available for them.
Ezra Miller had already started work on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2, but Warner Bros. — who are also producing the Harry Potter spin-off — were able to help. There were thornier issues for Henry Cavill, though, who had already started work on the sixth Mission Impossible film for rival studio Paramount. By all accounts, that's led to some pretty expensive digital editing for Justice League — Cavill had grown a mustache for Mission Impossible, and Paramount wouldn't allow him to shave it off!
According to Joe Morton, who plays Cyborg's father in Justice League, the cast believe the reshoots and additional photography are focused on the overall tone of the film.
He told IGN:
"I think what I heard was that there was a need from the studio to lighten up the film in a way, that the film felt too dark. I don't know what that meant in terms of how it actually got translated in terms of the reshoots but that's what I heard. That's what I thought some of the reshoots were about."
That certainly fits with what we've seen. Contrast the first Justice League trailer with the one released at #SDCC2017; the dark palette has been abandoned, and the second trailer is filled with beautiful, vibrant color. There's a focus on character beats, too, and some heroes — most notably Aquaman — seem to have lightened in tone.
According to producer Charles Roven, between 80 and 85% of the movie was based on Snyder's original shots. The remaining 15-20% was new footage shot by Whedon. Those remarks dovetail with comments from Forbes's Mark Hughes, who insisted we were mainly talking additional photography. He described a focus on scenes that clarify or stretch out dialogue, rather than a start-from-scratch approach. So it seems the overall flow and plot of Justice League will still be in line with Snyder's original vision.
Assessing The Rumors
That brings us to the limit of what we know for sure; but there are a lot more rumors circulating. Some of them can safely be discounted; a rumor is currently saying the original Snyder version was "unwatchable," but that's most likely hyperbole. There's also a claim that Justice League's ending has been rewritten, with the movie originally intended to end with a cliffhanger alien invasion of Earth. That particular rumor can safely be dismissed outright, as Snyder abandoned a 'part 1 / part 2' approach back in June 2016.
As Forbes reported after a set visit:
"Director Zack Snyder explained that Justice League is indeed a single story without a cliffhanger story continuing into a second half, but that there is still another film with an existing release date and Justice League sets up a future for the DCU and the team."
Circling back to Variety's more reliable report, Whedon has been "punching up" the dialogue to help create strong character beats. They also report that the director has been working on "connective tissue" to improve the film's flow. Both claims dovetail with Mark Hughes's comments, and make sense. Snyder has a wonderful visual approach that creates transcendent, stand-out 'moments' (equivalent to the old comic book 'splash panels'), but he's arguably not so strong at crafting dialogue, and often, transitions between 'moments' are choppy. Whedon, in contrast, excels at both dialogue and transitioning, with each scene flowing seamlessly into the next. If Variety's report is accurate, then the finished Justice League will allow both directors to play to their unique strengths.
Ben Affleck's comment is the first solid hint we've heard describing the scale of Whedon's influence. Justice League will be a movie like no other, and the finished film is sure to be a perfect blend of Snyder's beautiful visual style and Whedon's smart, snappy character beats. While the reason for Snyder's departure from the project is heartbreaking, the reality is that we look set to receive an even better film as a result.