The world was understandably shocked and saddened to learn that Zack Snyder and producer Deborah Snyder were stepping down from Justice League after the tragic death of their daughter. (Something that no parent should ever have to experience.) When Warner Bros. announced that Joss Whedon was stepping in to guide the film through the end of production and help it meet its release date of November 17th of this year, it was heartening to see that fan reaction online was appropriately subdued. Most people weren’t outright celebratory, their thoughts still with the Snyder family in their difficult time, though the news did allow fans to breathe a slight sigh of relief that the film had been passed into good hands; after all, Whedon successfully brought The Avengers to the big screen in two critically and financially successful outings – who better to help Snyder finish the film and guide the Justice League into theaters for the very first time?
Since the initial news broke of the Snyders’ departure from the project and the addition of Whedon, there has been a lot of rumors and innuendo swirling around regarding just how much influence Warner Bros. is giving the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer over the movie, and how much the new director and studio are planning to change. I want to try to take a moment to make sense of it all and offer my own educated speculation as to what I believe is going on with Justice League.
Per The Hollywood Reporter’s initial article on May 22nd breaking the news about Snyder’s departure and Whedon taking over:
“Snyder, after screening a rough cut of Justice League for fellow filmmakers and friends, wanted to add additional scenes, so he brought Whedon on board to write them. But as he prepared to shoot the scenes in England, Snyder realized it was not the time to leave home. “The directing is minimal and it has to adhere to the style and tone and the template that Zack set,” says Emmerich. “We’re not introducing any new characters. It’s the same characters in some new scenes. He’s handing the baton to Joss, but the course has really been set by Zack. I still believe that despite this tragedy, we’ll still end up with a great movie.” “
There are a few interesting things to note here. First is the fact that it was Snyder who wanted to add additional scenes to the film before he stepped down, and it was Snyder who brought Whedon on board to write them. Second, Toby Emmerich – president and chief content officer of Warner Bros. – indicates that Whedon’s additional directing, which he is currently in the midst of in England, is “minimal” and will adhere to Zack Snyder’s style. Both of these facts are confirmed by producer Charles Roven in an interview with Variety at the Wonder Woman premiere:
“[Whedon] was already working with us on some of the scenes for additional photography that we’re going to be doing shortly. It was fortunate that Zack convinced him, and he agreed, to step in and finish the movie and help Zack finish his vision. We’re excited about that.”
Let’s turn back the clock seven days before Warner Bros. announced all of this, however, to March 15th. Splash Report claimed they heard from anonymous sources that Justice League was undergoing “significant” reshoots:
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said that in the 17 months between the start of principal photography and the final cut arriving in theaters in November that the film will have essentially been “remade…twice.”
They refused to offer any further details, but they said that Warner Bros. is really putting everything into overhauling the movie. Apparently, they didn’t like what they were seeing and so the film has had a lot of work put into trying to make it better while on its way way to the November 2017 release.
One day later on March 16th, Warner Bros. itself denied these reports via The Wrap:
There has been no additional photography to date on ‘Justice League.’ We have planned and will shoot additional pickups early summer.
On June 2nd, Batman-On-Film seemed to corroborate Splash Report’s claims when they informed their readers that Whedon’s reshoots have begun in earnest in London:
I have been told by a 100% vetted and more-than-reliable source that re-shoots on JUSTICE LEAGUE have commenced in London under the helm of Joss Whedon and that they will be “significant.” So much so, that these reshoots are expected to take place through June and July, and maybe into August. They are NOT your “standard pick-ups.” And, the gang’s all back for ‘em – take that for what you will.
If we are to believe both Splash Report and Batman-On-Film, it sounds as though Justice League has been in a constant state of flux since filming initially began. It sounds as though Zack Snyder was essentially massively reworking the film’s script and story during production, and it appears as though even more substantial changes to the movie’s plot and tone are currently underway in London under the direction of Joss Whedon. And before going any further, let’s make something clear about the credibility of both Splash Report and Batman-On-Film: they are both reputable outlets. Do they get scoops wrong every now and then? Absolutely. What site doesn’t? But I’ve found that most of the time, they’re more right than wrong – especially in the case of Batman-On-Film. That website reported hearing from sources that Ben Affleck was stepping down as director of The Batman weeks before it was confirmed while most outlets were still saying there was no truth to the rumors whatsoever. Indeed, the webmaster for that site got to visit the sets of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, and was allowed by Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. to exclusively reveal one of the posters for Justice League a few hours before they released them to other websites. The site is legitimate and well-respected by the WB, and I trust their sources. As for Splash Report, I admit, I’m not as familiar with them as I am Batman-On-Film, but I do know that they received word of how extensive the reshoots for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were and word about Ben Affleck bravely seeking help for his alcoholism before any other major news outlet picked these stories up.
But I digress. There is one more piece of major reporting regarding Joss Whedon’s involvement with Justice League that we must discuss, and it comes via a story broken by The Hollywood Reporter on June 14th. They announced to the world the exclusive news that Joss Whedon had hired composer Danny Elfman to score the film, replacing Snyder’s choice of composer Antonius Tom Holkenborg – a.k.a. Junkie XL – who helped Hans Zimmer score Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. In an accompanying statement from the composer which The Hollywood Reporter included in their article, Holkenborg had the following to say:
“As my mentor Hans Zimmer told me – you haven’t made it in Hollywood as a composer until you get replaced on a project. So I guess [I] finally graduated this week. It pains me to leave the project, but a big thanks to Zack for asking me to part of his vision, and I wish Danny, Joss and Warner Bros all the best with Justice League.”
So taking all of the information within these reports into account, what does this all mean for Justice League? How much influence will Joss Whedon actually have on the final product compared to Zack Snyder?
It’s obvious that the movie Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. had planned, which started filming weeks after Batman v. Superman hit theaters to extremely negative reviews, is not the movie that audiences will be watching when they step into theaters on November 17th of this year. How could they stay the original course after how badly received Dawn of Justice was, not just by critics, but by audiences as well? The fact that the studio changed drastic course is also made clear by the fact that when Warner Bros. originally announced their slate of films on October 15th 2014, they revealed that the DC team-up film would be a grand, two-part epic, with Justice League: Part One being released on November 17th 2017 and Justice League: Part Two being released on June 14th, 2019. By the time various press outlets visited the set of Justice League in June of 2016, however, Deborah Snyder confirmed to Slash Film that it would be one movie: “we are only doing Justice League, just Justice League. One movie.” Zack Snyder later clarified his wife’s comments to the same source by asserting: “it’s a complete movie.”
We also need to take into account the fact that Justice League began filming a mere few weeks after Dawn of Justice hit theaters. Sets were built, costumes fitted, schedules figured out, and a script – written by Chris Terrio – was finished. Now, rewrites are normal throughout the shooting of any movie, but condensing two films into one doesn’t constitute standard rewrites. It’s clear that the film was changing dramatically, even as production and shooting got underway – and all of this was before Joss Whedon was even brought in to work on the film!
Clearly, the reception of Batman v. Superman – which included three of the most iconic superheroes in history meeting for the first time in live action, and the first time Wonder Woman ever appeared on the big screen – spooked Warner Bros. As did the fact that it didn’t cross the invisible billion-dollar line of demarcation which, theoretically, a film starring Batman and Superman alone should have done without even including the character of Wonder Woman. To me, it’s clear that one of the main goals of these script and tone changes was to address one of the criticisms that appears in almost every negative review: Dawn of Justice was too dark, too somber, and – a lot of the time – too boring. Warner Bros. is instituting all of these changes to make Justice League, not just a good movie, but more fun; to make the heroes within it more heroic; and to make the overall tone a little bit lighter and more family friendly. Basically, they want to make it more like the comic books brought to life, something that people of all ages can enjoy. And although Snyder confirmed to Collider during the set visits, and Chris Terrio also confirms in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, that the plan was always to make Justice League a lighter, more fun film than its predecessor, it seems obvious why Warner Bros. would want to stress these aspects, rely more on them, and bring them more to the forefront in script rewrites – rewrites which, again, were commissioned last minute to condense two films into one, and to address other criticisms that the majority of people had with Batman v. Superman.
Why do I think Joss Whedon in particular was brought aboard to work on the film (before Snyder stepped down)? Because he has a renown reputation in Hollywood for being a script doctor, helping to rewrite and fix already written screenplays. Not only that, but I think because both Snyder and Warner Bros. knew he already had success bringing The Avengers to the big screen twice, so who better to help them with Justice League? I’m inclined to believe the Splash Report and Batman-On-Film articles claiming that the script was revised so much during initial production, the additional photography they were shooting concurrently was akin to shooting an almost different movie. Whedon was then granted a viewing of a rough cut of the film so that he could offer suggestions and pitch his ideas to Snyder and Warner Bros. as to how to make the movie’s story more coherent, in addition to more fun. Snyder then asked Whedon to write additional material for the film, and in turn for his services, I’m willing to bet that Warner Bros. gave him the opportunity to direct Batgirl. (The news that Joss Whedon was in talks to write and direct Batgirl broke on March 30th, by which time Whedon had already probably seen a rough cut of Justice League and was writing additional material for it, given that he was already working on the film for a while before Snyder stepped down.)
When Zack and Deborah Snyder stepped down from the film to deal with their family tragedy, it only made sense for Whedon to step in and finish the movie since he had been so involved with it already at that point. However, I truly believe Whedon is doing more than “standard pick ups” and shooting a few “additional scenes”. I think Warner Bros. is reshooting a lot of additional material, not to shy away from Zack Snyder’s style, but to ensure the movie is as strong and as coherent as possible; to ensure it’s the best it can be. And in order to achieve the best, possible film, the WB is allowing Joss Whedon a fair amount of autonomy to do what he needs to and wants to do with it. This was made evident by the news that Danny Elfman was brought in by Whedon to replace Junkie XL and score the movie. The significance of this decision cannot be understated, for the music in films often serves as one of the main characters; it helps set the tone for the entire picture. And, frankly, the styles of Elfman and Junkie XL couldn’t be more different – while the former is very operatic, utilizing lots of horns, pianos, and background vocals, the latter’s music is very loud, in your face, and driven by percussion, blaring horns, and a variety of other remixed instruments. (I personally prefer Elfman, who’s come up with some of the most iconic scores in modern film history, including: Batman, Batman Returns, Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Beetlejuice, and The Nightmare Before Christmas to name just a few. As far as Junkie XL is concerned, while I liked his score for Mad Max: Fury Road, I didn’t like any of the music utilized for Batman in Dawn of Justice, which he was in charge of.) If this isn’t indicative of Whedon bringing his own style and change of tone to Justice League, I don’t know what is.
Frankly, it’s obvious that Justice League will be massively influenced by Joss Whedon, to the point where it’s likely the film credits will read: “Directed by Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon.” As to when we’ll see the full extent as to how much influence he has exactly, it may not be until the movie hits theaters in November, though we’ll probably get a hint in subsequent trailers released before then. Justice League has been in a constant state of flux from the time shooting began, there is no denying that. Despite what the studio, and everyone involved with the filmmaking is saying – and really, what else would they say? It’d be bad publicity to say anything else – the movie has been, and is continuing to be, massively overhauled. This will not be the same movie Snyder had planned from the beginning – it was never going to be even had he stayed on to see it through to completion. But you know what? All of these changes are a good thing. Reshoots are not inherently bad. Nor is studio interference. Nor the words “light” and “fun.” The Marvel movies are light and fun, and look how good and successful they are! Look at all of the production problems and changes (including, in some cases, directorial ones) that occurred while shooting movies like The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, The Shawshank Redemption, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story! Nobody would ever claim any of those movies are anything but excellent! We should be grateful that Warner Bros. is doing everything they can to ensure that Justice League is the best movie it can possibly be, so that it’s well received by critics and audiences. In the end, while all of these behind-the-scenes stories raise eyebrow and can be a bit worrying, all that matters is that the film is good. If it is, nobody will care about all of the drama and changes that occurred during production.
On a personal note, I understand the wariness on the part of fans who’ve enjoyed the DCEU so far – particularly the ardent defenders of Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad – about all of the changes and alleged course correction going on behind-the-scenes. You loved those movies, and that’s okay! I do too! Hell, I loved the both Justice League trailers released so far as well! Regardless of what critics and the masses think, personal taste is subjective, and we are no more in the wrong for liking the output that Warner Bros. has given us than those who haven’t are in the right. But it’s important to understand that if the studio doesn’t start putting out more DC Films like Wonder Woman – films that are received well by critics and the majority of people paying to see the movies – that eventually people will stop seeing these films, and Warner Bros. will stop investing in them. They’re aiming for a broader appeal, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good business on their part, and frankly, if it means we’ll get better films – and I truly believe they can be better – that’s what’s important in the end! Wonder Woman was the shot of adrenaline the DCEU needed, and if the combined influence of Warner Bros., Zack Snyder, and Joss Whedon can deliver another excellent film with Justice League, it will buy even more good will for the franchise with audiences.
My one hope – besides the one we all have, which is that Justice League is a great film that is well received by everybody – is that Joss Whedon isn’t given all of the credit if the movie succeeds. I think he is going to have an enormous amount of influence on the final product audiences see in November – again, more than the studio will admit at this time – but Snyder deserves some of the credit too if it does well. Not least of all because he assembled the cast, the crew, came up with the basic story, and brought Whedon on to help. In reverse, if the film fails, I hope it’s not all pinned on Snyder either.
Either way Justice League will be here before we know it! We are just under five months away from its release at this point! Are you excited for the film? How much influence do you think Joss Whedon will have on the finished product? Let me know in the comments below!
In ‘Justice League’, fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes—Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash—it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.
Justice League is directed by Zack Snyder, from a screenplay by Chris Terrio, and features an ensemble cast that includes Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons and Jesse Eisenberg. It hits theaters November 17th.