Zack Snyder, the director of Justice League, has never seen Justice League. His name is in the credits as the filmmaker, but he’s never sat through the version released to the world three years ago. His wife, Deborah, who produced the movie, advised him not to.
In late 2017—months after the couple cut ties with the superhero epic amid an increasingly demoralizing battle with Warner Bros.—Deborah Snyder sat in a screening room on the studio lot alongside Christopher Nolan, one of the movie’s executive producers, as well as the director of the Dark Knight trilogy. She braced herself as the lights went down. “It was just…it’s a weird experience,” she says now. “I don’t know how many people have that experience. You’ve worked on something for a long time, and then you leave, and then you see what happened to it.”
What happened to Justice League was a crisis of infinite doubt: a team of executives who lost faith in the architect of their faltering comic book movie empire, and a director in the midst of a family tragedy that sapped him of the will to fight. Joss Whedon, a director from another universe, the Marvel Cinematic one, left the Avengers after two movies and crossed over to comics rival DC, picking up Justice League not where Snyder left off, but remaking it significantly with extensive rewrites and hurried reshoots, just as the studio demanded.
On November 17, 2017, the team-up between Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash didn’t so much debut in theaters as crash into them. It was sneered at by critics, shrugged at by baffled moviegoers, and all but disowned by those who created it. Whedon has since been accused of unprofessional and abusive behavior on set. (The director declined repeated requests for a comment.) He left his name off the movie except to claim a shared writing credit with Chris Terrio, who had written Snyder’s previous installment, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Publicly, everyone close to the movie practiced their smiles and rehearsed their talking points in the hopes of doing no further damage to the project, not that it helped much. The movie earned $657 million globally, which sounds like a lot of money until you consider the nearly $300 million budget, including the reported $25 million for Whedon’s reworking, plus a conservative estimate of $100 million to $150 million in marketing costs. Factor in the sizable cut theaters take from the box office, and a return of only $657 million is a clear money loser. Six months later, Justice League’s box office was dwarfed by Marvel’s own all-star showcase Avengers: Infinity War, which flexed its muscles at $2 billion.
After their private screening of the Whedon cut, Nolan and Deborah Snyder emerged into the light with a shared mission. “They came and they just said, ‘You can never see that movie,’” Zack Snyder says during lunch at his Pasadena office, a modernist series of cubes jutting from a hillside that overlooks the Rose Bowl.
“Because I knew it would break his heart,” his wife adds.
That might seem overly dramatic. It’s just show business, after all. But the Snyders’ hearts had already been through a lot. The battle over Justice League was agonizing, but it wasn’t the worst thing to happen to their family that year. Not even close.
Read more from the Vanity Fair article HERE.