Last summer I noted that there are only two kinds of Superman movies: an origin story and a return story. At the time, I knew that Justice League would fall into the latter category and basically be a repeat of Superman II. After the rest of Earth’s heroes prove to be no match for a Superman-level villain, they have to call in the Man of Steel to return from the grave to fight their battle and win the day. But little did I know that there was a big way in which Justice League would be even more like Superman II than I thought.
Reshoots and Revisions
Whether it was director Zack Snyder’s family crisis, creative differences, or lackluster critical and audience reception of his two previous Superman films, Snyder was removed from Justice League after filming pretty much the entire film. Then veteran comic book movie writer/director Joss Whedon was brought in to rewrite and reshoot most of the movie to try to inject more humor into it. The final product wound up being a hybrid of two directors’ distinct visions, although one director was hamstrung by having to fit his material into a predetermined course. Does this ring any bells?
This is just like what happened to Superman II. Richard Donner had filmed most of Superman II while working on Superman: The Movie, but he had a major falling out with that film’s producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind. When it came time to finish filming the sequel, the producers simply replaced Donner with Richard Lester who had been brought on during the filming of Superman: The Movie to act as a liaison between Donner and the Salkinds. A number of scenes were rewritten to account for the fact that it was too expensive to get Marlon Brando to reprise his role and Gene Hackman wouldn’t return to reshoot any of his scenes. Again, Lester amped up the comedic elements of the film and turned in a product that blended his vision with Donner’s original footage.
Lightning Didn’t Strike Twice
What is it about Superman that leads to his sequels being split up in this way? I can’t think of any other superhero that has had this happen to him or her twice in almost the same manner. While Superman II proved to be a success and is still remembered fondly to this day, it looks like that same magic didn’t work on Justice League. It’s a miracle that Superman II ended up being as good as it is, given the troubled nature of its production and the way that it had to be patched together from two very different sources. But for whatever reason, it worked. Unfortunately, few would argue that Justice League is anything more than a so-so film.
A More Serious Take
It’s interesting that, in both cases, everything that remains from the original director has a much more serious tone than most of the new footage. The three scenes that really stand out from Donner are the Kryptonians’ attack on the three astronauts on the moon, the invasion of the White House, and the diner fight scene and its reprise. Plus, there are the many scenes with Gene Hackman, and those are all wonderful. With the exception of the Hackman scenes, these moments are some of the darkest and most dramatic in the film. There is very little humor in them.
We may never know exactly what was in the Snyder cut of Justice League, but I’ve heard that it was much darker. For example, the first scene with Wonder Woman ended much more horrifically than it did in the final cut of the film, Cyborg was depressed about his fate, Aquaman was an alcoholic, Batman was suicidal, and the Flash was a much less quippy, lighthearted character. We certainly see echoes of those characteristics and events in the final film, but nothing as extreme as the original vision for them.
In 2006 (26 years after the debut of Superman II), we finally got a pretty decent release of The Richard Donner Cut. Will the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League ever see the light of day? Judging by the mixed reception of his work on the series so far, I don’t think there’s much interest in it beyond morbid curiosity to see how dark and depressing it would have been. Time will tell. But for now, my theory holds true that there are only two kinds of Superman films. And there is only one superhero who can survive getting torn apart and put back together.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.