By now we have all heard the news. Zack Snyder has been given the green light to complete work on his version of Justice League which will release on HBO Max in 2021. With that, rumors have been circulating that David Ayer will get a chance to release his version of Suicide Squad as well after some additional VFX is completed. With a possibility that Ben Affleck may return to the role of Batman for a solo project.
The question is though, How did we get to this point?
The story of the behind the scenes backstabbing and meddling that took place may never fully be revealed. It’s safe to assume though that there were absolutely players in the background who were doing whatever they could to destroy what was being created. This is that story in a nutshell.
Prior to the article posted by The Cultured Nerd in April 2020. Geoff Johns was looked at as a brilliant comic book writer who never had a fair shake on the film side of things. In May 2016, Johns and Jon Berg were officially brought in to head the newly established DC Films but, things did not go as planned. What some don’t realize is Johns’ story really began years prior to this back before Man of Steel was even green lit by the studio.
According to the TCN article. As planning stages for a new Superman film was underway, Geoff Johns was hopeful that his film idea would be chosen by the studio. Unfortunately for Johns, Warner Bros. decided to go with the pitch Christopher Nolan outlined. However, due to other obligations Nolan would not direct the eventually titled Man of Steel film, but recommend Zack Snyder be brought in to helm the project. Reports say Johns was not too happy about this decision.
After the success of Man of Steel. Warner Bros., now looking to expand its DC films portfolio, was looking to go toe to toe with Marvel studios. Geoff saw this as an opportunity to slide into a larger role on the film side. Not only did he weasel his way into an Executive Producer role with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but he began to help lay the groundwork for all films that would be made over the next several years. Many of which would never see the light of day.
After the divisive reception of Batman v Superman, WB moved Jon Berg and Geoff Johns over to head their newly developed DC Films division. A move that would be costly to Zack Snyder, Ben Affleck and so many others.
Leaked scripts and Bad Press
Originally slated to premier in 2015 Batman v Superman had some rough waters in the beginning. According to rumors, certain scripts or elements from an original draft of Batman v Superman and Snyder’s overall outline for his story found its way to Marvel Studios. Not surprisingly, It was at this time Marvel decided to change their plans for the third Captain America film. Because of this WB had to accommodate script changes thus BvS was pushed to May 6, 2016. Unfortunately, barely ten months later Marvel once again put a damper on things as they announced Captain America: Civil War would release the same day as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Feeling that the smartest idea would be to move the release date away from any Marvel film WB announced March 25th, 2016 would become the new release date of the film. (March 19th outside of United States).
2014 saw DC and Geoff Johns busy creating the upcoming slate of DC films. One of which was Suicide Squad and became fast tracked to compete against a recent Marvel success. Hot off his hit movie Fury, David Ayer was brought in to Write and Direct the film. With the release date already set Ayer was given only six weeks to write the screenplay. By first quarter of 2015 the cast was all but finalized and filming started in April. After four months of principal photography post production began to ramp up.
Excitement was building for what DC and Warner Bros. was finally bringing to the table. By late summer of 2015 we had already seen bits and pieces of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, David Ayer teased Suicide Squad at SDCC and things seemed to be moving forward at a good pace. By early 2016 BvS test screening reactions appeared to be positive. Some how though, along the way, negative press began building due to false information and leaks regarding what would happen in the final act. The biggest bit of information that happened to squeak out was the rumblings of a compromised film. Snyder’s original cut of the movie looked to be roughly 3.5 hours long but the studio demanded it but cut down to 2.5 hours allowing more viewings per screen per day. While the press was continuing to lean on the negative side, early ticket sales seemed to be heading in the right direction, but the negative stigma was beginning to take hold.
As the release date neared, Snyder worked out a deal with WB that a Directors cut of the movie, adding 30 minutes of more footage and a slight re-edit, would be available for home release. In all BvS took in just under $900 million world wide. While a financial success, the movie missed expectations by nearly $200 million.
Who is to blame for the bad press? Early test reactions and trailer views showed that the excitement was there. So where did all the negative publicity come from? Speculation is someone within the production was not a fan of what Snyder had started building and wanted him ousted at any cost. Had BvS failed financially a reboot of sorts would have most likely be in the cards. However, by the time BvS released Snyder was already waist deep in his follow up film, Justice League.
Destruction from Within
After the release of BvS. Warner Bros. began to get cold feet. The darker tone David Ayer was portraying with Suicide Squad appeared to be too risky in their minds. So much so that the head of WB was unhappy with what was happening to the brand.
“Kevin Tsujihara was really pissed about damage to the brand” Said one executive close to the studio. (source)
Now, with only a few short months to go until Suicide Squads release WB used a trailer editing company called Trailer Park to edit a version of the film. By the time the movie was completed rumors swirled that there had been a number of edits done on Ayers’ movie. Most of which were tested as the studio was looking for the right tone to match that of Marvel’s mega-hit Guardians of the Galaxy. Eventually a compromise was made with Ayer and the studio where a cut of the film combining elements of the different versions would be put together and released.
Shortly after the film released it became apparent a totally different story was meant to be told. The movie did well financially and was even able to take home an Academy Award. But, as years went on David Ayer and cast all hint how many incredible scenes of the movie were left on the cutting room floor.
Ben Affleck signed on the role of Batman in Snyder’s films as well as write, direct and star in a Batman movie began to see all the meddling. Ben sat there witnessing the Hell Snyder was being put through and now also dealing with his own demons in his personal life. Ben quietly stepped away from The Batman project but still planning on finishing out his part in Snyder’s films. Following the required re-shoots for Justice League, Ben would be done with the role as WB and DC would go in a different direction with the character.
The summer prior to Justice League’s release Wonder Woman came out to massive applause. However, that film also ran into many difficulties along the way. Most notably Geoff Johns and Jon Berg pushed Patty Jenkins to not only change the entire third act of the movie but also tried to remove the No-mans Land scene from the film. Luckily Snyder, who was still very active with the development of this movie, backed Patty and they made a compromise to change the ending but to keep the most important scene of the film intact.
After their concerns with BvS and the meddling that took place with Suicide Squad it was no surprise WB decided to stick their hands in the story Snyder and Chris Terrio put together. Not only was there a demand to make tonal changes in making Justice League a little lighter but, character designs were requested and even a push to have Zack’s original five film arc condensed to one 214 minute movie were just a few things that happened.
When Snyder stepped away from Justice League due to a family tragedy, It was Geoff Johns who pushed for Joss Whedon to take over the project. A move that wasn’t all that surprising because earlier that year it was announced Joss would be helping Zack with rewrites for the planned re-shoots of Justice League. Being assured by Joss, the studio the cast and crew that Snyder’s vision would be honored fans didn’t think there was too much to be worried about.
As things progressed under Whedon it became apparent that he was given more instruction by Geoff, Jon and the studio than what was first revealed. He was tasked with rewriting as much of the story as possible and closing out Snyder’s vision completely. Not only that but he was given roughly five months to complete the film to hit release date. This was important to Kevin Tsujihara not because of fan demand but rather hitting a quota to receive his final bonus before the studio’s sale to AT&T was complete.
During all of this, other films on the slate were beginning to struggle. the upcoming Flash film was unable to keep any writers or directors on board claiming creative differences with each departure. Green Lantern Corps. which was a Geoff Johns project never seemed to get past the planning phase. Cyborg, who was to have a major role in Justice League, became all but forgotten.
A solid plan which was put in motion with the guidance of Snyder in 2013/2014 quickly fell apart when Geoff Johns and Jon Berg took over. Something that begins to make sense when you see the push for change and deviation from Zack’s outline beginning with Wonder Woman and BvS.
Food for Thought
Let’s take a look again at something mentioned above. The supposed leaked script and story outline for Zack’s arc. Over the last two years while the #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement was gaining traction, Zack shared his vision, in a way, with an incredible T-shirt design. It laid out the arc which we would have seen our heroes go through had he been allowed to complete his vision.
Sitting back and realizing how the story arc of a number of these characters matches that of similar characters in the MCU. Most noticeably the last two Avenger films as well as Captain America: Civil War. It’s hard not to wonder if those rumors about the story being leaked to Marvel Studios was actually true. As you start putting certain pieces together you then get a glimpse and find ways to connect the dots. Seeing one of the biggest players on the Marvel side, Joss Whedon, come in and take over a project didn’t seem so strange at the time but hindsight is always 20/20.
While it is unlikely the truth will ever come out. Geoff Johns and Jon Berg undoubtedly had a hand in the destruction of the DCEU. This is something that is slightly hinted at by Ray Fisher’s tweets in July 2020 and supported by the evidence laid out above.
I’d like to take a moment to forcefully retract every bit of this statement: pic.twitter.com/1ECwwu6TG1— Ray Fisher (@ray8fisher) June 29, 2020
Joss Wheadon’s on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.— Ray Fisher (@ray8fisher) July 1, 2020
He was enabled, in many ways, by Geoff Johns and Jon Berg.
There is so much more to the story than what is above. Some of which can be found around the internet while other aspects have yet to see the light of day. Either way all of the conniving, colluding, backstabbing and double dealing that created such a mess of a studio just so happen to be the reason for one of the most inspirational social media movements to ever be had.
Not only did it promote artistic integrity in demanding Zack’s film be restored, but it also help lead a charge for the AFSP raising more than $200k to help Suicide Prevention Awareness. Now a new movement has taken hold #ReleasetheAyerCut, which is in support of Veterans in need of help at the same time once again demanding artistic integrity be honored.
The fact that so much good has been able to come out of such an unfortunate string of events is fantastic but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still much to be learned from what transpired behind the scenes at WB during that time.
What do you think, would you be interested in the entire, and undoubtedly upsetting, story being unveiled?
Author: Robert Slavinsky
Robert is not only a Senior Editor for Spoilerverse.com but he also hosts both Bridging the Geekdoms and the Spoilerverse's premier Star Wars podcast, Shootin' the Sith. He is a passionate fan of movies, video games, comics and pretty much all things within the pop-culture world. He can be found on Twitter or over on his Bridging the Geekdoms YouTube channel where he talks about any rumors he is hearing as well as news that has dropped and more.