Justice League is undergoing a major change under some very sad circumstances.
Director Zack Snyder–who has carried the banner for the DC Extended Universe of films since he directed Man of Steel in 2013–has announced that he’s stepping away from post-production on the first DC superteam film after the sudden death of his daughter, Autumn. Snyder’s daughter committed suicide in March at the age of 20. The Snyder family has kept the matter relatively private until now. Snyder’s wife Deborah, who is a producer on Justice League, is also taking some time away from the film.
“In my mind, I thought it was a cathartic thing to go back to work, to just bury myself and see if that was way through it,” Snyder told The Hollywood Reporter Monday. “The demands of this job are pretty intense. It is all consuming. And in the last two months I’ve come to the realization … I’ve decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me. They are all having a hard time. I’m having a hard time.”
In Snyder’s absence, Avengers director Joss Whedon–who was already working on a Batgirl film for DC–will step in to write and direct additional scenes and guide Justice League through post-production. Whedon was originally brought on board to write new scenes Snyder wanted to add after screening a rough cut of the film for friends. Now his role has expanded as Snyder takes some time off, though Warner Bros. is adamant that the film will remain true to Snyder’s vision.
“The directing is minimal and it has to adhere to the style and tone and the template that Zack set,” Warner Bros. president Toby Emmerich told THR. “We’re not introducing any new characters. It’s the same characters in some new scenes. He’s handing a baton to Joss but the course has really been set by Zack.“
So, we should not expect some kind of tonal 180 for Justice League. Yes, Whedon and Snyder have different outlooks and styles when it comes to superhero cinema but it’s still Snyder’s movie. That said, the choice of Whedon for this task is interesting for a number of reasons.
First, though, let’s just note one thing: We’re talking about a movie here but this news was created by a terrible tragedy. A mother and father have lost their daughter and are in unimaginable pain.
What this creative means for Justice League is unclear but any impact will probably be minimal. The film is still expected to make its November 17 release date, which doesn’t leave Whedon with a lot of time to dramatically alter the film. Plus, as we mentioned above, Whedon came aboard at Snyder’s request. Given the circumstances of his arrival on the film, it seems likely that Snyder told him exactly what was suppsed to happen in these new scenes, then left Whedon to work his magic. As a director, Whedon will no doubt also be going in to the project with directives from Snyder. He will also still be surrounded by the same producers, designers and crew that brought the film this far. This is not a case of studio interference to "fix” a movie. This is directorial pinch-hitting.
What might be more impactful is where we might see Whedon’s fingerprints beyond this film. Justice League has a screenwriter already (Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for Argo), but he wasn’t brought in to work on the new scenes. Neither were any of the other writers scripting various DC Films projects. Snyder could have also called on a number of other directors to fill in for him.
Instead, he called on Whedon. While there may be underlying availability issued at work here, that has to mean something. Whedon has superteam movie experience, of course, but he’s also a considerable bright spot on the DC Films calendar going forward. His hiring for Batgirl signaled a more optimistic future for the DCEU in the eyes of many fans but no one knew at the time where the film would fit in the overall shared universe scheme. We still don’t know exactly where Batgirl fits. We do now know that Whedon has been invited into the Justice League inner sanctum. If this little fill-in gig works out, who knows what he might be called upon to do next. Will Whedon, after helping steer the Marvel Cinematic Universe for several years, become a major architect for DC Films as well?