Ever since Zack Snyder’s modernized take on Superman in Man of Steel, a movie where Pa Kent was concerned about how the world would react to the existence of a super powered alien and Superman was eventually forced to snap Zod’s neck, the discussion surrounding the DC Extended Universe has always had a specific focus on tone. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice also saw a polarized response from fans and critics because it leaned into that darker tone, Suicide Squad apparently drastically changed tone through reshoots and post production due to the reaction to Batman v Superman’s tone, Justice League was promised to be a lighter tone, and Wonder Woman was praised for the way it struck a serious-yet-uplifting tone.
As such, it should be no surprise that tone is once again the word of the day when it comes to Justice League’s reshoots. “Reshoots” is always such a loaded term, and the aforementioned changes to Suicide Squad only compound that fact with Justice League, with rumors of truly massive changes taking off even more once Joss Whedon stepped in to complete the movie after Zack Snyder’s family tragedy.
In a recent interview with Joe Morton, the actor that plays Silas Stone, the father of Victor Stone, AKA Cyborg, Morton was asked about his experience with the Whedon -led reshoots, to which he said the tone of Cyborg – and possibly the movie as a whole – was being altered from the work that had already been completed by Snyder. Needless to say, this quote kick-started the speculation around the internet into high gear once again regarding just what kind of movie we’ll be getting in November. Was Joss Whedon brought in to alter the movie’s tone after all?
In the simplest and most concise of terms: No. Joss Whedon took over directorial duties from Zack Snyder because the latter needed to step away for personal reasons. This was not an orchestration by Warner Bros. to get more tonal control over the movie and the reason for choosing Whedon has nothing to do with tone either. Even so, while the purpose of bringing Whedon on may not have been to change the tone of the movie, that doesn’t mean the reshoots won’t have that effect to some extent.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT JUSTICE LEAGUE’S TONE
In order to get an idea of just how much the movie is changing, we would need to know what the original tone of the movie was. That’s impossible to know without actually seeing an early copy, but we do know enough about the type of movie Zack Snyder intended to make when he began work on Justice League because, as already mentioned, tone is an ever present question in the DCEU, so there were plenty of opportunities to discuss exactly what the goal was for Justice League’s tone.
Back before the release of Batman v Superman (before the critical backlash surrounding its tone), writer Chris Terrio talked about how BvS was intended to be a darker middle chapter, comparing it to Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers. He went on to say that Justice League would evolve beyond that into something lighter:
“I expect ‘Justice League’ will be tonally not quite as dark as ‘Batman v Superman.’ From that point of view, I felt compelled to go back and try to lift us and myself into a different tonal place because I think when you write a darker film, sometimes you want to redeem it all a bit.”
Terrio wasn’t the only one. During promotion for BvS, Zack Snyder and Deborah Snyder both told IGNthat Justice League would end up being lighter because of characters like The Flash, who’s more “comedic” and “optimistic. During the Justice League set visit, Zack also reiterated that BvS, by its nature, had to be darker in order to actually draw Superman and Batman into a believable conflict, saying that in Justice League they’ve been freed from the shackles of that conflict and the story is about uniting the team, something he characterized as a “fun activity.”
During the same set visit, Deborah Snyder admitted that the reaction to BvS did impact their creative decisions, but again reiterated that it was always a direction the movie was going: “So obviously I think it’s affected the process in some way, but it was also kind of where we were headed.”
So how does Joss Whedon play into all this? Well, it turns out he already had significant involvementbehind the scenes prior to taking over Justice League, having already agreed to do Batgirl. According to THR, Zack Snyder had also screened a rough cut of the movie for some of his peers and determined it needed some new scenes – scenes he asked Whedon to write. When he decided to step away, it only made sense for Joss to do the reshoots, since they’re comprised of scenes he wrote.
While Snyder isn’t personally directing these new scenes, he’s still involved in post production, and Whedon is helping him “finish his vision.” In fact, as has been covered at length, Snyder completed 100% of principal photography on Justice League meaning the Directors Guild rules prohibit Warner Bros. from using his absence to completely change the movie around.
Given these facts, let’s circle around to put some of Joe Morton’s comments in context. In his interview with IGN, Joe said that he was under the impression that the reshoots were to change the tone:
“I think what I heard was that there was a need from the studio to lighten up the film in a way, that the film felt too dark. I don’t know what that meant in terms of how it actually got translated in terms of the reshoots but that’s what I heard. That’s what I thought some of the reshoots were about.”
When he said he doesn’t know “how it actually got translated,” it’s because he said the reshoots he was involved in were brief and had “nothing necessarily having to do with tone.” He does say there were some “adjustments” to the tone of Cyborg’s character, though. While he doesn’t specify the nature of the adjustments he’s referencing (or if they’re lighter or darker), he later gives an explanation of Cyborg’s character, comparing him to Frankenstein’s monster and referring to him as “The Other,” saying he’s a metaphor for those who are rejected by society. That doesn’t exactly sound light.
Joe’s statement about the reshoots changing the tone are the first statements saying that actually come from someone involved in the movie, so is he bucking a trend and saying something the producers and other actors won’t say, or is he just repeating the same rumors that have been circulating on the internet? Considering his own account of the reshoots bears no actual evidence of this fact and the marketing has maintained a consistent tone, actually getting darker if anything, it would seem a little hasty to disregard everything we already know about the movie because of what he thinks he heard (especially when unfounded rumors have been stating the same thing since Whedon came aboard).
JOSS WHEDON ISN’T EVEN THAT LIGHT
Besides, Joss Whedon isn’t even as light as his reputation suggests. In fact, the major clashes that lead to him exiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe were reportedly related to Marvel overriding his opinion on the tone for Age of Ultron. It seems a bit of a stretch that he would then sign up to be an agent of that same kind of decision making in another shared universe.
Marvel is lighter, so people have associated Whedon with that tone, but before the Avengers, Whedon wasn’t exactly known for being sunshine and rainbows. In fact, prior to his work with Marvel, Whedon had a reputation of getting audiences to love a character just so he could kill them off, and anyone that follows him on Twitter or has seen a few interviews knows he has a very dark sense of humor. Even within Marvel, he contributed some of the darkest parts of the whole MCU. He killed Coulson in Avengers and Quicksilver in Age of Ultron. He left the MCU, which has a reputation for being light, and eventually came over to the DCEU, which has a reputation for being dark, and signed up for a Batgirl movie, supposedly based on a post The Killing Joke Barbara Gordon – not exactly the move of someone looking to tell a light story.
So the notion of Warner Bros. hiring Whedon on the auspices of changing the tone on Zack Snyder’s original vision just doesn’t hold much water. The tone could definitely be altered; Snyder himself determined the movie needed a little something extra from Whedon after viewing the rough cut, so these extra scenes could definitely add some more optimism to the optimistic tone Snyder was already shooting for, but that would be a decision made by Zack Snyder, not some studio mandate from Warner Bros. to make a Zack Snyder movie into a Marvel movie.