Despite being listed as its director, Zack Snyder has never seen “Justice League,” or at least not the version of the superhero epic that opened in theaters in 2017 to bruising reviews and disappointing box office. Snyder — who was replaced by “Avengers” director Joss Whedon during the film’s torturous production — had a darker, longer, less jokey-jokey vision for the movie. It’s one that he will be finally be able to realize with the March 18 release of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” on HBO Max.

After Whedon’s reinterpretation screened on the Warner Bros. lot, executive producer Christopher Nolan and Deborah Snyder, the director’s wife and producing partner, had a blunt message for Snyder. “They came and they just said, ‘You can never see that movie,’” Snyder tells Vanity Fair in the magazine’s extensive look at the long, sometimes improbable road that “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has traveled to make it to the screen. What began as an internet meme has metamorphosed into an expensive gamble that Snyder will be able to rescue a much-maligned comic book adaptation by expanding its length to four hours and inserting new storylines and more characters. Snyder estimates to Vanity Fair that reshoots and post-production costs carried a $70 million price tag. Length had been a persistent problem even before Snyder exited the project — the filmmaker was tasked with creating DC’s answer to Marvels “Avengers” movies, uniting the likes of Superman, Batman, The Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg into one super-team.

“How am I supposed to introduce six characters and an alien with potential for world domination in two hours? I mean, I can do it, it can be done. Clearly it was done,” Snyder told the magazine. “But I didn’t see it.”

Snyder was clashing with the studio before he departed, but it was a family tragedy that ultimately persuaded him to pass the reins to Whedon after his 20-year daughter Autumn committed suicide. He is revisiting “Justice League” to honor her memory.

“At the end of the movie, it says ‘For Autumn,’” Snyder said. “Without her, this absolutely would not have happened.”

Whedon reportedly reshot roughly 75% of the movie. His behavior on set has led to allegations of abuse from actors like Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg. Whedon did not respond to Vanity Fair’s request for comment, but it doesn’t sound like Warner Bros. was much happier with his version.

“When we got to see what Joss actually did, it was stupefying,” an anonymous studio executive told the magazine. “The robber on the rooftop—so goofy and awful. The Russian family—so useless and pointless. Everyone knew it. It was so awkward because nobody wanted to admit what a piece of shit it was.”

Fans agreed, mounting a pressure campaign on the studio to re-release the movie, with the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut going viral. WarnerMedia, which was looking to draw attention to HBO Max, its Netflix challenger, tried to persuade Snyder to take another pass. When he left the project, he took his laptop which contained his original, much longer version of “Justice League.” However, it had no special effects or music or other niceties. Initially, the company asked him to release his version without the expensive touch-ups and reshoots.

“I was like, ‘That’s a no, that’s a hard no…,” Snyder said. “Here’s why. Three reasons: One, you get the internet off your back, which is probably your main reason for wanting to do this. Two, you get to feel vindicated for making things right, I guess, on some level. And then three, you get a shitty version of the movie that you can point at and go, ‘See? It’s not that good anyway. So maybe I was right.’ I was like, ‘No chance. I would rather just have the Snyder cut be a mythical unicorn for all time.’”

WarnerMedia relented, but in order to get the kind of control of the project that he failed to have on the feature film, Snyder says he is forgoing his salary. An industry insider says that Snyder was not given any additional money because the film is technically a director’s cut, so his initial contract for the first movie is still in effect.

“I’m not getting paid,” Snyder told the magazine. “I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone, and it allowed me to keep my negotiating powers with these people pretty strong.”

Head over to Vanity Fair for the in-depth look at the making of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”