Director Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League has been one of the most talked-about films for more than three years, with anticipation growing once he announced the movie would be released on HBO Max. Now that the world have seen Snyder’s vision for DC Comics’ greatest super-team, was the film worth the wait?
Justice League: The Snyder Cut
Directed by Zack Snyder
Screenplay by Chris Terrio
Story by Zack Snyder & Chris Terrio and Will Beall
If you sat down to watch the 4-hour version of Justice League from director Zack Snyder thinking you knew what to expect because you had seen the 2017 version, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Many of the story beats represented here were present in the cut finished by Joss Whedon. The world, still reeling from the loss of Superman, is threatened by the coming of New God Steppenwolf. The villain seeks three Mother Boxes – vastly advanced technology used to salt the earth for his master Darkseid – and Batman (Ben Affleck) must gather a team of heroes to keep the world safe.
How we get from point A to point B, though, is a wildly different film than the one that was released in theaters.
While I enjoyed Joss Whedon’s JUSTICE LEAGUE for what it was, it was clearly a film that could never reach its full potential. Taking the core of Snyder’s story and adding some touches to lighten the mood, not to mention cutting significant portions of the narrative to match a 2-hour run time, left the movie feeling incomplete.
Giving control back to Snyder allowed him to strip away the additions made by Whedon and Warner Bros. and add back in whole swaths of the story that helped to better inform the narrative and allow for a more cohesive film. Spotlight scenes for Cyborg Vic Stone (Ray Fisher) and The Flash Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) were added back in. Cyborg, in particular, went from being an afterthought to Whedon’s Justice League to being a featured player. Victor Stone and his relationship to his father Silas (Joe Morton) is essential to moving Snyder’s story forward and under the original director’s care, he becomes the focal point of the film, his role easily overshadowing more established characters like Batman and Wonder Woman.
Even Barry Allen, a character I really didn’t care for in the 2017 version, came off a little bit better in Snyder’s version, where his introduction was more than just an afterthought. The Flash’s first major scene in the film has him saving Iris West when her car slams into a truck whose driver was more concerned with the burger he dropped than paying attention to the road. Of course, we don’t get any real indication that the character played by Kiersy Clemons is actually Iris West, the Flash’s future wife, outside of the name in the credits (or if we did, it was quick enough that I missed it). I’m also not crazy about the scene where the Flash, moving at superspeed to save Iris, stops mid-rescue to caress Iris’ face. It felt a little creepy given the new sensitivities of the world, not to mention the controversies that have hit Whedon over the last few months.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but in the moment that scene felt a little off.
While Miller’s incarnation of Barry Allen was better under Snyder’s direction, I’m still not really a fan. Admittedly, that might be because I think the CW’s version of Barry Allen – played by Grant Gustin – is usually pitch-perfect and a much better representation of the character than Miller’s. But he was, at the very least, more likable this time around.
The best addition to Justice League under Snyder – for any fan of DC Comics – is the lord of Apokolips, Darkseid. While he was only alluded to in 2017’s film, Snyder goes so far as to not only show us Darkseid but his inner circle of Desaad the torturer and Granny Goodness as well. Darkseid searches for the anti-life equation, something that would bend the entire multiverse to his control, and his prodigal son Steppenwolf discovers that it can be found on Earth. The new information changes the destruction of Earth from business as usual to a main objective, after the last Age of Heroes and the combined armies of Earth defeated Darkseid thousands of years ago.
Seeing Darkseid’s first live-action feature film appearance was a treat, but it was also little more than a tease. Darkseid’s addition felt like it was more about setting up the film’s epilogue, which calls back to Batman’s nightmare in BATMAN V SUPERMAN. The Earth has fallen under Darkseid’s rule, Superman now at his side after Lois Lane’s death and Batman has a ragtag band of heroes – Aquaman’s wife Mera, Deathstroke, Cyborg, Flash and the Joker – with him as resistance fighters.
Speaking of surprises, the addition of the Martian Manhunter – a founding member of the Justice League in the comics – as having been Gen. Swanwick from Man of Steel was a fun reveal. I wish his inclusion hadn’t been spoiled two weeks before the movie debuted on HBO Max, because his first of two appearances in the film would have had a much bigger impact for me if I had no idea it was coming. After Manhunter’s second appearance at the end of the film, it did raise a particularly troubling question: why didn’t he show up to help the rest of the Justice League in their battle with Steppenwolf? He had clearly been watching over everyone and knew what was happening, and it would have been that much easier to take down the forces of Apokolips with a powerful force like the Martian Manhunter.
And of course, there’s the Superman of it all.
Much like in the 2017 version, Superman (Henry Cavill) gets brought back from the dead by Batman and company by using the Mother Box in the Kryptonian ship. But once Lois (Amy Adams) brings him back to his former self, he doesn’t just don the blue and red suit and help. First, he makes a trip to fir Fortress ship, where he hears dueling monologues from his two fathers. Jonathan Kent’s part felt like a chance to correct what I felt was the worst part of MAN OF STEEL: Pa Kent’s inability to serve as a moral compass for his son. Superman then dons a black suit to join the other heroes in battling Steppenwolf.
The thing I liked the most about Joss Whedon’s rendition of Justice League was his treatment of Clark Kent/Superman. The opening scene, where he’s asked by some kids about his favorite part of the world was the first we time we got to see Henry Cavill smile in the suit. His interactions with Victor and Barry and even Batman had a lightness to them that were absent from his first two appearances. Almost all of that was stripped away here in the interest of purging all things Whedon.
Superman is not the dour, conflicted hero he was in Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman in Snyder’s Justice League, but he is darker than he was in the theatrical cut. Maybe it’s just the black suit – which, admittedly looked amazing – replacing the classic colors, but I would have liked to see Superman act like the beacon of hope and light the other characters said he was.
Zack Snyder’s four-hour cut of Justice League was long, filled with the director’s trademark random slow-motion scenes and played to a lot of Snyder’s greatest hits. But it was also a much more cohesive, complete story than the one we got in theaters. While I had to break up my viewing of the movie because life got in the way, I never felt like the film dragged. It was four hours of pure adrenaline, and it is easily Snyder’s best entry into DC’s Extended Universe.
I don’t know that I have it in me to watch it again. Four hours is a pretty huge time commitment, after all. Watching it over three or four sessions over the last day, I thought that maybe it would have worked better broken into a four- or five-part miniseries. Snyder included natural chapter breaks in the story that could have easily served as different episodes, and the story may have been more palatable in an episodic format.
Even still, Snyder’s Justice League exceeded my expectations and produced a very enjoyable story, not just for fans of Snyder’s original vision, but for any fan of the DC Universe of heroes.