Zack Snyder’s Justice League is what you get when fans scream loud enough. Although I was disappointed by Joss Whedon’s Justice League, I frankly thought it was a failure from the beginning. A problem that steamed from how poorly Warner Bros. handled the DCEU. As big of a DC fan as I am, I never really understood people begging the studio to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. The same people who were disappointed by Zack Snyder’s grim take on Batman v Superman. Although Zack Snyder and writer Chris Terrio had an even darker Justice League in mind, the response to Dawn of Justice did inspire a more hopeful tone. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. continued to push for more jokes and a shorter runtime. When Joss Whedon eventually came on board for rewrites, they practically seized the opportunity to have him direct after Snyder left.
The less than glowing response to the movie led to a complete reworking of the DCEU. One so drastic that the DC Extended Universe slowly became less interconnected. Similar to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, fans felt the “Snyder Cut” would be way better than the movie we ended up with. Both movies had a last minute director switch that drastically altered the tone of each film. I tried to ignore the “Snyder Cut” movement, but I was constantly bombarded by crazed fans yelling as loud as they could. All that yelling finally led to a completed movie in 2021 that officially restored the original footage seen in the trailers. Released on HBO Max, the first teaser looked good, but the aspect ratio change was a bizarre creative choice. The R rating felt unnecessary and the 4 hour runtime seemed extremely excessive. Zack Snyder’s Justice League turned out a lot better than anyone was expecting, but that tends to happen when a movie is roughly the length of a miniseries…
SPOILER ALERT! The difference between the “Snyder Cut” and the theatrical cut is made explicitly clear right off the bat. The darker tone is reestablished by showing the death of Superman in slow motion. When Doomsday impaled the Man of Steel, he screamed so loud that it could be heard across the world. Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane witness this first hand. A sullen Cyborg, fearful Atlanteans, and battle ready Amazons all witness their respective Mother Boxes activating. Lex Luthor is still in the genesis chamber learning about Steppenwolf when he hears the Kryptonian cry. The scene of a bearded Bruce Wayne traveling to a fishing community makes a lot more sense after an opening like that. What follows is a series of parts meant to make the 4 hour experience more bearable.
Part 1: “Don’t Count on it, Batman” – Bruce Wayne meeting Arthur Curry is a lot less joke heavy with more focus on his mission to build an alliance of warriors. Aquaman is a lot more no-nonsense when speaking the Icelandic language and turning down Wayne’s money. The main difference is a group of creepily aroused Icelandic women singing a folk song when Arthur rips his sweater off and dives into the sea. It’s nothing compared to Whedon’s version, but that doesn’t mean Snyder isn’t prone to WTF moments. Bruce & Alfred have a far more straightforward conversation afterwards when Aquaman says no. Scenes of Metropolis mourning Superman are cut out with more focus on Ma Kent foreclosing the farm and Lois visiting his monument. Former Jimmy Olsen actor Marc McClure plays the friendly police officer that she brings coffee to. Wonder Woman’s introduction is still at the London bank, but everytime Diana or the Amazons appear, Junkie XL plays an operitic siren call. Every… single… time!
We still hear her epic Dawn of Justice theme during a more action-packed slow motion fight, but the other theme is just excessive. The Black Clad gentlemen terrorists are a bit more sinister with one of them dropping the first of only 3 F bombs in the entire movie. There’s no question that Wonder Woman kills the lead terrorist when she strikes her bracelets. Immediately after killing someone, Diana has time to inspire a girl who wants to be just like her. When Steppenwolf arrives to face the Amazons, he has a far better alien design with spikes, bulging muscles, and a more threatening voice still provided by Ciarán Hinds. The Amazons declare their lack of fear to Steppenwolf when his Parademons attack. Violence is really the main reason for the R rating as CGI blood splatters during every action scene. Steppenwolf is ruthless in his pursuit of the Mother Box. He tosses horses and flexes arrows out of his body. Connie Nielsen is a bit more physical as Queen Hippolyta puts up an even more desperate fight that ends exactly the same way.
Part 2: The Age of Heroes – The next section bridges the gap between the old and new age of heroes. Bruce & Alfred only discuss searching for Barry Allen while on their plane. Ben Affleck was determined to soften up Batman regardless of director, so he’s still on a path of redemption. Gal Gadot hasn’t changed much between versions either. The main difference is having Diana slowly discover the history of the New Gods in an underground cavern after her mother lights the beacon. Jason Momoa is a lot more serious with Arthur’s link to the ocean. He has another obligatory shirtless scene as water consumes him to the tune of “Icky Thump.” Willem Dafoe is fully restored with Nuidis Vulko scolding Arthur over taking up Queen Atlanna’s trident. Since Aquaman’s mentor was first seen in Aquaman, you can tell even more that Atlantis wasn’t fully developed beforehand. Especially since Vulko also does the stupid air bubble thing. Joe Morton is immediately shown to have a bigger role as Silas Stone working at S.T.A.R. Labs when a janitor is kidnapped by a Parademon.
Ryan Zheng is also restored as Ryan Choi aka the second incarnation of Atom. He speaks with a Chinese accent and works with nanotechnology by the end. Silas returns to an even more angry Victor who watches over their Mother Box. The other better change made to Steppenwolf is having his motivation be redemption for his betrayal of Darkseid. He’s forced to conquer 150,000 worlds in order to return to Apocalypse. He speaks with master torturer DeSaad voiced by Peter Guinness, but the true big bad of the DC Universe will always be Darkseid. Turns out the “Snyder Cut” was finally enough to bring the ultimate world conqueror to live-action voiced by Ray Porter. His CGI design mostly resembles the comics with his imposing grey appearance and blue helmet. The centuries old battle between man, Amazons, Atlanteans, Old Gods, and a Green Lantern is even better and bloodier with Darkseid leading the charge. Robin Wright even makes an appearance as Antiope. The battle is far more epic as the Greek gods tear into Darkseid and ununite the Mother Boxes. Diana tells Bruce about Darkseid’s defeat as he continues to work on that Flying Fox plane.
Part 3: Beloved Mother, Beloved Son – Turns out Barry Allen was supposed to make his first appearance applying to a pet shop. Although Ezra Miller had his moments before, I have no doubt now that he is the strongest comic relief in the move. Even without Whedon’s B material, Snyder manages to keep the Flash lighthearted. Iris West is fully restored with Kiersey Clemons becoming the second black actress to play Barry’s love interest. Their romantic relationship is only hinted at with loving glances. Barry’s superspeed is really taken advantage of in a beautiful sequence of him saving Iris to the tune of “Song to the Siren.” As long as you ignore the cringy moment of Barry grabbing a wiener mid Speed Force. Barry visiting his father in prison isn’t changed much, but Billy Crudup is given more to work with.
The scene of Bruce & Diana discussing recruits is shown in full as the latter mentions a war between Amazons & Atlanteans. Bruce recruits Barry roughly the same way, but thankfully there’s no mention of brunch. Declaring himself to be rich was apparently a Snyder quip all along. Jeremy Irons has a lot less cringy lighthearted moments as Alfred, but I’m not sure we needed tea time with Diana. Creating a blast resistant bat-gauntlet is a better use of his time. Steppenwolf only finds Atlantis when he brutally interrogates an Atlantean. His fight with Mera is about the same except for her violently sucking out his blood. Aquaman shows up to the fight, but the outcome with the Mother Box is the same. One thing I definitely didn’t notice before is a British accent that Amber Heard inexplicably gives Mera.
Arthur & Mera’s bubble conversation is a bit more connected to his solo film than it was before, but the biggest change is everything involving Cyborg. Ray Fisher was the most vocal critic of Joss Whedon’s behavior while filming Justice League. It got to a point where he was practically whining over and over again. I wasn’t surprised when Fisher was fired, but his characterization is more memorable than it was before. Victor’s entire origin as a noble football star, the death of his mother Elinore played by Karen Bryson, and the resentment he feels for his father is all fully restored. Cyborg is practically turned into a tech god that can literally control the entire world. He learns to fly and gives a struggling family money. Although he is still grim while dropping a second F bomb in his encounter with Diana. Everything changes when Silas is captured and Victor buries the final Mother Box.
Part 4: “Change Machine” – J. K. Simmons’ role as Commissioner Gordon is almost exactly the same as it was before. Even the rooftop scene wasn’t changed. The team arrives at Gotham Harbor where they engage in a better first fight that isn’t undermined by jokes. Steppenwolf now interrogates people using a Starro type device that sees into their mind. Victor shows that he still cares for his father when he’s threatened. Cyborg displays further abilities that include an arm cannon, talking to Bruce’s plane, and growing a third arm. He mostly helps S.T.A.R. Labs employees to safety. The Flash isn’t a wimp who uses his superspeed to fight a Parademon and quickly help civilians. Batman puts up a good fight using Alfred’s power absorbing wrist blades and commanding the Knightcrawler before Cyborg steps in. Wonder Woman is still the best fighter in both versions when she engages in an even more intense duel with Steppenwolf.
Aquaman swims in the same way, but the team coming together in the Batcave is entirely different. I have no doubt that Cyborg was meant to be the main character after he explains the origin of the last Mother Box when it was taken by Nazis, then used by Silas to fix his son. The team much more calmly decides to use the Box to revive Superman. Diane Lane and Amy Addams have a much more heartfelt scene of Martha & Lois grieving at the latter’s house. Although the nice moment is kind of undercut by the revelation that Lois was talking to Martian Manhunter the entire time. His CGI could use some work, but apparently Harry Lennix was always meant to be the shapeshifting martian. Not exactly the cinematic debut I pictured for him. Meanwhile, Darkseid finally speaks when Steppenwolf discovers the all important Anti-Life Equation that can control all life in the Multiverse. Only after “The Unity” will Steppenwolf earn his freedom.
Part 5: All the King’s Horses – The grave robbing scene is completely different with Barry & Victor discussing Superman & Wonder Woman. Diana & Arthur are also nearby discussing the significance of an Atlantean teaming up with an Amazon. Alfred has another nice moment with Bruce continuing to make breakthroughs with his trust of Superman. Silas is more directly involved when the Justice League enter the S.T.A.R. Labs Kryptonian scout ship. He allows Victor to pass without interference. The Flash charging the Mother Box to revive Superman isn’t that different apart from Aquaman objecting to the idea more. Cyborg also sees a post-apocalyptic future when connected to the ship. It shows Darkseid successfully invading Earth and controlling an evil Superman.
Diana is buried by the Amazons, Arthur is killed underwater by Darkseid’s Omega Beams, and Superman holds the cowl of Batman over the body of Kilowog. Clark coming back to life and fighting the Justice League obviously hasn’t changed depending on the scenes without his CGI lip. Except for Cyborg helping a cop and the Flash running into Aquaman. Everything Wonder Woman does is the same including her infamous “Kal-El no!” line. The main difference is Clark’s encounter with Batman where he silently uses his heat vision on the Dark Knight. This time Lois was already in the area. We see her with a pregnancy test and walking away from the monument beforehand. Steppenwolf actually arrives to take the final Mother Box this time. It’s more tragic when Silas heroically sacrifices himself trying to destroy the Box in front of his son. DC borrows a line from Marvel when Cyborg tells the team to go get the son of b*tch.
Part 6: “Something Darker” – Although I planned to go all the way, it was at this point that I needed a bathroom break. Clark taking Lois to the Kent farm is far less childish without Whedon’s dialogue. Talking to Lois about his engagement ring and embracing his mother is better when Henry Cavill looks more optimistic. Unfortunately, I’m not crazy about his choice of wardrobe. I know black suit Superman is synonymous with his resurrection, but that’s just another problem with setting Dawn of Justice before Justice League. Superman really should have his classic red & blue suit when with the team. Otherwise both him and Batman are wearing black. Despite being more hopeful, Clark chooses the black suit as the conflicting words of his human and Kryptonian father fill his head. Superman flies into the heavens to join the fight. Meanwhile, the Justice League have a calmer discussion about how to find Steppenwolf after meeting Alfred.
Cyborg intends to disconnect the Mother Boxes while the Flash builds up a powerful electric charge. Arthur opens up a bit to Barry, but he doesn’t need a Lasso to do it. Bruce also brings up the Knightmare to Diana before they head out to Moscow. Thankfully there’s no pointless Russian family to save. The power of “The Unity” can be felt from Themyscira to Atlantis. Alfred meets Master Kent for the first time when he comes searching for the others. The final battle is rightfully restored to its original nighttime color palette. Batman still destroys the barrier, but using the Batmobile is given more weight. Most of the time Batman stays away from Steppenwolf in order to take out Parademon sharpshooters. After the team have another group shot, Cyborg, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman face Steppenwolf directly. He tries to get under Diana’s skin by reminding her of the Amazons and attempts to keep Victor from the Boxes.
Steppenwolf swings his axe on Cyborg, but an unimpressed Superman arrives just in time to use his arctic breath on it. Superman’s powerful display is rougher, but not much different from the theatrical edition. Aside from removing cheesy one-liners, the suit was actually colored black in post-production. When a Parademon somehow manages to hit the Flash, it becomes too late to stop “The Unity.” Darkseid appears in a portal alongside DeSaad and a presumably digital version of Granny Goodness on Apocalypse. As the world crumbles, the Flash really shows his immense power by turning back time in a breathtaking Speed Force run. No doubt that the Justice League are in fact gods among us. Cyborg views his family when revived, but sees past the deception in order to break the Boxes. Steppenwolf won’t go down without a fight this time. Until he’s impaled by Aquaman, punched by Superman, and actually beheaded by Wonder Woman. Darkseid knows enough to retreat, but still plan an old fashion invasion later on. The Justice League standing together is about the same apart from the distracting black suit.
Epilogue: “A Father Twice Over” – Rather than have Lois close out the movie with a Daily Planet article, Victor listens to the recording left by his father that he destroyed earlier. Silas Stone gives similar words of encouragement as the heroes go their separate ways. Victor embraces his role as Cyborg, Arthur talks to Vulko & Mera before leaving to see his father, Barry similarly tells his father about his forensics job, and Diana returns to her Amazonian monastery. The Hall of Justice scene is the same and so is Bruce buying the bank for Clark. The only difference with Clark is him opening up his shirt to reveal a silver ‘S’ underneath. The after-credits scene is now part of the movie with Lex escaping Arkham, but having a different conversation with Deathstroke. Jesse Eisenberg and Joe Manganiello are about as serious as they were before. Except that now their conversation foreshadows the original The Batman solo movie with Lex revealing Batman’s secret identity.
Although that’s a natural place to stop, there’s still an entire Knightmare to get through. The post-apocalypse is shown in more detail with trench coat Batman, weaponized Cyborg, British Mera carrying Aquaman’s trident, the Flash wearing an armored costume, Deathstroke as an ally, and even the Joker. Since all of this was brand new, Ben Affleck, Ray Fisher, Amber Heard, Ezra Miller, Joe Manganiello, and Jared Leto never look like they filmed together. After his terrible portrayal in Suicide Squad, Leto makes up for it with a more subtle tattooless Clown Prince of Crime. Not that his dialogue isn’t a little cringy and drawn out. Batman & the Joker discuss Robin, Harley Quinn, and the Caped Crusader actually drops the final F bomb. Which is followed by the evil Superman attacking. By this point I was done, but even that’s not the end when Martian Manhunter finally shows up to tell Bruce he’ll fight with them in a future we’ll never see.
In conclusion, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is better than the theatrical cut, but it’s not the masterpiece some fans call it. If you need 4 hours just to tell a story properly, than I wouldn’t exactly call that genius. Despite the larger runtime, Snyder still couldn’t use every idea he had. Like using Wayne T. Carr as John Stewart Green Lantern instead of Martian Manhunter at the end. Although Snyder did get even more self indulgent by making a black & white version of the movie. The Leonard Cohen version of “Hallelujah” is only heard during the credits. Fans continue to press Warner Bros. for an “Ayer Cut” of the similarly botched Suicide Squad. Along with the full restoration of the Snyderverse featuring a Justice League trilogy. Although this was a good effort, I’m still not a fan of his radical vision for famous DC characters. The solo approach to the DCEU isn’t a perfect one, but I’m fine with it as long as the movies are good. In the end, Zack Snyder completed Justice League for his daughter, so I guess I can’t fault him for that.
Theatrical film: Justice League (2017)