The year was 2017 and I eagerly anticipated the new Justice League movie. I was concerned the movie had come too soon as we had not yet seen a Flash or Cyborg film, Aquaman (2018) hadn’t been released, and Green Lantern appeared to be a no show. Nevertheless, my excitement was unwavering. Earlier that year, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman had restored some of my confidence in the direction of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and Batman vs. Superman had always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Unfortunately, in the end, my fears came true. Justice League was a hurried mess, both in tone and character introductions. The film would go on to underwhelm critics and at the box office. So, where did everything go wrong?
Following Batman vs. Superman’s failure to live up to expectations (a movie I’ll defend to the grave), director Zack Snyder was on thin ice. Warner Brothers was witnessing the gigantic success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, despite controlling the rights to tentpole superhero characters, was not cashing in the same way. They wanted their own MCU…but Zack Snyder didn’t.
Mired between eroding confidence from the higher-ups and family tragedy (his daughter, Autumn, tragically committed suicide at the age of 20) during production, Snyder was forced to take a step back from filming. Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the first Avengers movie, was already on to the creative team to help punch up the humor and lighten the tone of the film. When Snyder chose to leave, Whedon became the de facto finisher. But Whedon could not save the day. His version of Justice League, which he only claims a writing credit for, failed to impress critics and moviegoers alike. The future of the DCEU Snyder had planned to architect appeared in grave danger.
Snyder is a self-proclaimed provocateur, who would rather make cult movies that “f*** you up” than easy to digest “pop-culture pieces of candy.” You can see this in his identity as a filmmaker. He rose to fame with his 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and visually epic, meme’d to death Spartan movie 300 (2007). In 2009, Snyder dipped his toe in the superhero genre with the dark and violent Watchmen. These movies all reflect a director unafraid to show bloodshed, who appreciates mythology and the supernatural, and has a wild imagination – and the ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League feels like a product of its director in far greater measure than the earlier theatrical release.
Knowledge of the existence of the ‘Snyder Cut’ came from hints Snyder would drop to his fans. Soon, cast and crew supportive of Snyder acknowledged the reality of his version of the film being out there somewhere. Still images from the movie would be posted on Instagram. If you asked Snyder, he would’ve never predicted the overwhelming support of fans would one day pressure Warner Media to allow him to complete his project. However, after years of petitions, billboards, social media hype, and banners being flown in the sky, Snyder was offered around $70 million to complete his vision. The film is finally out and now streaming on HBO Max.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a masterpiece of the superhero genre. The film, which runs four hours long, is emotionally rich and thrillingly action-packed. Instead of CGI-removed moustaches or random Russian families to be saved, Snyder looks to expand on the mythos of the DC comic world and provides fan service for all.
In honor of Superman’s ultimate sacrifice, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) align forces to create a team of heroes to protect the world from an otherworldly force. The potential recruits for the team include Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Persuading them to join his side proves to be a challenge for Wayne, but also necessary. Steppenwolf, with an army of parademons, only march closer to fulfilling their catastrophic intentions by the day.
One of the significant problems the original Justice League had was managing to introduce its characters, bring them together, and build up to an epic battle all within two hours – it couldn’t be and wasn’t done. The film felt superficial. In the ‘Snyder Cut,’ there is plenty of time to become invested in our heroes and watch their chemistry grow, which makes the climax all the more rewarding. Cyborg is vastly improved as a fleshed-out character; his tragic backstory and complicated relationship with his parents are much more richly explored. He also is used as more than a tool that can hack things. His new assortment of powers is an embarrassment of riches and are borderline overpowering. I wish we could’ve learned more about Barry Allen, but even his arc within the film is improved from the original film and I can’t wait now for The Flash (2022).
Even Steppenwolf, who proved to be nothing more than a placeholder antagonist in 2017, is given new life in Snyder’s hands. Steppenwolf’s desire to conquer Earth goes beyond doing it just because he can. The story of the axe-wielding extraterrestrial turns into one of redemption as Steppenwolf wants nothing more than to return to the good graces of his master, Darkseid, and Earth is his ticket. His hunt for the mother boxes is clearer in its importance, and the power of the boxes is better explained.
The Thanos of DC, Darkseid is hinted at having a greater presence in future Justice League movies. These sequels will likely never come. Martian Manhunter, a Lantern, Deathstroke, Lex Luthor, and Jared Leto’s Joker all receive similar treatment with cameos foreshadowing their role in DCEU films Snyder originally planned. The possibilities really appear to be endless after the series of epilogues which conclude the film.
Zack Snyder embraces his newfound freedom with an R-rating of his version – the original being PG-13. This expanded creative opportunity gives Snyder a chance to make the film his own and he jumps at the chance. Zack Snyder’s Justice League features decapitations, warriors being trucked off their horses, goons being slammed into walls, and plenty of blood. These are gods fighting gods and men who stand no chance, and Snyder doesn’t allow censorship to get in the way of making the action look as badass as possible. The language is more explicit too.
Does Zack Snyder’s Justice League perfect everything the theatrical release got wrong? Not completely. The story’s exuberant amount of content is still somewhat overwhelming. Snyder’s signature use of slow motion is overdone. The 4:3 boxed format of the film, not designed for widescreen, takes some time to adjust to (Snyder chose the format on the offhand chance his film would be given an IMAX premiere). Despite these minor grievances, I can definitively say the ‘Snyder Cut’ is a vast improvement from the original.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is significant because it demonstrates the power of fans in the social media era. Fans singlehandedly made this film a reality and they’ve been rewarded with one of the most epic movies in recent memory.