I’m going to start this by saying I didn’t capital-H haaaaaaate 2017’s Justice League. There were things I liked about it and things I didn’t, and the things I didn’t like about it outweighed those I did, but when comparing it to the DCEU’s recent catastrophes Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, I saw the film as a teeny-tiny step in the right direction. However, it was still a unit of media that was designed to move action figures, sell T-shirts and most importantly, to sell tickets, as many as possible per day given the studio mandated absolutely-no-more-than-two-hour running time.
In case you somehow didn’t know, director Zack Snyder left the production of Justice League in March 2017 following the suicide of his daughter, and the film was still released in November 2017 after Avengers director Joss Whedon came on board. What followed was a ‘Frankenstein film’ of two conflicting visions, some truly ugly character design, and the worst CGI removal of a mustache I have ever seen. But again, I didn’t despise this film as so many did. However, I also have some problems with the legions of DC fans online who have been clamoring for Zack Snyder’s ‘full creative vision’ to be realized in a director’s cut. He’s spoken about the desire to release his four-hour-long cut of Justice League that allows his original vision to be achieved.
What I don’t think people realize is, Zack Snyder is not some kind of masterful filmmaker. Aside from the wildly entertaining 300 which still holds up on a rewatch, Snyder’s films have largely been given the ‘let’s try this again’ treatment after hitting home video, with longer, extended cuts being released that are more well received, but only seen by fans who purposely seek them out. Any time anyone claims Snyder is some kind of auteur, I’m quick to mention Sucker Punch, one of the single most disappointing moviegoing experiences I have ever endured. Alas, Warner Media’s new streamer HBO Max needs some splashy content, dammit, so I guess give the fans what they want. After the three year anniversary of Justice League, this new version of it was finally announced.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League follows mainly the same plot beats as the original movie, and yet it feels like a completely different movie at the same time. We open and end the film differently. It’s now broken into six parts and an epilogue that are clearly marked when you pause the film on HBO Max. So, it would not be difficult to split this into episodes if you didn’t want to sit down and watch a four-hour-long film. However, I wasn’t feeling well last Thursday when this dropped – it was a rainy, miserable day that I had off work. So, I spent pretty much the entire afternoon watching this new behemoth. And in this review, my introduction is four paragraphs, before I even get to plot details. Because you need background for this one, and also with the outrageously excessive nature of the ‘Snyder cut’, this felt right.
In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we find a world devastated after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), and the three mother boxes – holding infinite power – begin to wake up. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are focused on bringing together some powerful allies to gather to fight Steppenwolf, who has an allegiance to legendary supervillain Darkseid. In this film, we’re introduced to Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
And, the plot beats play out in a similar way to the original 2017 cut. In both, there’s a mid-point CGI battle where our team loses and realizes they have to bring Superman back. They do, and after some actual character development (a new addition), we get to the climactic battle and the setup for some sequels that will probably never happen, including some filmed-during-the-pandemic codas that seem to tease a whole series of films audiences will never see.
I’ll start out by saying that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is in fact, a considerable improvement over the original in many ways. The characters are more realized, as they damn well should be with a four hour running time. We learn a lot about Cyborg’s past, and it seems like the forthcoming Flash movie might actually be quite good. The Flash is still largely used as a comedic relief character, but a lot of the otherwise jokiness of Whedon’s cut is gone.
This version kind of skips over any observation of the Aquaman character, because I guess Snyder is assuming the audience has seen the 2018 Aquaman film, and why bother using any of the running time on him. We also get this loud, booming, ear-punishing chorus whenever Wonder Woman appears and does…anything. I guess it beats the sexist nonsense going on in Whedon’s version. The bank heist that Diana breaks up in the beginning is far superior to its original version.
However, Snyder’s worst habits are fully on display here, and his world of bleak, washed-out colors and visual sludge is not the easiest thing to look at for four hours. The misery and utter joylessness of Batman v Superman permeates throughout this, and while there are some moments that get into emotionally powerful territory, this ultimately feels like kind of a slog in many ways. Snyder wanted this film to be released in black and white, because of course he did, and fans will get treated to that version soon enough thanks to HBO Max’s desperation for new content. I guess fans will be happy with it.
Ultimately though, I enjoyed far more of the Snyder cut than I disliked. It’s a behemoth undertaking with a certain level of purpose. The character beats are much stronger and we have a villain with actual motivation and the stakes feel much greater by the time we reach the finale. The film doesn’t quite get me pumped up for this cinematic universe to continue, but there are certain aspects I’d like to see continue. I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to Henry Cavill’s Superman, I think there’s some potentially quite powerful places to take his story. And as I’ve said, we need Flash and Cyborg movies yesterday, if not sooner. I still don’t think this version is essential or even necessary, but I’m sure the fans who demanded this movie into existence will love every minute of it.
And that’s really why this thing exists, isn’t it? The fans. The fans who bullied studio heads into leaving social media, quitting their jobs and ultimately giving them a shiny new piece of entertainment that cost them $70 million to finish. When the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag evolved from nerds crying in an internet corner to legitimate fan movement with media traction, it led to a larger conversation about which fan voices are heard. The Snyder cut gang, a fan group comprising of mostly straight white dudes with nothing better to do, bullied heads of Warner Bros., actors from the project, film critics, anyone who they could find with the influence to maybe give them what they want.
These fans also are now calling for the #AyerCut of Suicide Squad, a laughable idea considering there was already a terrible director’s cut released for this terrible movie, and also more than anything they now want to #RestoreTheSnyderVerse. Because when you give children the thing they want, it’s never enough for them. They always demand the next big, shiny (or in this case rusty and colorless) toy and they’re never satisfied. The same fans who viciously attacked Wonder Woman 1984 and deemed the fantastic Birds of Prey a flop, and worse, totally embraced Todd Phillips’ Joker are not the people Hollywood should be listening to. Stop stroking Snyder’s ego and move on to something else.