Since being announced, many have been clamouring to see if Zack Snyder’s Justice League could truly live up to the hype. Even the announcement of a four hour running time wasn’t enough to mellow my excitement for what was shaping up to be one of the most epic comic book movies in years.
Still, no matter my excitement, I was still gearing up to be disappointed, as at the end of the day it would still have the same plot as the original theatrical release just with added scenes. Thankfully this was not the case. Zack Snyder’s Justice League exceeded all expectations, with the 4 hour running time allowing Snyder to give us a fantasy actioner rich in character and design. Snyder has created one of the finest films in the DCEU, with the recent Wonder Women 1984 (2020) completely paling in comparison.
Told over six chapters, the film begins with the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) at the hands of Doomsday, as seen previously during the finale of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2013). After Superman’s sacrifice, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) travel the world in order to unite a team of heroes to protect the earth from the oncoming threat of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds).
The remainder of the team is made up of Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who must put their differences aside in order to stop Steppenwolf and his master Darkseid.
When a director’s cut of Justice League (2017) was first rumored a few years ago it seemed like a pipe dream, especially when Warner Brothers initially denied its very existence. Of course this wasn’t exactly 100% true.
Although Zack Snyder didn’t get a chance to complete his vision for the film, the footage he shot was still in existence as proven by Snyder himself, with him constantly teasing of its existence through his social media accounts.
Much has been written about Justice League’s production since its theatrical release, with it being well reported the unfortunate reason Zack Snyder had to step down from the director’s chair. I must say that it did seem strange that producers brought in Joss Whedon to oversee the remainder of the shoot, as he and Snyder have extremely opposing directorial styles.
Still I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when it was being reported that Whedon would only be overseeing some slight reshoots and was doing his hardest to shoot it in a similar style to Snyder so that the new footage wouldn’t be jarring. On its release it became increasingly apparent that Whedon did more than just some slight reshoots.
Now, I am one of the few that didn’t totally despise the theatrical release, but even then I found it mostly forgettable and an especially lacklustre finale to what Snyder had built up previously in Man of Steel (2013) and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
I’m not going to get into what has been reported about Whedon’s conduct during the reshoots, instead looking at the work he carried out on screen. Upon viewing the theatrical version of Justice League it is wholly apparent that very little of Snyder’s vision is included in the completed film. It has since been reported that Whedon rewrote and reshot up to 75% of the completed film.
The inclusion of unnecessary humour and a lighter tone is classic Whedon, with there being some groan inducing moments throughout his film, with him having the likes of Batman coming out with uncharacteristic one liners. Not all the blame should be laid at Whedon’s feet however, with him being given a remit by the producers to create a film that comes in under 2 hours.
It is clear the reason Whedon was asked to get involved was due to his success on the Avengers films, with the producers not taking into consideration the complete difference in tone between the two franchises.
As well as changing the tone and the visual look of the film, Whedon excised many of the subplots Snyder aimed to include in his cut. This was deemed necessary in order to get the film under the requested length.
While the main plot is essentially the same, the inclusion of more character scenes and subplots adds to Snyder’s cut greatly, with him even setting up further films in the DCEU. For example he includes scenes demonstrating the Flash’ ability to reverse time that perfectly sets up Flashpoint as well as setting up what would have been Affleck’s solo Batman film with the inclusion of Deathstroke in a pre credits scene (a variation of this scene appears in the theatrical cut).
I really wonder what goes on in studio exec’s heads. They seemingly wanted to create a cinematic universe but for some inexplicable reason removed the scenes Snyder shot that would have perfectly set that up. Perhaps they were hoping that Whedon would be the man to move the DCEU forward, feeling that his changes to the film were for the best.
It isn’t just the inclusion of scenes that makes this take on Justice League a winner. Snyder has altered the theatrical’s visual style so it’s more in line with his usual fare. This is never more apparent in the film’s finale. With Whedon’s version, the action had this horrible red/orange tinge to it which was the polar opposite of what was originally shown in the trailers. Thankfully Snyder has reverted back to the film’s original look, with the finale being shot in a steely blue like tone.
The 4:3 aspect ratio may initially throw people off but you will quickly get used to it and it never once restricts your view of the on-screen action. One surprising aspect of Snyder’s vision is that he has been allowed to make it R rated, with the inclusion of blood and swearing. It’s not as over the top of some of his other features such as 300 (2007), but it certainly sets it apart from other current superhero movies.
Some people online have decried Snyder’s decision to include what they perceive as unnecessary violence, but I for one agree with Snyder’s choice. The main characters have almost god-like powers. The amount of damage they would inflict would certainly involve a fair amount of blood, and upon reflection it is more ridiculous to not show it.
Snyder also made the grand decision to bring back ace composer Tom Holkenborg a.k.a. Junkie XL. Holkenborg was originally involved before Snyder left the project, with Whedon making the inexplicable decision to replace him with Danny Elfman who ended up turning in one of his most generic and forgettable scores, with only the inclusion of his famous Batman theme and excerpts from John Williams’ Superman standing out. Thankfully Holkenborg’s return creates a score that is the perfect accompaniment to the action.
As widely reported, the main casualty of Whedon’s changes was the excision of the majority of Ray Fisher’s performance, making his Cyborg appear more like a Mcguffin than a fully rounded character. At the time people felt that it was just sour grapes and that Fisher was just unhappy that Justice League didn’t catapult his career as expected.
Overlooking his personal experiences of working with Whedon and just focusing on his performance, Fisher still has every right to be disappointed. By watching the Snyder Cut it becomes clear that Cyborg was intended to be one of the main driving forces of the film, with him now being a fully rounded character. Fisher is terrific in the role, with even the slightly iffy CGI not able to detract from his performance.
Fisher isn’t the only actor to be awarded additional screen time. Almost the entire cast have more substantial roles, although some more than others. Affleck’s role has probably changed the least, with a great deal of his screen time already appearing in the theatrical version.
Even with his detractors, I think Affleck makes for a great Bruce Wayne/Batman, with the world weariness of his character shining through. This is clearly a man that has maybe been doing this too long and is beginning to realize that he can’t go on forever, with the formation of a team of heroes being necessary.
The one difference with Snyder’s version is that he no longer feels like he’s just tagging along, with Batman now feeling as if he serves more of a purpose than just bringing the team together. I’m glad to hear that he is returning to the role in the upcoming Flash movie, as when his solo Batman film fell apart I thought that was it for Affleck in the role.
I also felt that this was a better showcase for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman than her recently released solo outing. Gadot is still one of the strongest aspects of the DCEU, with Wonder Woman once again getting the film’s best moments. Her opening action scene, where she faces off against Game of Thrones (2011) alum Michael McElhatton and a group of terrorists was included in the theatrical cut but appears different here. It shows how the feel of a scene can be completely altered by a re-edit and a change of music.
Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is much more accessible this time round, with him no longer coming across as the nerdy goofball. Additional scenes with him include the aforementioned scene where he shows his capabilities of reversing time as well as the introduction of Kiersey Clemons’ Iris West, who comic book fans will realize is Barry’s future love interest.
Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is built up more, with Snyder including scenes between him and Willem Dafoe’s Vulko which helps in introducing the world of Atlantis, with them even mentioning his brother King Orm. In the theatrical cut, Whedon pretty much cut down Aquaman to nothing more than the angry muscle of the group, with the majority of scenes around his background being excised. At the time the producers probably didn’t think this was an issue as Momoa’s solo outing was already going into production where they could further elaborate on his backstory.
Still, the inclusion of these additional scenes show that Snyder was already looking towards his characters’ solo outings, with their worlds and characters being introduced here so there would be less need for exposition in the future. As well as the inclusion of Dafoe, Amber Heard’s screen time as Mera is increased, perfectly setting up her return in Aquaman (2018).
Unlike the theatrical cut, Snyder’s cut takes its time to reintroduce Henry Cavill’s Superman. Other than a brief glimpse of him during the opening credits the film is over the 2.5-hour mark before we see his resurrection. There is an actual build up to his return this time, with the stakes of bringing him back being much higher.
It would appear that bringing him back may not be the best course of action in the long run, with Snyder once again showing us glimpses of an apocalyptic future where Superman faces off against the remaining Justice League. It makes for a mouth-watering taster for what Snyder had in store for the DCEU, making it even more bitter sweet to think that this may be the last we see of Snyder’s iteration of these characters.
As expected, Cavill is still the perfect Superman. Some have complained previously of the changes Snyder made to his character but he is totally fitting with the universe Snyder was creating. Thankfully there are no CGI tricks required in Snyder’s cut to cover up his Mission: Impossible mustache. We are also treated to Cavill finally donning the black Superman costume, which he wears throughout the action-packed finale. Any comic book fan will recognize how significant this costume is to Superman’s resurrection.
A major complaint of the theatrical cut was how mediocre a villain Steppenwolf appeared to be. Snyder mostly fixes that, with the inclusion of additional scenes and a total overhaul on his design. Originally, he came across as a one note villain but now he is given much needed depth, with the audience getting to know about his past and what truly motivates him.
It isn’t just the main cast that are afforded more screen time. The likes of Connie Nielsen, Joe Morton, Amy Adams and Diane Lane all have much more to do, albeit some more than others. In regards to Lane, she has an especially poignant scene with Adams about their loss. Unfortunately, the end of the scene is ruined by an unnecessary inclusion. In fact, it was my only real gripe with the film, which I suppose at 4 hours long isn’t too bad.
Of course Zack Snyder has many detractors, with a lot of people thinking he was the wrong man to steer the ship. Hopefully with his cut of Justice League he will finally prove them wrong. It is already proving to be a roaring success with HBO Max crashing with the number of views on its day of release.
I would hope from this success that WB execs would somehow make the logical decision to allow Snyder to complete his vision and shoot his Justice League sequel. Sadly, I don’t think this will be the case, as logical decisions don’t seem to come easy to studio execs. Even if this is the last we see of Snyder’s vision, he has gone out on a strong note, leaving the fans begging for more.
Plot: 4/5 Acting: 5/5 Action: 4/5 Overall: 4.5/5