“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is the culmination of a multi-year fan campaign to release the near-mythical “Snyder Cut” of the 2017 movie “Justice League,” which fans met with poor reviews. The four-hour long epic far surpasses the original with improved action scenes, restoration of key character arcs and more thematic cohesion.
When “Justice League” first came to theaters, the film was intended to be the DC Extended Universe’s answer to the rousing success of Marvel Entertainment’s “Avengers” franchise. The movie received mediocre reviews and flopped at the box office, however, losing parent company Warner Bros. an estimated $100 million.
Zack Snyder, the original director, left his position after the tragic suicide of his daughter. “Avengers” director Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the job but largely failed to satisfy audiences, forcing awkward humor and portraying a lackluster villain in the 2017 version of “Justice League.”
After an impassioned fan campaign led by the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, Warner Bros. decided in February 2020 to let Snyder spend an estimated $70 million on reshoots to complete his vision and release his film exclusively on HBO Max streaming service this past March.
Snyder’s version largely hews to Whedon’s plot, following Batman (Ben Affleck) as he attempts to assemble a team of superheroes. The team, made up of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) must defend Earth from the alien Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who seeks to capture the mysterious, powerful devices known as Motherboxes in order to conquer Earth.
Despite the general similarities between the new and old versions of the movie, the differences remain stark in the details. Entire scenes are cut, dozens of new scenes are added and certain characters are re-contextualized completely.
While Fisher’s part-human, part-robot character, Cyborg, is not usually an original member of the Justice League in comics or TV series, he shines as the most compelling character in Snyder’s version. His tragic backstory, which was almost entirely cut from Whedon’s 2017 version, is restored in Snyder’s cut, creating a compelling story arc about a damaged man coming to terms with his new body and self. The speedster The Flash experiences a marked improvement, particularly in the climax of the film where, in thrilling and innovative CGI, he plays a key role in saving the day.
The villain, Steppenwolf, is also far more intriguing than his original version, as his motivations are changed from appeasing his master, the all-powerful Darkseid, to seeking forgiveness for his past transgressions. Darkseid was absent from Whedon’s original version, and his return in the Snyder Cut is welcome for fans who understand that future Justice League films will inevitably lead to a confrontation with this destroyer of worlds.
The action, Snyder’s signature strength, is similarly improved in this new cut, as the heroes are swifter and stronger, which was lacking in the original. Slow-motion fight scenes, reminiscent of early Snyder hits like “300” and “Watchmen,” are satisfying, if occasionally overindulgent.
While the decision to only release the movie on HBO Max initially seemed inhibiting, it was likely necessary given the film’s most noticeable flaw: the length. Spanning over four hours and split up into seven parts to allow for easier viewing, some of the content in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is noticeably superfluous.
Director’s cuts are usually longer than their silver screen counterparts, but the sheer volume of slow-motion scenes and sequel-baiting, such as an extensive epilogue featuring an admittedly improved version of Jared Leto’s The Joker, is excessive. Warner Bros. could have easily cut the movie down to half its length while still maintaining its integrity.
Ultimately, Snyder’s vision offers a compelling guide to the future of DC films, and it would be a shame if his outline was abandoned simply because of past controversies. A new fan campaign has even emerged to #RestoreTheSnyderverse, which would, of course, cause complications for future films, such as the ambiguity over whether Henry Cavill would return as Superman.
The success of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” however, shows there is a clear appetite for competent and compelling storytelling about DC’s legendary team of heroes. Even if the film proves to be Snyder’s last superhero-related outing, both he and fans should be satisfied with his immense success in the form of this re-release.