When DC’s Justice League came out in theaters, it was very different from what the original director intended. Zack Snyder’s Justice League, also known as the Snyder Cut, makes up for that, expanding the film to four hours where Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League battle the good fight. The Snyder Cut was released on HBO Max in 2021 and now you can finally buy your own digital version of the four-hour film.
Did I mention it takes four hours?
This extended director’s cut is Snyder’s 2017 reissue of Justice League, which was credited to Joss Whedon after Snyder stopped mid-production due to a personal tragedy. Three years later, Snyder dusted off the original footage, recorded some new stuff, and then put it together into a four-hour recording. Officially titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League, this epic version was initially exclusive to the HBO streaming service alongside other Warner Bros. blockbusters and DC Comics spin-offs. But you don’t need to subscribe to HBO Max, as you can also buy it on Blu-ray disc or as a digital purchase.
Like the theatrical release, Snyder’s Justice League sees Batman recruit superpowered comrades Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash to find their fallen superfriend Superman and thwart an alien invader. Superpowers and soul-searching follow.
The greatest strength of this and all DC movies is the casting of the heroes. Gal Gadot’s smoldering Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill’s square-jawed Superman and Ben Affleck’s tired Batman complement the comic book costumes perfectly. In addition to them, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller give standout performances and breathe life into lesser-known characters. It’s entertaining to spend time with this class of heroes hitting, posing and bouncing each other.
The fun relationships between heroes were a big part of Whedon’s rewrites in the theater version of Justice League. However, some of the fans quickly gathered to restore the original director’s vision with an online campaign to launch #releasethesnydercut. Somewhere between a popular movement of comic book fans and a blazing howl of harassment against critics and DC, the controversy surrounding the Snyder Cut became a weird link in the online culture wars, recently complicated by allegations that Whedon engaged in on-set bullying and new revelations that a much of the #releasethesnydercut campaign was driven by fake social media activity.
So yes, this movie comes with a lot of baggage, but life is too short to get into this. I’m not going to comb through the differences between the two versions either. Instead, I’m going to see if the Snyder Cut stands alone as a coherent storytelling experience.
It’s no spoiler to say that the new version starts with a recap of an earlier movie, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which means you don’t just have to think back to the Wonder Woman and Aquaman movies that have appeared since then; you have to think back five years to an even earlier film in the series. Listen, I forgive you for not remembering the details of what’s happening or why Lex Luthor is hanging in some sort of CGI paddling pool. I’ll even save you some trouble and tell you up front that Lex Luthor isn’t mentioned in the main plot of this movie anymore, so including him in the intro is just unnecessary and confusing.
After ten seconds I have that annoying feeling, all too common in today’s continuity-obsessed blockbusters, that I have to stop the movie and check Wikipedia to see if I’m missing something.
That dark prologue tells you very clearly from the jump who this film is for. Do you know the details of Zack Snyder’s films inside out? Welcome aboard. Are you the other 99% of the movie audience who did like the Wonder Woman movies and just want some superhero escapism while sitting at home with only business streaming services? Screw you! Go watch Batman Forever, you poser!
You can tell this is serious stuff from the heavy textured accents, like Nordic villagers singing ominous songs, or stark black title cards, or flashbacks and dream sequences and multiple voiceovers from multiple dead fathers.
The Snyder Cut is not meant to be fun. It’s full of serious people saying serious things. Admittedly, the theatrical release’s flow of self-conscious jokes came dangerously close to ridiculing fans for taking this stuff even slightly seriously, but there has to be a middle ground between Whedon’s craziness and Snyder’s leaden approach. When the Snyder Cut makes an attempt at humor, it plays like someone who once heard a joke, but didn’t really understand why everyone was laughing. In this version, Ezra Miller’s performance as the Flash is still a quirky highlight, but his dialogues often feel forced and weird rather than nerdy and endearing.
You can tell this is serious stuff from the heavy textured accents, like Nordic villagers singing ominous songs, or stark black title cards, or flashbacks and dream sequences and multiple voiceovers from multiple dead fathers. And sooo muuchhh slooo-moooo. Get into your feelings with a full minute of Lois Lane drinking coffee in slow motion in the rain while Nick Cave plays, or get back into your feelings with a full minute of Aquaman drinking whiskey in slow motion in the rain while, er, more Nick Cave plays.
All of this adds to the inflated run time. I, for one, am happy to spend time fighting crime with each of the caped crusaders. But the film is also full of the myriad of frills that any responsible editor would trim without hesitation. We probably didn’t need Commissioner Gordon in a subplot about Batman as a suspected kidnapper who is then completely forgotten, or a recurring theme of poverty and eviction that makes no sense (especially illogical when one of the heroes is literally billionaire Bruce Wayne). And we really didn’t need a scene where Alfred shows Wonder Woman how to make tea.
Zack Snyder in the early stages of directing Justice League.
But despite its length, the Snyder Cut presents nothing meaningful or significant new. Look to Blade Runner for an example of how a reissue can deepen a story. The legendary Director’s Cut added a fascinating nuance and ambiguity to the question of whether the hero was human, and really added an extra dimension to the film, even if you had seen him before.
But Justice League’s four-hour Snyder Cut essentially feels like the same movie as the two-hour theatrical version, only longer. Sometimes it feels less like a story and more like a free-roaming video game where you roam the DC universe and interact with non-playable characters.
And don’t even get me started on the revamped mini-movies designed to set up sequels that will never come. These throw a bunch of fan-pleasing DC characters against the wall and look cool, but are frankly incoherent nonsense.
On a positive note, a number of plot lines are broadened throughout the film, with varying degrees of success. The expansive story relies heavily on Fisher’s Cyborg, which is good because he has an intriguingly conflicting relationship with his superpowers that make him without a doubt the most interesting character on the team.
We also learn that villain Steppenwolf is a subordinate of a cosmic conqueror named Darkseid. In theory, this could add a nice nuance: The Marvel movies have shown how villains can be developed as personalities with recognizable conflicts that reflect the dilemmas the good guys face. But in practice, this just means that Justice League’s existing over-CG-ed Gray Beast man now reports to another CG Gray Beast man who in turn reports to yet another CG Gray Beast man.
And I’ll save you some Googling: you’re not mishearing the dialogue, it’s just that one of those gray CG baddies is called “DeSaad” and the other “Darkseid”. Ridiculously similar names like that are the kind of junk you take out of a movie, not put back on purposely.
By the way, are you impressed we got this far before we mentioned the M word? Like it or not, Marvel is raising the bar for superhero blockbusters and DC has been catching up for a decade. Justice League tried to do in one movie what the Avengers series unfolded over several years, and it just isn’t the same. But Snyder, Warner Bros. and DC aren’t doing themselves any favors by telling a story so similar to the goings-on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The bickering heroes collecting magical alien artifacts are basically the same as Infinity War and Endgame, and Darkseid is essentially Thanos without the character development. Hell, Snyder even throws in a moment that seems to cancel out the Hulk’s signature line (“I’m always mad”) from the first Avengers movie — ironically written and directed by one Joss Whedon.
So after all the fuss and online battles we can finally compare the versions of Snyder and Whedon. And we can officially confirm that, as awesome as it seemed in the fandom’s feverish imagination, the Snyder Cut is just as much of a mess as the theatrical montage. Which version you prefer is entirely up to you – I’m not going to judge whether the two-hour or four-hour version is better.
But I’ll say this: at least one is over sooner.
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