Back in 2017, Warner Brothers released Joss Whedon’s Justice League, supposedly the springboard to a shared universe of spinoff movies. But the movie cratered, and in the years since, it has been widely considered to be a creative disaster.
But another version of the movie was widely rumored to exist – a cut by the original director Zack Snyder, before it was sliced and diced by the studio and Whedon in an effort to make a more marketable blockbuster. And after years of fans demanding that the studio release the artist’s vision, the fabled “Snyder Cut” was finally released, completed and four hours long. Was it worth the wait?
In a word, yes.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League covers roughly the same territory as the Joss Whedon Cut – Batman (Ben Affleck) brings together several superheroes to fight an extraterrestrial warlord named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). This includes the immortal warrior Diana (Gal Gadot), young speedster Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the gruff water-warrior Arthur (Jason Momoa) and a traumatized young cyborg named Victor (Ray Fisher). In their quest to keep Steppenwolf from uniting the three Motherboxes that will spell the Earth’s doom, they realize that they need the help of Superman (Henry Cavill) – and they may have the means of returning him to life.
But whole the overall plot – and some scenes – are familiar, the movie has whole swathes that are new and enriching. Characters are massively fleshed out, poorly-conceived comedy is notably absent, and the rich lore of the DC universe is woven into the tapestry of the plot – most notably in the malevolent Darkseid and his courtiers, who give some reason for Steppenwolf to conquer Earth other than “he just wants to, okay?”
In short, with four hours to expand into, the Snyder Cut has the ability to be a richer, more compelling narrative. Snyder’s vision here is a muscular, smooth, flowing expanse of scenes that all interweave neatly – nothing here could be trimmed without diminishing something else. This even includes some beloved DC characters who don’t play much of a role here, but were clearly intended to contribute more to a shared universe.
Snyder also strikes an almost perfect balance of action, comedy and tragedy here. There are some moments of understated comedy woven in (“This is Alfred. I work for him”), but it’s kept sedate and appropriate to whatever is happening. There are some great action scenes as well (such as the tragic battle of Steppenwolf against the Amazons), though Snyder makes sure to weave subtle characterization into them. But he delves deep into the loss and pain of the characters here, especially Cyborg’s misery and anger over being turned into… well, a cyborg. Yet he also shows their nobility and their desire to help others.
Furthermore, the Snyder Cut simply feels… bigger and more epic than Whedon’s cut. Whedon’s film always seemed flimsy and small in scale, but this actually feels like our heroes are going up against an apocalyptic threat. This is particularly true in the Justice League’s final battle against Steppenwolf, which is turned from a standard superhero climax into something dazzling – time is bent, space is torn, battles are fought in body and in the mind, and it feels like no other heroes could possibly do what the Justice League is doing.
Furthermore, the characters are finally done justice by this cut – Snyder’s Batman is intelligent and competent, his Superman is a stern but kind and good person, and his Wonder Woman is fierce and magnificent. Even Steppenwolf is given more character dimensions here – in just a few lines, Snyder makes this horned alien monstrosity feel like a real person, who desperately wants redemption and a welcome home. You almost feel sorry for him, even if you don’t want him to succeed.
But the greatest character development comes for Barry and Victor. Barry is shown not just as a funny quippy kid, but as growing into his role as a hero and completely devoting himself to saving the entire world. And Fisher does an outstanding job as Victor, whose raw pain and misery are recognizable in any person who’s suffered a life-changing injury or disease, but whose compassion for others is never dimmed.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League has some flaws, but it is a wildly different – and far superior – cut to the disaster that was released in theaters. It combined slam-bang action and a lore-rich script with a lot of heart and soul – all you could ask from a superhero movie.