In the immortal words of sportscaster Al Michaels, “Do you believe in miracles?” Because if you had asked me two years ago if the so-called “Snyder Cut” would ever be released, I would have told you it would take a miracle. Apparently, miracles do happen because on March 18th HBO Max will finally release Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the director’s original vision for the 2017 film. The result is a contrast between this version and the theatrical cut that is akin to reading a classic novel or just the CliffsNotes. The new version is an absolute masterpiece and a triumph for Zack Snyder, his family, the cast, the crew, and all the fans around the world that helped to make this dream a reality.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last four years, you know the long and strange story of Zack Snyder and Justice League, but in case you don’t, here is a quick recap. After directing Man of Steel, Snyder was commissioned by Warner Bros. to make Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, then Justice League Part I and Justice League Part II. The filmmaker would begin principal photography on Justice League just as Batman v. Superman was being released. Snyder’s director’s cut of B v. S, which would eventually be released as the Ultimate Edition, was severely changed by the studio, and thus, the theatrical release received mixed reviews.
In an attempt to save the franchise, WB executives (by all accounts) began meddling in the production of Justice League, trying to infuse more humor and deciding to scratch the sequel and focus on the first film. Then tragedy struck the Snyder family, and both Zack and his wife/producer Deborah left the project. That’s when the studio hired Avengers director Joss Whedon to finish the film, and (again, by all accounts) he pretty much reshot the entire movie. Eventually, it was released to mixed reviews and, while it grossed over $650 million worldwide, was considered a complete failure.
Then the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement began online, with hundreds of fans calling for a mythical version of the movie to be released. However, Snyder soon revealed that it actually existed, and a fan-campaign was born that involved billboards and posters springing up at San Diego Comic-Con and other events demanding the studio release Snyder’s version of the film. While it seemed like a pipedream for fans, something changed in late 2019, not long after AT&T acquired Warner Media. With the launching of their streaming channel and the pandemic looming just about a year ago now, it was finally announced that Snyder would finish the post-production on his vision of Justice League, even shooting a new scene, and it would be released on HBO Max in 2021. Which pretty much brings you up to speed.
The characters and basic plot of Zack Snyder’s Justice League are the same, with Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) coming together to resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill) and save the world from an attack by Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). But to say that this is a completely different version than the theatrical is a huge understatement.
While most of the scenes play out basically the same, they are all completely different, except for the rooftop sequence with Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons), which Ray Fisher recently admitted was the only scene Whedon did not reshoot. But every other scene is either brand new, deleted from the theatrical, or expanded with unseen footage. And it’s the expanded, deleted, and new scenes that give the movie more scope, context, and motivation for the main characters. By leaving in the backstories of Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, and Steppenwolf, he fills out the movie and explains their motivations throughout the course of the film.
The deleted and new scenes add many great actors and characters to the cast, including Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Kiersey Clemons as Iris West, Harry Lennix as Calvin Swanwick/Martian Manhunter, Zheng Kai as Ryan Choi, Jared Leto as Joker, Peter Guinness as DeSaad, and Ray Porter as Darkseid. Dafoe, Clemons, and Kai’s characters help fill out Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg’s stories, respectively. At the same time, Leto and Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke are great additions to the new “Knightmare” scene at the end.
While fans will be excited to see Martian Manhunter’s inclusion, it’s seeing Darkseid that will really make them happy. Steppenwolf is still the main antagonist, but Darkseid is now the ultimate big-bad. Their relationship and backstories help explain the film’s main plot, especially the Mother Boxes, which are basically the movie’s MacGuffin. Steppenwolf’s visual effects were drastically improved, and the design of Darkseid looks absolutely amazing.
All of Henry Cavill’s scenes that appear in the theatrical release were apparently from Whedon’s reshoot, and we know this because the actor was contractually obligated to have a mustache for Mission: Impossible – Fallout that had to be digitally removed, resulting in a weird-looking digital lip he sports throughout the film. I’m happy to report Cavill has his normal lip back as his original footage has been restored, but interestingly all his scenes are basically the same, albeit with different takes and now wearing the black Superman suit. So, one has to wonder why Whedon reshot these scenes in the first place? It had been said that Jesse Eisenberg had shot scenes that were cut from the theatrical release, but other than an alternate take and a scene ironically deleted from the theatrical cut of Batman v. Superman, he’s in nothing new.
Equally, Diane Lane and Amy Adams’ scenes are basically the same, except with a special twist. And Lois is no longer Batman’s “secret weapon” when Clark comes back from the dead. Amber Heard has an awesome fight scene with Steppenwolf restored and appeared in the new “Knightmare” scene with Manganiello, although it’s Leto’s Joker going one-on-one with Affleck’s Batman that really shines in that sequence.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an absolute masterpiece and a triumph for the director and his family on so many different levels. Yes, the film is four-hours long, but the pacing is so good and fast that you are engaged the entire time and won’t even notice its length. Gone are the bad effects, poor taste jokes, and needless characters like the Russian family that Whedon injected into the film. While Snyder’s vision of Justice League is admittingly dark and gritty, honestly, after 2020, it doesn’t seem that grim. There is a certain amount of fun to the film, especially between the characters’ interactions and fantastic set pieces like the re-imagined ancient Themyscscira battle of Mankind, the Gods, Amazons, Atlanteans, and the Green Lantern Corp. vs. Darkside and his minions, which is absolutely epic.
If it’s true that HBO Max put an additional $70 million into the movie to finish the “Snyder Cut’s” VFX, as well as shoot the new “Knightmare” scene, then it was money well spent as the film looks incredible. The new soundtrack by Junkie XL is excellent as well and helps set the tone for the film. Snyder begins the movie not with Superman doing an iPhone video and Batman chasing a burglar, but instead wisely with a recap of the Doomsday battle from B v. S, which sets up the film’s plot in more ways than one.
Look, I get why the studio wouldn’t want to release a four-hour cut theatrically, especially in 2017, but why didn’t they release it as two different films back-to-back? It would have made so much more sense than butchering Snyder’s vision and letting Whedon ultimately make a “Frankenstein version” of what Snyder was hired to do. While it is rare in Hollywood, I’m always pleased when a filmmaker is finally allowed to complete their vision for a film, which has only happened a few times before. The fact that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is finally being released, and is as good as it really is, is just something the Snyders should be really proud of.
Frankly, while it might not be that likely, I would love to see more of Snyder’s vision for DC in the future and hope that a sequel, at least on HBO Max, would be possible. The film does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, but it has a very satisfying ending. As much as I love this movie, I have to wonder if I would have loved it as much in 2017 if I hadn’t been through the disappointment of Whedon’s version and the realities of 2020. I guess we’ll never know? But in the end, while we may not have been ready for Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2017, it is absolutely the Justice League that we NEED in 2021!!!