Well, let’s unpack this monstrosity of a film, shall we?
Born from a largely online campaign and the dearth of prospects for theatrical releases, Warner Bros. decided to give Zack Snyder a chance to recut his version of Justice League, the crossover film that was released back in 2017. There is a long story behind this film. Zack Snyder was originally set to write and direct Justice League as the follow-up film to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. From the rumors I’ve found, Warner Bros. was all up in Snyder’s business, meddling with the film and constantly advocating for changes.
And then something truly tragic happened: Zack Synder’s daughter committed suicide. Snyder left the film during post-production to deal with this tragedy. Whatever thoughts I have on Snyder as a filmmaker, no parent should ever have to endure that kind of loss and my heart goes out to him.
In response to the negative criticisms leveled at Batman V Superman, Warner Bros. brought on Joss Whedon to finish up Justice League. And from the accounts provided by Ray Fisher (who plays Cyborg in the film), Whedon created a toxic environment during the reshoots that essentially removed all but a half-hour of Snyder’s vision from the finished product. Whedon’s Justice League is, frankly, a terrible film with a one-note villain in Steppenwolf and poor writing/pacing throughout.
The reception to the Justice League released in 2017 was abysmal and it didn’t earn back nearly enough money to justify the budget spent on the original shoot or the reshoots. At that point, fans of the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) began clamoring for Snyder’s version to be released. And then, in 2020, amidst the pandemic and the lack of box office options, Warner Bros. gave the greenlight and allowed Snyder to recut the film to be released on HBO Max.
All of this is preamble for my thoughts on the film, so I appreciate you sticking with me up to this point. Spoilers ahead, so don’t continue reading if you haven’t watched the film.
This needs to be said out front: Whedon did Ray Fisher dirty in more ways than one. From Ray Fisher’s accounts (posted here in Variety), Whedon made the reshoots a miserable experience for quite a few people. Cyborg in the Whedon version is barely a character, with little backstory and motivation given to him. Snyder’s Cut is far superior, providing Ray Fisher a chance to flex his muscles as an actor alongside Joe Morton and the rest of the cast. Cyborg serves as an integral part of the story and the one person capable of helping save the day. I loved Cyborg’s story in this version and Ray Fisher did an exemplary job in it.
Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen also gets a more-fleshed out sequence in the film, although the scene with Iris West is a little too creepy, in my opinion. The additional scenes with Billy Crudup as Henry Allen were a great part to the story, providing Barry with the motivation necessary for the ending of the film (which I’ll cover in a bit). The one sequence I wish had been kept in was during the Gotham Harbor scenes. Barry’s hesitation to get into the fight and Bruce’s instruction to save one person, then another, and then another was a great scene in the otherwise dreadful Whedon version.
Aquaman’s added sequences were alright, for the most part. I enjoyed some of the extra scenes with Willem Dafoe and Mera, which went a long way to explaining why there was such a large divergence from Justice League to the Aquaman stand-alone film. Having said that, the sequence near the beginning where the people of the village Arthur is helping sing as he leaves felt completely unnecessary and just a bit dopey to me.
Which leads me to my biggest criticism of the film: the length of the movie. Clocking in at just over four hours, Snyder’s Cut is self-indulgent to an extreme. There was easily a half-hour of film that could have been cut (the singing sequence and the overuse of slow-motion scenes would have been my picks for the edit). Removing these wouldn’t have hurt the story in the slightest and would have streamlined the story more. Having said that, the increased screen time for Lois Lane (who is an actual character here rather than a plot device in Whedon’s version) were excellent, particularly her scene with Martha (later revealed to be J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter).
There are quite a few things I deeply enjoyed in this film, though. As mentioned above, the added scenes with Lois and Cyborg are excellent. Henry Cavill’s extra scenes as Superman were well-handled and poignant, showing that Snyder understood the criticisms he received from Man of Steel and took them to heart. The simple moment of Clark playing with a butterfly on his fingers is as close as I’ve seen on film to the iconic image of Superman sitting on a cloud with an easy smile on his face.
The action scenes were far more kinetic, with Ben Affleck’s Batman taking the lead in some of them and Wonder Woman (portrayed by Gal Gadot) taking charge in others (which fits considering they are the two most tactically sound individuals in the group). The oversexualization of Wonder Woman that Whedon added to his cut were removed entirely, which is a magnificent change but Diana mainly serves as a font of exposition in the early part of the film, which Gadot handles well but left her without real direction in the first half of the film. Steppenwolf also received an increased amount of screentime, with Ciaran Hinds vocal performance making him a far more interesting character than Whedon was able to create in his version.
And there was Darkseid, voiced by Ray Porter. Full stop. Darkseid was in this film, along with DeSaad and Granny Goodness. Darkseid looked menacing as hell in this cut of the film, setting him up as the future antagonist in much the same way the Marvel films set up Thanos as the big bad for Infinity War and Endgame. The inclusion of the Anti-Life Equation, DC’s version of the ultimate MacGuffan to control all live in the universe, was a nice touch and would have made an excellent Segway into future films.
The ending of the film was far superior to the version presented by Whedon. The team sequence felt more focused and the action far more visceral. Every team member contributed to the action, with each getting their little moments throughout. The final set piece, with Barry Allen accessing the Speed Force and reversing time was simply breathtaking. It rounded out his character arc for this film rather well.
But then we get to the epilogue. It’s a mixed bag for me, to be honest. I will admit that if this version of Jared Leto’s Joker had been in Suicide Squad, I would have reacted far more favorably to his performance. This is a good version of the Joker and the scenes with Affleck’s Batman crackled with tension. Both actors brought their A-game to this portion of the film, which was a new portion added specifically for this cut of the film. The epilogue was intended originally to set up original vision for the Justice League films. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever seen Snyder’s full vision for the Justice League films at this point.
For final thoughts, I do prefer this version of Justice League over the original version we received back in 2017. For all the bloat and sometimes pretentiousness on display, this is a fascinating “what if” film. It still could use some trimming and better overall cohesion but it was an interesting watch and I would definitely recommend it (provided you have the patience for some of the things mentioned above).