Josh Reviews the Snyder Cut of Justice League!
Let’s start here: I’m a Zack Snyder fan. I was blown away by his adaptation of 300 when it was released in 2006, and I’m a staunch defender of his adaptation of Watchmen (especially the super-long “Ultimate Cut”) which, while flawed, is still a heck of a great movie. I’ve been a little colder on his DC movies. There was a lot that I loved about Man of Steel, though it demonstrated a worrisome lack of understanding of the characters (particularly Superman himself, and also Pa Kent) and it bungled its ending. Batman v. Superman was a mess (though the longer extended cut is far more watchable). Whatever you think of those films, and of the original theatrical cut of Justice League (which I liked, by the way — oh, it’s a huge mess and the seams of Mr. Whedon’s mid-production reworking of the film are painfully obvious, but I enjoyed it and appreciated the lighter touch of the film after the overly dour Batman v. Superman), I think it’d be difficult to deny that Zack Snyder was poorly treated by Warner Brothers. I have always thought it a shame that he’d been working for years on those DC universe films, and that he’d actually filmed most of Justice League, but that he wasn’t able to complete the film and, instead, it was mostly rewritten and reshot by another filmmaker. I was always dubious that the rumored “Snyder Cut” of Justice League was some sort of buried masterpiece. Remember, Mr. Snyder’s Batman v. Superman was not a good movie. But I’ve always been curious as to what he originally intended for the film, and I was thrilled to learn that, with the backing of HBO Max, he was finally being allowed to complete his original vision for Justice League.
In evaluating the Snyder Cut of Justice League, one must first make clear that there is no way that this four-hour behemoth is what would have been released to theaters had Mr. Snyder been allowed to complete his film as originally intended. He certainly would have edited this film down, tightening up the scenes and eliminating the bloat. This might have been a long film — far longer than Joss Whedon’s zippy Justice League theatrical cut was — but it clearly wouldn’t have looked anything like this. For this release on HBO Max, Mr. Snyder seems to have taken the approach of including anything and everything that he filmed. This feels more like an “assembly cut” of the film — a standard practice in which an editor assembles all of the scenes shot for the film, in order, at which point the editor and director begin their work together to sharpen and shape what will become the finished film. I’d love to have seen a tighter edit of Mr. Snyder’s Justice League, but I don’t fault Mr. Snyder for taking this path. The Snyder Cut is indulgent and overlong to say the least, but I understand why this was the choice he made. Because fans have been clamoring to see his version of the film for so many years, why not show them everything? And since the film was being released on HBO Max, rather than theatrically, the audience can pause to take breaks if they so desire.
So… is it any good?
Well, let me say this. I quite enjoyed watching it. It’s very cool to see how Mr. Snyder had intended this film to go. In my mind, there’s no question that Mr. Snyder is an extremely talented filmmaker, and this cut is a visual feast. (Although I don’t understand the 4:3 framing. They’re saying it’s because the film was framed for Imax, but everything I’ve read leads me to understand that this was NOT in fact the way the film was originally filmed.) There’s a lot of great stuff in here: great action scenes, great visual moments, and also lots of interesting character beats and plot points that were excised from the theatrical cut. I had a ball watching the film unfold, and seeing the ways Mr. Snyder chose to zig whereas Joss Whedon chose to zag. For all my criticism of Mr. Snyder’s depictions of these characters (and I have many), I love the cast he’s assembled, and it’s a lot of fun to watch lots of new scenes of them playing these characters. The film is exciting and fun to watch.
It’s also howlingly dumb at times. There are plot points that make no sense. There are one-dimensional characters. Time and again things happen in the film because someone (likely Mr. Snyder) thought they’d be cool or look cool, but what’s happening doesn’t make any plot or character sense. I continue to object to many of the choices made in the depictions of these iconic characters. (Why is Batman constantly shooting guns? Why has Wonder Woman abandoned humanity for a century? Why is Aquaman a dumb bro? What is up with this frowny, ultra-violent Superman? Why has Lois Lane — one of the bravest, most heroic characters in the DCU — basically been hiding in bed ever since Superman “died”? I could go on.)
What’s really striking watching the Snyder Cut is how similar it is, in overall structure, to Joss Whedon’s theatrical cut! Details are changed here and there, of course, and many scenes play out differently, with different dialogue. But I was shocked at how similar the two films are, both in their over-all plot and character arcs, and in the details of how the story unfolds. It’s also clear to me that, despite the flaws in Mr. Snyder’s Batman v. Superman, he clearly had filmed a releasable version of Justice League. (As I’d noted above, I bet this four-hour cut could have relatively easily been edited down into a pretty rocking two and a half hour version.) And so it’s more crazy than ever to me that Warner Brothers spent countless millions of dollars, and created so much chaos (the ripple effects of which are STILL being felt by many involved), by abandoning Mr. Snyder and his vision and calling in Joss Whedon to rework the film. Because the version that Joss Whedon came up with is really not that much different — and not that much demonstrably better — than Mr. Snyder’s version!
Personally I think I still prefer Mr. Whedon’s leaner, lighter, funnier version of the film. But I could also for sure see myself rewatching Mr. Snyder’s cut in the future as well. Both films are extremely flawed and imperfect — and, at the same time, I enjoy watching both versions. I don’t have a strong favorite.
Ready to dig in more deeply? Let’s do it! (Beware SPOILERS from here on in!)
One of the most significant differences between the two versions is how much more story there is for Victor/Cyborg in the Snyder Cut. I can understand, now, why Ray Fisher was so vocal about how his character was mistreated by the theatrical cut. (Putting aside Mr. Fisher’s accusations against how Joss Whedon treated him personally.) I loved getting all of this new Cyborg material. Is Ray Fisher the best actor in the word? No. (The way he growls out what should be a joke line about everyone being a “younger man” in Diana’s eyes is almost hilarious in its tone-deafness.) But he’s solid enough, and I think Cyborg is a great character (I loved him in Marv Wolfman & George Perez’s classic run on The New Teen Titans), and it’s very cool to see his full story restored. (Although, wow, the extended sequence in which his dad spends several minutes explaining to him, and the audience, all the exact ins and outs of Cyborg’s powers is pretty dumb. Why did Mr. Snyder think all that exposition was needed? And, seriously, was that a CGI bear fighting a CGI bull as a way of depicting economic unrest?? Jeepers!! And I was also thrown by the long sequence in which Cyborg decides to stalk a random lady to help her. That was clumsily done — couldn’t they have established that this was someone in Cyborg’s life who he was now able to help with his new abilities?) I also enjoyed getting to see a lot more of Victor’s dad Silas Stone (played by the great Joe Morton, who had pivotal role in T2, which also involved A.I. and machines…) in this version. (Though explain to me why he had to lock himself in with the death-laser? He was holding the remote control in his hand!! He didn’t need to be inside that room to turn it on!!) I feel bad for Zheng Kai, who played Ryan Choi (a character who, in the comics, would become the Atom) in this version and who was completely cut out of the theatrical cut. It’s nice to have his character restored. He doesn’t really have much to do in the film, but it’s nice to have him in, nonetheless.
As a huge fan of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, I was excited when Mr. Snyder’s films started using those characters and concepts. But I was bummed that he seemed to be building up to the involvement of Darkseid in a future film that we’d never get. And so it was very cool to see Darkseid worked into this version of the film! (I wonder if that was the original intention or if, now that it looks like those planned sequels will never actually get made, Mr. Snyder decided to get creative and rework things to involve Darkseid here.) I love Darkseid, so I was excited to see him. It’s a bummer, then, that he leaves so little impact. First of all, it’s a major mistake to establish Darkseid as having led the original invasion of Earth from millennia ago. That should have been Steppenwolf, as it was in the theatrical cut. Because you want Darkseid to be a huge menace, much fiercer and more dangerous than any other villain. And yet he’s completely undermined by getting his ass kicked almost immediately after he arrives on Earth!! That was such a dumb choice.
Speaking of that flashback to the Lord of the Rings like sequence in which the Last Alliance battled Sauron (Darkseid)… the theatrical cut failed to provide any explanation for why Steppenwolf, Darkseid, or anyone else waited for thousands of years before returning to Earth to capture and use the super-powerful Mother Boxes. Unfortunately, the Snyder Cut makes things even MORE confusing rather than less. The film suggests that Superman’s death (and, wow, watching Superman die for minutes on end at the start of the film was not fun, and the idea that his death yell could be heard across the planet was silly) woke up the Mother Boxes. But that seems to make them evil (they only awoke after the hero Superman died) rather than the neutral A.I.s I think they should be… and, also, didn’t they exist on Earth for THOUSANDS OF YEARS before Superman arrived?? So… why didn’t they wake up at any point in the centuries upon centuries before there was a Superman? Then there’s the suggestion that the Anti-Life equation is on Earth. Why? How? And what are we to make of the insane suggestion that Darkseid & co. just FORGOT the location of the planet on which this ultimate weapon could be found?? That’s mind-bogglingly dumb!!
I did love seeing other Fourth World characters like Desaad (and even Granny Goodness!) on screen. And I liked the new look given to Steppenwolf, with his rippling spiky armor. (Though Steppenwolf isn’t much more successful a villain here than he was in the theatrical cut.)
It was fun seeing more connections to Aquaman’s larger world. I liked seeing more of Mera, and I was surprised to see Willem Dafoe appear as Vulko! Those moments were fun… though also sort of frustrating because both versions of Justice League are inconsistent with the (terrible) solo Aquaman film. Why are the Atlanteans always forming air pockets in order to talk? Why do they squeak at one another like dolphins? Why is there a line in which Wonder Woman explicitly says that Aquaman is different from other Atlanteans because Atlanteans can’t breathe oxygen — and yet there are LOTS of scenes of Atlanteans breathing oxygen in the film!!! (When they’re on land, when they’re in those air pockets they create in the water, etc.)
Ezra Miller’s depiction of The Flash was one of my favorite characters in Joss Whedon’s Justice League, and while I missed some of his great moments from that version of the film (such as the whole “just save one person” thing), it’s fun to see lots of great new scenes with him here! I particularly loved his lengthy meet-cute with Iris, when he saves her from a car crash. (Though 1) why don’t we ever see her again in the film, and 2) I could have done without the creepy moment when he stroked her face before saving her.)
Wonder Woman is probably the JL character worst served by this cut. She really doesn’t have much to do in this version of the film. I missed the scenes she had in Mr. Whedon’s version, which fleshed out her struggle to embrace her role as a leader and to re-enter the world. The theatrical cut did a better job developing the friendship between Diana and Bruce, and I really missed the scene between her and Bruce (when she says “you can’t do this forever” and the badly-beaten Batman actually shows a moment of vulnerability and admits “I can barely do it now”), which was one of my favorite scenes in the theatrical cut. Diana is also needlessly violent in this version — annihilating the head bomber at the beginning (and causing tremendous, needless property damage) and then beheading Steppenwolf at the end.
Superman also isn’t well served. I missed the moments of him smiling and laughing in the theatrical cut, and how that version took pains to show him caring about saving civilians (something that was egregiously absent from Mr. Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman). It’s cool to see him in the black costume (as he was briefly in the comics after the “Death of Superman” story), but it doesn’t make any sense in the film. While we’re hearing inspirational voices on th soundtrack about Clark’s special destiny, why does Superman abandon his classic red and blue togs for this somber all-black get-up?? It doesn’t make any sense! It’s just there because Mr. Snyder thought it’d be cool (or he thought the fans would think it was cool). (Behind the scenes footage clearly show that Henry Cavill was wearing the classic colors during production — so I guess they decided to change the costume to all-black in post. This was a bad decision.)
I enjoyed the Snyder Cut score by Tom Holkenborg (who had worked on the score for Batman v. Superman with Hans Zimmer, and who was the original composer for Justice League before Mr. Whedon took over). I also quite liked Danny Elfman’s score for Mr. Whedon’s cut. I don’t have a strong preference. Mr. Holkenborg’s score fits far more smoothly with the scores for Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. And I particularly enjoyed getting to hear the Superman theme from those two films brought back into this film after Supes is resurrected. That’s a nice bit of musical connectivity. On the other hand, I loved how Mr. Elfman’s score utilized his classic Batman theme (from Tim Burton’s 1989 film) as well as John Williams’ classic Superman theme. And Mr. Elfman’s unusual and memorable theme for the Flash (while derivative of Mr. Elfman’s work on Ang Lee’s Hulk) is far better than the Flash music in the Snyder Cut. So this is a tie for me.
Despite the flaws, for the most part I was digging the Snyder Cut as I was watching it… but boy howdy did things fall apart in the (almost half-hour-long) epilogue. All three sequences were misconceived and didn’t work. The appearance of Martian Manhunter (which was filmed during recent reshoots — this was not originally in the film) was silly. I laughed at the portentous way he announced his name… and why didn’t he help out with the fight against Steppenwolf?? This scene was pure fan-service of the worst kind, thrown in just to validate fans’ long-standing suspicions that General Stanwick (Harry Lennix) was actually the Martian Manhunter in disguise. (The earlier scene, in which we see the Manhunter disguised as Martha Kent, was also ludicrous. Manhunter’s major concern is whether or not Lois Lane goes back to work?? Come on. I don’t believe the original intention of that Lois-Martha scene was for Martha to have been the Manhunter in disguise…)
Then we got a different version of the Luthor-Deathstroke scene that was a stinger in the theatrical cut. Except this version — in which Lex reveals Batman’s secret identity to Deathstroke — was clearly designed to set up the Ben Affleck Batman solo film that fell apart a few years back. So it’s a tease that goes nowhere. That’s frustrating.
But the worst is the extended return to the “Knightmare” future-world (which we first glimpsed in a nonsensical mid-movie scene in Batman v. Superman). On the one hand, I’m happy to see some attempt at paying off that lengthy sequence from Batman v. Superman that, up until now, seemed like a total waste of time that went nowhere. (It was mind-bogglingly confusing and unexplained in Batman v. Superman, and completely ignored in the theatrical cut of Justice League.) Except, wow, this scene did not work at all. I don’t like Jared Leto’s Joker and was not excited to see him here. I understand the desire to have this movie-universe’s Batman and Joker actually meet. But the Batman-Joker scene was terrible, and it went on for so, so long!!! And it’s crazy to me that this scene is just dropped randomly at the end of the movie. This is all set-up for one or two more Justice League movies that I highly doubt will ever get made — so, like the Luthor-Deathstroke scene, it’s an anticlimactic and frustrating way to end this 4-hour Snyder Cut experience, by teasing never-to-be-made continuations of the story. And it’s wild to me how this scene just sits here at the end of the movie, with no explanation and no context. There were two other spots in the movie where they could easily have placed this! They make a point of saying how weird things happen to time when the Flash runs super-fast (and it was the Flash who we saw traveling through time in Batman v. Superman), so why not put this scene either 1) when the Flash is running to resurrect Superman — a spot where they DID put in SOME glimpses of this dark future — or 2) when Flash is running at the very end to turn back time? Either would have been much, much better than turning this sequence into such a bad non-ending to this film. It stinks to watch a four-hour movie and end on such a “meh” note.
Some other comments:
* I did not miss all the scenes with the Russian family from the theatrical cut.
* While I liked giving Flash a big hero moment at the end, I thought turning back time to reverse something bad was sort of dumb back in Superman: the Movie from 1979, and it was still dumb here. (In both those instances — and many other movies that have used a similar get-out-of-jail-free card — it deflates the dramatic stakes, in my opinion.)
* In the theatrical cut, after the three Mother Boxes merged, you saw their effects spreading out. But here, after the merge, nothing happens. What were they waiting for? It’s awfully convenient that the heroes are given time for their big fight with the hero before anything bad happens to the planet.
* I am glad this movie removed the inconsistencies with Bruce Wayne’s facial hair that really annoyed me in the theatrical cut. (He goes from being a clean-cut Batman to having a huge bushy beard when he goes to find Aquaman.) And I am delighted that the terrible-looking CGI mustache-removal on Henry Cavill is nowhere to be seen.
* Is it weird that two characters get into car crashes within just a few minutes of one another in the middle of the movie?
* What was up with the in-your-face close-up shot of the pregnancy test in Lois Lane’s nightstand???
* Batman dropping the F-bomb at the end was not necessary.
In summary: I am delighted that Zack Snyder was able to complete and release his version of Justice League. I am happy for him, and happy that I and everyone else now have the opportunity to see this. It’s very cool. The Snyder Cut is far from perfect. I would not call it a great movie. In fact, this indulgent, lengthy four-hour experience not exactly a movie at all. But I had a lot of fun watching it. It’s not significantly better than Joss Whedon’s theatrical cut, in my opinion. (It’s sort of crazy that the Snyder Cut takes four hours to tell pretty much the exact same story that Joss Whedon’s version told in less than two.) But it’s fun to watch! It’s a big, bold superhero epic. (Albeit a somewhat dumb one.) I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad to have seen it.
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