Clocking in at over 20 minutes longer than The Ten Commandments and 14 minutes longer than Lawrence of Arabia is the much-prophesized Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Once believed to be nothing short of a pipedream, the mythological tale of the Snyder Cut is actually something that exists and is available on HBO Max. If you’ve followed the journey of the project since the beginning, those words probably still don’t seem real.
After the theatrical run of Batman v Superman didn’t lead to the complete runaway smash the studio had hoped for, the production of Justice League was already stressful enough with WB execs starting to doubt the vision of filmmaker Zack Snyder. When Snyder suffered a tragic loss in his family, the studio looked to Joss Whedon, the very filmmaker who brought the rivaling Marvel’s Avengers and its sequel Age of Ultron to life, to fill in for Snyder in order to complete post-production. The real story, however, is more complicated.
Essentially, Whedon was brought in to deliver a version of Snyder’s work that not only had to introduce multiple new characters with the plan of setting up new solo films and establish a wider cinematic universe, but was to be no longer than 2 hours, have a much lighter tone akin to the recent slate of Marvel films, and essentially course correct the future of the DC slate. As was the case with BVS, the theatrical version of Justice League was not nearly what Snyder had envisioned, granted, his directors cut of BVS got a home media release and was only 30 minutes longer. That cut of the film proved to be a much more cohesive vision, whereas the theatrical version of Justice League — dubbed by many online as “Josstice League”, came and went with little fanfare.
The cut featured two distinctively clashing tones, Snyder’s operatic, more gritty sensibilities, versus Whedon’s sardonic cartoony side, a lack of character depth, a laughable villain with horrendous CGI, even a now-notorious case of a CGI upper lip, and with less than 8 months until the release date. The film failed to gross enough money to back make its ballooned budget, and any hope for Snyder’s vision had quickly dissipated.
After the DC brand distanced itself from interconnected stories after the mega successes of both Wonder Woman and Aquaman standalone films, and the Oscar-winning anomaly that is Joker, the studio has started to finally find its groove. In the years since, whispers of a mysterious Snyder cut, a film that retains Snyder’s initial vision of Justice League, had emerged over the internet, with Snyder himself hinting of its existence to fans over social media. Eventually, fans of Snyder’s films and DC characters came together to start the movement #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Fans imploded over social media with the hashtag, endlessly calling for the film to be released. Flooding the mailboxes and social media accounts of those within the Warner Bros studio, buying billboards in Time Square, flying a plane with the hashtag at San Diego Comic Con and also raising over $500,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The movement was so vocal, on the anniversary of the theatrical cut’s release, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut was trending #1 on Twitter. The powers that be finally took notice and with the release of WarnerMedia’s streaming service, HBO Max, the greenlight was given for Snyder to complete his cut of the film the way he intended (with a newly-filmed scene as an added thanks to the fans).
We’ve seen plenty of director’s cuts over the decades. From Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux, to Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, even Snyder’s own Watchman greatly improved with its extended director’s cut. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an entirely different film, however, from the Frankenstein that is the theatrical cut. So how exactly is the film? It’s quite good, actually.
Snyder’s Justice League is an operatic, fully-formed epic that views these classic comic book characters as living Gods. Despite its monstrous runtime at just over 4 hours, this thing surprisingly moves. The scope of Snyder’s vision is closer to the narrative of Watchmen than a traditional comic book film. It probably helps this film is presented in six chapters and an epilogue that makes the runtime feel as if you’re reading through a complete comic storyline. The 4 hours allows the film to breathe in this expansive story with all these characters moving in and out of the film.
Much of the core cast in given time to establish their characters and further develop. Ezra Miller’s Flash is no longer an awkward joke machine, but a well-rounded character with an arc and a natural sense of humor. Same goes for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg whose entire backstory and motivation is restored here. Fisher and Joe Morton, playing Cyborg’s father, imbue the film with a heart and soul that’s among the best character work in Snyder’s career. Cyborg’s tragic background is presented almost like Dr. Manhattan to this films Watchmen. Fisher gives a tender, nuanced performance that makes his Cyborg perhaps the best of all of Snyder’s operatic god-like heroes.
Affleck’s Batman is still the rich character promised in BVS, and no longer cracks sarcastic, out-of-place one liners. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is more fierce and her relationship with her Amazonian family is further explored. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is given a more purposeful role to play and balances more nicely with the other members of the League. The character of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) is now an interesting villain and the addition of the classic villain Darkseid (menacingly voiced by Ray Porter) is a welcoming touch.
Snyder’s narrative influences steep from classic Hollywood epics from Ben-Hur to The Lord of the Rings. Uniquely presenting the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio, meant to be seen on giant IMAX screens, the look of the film gives off the massive scope in Snyder’s vision, while retaining an intimacy with its characters. Man of Steel and BVS both suffered from numbing third acts that sucked out the life in each film. Thankfully, Snyder’s spectacle is more clearly presented here than anything he’s recently made. The bombastic and rousing new score by Junkie XL gives the League their much-deserved anthem, opposing Danny Elfman’s previously cobbled-together mishmash.
Fans who are tapped into Snyder’s brand of cinema will salvage every minute of the 4 hours in his vision of Justice League; the epilogue, while most certainly dragging the films runtime out beyond reasonable length, will surely satisfy hardcore fans in particular. Even casual viewers should find themselves somewhat swept up in the mythology and character work. If the thought of a 4-hour cut of Zack Snyder’s Justice League makes you tremble, however, you’re probably not going to be dissuaded. Is there a cut of this film that would work as 3 hours, sure there is, but the point of the Snyder Cut is to see the filmmakers pure, unadulterated vision the way he intended and that’s what we get here. Those who tap into the films earnest central theme of unity and those who champion artistic integrity will surely find hope among Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
If you or someone you know has struggled with thoughts of suicide, know you are not alone. Please go to the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at https://afsp.org/ or call 800-273-8255