Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the culmination of over three years of an internet campaign that started soon after the release of the much-maligned Justice League from 2017, a movie that I personally liked, but that was seen as not in tune with the previous two movies directed by Snyder that came before it, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Joss Whedon was brought on to finish and reshoot much of what Snyder had done after he left the project due to the death of his daughter. The rise of streaming services, in this case HBO Max has allowed this long-awaited version to be completed and finally see the light of day.
The basic plot points from the theatrical version of Justice League are the same here. Batman gathers together the Justice League by seeking out Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg with the help of Wonder Woman, resurrecting Superman and confronting Steppenwolf. He is an alien attempting to steal ancient technology called the Mother Box, which is hidden throughout the world in three parts and if the parts are united he will be able to conquer Earth in the name of his master, Darkseid.
The differences between Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the theatrical Justice League are the fact that the Snyder cut is a much deeper experience with backstory added for each character, especially Cyborg whose relationship with his father is given center stage on many occasions, as well as The Flash rescuing his future love interest Iris West, and Aquaman speaking with his mentor Vulko, who was previously seen in the Aquaman standalone movie. We had glimpses of these backstories in the theatrical version, but with its studio-mandated two-hour running time, things had to move at a quicker pace. The extra time in the Snyder cut allows for more of these characters to be established which makes it an enjoyable experience, provided you have four hours to spare. The fact that this is meant to be seen at home is a big plus since you can stop and start at anytime. This is helpful due to the fact that the first two hours set everything up, which can make the film seem slow.
The action picks up at the halfway point in an underground tunnel battle, which shows the League fighting as a group for the first time. The fight scenes are more visceral in this version and are a highlight. This is also true for the other action scenes, such as Superman’s resurrection and battle with the other League members, and the final showdown with Steppenwolf. Speaking of which, the main villain has undergone a redesign and has a kind of flowing metal armor which is more interesting and menacing than his design in theatrical cut. Another highlight is the on-screen, live-action premiere of DC supervlillain Darkseid, who is shown in his home world directing Steppenwolf in his quest to unify three Mother Boxes to conquer Earth. This whole plot point is fleshed out in this extended version and explains Steppenwolf’s obsessive desire to acquire these artifacts and sets up Darkseid’s attempt to conquer all of existence. This is one of several other plots that are hinted at in the original version, such as Lex Luthor teaming up with Deathstroke to take on Batman, as well as the onscreen debut of Martian Manhunter, who warns Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, of Darkseid’s coming invasion. Lastly, some new scenes showcase the anticipated Knightmare sequence of a future world ruled by Darkseid and an evil Superman similar to the Injustice storyline. Here Batman is leading a resistance and allying with his nemesis the Joker, played by Jared Leto. This finally gives viewers these two versions of the iconic rivals interacting for the first time.
The film is missing some of the interaction between the League members that was shown in the theatrical version that I liked, such as Batman’s coaching the Flash before his first fight with Steppenwolf’s parademons, and Bruce and Diana arguing over whether to use the Mother Boxes. This was added by Joss Whedon during reshoots to bolster the camaraderie between the heroes and while some of his additions were criticized such as the out-of-place humor, these quiet moments did add something to the theatrical version. But the extended cut makes up for these cuts with so much extra world building, longer fight scenes and added moments of the characters showcasing their abilities. One great moment is when the Flash has to go back in time to change events and is shown at the height of his powers. Considering how nerfed the TV version can sometimes be, this was great to see. Another moment is Batman destroying countless parademons with his Batmobile and he is more effective in the final battle against Steppenwolf’s hordes. Finally and thankfully, the bad CGI on Superman’s face from the theatrical version is nowhere to be found.
While it was great to see these events portrayed, one wonders if any of this is going anywhere. It is likely that this is the last film in the Snyderverse, so many of these threads for future events may not go forward. Reportedly, Zack Snyder has said he is done with superhero films, while the film studio, Warner Bros., said they are not interested in continuing Snyder’s now-alternate world. Nevertheless, it was a good thing to see the story that was started in Man of Steel come to some kind of conclusion. Time will tell if the upcoming Flash solo movie will retcon past films and create a new continuity ala Flashpoint, or if the rise of HBO Max will perhaps allow this group of films to continue as their own universe, with upcoming theatrical films such as Aquaman 2, and The Sucide Squad being their own separate thing, as is the case with The Batman. Embracing the DC multiverse, which is what happened on TV with the Arrowverse and shows like Titans, Stargirl and Gotham existing in their own world, has allowed many such stories and characters to flourish while having their own storylines to follow. In the end, even if Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the last of this particular storyline, it was great to the the first live-action movie of the Justice League given its due and allowed to fully showcase these iconic characters in action.