Like millions of other people, I watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League (to be referred to in this blog post as The Snyder Cut) over the weekend on HBO Max. And like almost everyone else who watched it, I’ve decided to post some thoughts.
I watched it over two nights, splitting it to about two hours each night. The chapters that it was broken up into didn’t really seem like especially natural break points, so I set my own viewing schedule, since I didn’t really have any desire to burn through four hours in one sitting. This felt like the right way to watch it to me, so my viewing experience was probably about as good as it was going to get.
I will be getting into spoilers, so consider this your warning.
Unlike Snyder, I’ll be cutting to the chase, and getting immediately into my main gripe with the movie. This thing is every minute of four hours long, and the Justice League never actually throws down with Darkseid himself. The closest they get is tossing Steppenwolf’s decapitated body through a portal to Apokalypse. At which point, Darkseid essentially grunts, shrugs, and walks away. I found this to be massively disappointing, and that sentiment was only compounded by the fact that the last time we see Darkseid, he’s gathering up his armada to invade Earth. So, we’re left with a cliffhanger of a movie that – as of the writing of this blog – there are absolutely no plans to make a sequel to.
This all begs the question of what the extra $70 million dollars, and two hours were even for? I have a hard time imagining Warner Bros agreeing to pour that amount of additional budget, and give Snyder that amount of runtime, back when this was intended to just be the first part of a trilogy. I’d figured that the extra budget, and the extra 90 – 120 minutes were given to Snyder to film some sort of completed version of his Justice League story. Sadly, I was mistaken. This really was always just going to be the mega-over-stuffed version of his first-of-three movies.
This is not a breezy four hours, I’m not even sure four hours could ever be described as “breezy” regardless of what you happen to be doing. It felt like an hour of it was filled up just with all the slow-motion shots, and the actor reactions shots that lasted twice as long as they should have. This is especially egregious in the first two hours, which may best be summed up by the fact that Batman and The Flash don’t even put their costumes on until a full two hours into the movie. Superman doesn’t show up until a half-hour later than that.
There was also some strange stuff that could have been dropped from the film without losing any effect. There is a scene where Martian Manhunter, posing as Martha Kent, visits Lois Lane and gives her the sort of familial pep talk that would make complete sense for Ma Kent to give Lois as they were both grieving the loss of Clark. Why Snyder decided it it ought to be J’onn J’onzz rather than actually Martha is fairly confounding. Are we to assume this means Martha never bothered to check in on Lois after Clark died? That seems very un-Martha-like. Martian Manhunter also shows up at the very end of the third part of the epilogue, thus making this earlier appearance redundant.
Willem Dafoe also shows up in a terrible wig, while Amber Heard shows up with a terrible faux British accent for scenes with Jason Momoa that don’t line-up with the Aquaman solo movie that came out two years ago. Dafoe’s wig was much better in the solo movie, and Heard wisely dropped the fake accent. Snyder also spend several scenes setting up a reason why S.T.A.R Labs would need to be evacuated when a giant Biohazard Warning flashes on every monitor in the building. It seems pretty self-evident that you ought to clear out of your high-tech super-science lab when you see there’s a biohazard warning, so laying that groundwork was completely unnecessary.
With all that said, this version is superior to The Whedon Cut in every way. And – I’ll even do you one better – despite everything that I wrote above, I rather enjoyed The Snyder Cut. For one thing, it’s a much more cohesive, and comprehensive (one could easily argue too comprehensive) story. Apart from my desire to see a true Darkseid vs Justice League Rumble, my expectations were pretty low, which I’m sure helped with my experience.
The Flash and Cyborg’s characters and stories are fleshed out a lot more in The Snyder Cut. In fact, my biggest surprise was that most of The Flash’s scenes were lifted almost directly from this for The Whedon Cut. My guess is that the suits at WB saw those scenes and decided they wanted the whole movie to be more like them. Meanwhile, Cyborg gets a full character arc, while also showing the audience all the things that he’s actually capable of. Not only with his cool robot-parts blaster stuff, but also in cyberspace and some sort of loosely-defined mechanical telepathy.
Steppenwolf is presented as more frighteningly bestial in The Snyder Cut, which really plays into his favor. He’s also given a motivation that is, at least, partially revealed. Apparently, he failed on some big mission that got him into the boss’s doghouse, and needs to conquer 50,000 planets to get himself back out of it. Despite my disappointment of no true Big Bad Battle, I was glad that Darkseid was actually in this movie. His presence does add an extra threat level that wasn’t really present in The Whedon Cut. The flashback to Darkseid’s first attempted invasion from thousands of years ago plays much the same as The Whedon Cut, except with Darkseid himself leading the charge. Again, having it be him rather than his leg-breaker Steppenwolf makes everything about the battle matter more.
Also, everything in The Snyder Cut is bigger, and more open then in The Whedon Cut. The battle over the Mother Box with the Amazons on Themyscira happens more in the wide-open spaces of the island. It also includes many more Amazons and Parademons, both of whom seriously boost the scale of the scene.
Big, establishing shots, and other wide shots are more prevalent in The Snyder Cut. There were several times where I had to shake my head at the amount of money the studio flushed down the toiler when they cut them from the initial theatrical release. All-in-all, it’s much less claustrophobic than The Whedon Cut. Which is a good thing, because one word you never want used to describe your massive, franchise, tent-pole film is “claustrophobic.”
The three part epilogue is one part wrap-up, one part set-up, and one part post-apocalyptic nonsense. The first part is shots of all the heroes doing their hero thing while an inspirational message that Dr. Silas Stone recorded for his son plays in the background. It was a nice little flourish with some much needed optimism after the grimdark of the proceeding 3+ hours.
The second part was a slightly different version of Deathstroke visiting a newly-escaped Lex Luthor on the latter’s yacht than we got in The Whedon Cut. The difference was that, instead of Luthor suggesting they make “a league of their own” he flat-out just tells Deathstroke that Batman is Bruce Wayne. I assume this was meant to set-up Ben Affleck’s long-since abandoned Batman solo film, and was therefore completely irrelevant.
The third part was another dream/premonition of Bruce Wayne’s that takes place in the “Knightmare” future from Batman V Superman, and that was also alluded to during Superman’s resurrection scene earlier in The Snyder Cut. By Snyder’s self-admission, it was not much more than an excuse to have Batman and the Joker share a scene together. But it’s a rather pointless scene, with eye-rolling dialogue that hints at a future that will likely never come to pass in the DC Movie Multiverse. Honestly, I felt he could have just stopped after the first part of the epilogue and left it at that.
Judging by the reception to – and apparent number eyeballs on – The Snyder Cut, I wouldn’t be completely shocked if they actually do let Zack Snyder make at least one more Justice League movie. They are starting to lean into the whole Multiverse idea, after all, so it wouldn’t have to alter the current direction of their shared continuity. But, going off of Snyder’s own description of what JL 2 and JL 3 would have looked liked, it’s probably too close to the story that was told across Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
In a nutshell, JL 2 would be Darkseid’s army invading and conquering Earth when Superman succumbs to the Anti-Life Equation after Lois Lane is killed. This would also result in the deaths of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, which were shown as part of Cyborg’s visions while bringing Superman back from the dead. And JL 3 would have been Cyborg sending the Flash back in-time to ensure that Batman sacrifices himself to save Lois, so Superman doesn’t lose the will to live, and leads the world, alongside also still-alive Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash to victory against Darkseid. So, if there were to be more, it would need to be revised to better differentiate itself from Marvel Studios’ magnum opus. Which, after hearing some of Snyder’s other specific future plot points, is really for the best.
In the end, I guess I liked more of The Snyder Cut than I disliked. With that said, Snyder himself has again demonstrated that he doesn’t truly understand these superheroes enough to make a truly great movie with them. His Justice League Batman is eons better than his BvS version, and his Cyborg was pretty solid as well. But Patty Jenkins has a much better grasp of what people respond to about Wonder Woman. James Wan better tapped into the gonzo, fantasy adventure myth-building fun that made Aquaman finally work. And the brain trust at The CW have had better luck bringing out the traits, and stories that fans love about the Flash and Superman. Still, my opinion is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is worth a watch. Even if that watch takes you three or four nights to complete.
I’ve updated my DC Multiverse Movies ranking list to add The Snyder Cut, and it lands right around the middle of the pack.. Whether that’s praise of this film, or a knock against the others, is the topic of a separate conversion.