There have been many ways in which films have found a new audience over the years. We’ve had director’s ruts, R-rated cuts, special editions with updated effects, all of which take the theatrical release and shake it up, adding bits and perhaps re-ordering in a way that fits the original creator’s vision. However, none of those descriptions quite match Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which we can best describe as The Original Director’s Remake.
For the uninitiated, Snyder was the director of Justice League, and shot a significant amount of the film before dropping out after the death of his daughter. Joss Whedon took over, ordering extensive reshoots and making the film that was released in November 2017. Whether through his own vision or that of the studio (who were panicking after lukewarm receptions to Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad), it was very different to what was expected.
The film was a huge disappointment, universally panned and difficult to defend for even the most ardent DCU apologists. It caused Warner Bros to move away from a shared universe plan, giving Wonder Woman and Aquaman their own adventures, while creating alternative Gotham Cities in 2019’s Joker and next year’s The Batman. However, for years fans have been campaigning for what was loosely termed The Snyder Cut. Mass twitter campaigns were bolstered by the support of Snyder and Justice League cast members, until eventually HBO Max gave them what they asked for, handing Snyder a budget to reshoot a bunch of scenes, and finish effects on his already shot footage.
Fan power had won, it seems. But was it worth it?
Zack Snyder’s Justice League follows more or less the same path as the 2017 film. Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead, having been slain in the events of Batman Vs Superman. Wracked with guilt, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) seeks out Earth’s remaining heroes, getting wind of a premonition that an alien threat is coming.
Enlisting the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller), his team discover that threat in the form of Steppenwolf,
a Canadian-American rock band who had a string of hits from 1968 to 1972, a novel by German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse exploring the terrible duality of man, an alien played by Ciaran Hinds who’s an emissary for the powerful warlord Darkseid (Ray Porter) who is seeking powerful Infinity Stones Mother Boxes to help him take over the Earth. Outgunned and outnumbered, the group must find a way to keep the boxes from these invaders, before discovering their power could bring an old ally back.
We’re going to assume most people have seen Whedon’s film, and so certain spoilers won’t be a surprise. However, if you wish to remain completely spoiler free, consider this your warning.
It’s not as if Snyder’s version tells a vastly different story – heroes team up and look for the boxes, before facing off with a big CGI villain to save the world and tease a sequel. However, it is a very different film, as this story is told in an entirely new way. Part of this is the luxury of an eye watering four hour run time, told in chaptered parts (no doubt to suit those who wish to watch it like a TV mini-series).
However, the true differentiation in Snyder’s cut comes in the characterisation. We get more time with peripheral characters like Commissioner Gordon (JK Simmons) and Mera (Amber Heard), as well as tying up the loose threads from other films. Most significant, however, is the restoration of Cyborg’s arc. Fisher has a lot more to do here, going through a full origin story and fighting through his anger for the greater good. There’s more insight into what drives him, and in general he’s a more three-dimensional character than we have seen before. Given Fisher has made allegations about Whedon’s abusive treatment on the theatrical version, this feels like a victory in more ways than one.
Ezra Miller’s Flash is still goofy, and is on hand for awkward wisecracks. He gets a much more graceful introduction during gorgeously filmed sequence involving a car collision, which underlines the character’s desire for human connection. Momoa’s Aquaman is more brooding, and less of a yowling jock than in Whedon’s version. Thankfully, Batman is also given some dignity back. Through Whedon’s eyes, he was a belittled punchline, a sitcom dad who everyone resented. Here, he’s more respected, the coach of the team and the one who knows the value of working together.
In general, a lot of the silly comedy is thrown out. Both on the page and on screen, it begins to feel like a Zack Snyder film again. Yes, that does mean it feels like half of it is in slow motion, but his operatic visual style and fleshed out subplots give the impression that this is an event, rather than something made to fill a release date. Sequences such as a flashback battle involving Darkseid are breath taking. The return of Superman is much more satisfying, with Kal-El sporting a black suit and a badass attitude. When he blocks a villain’s strike and rumbles “I’m not impressed!”, you get the message that a god has returned.
Is it as perfect as the social media prophesies foretold? No. It’s a much finer film than the one we saw in cinemas, but it has its flaws. The villains are much better, but neither are exactly Thanos. The runtime can be exhausting, particularly in the second act when the chase for the boxes becomes a bit of a slog. The climactic face off is also just a big CGI orgy, it’s just that this time the preceding storytelling means you actually care. Finally, maybe it’s just me, but it’s a crime that Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is so sparingly used. An actor of Adams’ calibre should never be a footnote.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of doors left open for future movies. Characters like The Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter are featured, as well as the advertised return of Jared Leto’s Joker in one of the film’s many codas. For now it’s just fan service, but further campaigns may make it more than that.
It’s unlikely that Zack Snyder’s Justice League would have been the version we’d have seen on screens in 2017. Streaming companies give more creative freedom than movie studios, and a dark, four-hour epic just wasn’t a realistic proposition. However, this is unarguably his true vision, and while it may not win over any neutrals, die hard fans who campaigned for years can feel somewhat vindicated. Hey, at least there were no weird CGI lips.