If you’ve been online for even a moment over the past four years, then you’ve no doubt heard the clamor for something called the “Snyder Cut.” The 2017 DC Extended Universe crossover Justice League is a clear misfire for numerous reasons, and within months of its release, fans were calling for the release of director’s cut capturing the filmmaker’s complete and true vision for the film, free from the tampering mitts of Warner Bros. executives and interlopers like Joss Whedon.
Again, for numerous reasons, that rallying cry was actually heeded by the studio, resulting in a newly minted four-hour feature. And not only is it dramatically better than the theatrical release, but Zack Snyder’s Justice League — the proper name for the aforementioned Snyder Cut — is a superhero epic managing thrills, fun, emotional beats, and more than a few surprises (provided you avoid social media and the film’s IMDb page). And yeah, it also comes closer to delivering the DCEU’s equivalent of The Avengers than anyone could have expected, given all that came before.
The dying screams of Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) echo across the land and around the globe, and the reverberations awaken three metallic cubes — one sealed in an Amazonian vault, a second protected by Atlanteans beneath the sea, and a third in the closet of Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher). The first opens a portal bringing an oversized, god-like being named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his squad of Parademons into battle with the women of Themyscira. The invaders steal the cube, a Mother Box (obviously, this being DC and all), and set off to secure the other two. The end goal is to combine them into the Unity, which will in turn bring upon the destruction of Earth by way of an even bigger bad named Darkseid (Ray Porter).
The only hope of stopping him? A team of superheroes working together. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg, but Steppenwolf proves a formidable foe, leaving them in need of one last member: a resurrected Superman.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a lot of movie — quite literally, as it clocks in at just over four hours — and while more isn’t always better, that axiom is challenged by the subjective truth that this redo is an impressive improvement over the original release. Its length won’t be to every taste, although the fact that it’s divided into multiple parts makes for easy chapter stops. But Snyder takes full advantage of his temporal canvas by spending quality time with his characters and story. This isn’t a mere doubling of Justice League‘s two hours, either, since much of that film is gone altogether. New scenes and dialogue, more action, and sequences that are alternately tightened or expanded depending on what best serves the story, make for an almost entirely new experience.
You’ll need to look elsewhere for a complete detailing of the changes, but the vast bulk of the excised material won’t be missed, as events happen for different reasons with varied outcomes. The Russian family under siege? Gone. That opening home video of kids with no acting chops interviewing Superman? Gone. The loss of Batman’s “just save one” speech to The Flash is the one unfortunate exception, as that was of the first cut of the film’s bright spots.
This new cut also wisely removes much of the original’s cheesy, ill-fitting jokiness, making for a smarter, more even experience, meaning dramatic beats actually land with emotional impact. On that count, in particular, more time is spent with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) as they deal with their grief, their struggle to move forward, and their joy at Superman’s return.
Sadly, Aquaman — the protector of the seas — still inexplicably tosses a glass bottle into the ocean like a litterbug prick.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League features additional sequences with Aquaman and The Flash outside of the immediate conflict and more conversations between them all, and it’s almost exclusively for the better, but it’s Cyborg who benefits most. He’s still brooding and extremely serious, but he has far more to contribute here with new interactions, refurbished scenes, and denser flashbacks enriching his character. It gives Fisher room to flex beyond Cyborg’s robotic nature, and like the other characters, his hero becomes more human in the process.
Not every problem with the original film is fixed, though, as an epic running time is far from a cure-all. While the film’s visual effects bolster the numerous action set-pieces, we’re far too often treated to some pretty abysmal CG and digital matte work. It’s been a problem across much of DC’s run and is fairly inexplicable given the budgets and the visual work accomplished by others elsewhere. Some of the iffy scenes here are from the first incarnation while others are newly added, but there’s really no excuse either way. From Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) standing in chest-high “water” to extended flashbacks of Earth’s previous war against Darkseid that look like a video game cutscene circa 1993, the inconsistent quality of effects here is enough to threaten whiplash.
While better visual effects were arguably in reach, the film’s other big problem occurred before the cameras even started rolling — either time — as the DCEU’s structure has been something of a mess for years. Lacking a singular guiding voice, the films rarely feel a part of the same universe, and without even the slightest bit of responsible planning means these characters just weren’t ready for their Avengers-like team-up.
The theatrical release tried and failed to deliver that team-up even as it was also introducing a full half of the team, and it just didn’t have nearly enough time to do both. Zack Snyder’s Justice League gives these characters more room to breathe, which goes a long way towards strengthening and deepening their personalities, motivations, and purpose, but the shortage of cinematic history is still unavoidably damaging.
The big bad lacks the oppressive weight of a Thanos, as Darkseid has no real footprint in the DCEU beyond an inference in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That means the urgency here has to be created on the spot without those previous threads, and it doesn’t always work.
Pacing will inevitably be an issue for some viewers due to the running time, but Snyder keeps things moving through shifts in perspective and focus. Pieces fall naturally into place as varied elements and characters are strengthened, nurtured, and then brought successfully together for a third act that plays out across the film’s back half.
Junkie XL‘s score — replacing Danny Elfman’s from the original — is a rousing, ethereal mix of synth-fueled adrenaline and choral beauty alongside earlier Hans Zimmer tracks. And the ending? Well, no spoilers here, but hopefully we won’t have to dream about a follow-up for too long.
As always, viewer mileage will vary, but from DC fans to folks who love a good underdog success story — and the argument can be made that Snyder, the DCEU, and Justice League are all underdogs at this point — Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an entertaining, messy, and thrilling superhero epic. It’s a film about second chances at life, love, and finding your place in a world that doesn’t make things easy on you. Turns out we live in a society where, once in a rare while, the second time around truly is the charm.