Warning — This article contains major spoilers for Zack Snyder's Justice League.
From the get-go, Zack Snyder's Justice League establishes the fact that it is telling a vastly different story from its theatrical predecessor. The film's opening scene showcases Superman's death in a meaningful way, showing off a seamless transition from 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The way the scene is integrated into the introduction doesn't feel forced since Snyder made sure that it will reinforce the film's narrative. Admittedly, this approach didn't disappoint since it serves as a fitting reminder of the traumatic moment from Dawn of Justice while also paving the way for what is to come in Justice League. The use of Superman's death scream as the reason for the awakening of the Mother Boxes is also a clever move, bringing more meaning to Kal-El's demise.
The four-hour runtime of the Snyder Cut might be a pretty hard pill to swallow for some, but Snyder makes sure that the story that he's trying to tell justified the length. After a somewhat rushed portrayal of story beats from its theatrical predecessor, this new version manages to give each character a moment to shine, showcasing their backstory effectively, so that when the time comes that the Justice League is formed, it creates a sense of satisfaction for the viewer. No doubt, this film lives up to that promise.
Given the lengthy runtime, the inclusion of chapter titles is necessary for those who want to take breaks while watching. By digging deep, the way that the film is fragmented into different parts builds anticipation for what's next to come, and it goes to show the master storyteller side of Snyder. This is on top of the impressive homage of the titles to key lines and moments from Justice League while also giving a preview of what would it look like if HBO Max has decided to preserve its originally announced mini-series format.
An extended look at several scenes from the theatrical cut such as Steppenwolf's attack in Themyscira definitely adds more context story-wise, and the additional moments help in terms of improving what was already presented on the big screen. For example, the line of the Amazons saying “We have no fear!” before charging into Steppenwolf and the parademons is a powerful moment, and this goes to show that Snyder clearly understood this strong group of characters.
It's no secret that Zack Snyder's Justice League is full of subplots and entire sequences that could've been cut. Still, this is part of the main selling point of the film: Snyder's intended vision. While some are included to set up solo films of The Flash and Aquaman, it helps viewers gain a deeper appreciation for these characters.
In many ways, this is challenging to do considering the team-up spectacle that this film is trying to achieve. It's worth pointing out that some of it even slowed down the overall plot, but it makes sense for these storylines to be included, mainly due to the fact that this is the first time that the characters are showcased before their solo adventures. For context, this was made before James Wan's Aquaman graced the silver screen, and the continued revamp of Andy Muschietti's The Flash, so Snyder had no idea of the changes the DCEU was about to undergo when filming this movie more than four years ago.
The addition of Darkseid and Apokolips, who were clearly absent from the theatrical cut, to play the role of the looming big bad for the film was done in a convincing fashion. Steppenwolf's character arc also benefits from the Snyder Cut since the film adds more depth to the villain, effectively propelling him to more than just a CGI-infused baddie.
The final battle of the film doubles down on the action like never before and was a major improvement from the theatrical cut. From Superman's entrance to Flash's time-travel, the finale clearly delivers in more ways than one, and Darkseid's face-off with the team is the hint of bigger (and darker) things to come.
All in all, it's safe to say that the teases and hints from Snyder clearly paid off in this version of Justice League, and the director stayed true to its promise of showing a story that is filled with rewarding moments and character arcs that actually made sense.
After all the teases and tidbits about Ray Fisher's Cyborg, it's safe to say that the character is indeed the “heart” of Justice League, something Snyder said multiple times during the marketing campaign for the film. The hero's origin combined with the character's exploration of his powers is fascinating to see in its entirety, and this should make any DC fan clamor for a solo movie centered on Victor Stone.
After a CGI-filled behind-the-scenes debacle back in 2017, Henry Cavill made a triumphant return as Superman in the Snyder Cut. Even though the actor had a limited amount of screen time, Cavill's performance does not disappoint since he makes sure that every moment counts for his character. Based on what was presented, Cavill appears to have embraced the Man of Steel persona, and this should bode well for those viewers who are eager to see him return down the line.
Ben Affleck has another surprising performance as Bruce Wayne in this iteration of Justice League, especially after a disappointing one from the theatrical cut. While the character's heroic expertise is still strongly showcased, Bruce's team-first attitude and belief in faith (which is saying something for a hero like Batman) add another layer of personality for the DCEU's Dark Knight, and it's unfortunate that this will not be explored further in a future solo project.
Gal Gadot's portrayal of Wonder Woman carries over from Dawn of Justice which makes sense under Snyder's tutelage. A distinction can be noticed after seeing the first two Wonder Woman films from Patty Jenkins, compared to the Snyder films. But the Snyder Cut clearly has the edge in terms of the hero's performance in action sequences.
Ezra Miller's Barry Allen shines in Zack Snyder's Justice League, and he does it by keeping the comedic tone of the character. On top of the humor, Miller shows that Barry can lean on his serious side when he has to, and the actor's portrayal of that aspect is done in a strong manner. For reference, rewatch the time when Barry travels back in time, a powerful, chill-inducing moment in its own right.
Jason Momoa's Aquaman is mostly defined by his interactions with Willem Dafoe's Vulko and Amber Heard's Mera, which is seemingly a preview of his solo film before it released. Given that the focus is on his Atlantean backstory, there are times that it feels like he's being left out in the team. Despite that, just like Gadot, Momoa's execution of action scenes is a sight to behold.
As for the film's villains, Ciaran Hinds' Steppenwolf is used effectively, and his motivations are more clear than those that were presented in the theatrical predecessor. Meanwhile, Ray Porter's voice performance as Darkseid cements the villain as a menacing presence even with limited screen time, potentially hyping up fans for an encore down the line.
PRODUCTION — CINEMATOGRAPHY, MUSIC, EDITING, ETC.
Aside from offering a fresh and captivating storyline, Zack Snyder makes sure that his Justice League is also unique in terms of technical execution. Based on what's presented, the director achieves just that
The iconic use of slow-motion throughout the four-hour runtime adds more flavor to key moments and also cements the idea that this a Snyder film. In his Justice League, the scenes that were infused with slow-mo elements are either from character abilities (Flash's speed and Wonder Woman evading bullets) or showcasing a compelling part in a character's backstory (Cyborg playing football as a part of his back story).
In a way, this goes to show that Snyder doesn't just choose a random moment for this flourish to be added. Instead, the director once again uses the story arcs of the characters as a reference for when to utilize the cinematic technique. The same is true for the addition of perfectly-selected songs, which fit to certain hero moments such as Barry saving Iris and Aquaman entering the ocean in the most badass way.
Junkie XL's score is one of the most known elements that is closely tied with the Snyder Cut, and it's good to finally hear the composer's masterpiece in a full-blown four-hour affair. It was confirmed during the promotional campaign that Junkie XL reworked his score for this new version. In execution, it creates more emotion while also channeling the much-needed thrill for high-octane action sequences.
Lastly, the lighting of the Snyder Cut is far more polished than that of its big-screen counterpart. In a way, it borrows elements from Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, which is fitting since Justice League marks the end of Snyder's DCEU trilogy.
A LARGER WORLD
As it is, Zack Snyder's Justice League is filled with DCEU Easter eggs and characters. This shouldn't be surprising since the film was basically created during a time when the franchise was still leaning towards interconnected universe-building storytelling.
One of the biggest surprises of the Snyder Cut is the inclusion of Harry Lennix's Martian Manhunter. The character served as the connecting thread to Justice League 2, warning Bruce Wayne of Darkseid's unfinished business on Earth. While a sequel has yet to be confirmed, J'onn J'onzz's message alongside a potential team-up with the rest of the League would be more than enough to entice fans.
Alongside Darkseid, the Anti-Life equation also makes its DCEU debut in the Snyder Cut. For context, this benevolent force has the power to dominate the will of any race, and the fact that it is somewhere on Earth spells trouble for not just the League, but the entire planet.
Two members of the Green Lantern Corps. are featured in the Snyder Cut. First, the revised History Lesson sequence places the spotlight on Yalan Gur, a Green Lantern from the Bronze Age of DC Comics. Meanwhile, during Cyborg's vision of a grim future, it appears that the dead body of Kilowog was among the casualties of Darkseid's invasion.
The original version of the post-credits stinger between Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor and Joe Manganiello's Deathstroke is far different from the Whedon Cut. In the scene, Lex gives away Batman's secret identity to Slade Wilson, which is a tremendous set-up for Ben Affleck's solo adventure as the Dark Knight. Unfortunately, unless a there is a change of plan, the actor's Dark Knight solo flick will never see the light of day.
The Knightmare timeline was once again pushed to the forefront in this Justice League, and it sees the return of Jared Leto's Joker. The brief yet emotional confrontation between Joker and Batman gives multiple references that provide context for some lingering plot threads from the Snyderverse such as Robin's death.
However, the biggest reveal of all is the fact that Joker knows Batman's true identity. While this plot point will not matter in-universe (they are in an apocalyptic timeline after all), this no doubt adds another compelling piece to the hero-villain dynamic of the two characters, even if viewers may never see it explored any further.
After a fan-driven grassroots campaign, installation of Times Square billboards, numerous Twitter trends, and self-promotion, Snyder should be proud of the game-changing arrival of his Justice League on HBO Max. It was a tough journey, but seeing his original vision realized into a full-blown four-hour epic is a winning moment no matter what the critics say.
In many ways, Snyder took the long road to reach his endgame, and it translates to what's presented in the in-universe storyline of the film. Focusing on the core members of the League in his director's cut is the best way to go in terms of sending a clear message that this is his version while also effectively showing the passion that he has for these amazing characters.
From its time of being a myth, the Snyder Cut was a pipe dream, but it spurred enough attention to eventually translate into a streaming showcase. Now that the first part is over (literally), it remains to be seen if the director will be given the chance to completely finish his intended trilogy.
Whatever the case may be, considering its production history and the road to get there, Zack Snyder's Justice League will be remembered as a unique entry in the superhero movie genre for years to come.