Zack Snyder may be credited as the director of 2017’s Justice League but for him that movie remained unfinished. Snyder suffered a personal tragedy and was fending off studio interference from Warner Brothers so he left the movie which was completed with multiple reshoots by Avengers director Joss Whedon. Years later, Snyder’s complete version has been released as Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It’s a sprawling effort, sometimes way too sprawling at four freaking hours that jettisons anything exclusive to the Whedon version. While some lame bits from the Whedon version have been dropped, some good quips have been lost as well. But new individual moments are kind of great. Maybe someday they’ll be a trim, 90 minute version that combines the best bits of both movies. This is either the definitive Justice League or an interesting aside into how big budget blockbusters can be made, unmade and then remade again after people online complain enough.
The plot of Snyder’s version is essentially the same. Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead and Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) is assembling a team of super-powered metahumans like Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). They battle against the evil Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) who wants to assemble three Mother Boxes, otherworldly devices that can reshape the Earth and devastate humanity. Bruce realizes that the only way to stop Steppenwolf is to use the Mother Box to bring Superman back from the dead. Snyder’s version of Justice spends a lot more time filling out backstory, stretching out scenes, and adding new ones.
The endurance marathon length is daunting, somewhat mitigated by being broken up into seven parts. Still, the chunky length conveys this is one distinct director’s vision; only Zack Snyder would try to sell a four-hour movie about esoteric alien gobbledygook and superheroes. The studio mandated a two-hour length for the original theatrical cut which felt like Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder movies inelegantly mashed together but it was at least much zippier.
And much funnier, as a lot of zingers that have been dropped from this version. But it isn’t an entirely laugh-free waste, Miller’s Flash is still hilariously rambling on about things. Another great bit from the Whedon version was Aquaman inadvertently spilling his guts when he sits on Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth which was probably too dopey for this version. The Aquaman movie was cheesy fun but in just about any version of Justice League Aquaman comes across as a mope. Unlike in Aquaman, in Snyder’s movie, the Atlanteans make underwater talk bubbles every time they speak which remains incredibly stupid. Also dumb is Mera (Amber Heard) suddenly having a British accent which thankfully disappears in Aquaman.
Individual scenes that were a brief few minutes are extended outward, befitting Snyder’s general tone of more is better. This feels like a first cut of the movie that could have used trimming. Still the extended bits have moments of awesome. The raid of Steppenwolf on the Amazons holding a Mother Box is longer and feels suitably hopeless as Steppenwolf wrecks everyone in his way. The flashback to the Age of Heroes battle against the minions of darkness is longer and messier. While this flashback in the original version showed how the loss drove Steppenwolf mad, in this version he’s entirely absent and instead the Hero army is battling against the ultimate baddie, Darkseid (Ray Porter). Showing Steppenwolf in the Heroes battle for the original version fleshed out an underserved villain but substituting in Darkseid is just way cooler. There is a subplot with Steppenwolf calling back to his home base with DeSaad (Peter Guinness) and Darkseid that was entirely absent in the original film. A lot of the Darkseid scenes are setting up a sequel that will never happen but it’s neat to see Darkseid show up instead of just being referenced.
What’s new in Zack Snyder’s Justice League is fleshing out the setup and backstories. Most of it is irrelevant but looks great. The new opening is a powerful take on how the death of Superman literally resonated across the world. Cyborg discovering the full extent of his powers is fantastic. Flash saves a woman from a car crash that looks spectacular but doesn’t add anything aside from cool visuals. Flash also has a stirring moment in the finale where he has to literally run to save the world. Lois (Amy Adams) has a meeting with Martha Kent (Diana Lane) that ultimately turns into a tease for Martian Manhunter that it never quite pays off. Bruce’s nightmare about a post-apocalyptic future with a crazed Superman is cool if overtly gritty and under-explained. There are multiple dangling sequel bait teases that will never be resolved since it has been stated that this is definitively Snyder’s last DC movie. While mostly frustrating, it is standard for the comic book genre to set up teases down the line.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an interesting curiosity that is worth checking out to see how much stuff has been added with Snyder’s distinctive visual flair. It’s too much movie by half and the theatrical version stands as ultimately the more satisfying one. But it is astonishing that Snyder’s definitive version of Justice League finally exists.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot