The 2017 theatrical release of “Justice League” had earned $657 million globally during it’s theatrical run. Sure that may sound like a lot of money, but until you consider the nearly $300 million budget, including the reported $25 million for director Joss Whedon’s reworking, plus a conservative estimate of a $100 to $150 million in marketing costs. Factor in the sizable cut theaters take from the box office and a return of only $657 million is clearly a loss. Six months later, “Justice League” was put to shame by Marvel’s own all-star showcase “Avengers: Infinity War”, which wasn’t only a superior film, but the Marvel team-up brought $2 billion in ticket sales.
What had happened to the theatrical release of “Justice League” had come down to what was, a crisis of infinite doubt. Where a team of Warner Bros. executives who had lost faith in their faltering comic book movie empire and at the helm was director Zack Snyder, who was in the midst of a family tragedy. Joss Whedon, the creator of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”, was a director over at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whedon left the “Avengers” after two movies and crossed over to comics rival DC, in picking up directing “Justice League” where Snyder left off. Whedon had remade it and rebuilt it significantly with extensive rewrites and hurried reshoots, just as the studio demanded.
Writer and director Christopher Nolan (“Inception”) and Deborah Snyder (wife to director Zack Snyder), both producers on the film had emerged from a private screening of the Whedon cut, with a shared mission. “They came and they just said, ‘You can never see that movie’” Zack Snyder said. Deborah adds “Because I knew it would break his heart”. Both her and Christopher Nolan knew what they had just seen was nowhere near Snyder’s original vision and that it had Joss Whedon written all over it.
When the film opened on November 17th 2017. It was sneered at by critics, shrugged at by baffled moviegoers and all but disowned by those who created it. Joss Whedon has since been accused of unprofessional and abusive behavior on set, which the director declined repeated requests for a comment. He left his name off the movie except only to claim a shared writing credit with Chris Terrio, who had won the 2013 Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for Ben Affleck’s best picture winner “Argo”. Terrio also had written Snyder’s previous installment, 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.
For almost more than four years, DC fans and Snyder enthusiasts that have worshipped his high octane, macho brawn-fests like his “Dawn of the Dead” remake, his ancient Greek battle saga “300” and his epic “Watchmen” adaptation. All took to social media demanding that Warner Bros. return “Justice League” to Snyder and allow him to share his original version of the movie. They dubbed it “The Snyder Cut”. Last May, they finally got their wish when Warner Bros. saw the potential to leverage all the free publicity and do something unprecedented to help upstart it’s streaming service, HBO Max.
It’s not uncommon for directors to lose creative control of big-budget studio spectacles, or for other filmmakers to step in. But it’s unheard of that a studio would return to an exiled filmmaker and offer them back the power and creative freedom that was once yanked away, especially when some of the most beloved and lucrative characters in pop culture history are involved. In the throes of all the conflict with Warner Bros., the Snyders’ 20-year old daughter, was home from college and in the middle of a long struggle with depression, she took her own life.
The four-hour “Snyder Cut” event for HBO Max, will raise money for suicide prevention programs that could help spare others the grief that shook his family. Their daughter’s death was the reason the Snyders walked away from “Justice League”, realizing their fight and spirit was needed more at home, with their other children and with each other, rather than in a losing battle with a powerful studio.
Their daughter was the main reason Snyder decided to come back and give us his original vision. “At the end of the movie, it says ‘For Autumn’”, Snyder says. “Without her, this absolutely would not have happened”. The first noticeable difference between the released theatrical cut and Zack Snyder’s cut is the films grandiose running time. In fact the running time was among the issues Snyder had in his fight with Warner Bros. “There was a mandate that the movie be two hours long”, says Snyder.
Cutting it down would mean eliminating much of the heart and humor the studio wanted and Snyder also saw a bigger structural problem with the “make it shorter” order. “How am I supposed to introduce six characters and an alien with potential for world domination in two hours? I mean, I can do it, it can be done. Clearly it was done”, he says, referring to Whedon’s version. “But I didn’t see it”.
Snyder estimates that it cost around $70 million to undo Whedon’s redo. In return, HBO Max gets four hours of anticipated programming and Snyder gets the Hollywood comeback story of a lifetime. Snyder was given full control of his infamous “Snyder Cut”, including rebuilding the story that he had always envisioned. He can finally go as deep and dark as he likes, he can even put Superman in a sleek black suit instead of the iconic blue and red and he’s added Jared Leto reprising his role as the Joker (A completely different incarnation than his “Suicide Squad” appearance).
Snyder has also made a divisive move, by presenting the movie in the boxy 4:3 format rather than the 2.35:1 scope wide screen ratio, so that one day it can be watched on IMAX screens. Some will be irritated by seeing “Justice League” on HBO Max with black bars on either side. I’ll admit that I was one of them, as i prefer the aforementioned scope (2.35:1) format especially with a theatrical experience of this size.
Snyder is also layering in some deeply personal elements in closing the movie with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, performed by Allison Crowe. A friend of the family who also performed the song at his daughters funeral, because it was her favorite song. Thanks to fans and members of the cast and crew who petitioned for this release. Warner Bros. started production on “The Snyder Cut” in February 2020 and spent around the estimated $70 million to complete the visual effects, score and editing, with new material being filmed during Covid in October 2020. Snyder’s cut was originally planned to be released as both a miniseries and a four hour film, but plans for the miniseries were scrapped by January 2021. For it’s theatrical release, Snyder added a 10 minute intermission halfway into the movie while the digital release on HBO Max, will be divided into six chapters.
I like to call Joss Whedon’s 2017 cut of “Justice League”, the franken-version. A film that was just cobbled together by Whedon with bits of Snyder’s stuff thrown in for good measure. For me, Whedon’s cut proved to be okay as far as superhero fluff goes, but Snyder’s version is much better and we’re talking leaps over a tall building in a single bound better.
But is it anywhere close to being as good as the rivals at Marvel with their “Avengers” movies? It does put the first two “Avengers” movies (both directed by Joss Whedon) to shame, but still nowhere near as perfect as the last two “Avengers” films “Infinity War and Endgame”. Unlike Whedon, Snyder’s version has character building, fan deep cuts, natural comedy & a levity of emotion. It certainly feels more coherent, more complete and is easily the version I would recommend.
While a good portion of the film will feel familiar, the differences are vast. We’re talking over two-hours of additional footage that Snyder has put back in and reassembled, along with some new scenes added in recent reshoots. But these aren’t just moments of excessive action and destruction in the way that we’re accustomed to from the typical Snyder film. He gives us crucial context and backstory that was sorely missing from the theatrical, which includes the primary villain of Steppenwolf, who transforms from a bland CGI creation into a fully-realized character and becomes one of the best DCEU villains.
As a good portion of the film will feel familiar so will the terms of the actual plot, that also largely remains the same. Steppenwolf is here on Earth to find the three Mother Boxes, powerful objects that can basically reshape the entire universe. He needs them for his master, Darkseid, the Thanos-like ruler of Apokolips and destroyer of thousands of worlds. Batman (Ben Affleck) has seen all of this and along with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has set out to assemble a team of heroes (including Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s The Flash and Ray Fischer’s Cyborg) who can stand against the invasion and live up to the promise made to Superman (Henry Cavill) when he was killed in Snyder’s previous film “Batman v Superman”.
Due to the longer runtime, the league themselves don’t assemble until much later in the film. Seeing the first half of the film as purely table setting, having a full three chapters of the six-chapter film passing by when the now assembled Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman and Cyborg meet with J.K Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon on the rooftop. Snyder inserts the six chapter breaks to perfectly align where each episode could have and should have ended, in it’s appropriate cliffhangers and emotional peaks.
Of this new footage, it’s Flash and Cyborg who see the most benefit, giving their characters backstories that flesh out our understanding of them. Barry’s (The Flash) whole story is sweeter and funnier as his humor really shines through here. If you look at it, it’s crazy that Whedon’s movie was edited to emphasize the humor because Snyder’s cut was considered too “grim”. Honestly I laughed a lot more here than I did at Whedon’s cut, especially during The Flash’s quips and one liners. We also finally get a moment where Flash meets and rescues his future love interest Iris West (Kiersey Clemons of “Hearts Beat Loud”), although this is one of a few moments that still could have been trimmed out because this never really goes anywhere in the film.
Zack Snyder has said that Ray Fisher’s performance as Cyborg is the “heart” of “Justice League” and in his cut, he makes sure he sticks to his word. So much of Cybrog’s story was left out by Whedon and thanks to Snyder, Cyborg’s journey provides so much of the movie’s emotional richness. We really get to see that the bigger problem for Cybrog is connecting with people and finding a new purpose as a hero in protecting a world he had given up on. It’s a journey that most of the other heroes have already taken, but we get to see him go through it step by step and it’s emotionally affecting.
The handling of Superman in the theatrical film was sloppy and I’m not only talking about the whole CGI superstache debacle. His resurrection failed to resonate because Whedon made it feel tacked on to a story that he had no investment in. But here, Superman’s arrival, in his black costume has a real purpose in setting the Man of Steel as a symbol of hope at the eve of the planet’s darkest hour. Thanks to Snyder he has given us back our Wonder Woman, with Gal Gadot getting a lot more to do here than she ever did in “WW84”. She’s fully at the peak of her powers and every time I hear that hype score and Wonder Woman battle theme by Junkie XL that gets me out of my seat and my heart pumping every single time.
The two heroes who were left the most intact were Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (who is much better here than in his atrocious solo film “Aquaman”), although there are key differences for both characters between the two versions. Momoa’s Arthur Curry emerges as a much more serious character, while Affleck’s Batman gets more screen time in displaying his old school fight techniques. Affleck (who serves as Executive Producer) also gets all the new material in a second coming of the much-hyped Knightmare sequence from “Batman v Superman”.
This being Zack Snyder he just can’t help but cram as much as he can get away with. Including a new ending that was shot during the Covid lockdown, featuring a bizarre dream of Bruce Wayne’s, that pits The Dark Knight against Jared Leto’s Joker face to face. Ultimately the sequence looked to have served to what would have been a prelude to Snyder’s next two films. Initially, the filmmaker said that Warner Bros. resisted this addition. “They didn’t want me to suggest more films to come. They wanted me to cul-de-sac it as much as I could”, Snyder said. “I’m like, ‘Look, that’s just not the genre’. It’s not the comic book genre to end the story, regardless if we ever make another one or not”.
But the thing about Snyder is that he’s just indulging in his love of these characters and the story he’s telling. He is a fanboy in every sense of the word and that definitely is showcased here. Everything Snyder does is objectively “cool” and Snyder’s passion is so infectious that you just want to go along on the ride with him. The same can’t be said for Whedon’s “Justice League” because he never inspired that kind of loyalty. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” isn’t just the superior cut of the film it’s great on its own and makes the DCEU stronger.
Snyder has told us there are no plans to continue on with his “Snyderverse”, but as Zack Snyder said it best: “When I made the film originally, it was part of a five-part trilogy. There were two more episodes of the ‘Justice League’ to be shot”. Snyder also added: “I didn’t think I’d be here talking about a restored ‘Justice League’, so never say never”. With this much support from fans, the studio and HBO Max there is something that tells me this isn’t over. The fans, especially who have already spoken quite loudly about “The Snyder Cut” just won’t allow this to be the end of it.
Snyder has already proved that his cuts and his versions are better than the studio interfered theatrically released ones. Just look at the extended cuts of “Sucker Punch”, “Batman v Superman”, “Watchmen” and now “Justice League”. After this I hope studios will put more faith into his visions and just release what he had intended. It can’t be stressed how epic “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” feels and not just on the grandiose scale that he presents it, but also in the films four hour runtime. Which miraculously never gets boring or really drags at any point. Snyder’s film is bigger, bolder, brash, bombastic and epic in every sense of the word. Whether a continuation happens or not, finally justice has been done cinematically for the “Justice League”.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)