justice league

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

In 2017, during the fall semester of my freshman year — my first semester writing reviews for The Daily Nebraskan — the original theatrical cut of “Justice League” was released in theaters. I’ve always been a big fan of DC Comics and the superheroes that come from their pages, so needless to say, I was very excited for the film. 

I ended up enjoying the film well enough at the time; in my review I said it was entertaining but not without serious flaws. However, that cut of “Justice League” hasn’t aged very well in the 3 1/2 years since its release. It certainly has great moments, but the film as a whole is a mess, and as time has gone on, the film has grown more forgettable, and its issues have grown more prominent.

And that brings us to this new cut, dubbed “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” which I am now appropriately reviewing in the spring semester of my senior year — my last with The DN. 

Relaying all the details of the story that led to this new version of the DC superhero team-up would take almost as long as writing the review itself. In short, director Zack Snyder, who had previously directed “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” left the “Justice League” film while it was in production. 

There were a variety of reasons for this, notably the immense pushback he was getting from studio executives who weren’t pleased with his work, but the deciding factor was the death of his daughter. Snyder had more important things to focus on, so he gave up his director’s chair, and Warner Bros. replaced him with Joss Whedon, who directed “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

The result of this change in the director’s chair was an extreme mix of tones and concepts of what the “Justice League” film should be. Whedon hacked up the work Snyder had done and attempted to make the film into a more lighthearted and fun experience, all while adhering to a studio directive that demanded the film not exceed two hours.

Following the release of “Justice League” in 2017, fans of Snyder and the DC Universe were massively disappointed. The film failed to connect with audiences and drastically underperformed at the box office. The film that should have been DC’s biggest was forgotten. 

Fans of Snyder weren’t ready to give up, though, and over the course of the last three years, an online movement of sorts has been championing the idea to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. I was always dismissive of the movement, and I never thought Snyder’s version of the film would ever see the light of day. And then, with the introduction of WB’s new streaming service HBO Max, there was suddenly a path forward.

Now, 3 1/2 years after the initial release of “Justice League,” justice has been served. Zack Snyder’s version of the film has finally been released to HBO Max, and to say it is the superior cut of the film would be an understatement.

Though the rough outline of the film’s story has remained the same, the differences between the two versions are night and day. The Snyder Cut is a four-hour behemoth, over twice the length of the original, and it boasts an R rating, deeper characters and a much grander take on the story. 

It is a film worthy of the name “Justice League.”

In this movie, Zack Snyder is unabashed with his iconic dark and dramatic sense of storytelling. The film has a tremendous weight to it. The stakes are high, the action sequences are intense and the overall tone of the film is much more foreboding. The heroes and villains of the film are depicted almost as gods, with their immense power being something that is as terrifying as it is awe-inspiring. To sum it up, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is about the furthest you can get from the typical Marvel superhero flick. 

The specific changes in story between the 2017 version and Snyder’s version make “Justice League” tie together much better with its Snyder-directed predecessors, “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman.” Though the 2017 version felt like a mostly separate story, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” ties directly into them, making the three movies into a trilogy of sorts. 

Additionally, all of the “great moments” I said were in the 2017 cut are also found in this version, which means those moments were always Snyder’s ideas. 

What makes this version of “Justice League” work so much better than the 2017 cut is that it takes its time. It delves into the meat of its characters, showing every member of the Justice League’s individual motivations and reasons for joining the team. Every character is given a carefully detailed and believable backstory that makes them incredibly relatable. Even the villain of the film, the alien-invader Steppenwolf — whose design and overall visual effects are significantly improved here —  is fleshed out and made into a much more understandable and three-dimensional character. 

The character that benefits the most from having his story explored in more detail is undoubtedly Victor Stone/Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher.

In the 2017 film, Cyborg was definitely just a side character. He was just another member of the League, and they didn’t do much to actually explain his character in any meaningful way. In the Snyder Cut, however, Cyborg is the heart of the film. This character is given so much more to do in this film, and Fisher’s performance is nothing short of outstanding. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say Cyborg’s story makes him the most tragic and relatable character in not just this film, but in any of the three DC films Snyder directed. 

The rest of the Justice League members’ stories are given plenty of room to breathe as well. 

It becomes clear why Batman is so determined to form the team. Wonder Woman is arguably the most intellectual and badass member of the whole group. The Flash is an uncertain yet determined character who just wants to do the right thing, and Aquaman maintains the natural cool factor brought by Jason Momoa while also being an incredibly dynamic and emotionally divided character. Superman is not in the film a ton, but when he does show up, he is the most imposing yet peaceful version of the character that’s been seen on screen. 

By taking the time to develop each of these characters, Snyder is able to bring them together to form a truly defining take on the iconic Justice League. 

Everything about the team works in this movie. Their interactions with one another are genuine, their reason for coming together is believable, and seeing them work together is nothing short of exhilarating. This is the version of the Justice League fans have been waiting for, and Snyder delivers in full and then some.

While the film’s four hour length is daunting, it never feels overwhelming. Because there is so much care and detail put into the story being told, this movie flies by. It doesn’t feel like it’s four hours long. The film is split into six distinct chapters, which makes the length easier to swallow. Each chapter runs roughly a half-hour to 45 minutes in length, with a prologue and an epilogue bookending the entire film. By splitting the film up like this, it becomes much easier to take a break when needed. It almost feels more akin to watching a mini-series than an actual movie. While I still opted to watch the entire thing in one four-hour session (actually two, as I’ve watched it twice now), it would be easy to split the movie up and watch it over the course of a few days if needed. 

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” is the definitive version of this film.

It is leagues — no pun intended — better than the theatrical cut, and I cannot believe some of the material Whedon and the WB executives cut out. This version of “Justice League” is the superior version in every way. It is infinitely more ambitious, the story actually makes sense, the characters are developed, the villains are menacing, and overall it just provides a truly invigorating experience.

I absolutely loved “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”

The chances of WB continuing the continuity set up in this film are slim, as the DC film universe has gone in an entirely different direction since the 2017 version was released, opting for lighter tones and abandoning storylines in that film. But if there is any way this story can be continued, I will be there on day one. I may not have believed in the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, but now I am grateful for it, and I am thrilled to see Zack Snyder’s creative vision fulfilled and given the chance to see the light of day.