After stepping down as director in the wake of a family tragedy, Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” was given to Joss Whedon (the director of “The Avengers”) to finish. The end result was a lackluster deluge of poorly paced action, underused characters and an overly comedic tone that made the superhero team up film both unimpressive and forgettable. The poor theatrical response to “Justice League” prompted countless fans to speculate what Zack Snyder’s original cut for the film looked like, giving birth to a massive online movement spearheaded by the hashtag #releasethesnydercut. Five years later, after millions of tweets, countless interviews and a handful of billboards, Zack Snyder’s original vision for “Justice League” has finally dropped on HBO Max with a whopping four-hour-long runtime, and it does not disappoint.
Following the same narrative as the 2016 theatrical release, “Justice League” unites Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to defeat the invading armies of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and stop them from turning Earth into an authoritarian hellscape. Though the plot largely unfolds in the same manner as the original theatrical cut, the Snyder cut does provide more narrative substance to what was originally a patchwork of rushed action sequences held together by an uninspired and under-explained plot. The best example of this improved narrative can be found with Snyder’s handling of the main villain, Steppenwolf. In 2016, he was nothing more than an invading alien with vague connections to Darkseid, a major villain in the comics who’s name was dropped only once in the theatrical version. This time around, Steppenwolf is explained to be living in exile for rebelling against the tyrannical despot of the planet Apocalypse, Darkseid. In order to absolve him of his treason, Steppenwolf must conquer 100,000 worlds, of which Earth is one. This backstory and motivation is portrayed more compellingly through periodic conversations Steppenwolf has via strange holograms with representatives from his homeworld.
Steppenwolf is not the only character in this film to benefit from Zack Snyder’s original vision. Though undoubtedly every character is given more time to shine, Cyborg is given the most to work with. Whereas previously, Victor Stone was relegated to almost a background role in which he brooded over his unfortunate cybernetic deformity, Cyborg’s past and present are more thoughtfully addressed. In the Snyder cut, the audience gets to witness Victor’s family dynamic pre-transformation — a crucial detail that was previously only hinted at. His tenuous relationship with his father, who is responsible for making Victor a cyborg in order to save his life, is given a primary role in the film. Put simply, Cyborg becomes the heart of Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” as he struggles with his second chance at life. Similarly, Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is given far more screen time and meaningful dialogue than he previously had. Though he still serves as a source of comic relief, the scarlet speedster is given a more meaningful impact on the film, especially toward the end.
With a whopping four-hour runtime, Zack Snyder is able to better flesh out our heroes and provide a more balanced pace that better connects the epic action sequences to the film’s plot. No longer being constrained by a theatrical runtime, Snyder was able to include everything he wanted in this streaming release. This benefits the film in allowing it to organically and steadily progress rather than force feed audiences non-stop action. It also, as previously mentioned, allows Snyder to better develop our heroes and give audiences reasons to root for them beyond just the end of the world stakes. However, the four-hour runtime also allows Zack Snyder to cram several gratuitous scenes into his films that should’ve been cut in the editing process for a theatrical release. Several scenes contain unnecessary uses of slow motion, or are painfully drawn out to capture an unnecessary edgy or epic feeling. For example, one scene that has no real impact on the narrative simply shows Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman spending several minutes walking down a stormy pier as he slams a bottle of whiskey. Gratuitous scenes like this offer little to the plot beyond some impressive imagery and should’ve been cut from the film had it been constrained by a theatrical runtime. Though scenes like this litter the film and can momentarily take audiences away from the experience, their negative impacts are fleeting and fail to hamper the total enjoyment of the film.
Overall, Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” is far superior compared to its theatrical counterpart. Though there are trivial moments that may bore audiences with their unnecessary addition, the film still progresses at a steady and engaging pace that is complemented by the inclusion of designated chapters designed to compartmentalize the viewing experience. With this extended runtime, Snyder was able to advance the plot as well as develop all of his characters to improve their chemistry and motivation. There is plenty to comment on and critique in this four-hour epic as it features loads to complain about and to love. This cut of “Justice League” is the definitive version and is sure to thrill comic book fans with its deeper ties to comic lore as well as casual fans looking for an epic ride.
Verdict: Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” is by far the superior cut of this film. Chock full of epic moments as well as much needed character and plot development, this film sticks with audiences far longer than the theatrical version ever did.