The Snyder Cut Doesn’t Cut It
If you are subscribed to HBO Max but aren’t following superhero movie news, you might be wondering what the big deal is with “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” displayed at the top of the home page. Well, that has quite the long and tumultuous story behind it. Director Zack Snyder was responsible for Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. The initial plan was to make his version of Justice League a two-part movie, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Unfortunately, Zack Snyder had to step away from the project after his daughter Autumn Snyder died by suicide. With the project left unfinished, and with Zack Snyder’s prior two DC movies having gotten mixed reviews from critics and fans, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to finish and re-write parts of the movie. The result was the 2017 Justice League, which is currently sitting at 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. I saw the movie once in theaters, and have felt no desire to see it again. It wasn’t bad, but it was very bland, and couldn’t compare to any of the Avengers movies.
Once the story that I’ve just relayed to you was discovered by fans, many of them wanted to see what the original version by Zack Snyder would have looked like. The combined efforts of thousands of passionate fans, the actors involved, and Zack Snyder himself convinced Warner Bros. to let him make and release the original version—the fact that basically every actor involved with the movie claimed that Whedon was acting racist and sexist probably also helped. I wasn’t especially eager for this to be made. I never joined in the hashtags and requests online. While I enjoyed Man of Steel, Batman V Superman was a pretty bad movie, and the Whedon cut of Justice League wrapped up that little experiment fine enough, while still not wasting Darkseid and everything on Planet Apokolips. That being said, it’s fascinating that something like this was able to happen. Zack Snyder and the fans have made real history here. We’ve seen directors’ cuts of movies, but we’ve never seen anything like this before. We’ve never seen a filmmaker allowed to go back in and really rebuild his movie that was torn apart by a studio with different ideas and a director with a different style. Regardless of my opinion on the movie, I hope we see more things like this happen. There are probably hundreds of bad movies out there that died because of studio interference and personal tragedy. It would be well worth seeing some of them made into something better.
Now, going into this I expected it to be either miles better than the Whedon version, or a complete trainwreck. However, it’s not really either of those things. The plot of both movies is largely the same. After the death of Superman, three ancient relics called Mother Boxes are awakened. One of Darkseid’s generals, Steppenwolf, heads to earth with his army of monstrous Parademons to reclaim the boxes for his master, Darkseid. With Superman, Earth’s greatest warrior, dead, Batman and Wonder Woman travel across the world to find the next best people for the job. This includes Aquaman, a half-human half-Atlantean warrior who can breathe underwater, the Flash, a man with superhuman speed, and Cyborg, a boy who has fused with a Mother Box and now controls machines. The trailers showed off Darkseid and his army a good amount, but don’t be fooled. The evil god is relegated to a cameo, with a redesigned Steppenwolf being the main threat. I can’t decide if Steppenwolf’s look is an improvement or not. His armor has been enlarged, and he does look more intimidating in battle. The problem is his head. Steppenwolf’s head is tiny, and each horn is three times the size of it. I couldn’t stop thinking throughout the movie, “it looks like I could break off those horns from his head like a fortune cookie.” Also, that is not the face of a world-conquering tyrant. That is the face of an angry baby—that’s what Steppenwolf’s face looks like to me. There’s also the problem of him looking way more intimidating than Darkseid. Why is Steppenwolf not the one in charge? He’s bigger, he seems very intelligent, and he carries around a giant lightning axe. It’s worth noting that in both versions of Justice League, Steppenwolf is clearly very low on the totem pole, when he’s Darkseid’s right-hand man in the comics. Steppenwolf has had the most changes from the Whedon cut. Everybody else is largely the same in costuming and behavior.
Unfortunately, they are also largely the same in terms of depth. Despite having two extra hours of footage added onto the movie, all that these extra scenes seem to be interested in adding were more scenes of the characters using their powers. I couldn’t tell you any more about any of the heroes’ personalities than I could from the Whedon Cut. An exception to the rule is Cyborg, who gets a new arc with his father; however, this arc is basically just Cyborg being a grumpy jerk to his Dad. Flash’s extra scenes show off what the Whedon cut already communicated fine about his dad, and have him being pretty creepy around whom I presume to be Iris. Even so, at least Flash and Cyborg get things to do in their arcs. Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman just mope around, being grumpy all the time. Honestly, that just sums up the whole movie. It’s a bunch of people being grumpy, serious, and boring. They also don’t do anything for the first half of the movie. Steppenwolf takes the first two Mother Boxes before the heroes can even come together. Aquaman is the only one who helps defend the second one, and the heroes don’t even realize the first has been taken until after the fact. Also, Steppenwolf taunts Wonder Woman in the final battle by saying that he killed all the Amazons. He didn’t. He left most of them alive. This might be just him trying to mess with her, but that’s not the only weird error in the movie. There’s a scene where Steppenwolf has a big revelation about how the Mother Boxes are on earth, and that this is the same planet that drove back Darkseid and hid away the Mother Boxes… after he already collected two of them. And the Mother Boxes he has are visible in that scene.
It really just feels like Snyder took every piece of footage he ever shot for this movie and dumped it in here. This doesn’t feel like the complete version of Justice League. This feels like Justice League with a bunch more scenes stuffed awkwardly onto it. I probably would have called this the worse version of the Justice League if it weren’t for the final battle. This climax is honestly better than some of the final Avengers battles because it’s not just punching an endless stream of mooks until we can punch the big bad guy. There’s more structure to this, and it’s more thought out. The heroes have to get through a crowd of bad guys to a central computer. That’s smart! There’s a great scene with the Batmobile that reminds me of Speed Racer, and if you’re reminding me of Speed Racer, you’re doing something right! The Flash and Cyborg are used much better, with Flash having to build a charge that Cyborg can use to hack into the computer while Wonder Woman and Aquaman fight with Steppenwolf. It’s the best part of the movie by a good margin. Steppenwolf’s defeat is also a lot more satisfying than it was in the Whedon cut. It’s probably the reason this movie got an R-rating.
But then the movie keeps going; it’s set up for more Snyder DC movies. They’re interesting, but I’m done with them. I’m ready to write this whole grim and gritty vision of the DC universe off entirely. I don’t know why this movie was my breaking point: the only Snyder DC movie that surpasses this one for me is Man of Steel. Maybe it’s because my thought after finishing this movie was “well, those new movie ideas could be interesting”…which is very similar to what I thought when I saw the Batman V Superman trailer…and the original Justice League trailer…and the trailer for this movie. Maybe it’s because this was supposed to be Snyder’s magnum opus. This was the big thing that would blow Marvel out of the water and prove that Snyder was a good choice to hire for these movies. In reality, no. This doesn’t blow Marvel out of the water. I would rather watch nearly all the MCU movies than this. This doesn’t even blow DC out of the water. If you want a movie about the Justice League coming together to fight the forces of planet Apokolips, go watch Justice League: War. It’s also on HBO Max, and it’s two and a half hours shorter than this. If you just want good DC content, the 2001 Justice League animated series is better than this. Justice League Unlimited is better than this. Justice League Dark and Dark: Apokolips War aren’t better, but they are shorter and more interesting than this. Not to mention the dozens of R-rated animated DC movies already kicking around out there. And the animated adaptations of famous stories like Death of Superman, The Dark Knight Returns, and Superman: Red Son. Or the other live-action DC movies that are miles better than this like . To top it all off, because Warner Bros owns DC, all of those movies are currently on HBO Max. Why should I have to settle for this overcooked grim mess, when both the competition and its own series have much better stuff than this? 5/10. Fans of Snyder’s previous work will likely enjoy this, but everyone else is better off watching any of the other options that I just listed.