When Man of Steel first came out, I remember feeling conflicted. Initially I had such a strong negative reaction to the film that I decided to go back to the theater the next day and give it a second chance. I did, and I loved it, and it’s still one of my favorite films to this day.
Then came Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I remember being excited to finally see Batman and Superman on screen together in live action. Though Superman has been my favorite hero since middle school (if you couldn’t tell already), Batman was my childhood favorite. Seeing them together (with Wonder Woman too!) was a dream come true. I really enjoyed the theatrical version of the movie, and when the Ultimate Edition was released, well… I loved it even more.
I was sold on the DCEU. I thought, “this is the superhero franchise for me” since it covered a variety of intense themes, real-world problems such as the carnage left in the wake of superheroes and how the world would actually respond if someone like Superman were real and had incredible filmmakers and actors behind-the-scenes. Sure, Suicide Squad was a dud, but Wonder Woman was incredible, and with Aquaman and Justice League on the way…
Over three years after the release of Joss Whedon’s Justice League, it’s finally here. The film that we had begged Warner Brothers for with years of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaigns. The film that Zack Snyder seemed to pour his heart and soul into. It’s here.
And it’s a masterpiece.
With a four-hour runtime that feels more like two and a half and six chapter markers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is, on the most basic level, the same film that came out in 2017. And yet, when watching the film, I was on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t believe that it felt like a completely different movie. The core team from the theatrical cut is the same, as is our main antagonist, yet they feel like (and in some cases even look like) completely different characters. They have more weight, more backstory, more heart and soul.
Now, unlike Whedon’s version of the film (which inaccurately still claimed Zack Snyder as its “director”), Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not a film that is at war with itself, unsure of what it is. Instead, it knows the story it’s telling and the characters that inhabit this world (as well as others). In short, it sticks to its guns, with plenty of bullets still left in the chamber.
This being said, I will say that I’m not a fan of the 4:3 ratio at all. It’s a very odd (and limiting) choice that I’ve found no real reason for other than Zack Snyder found it cool. After about a half hour, I kind of stopped noticing it, but then we get to shots like the group shot at the end of the film and it feels like the League barely fit within the frame.
The score, by Mad Max: Fury Road composer Thomas Holkenborg aka Junkie XL (who also collaborated with Hans Zimmer on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), is a massive improvement on Danny Elfman’s from the theatrical cut of the film (which oddly includes his Batman Theme from Tim Burton’s Batman as well as John Williams’ iconic “Superman March”).
While the choir noise that is heard whenever Wonder Woman or the Amazons are on screen can be distracting, Holkenborg takes cues from Zimmer’s Man of Steel and revamps his Wonder Woman theme from Batman v Superman so that our heroes are properly represented whenever in battle. Overall, his take on Justice League is a significantly better one than Elfman’s, and fits Zack Snyder’s vision for the film like a glove.
But before going any further, I do want to issue a SPOILER WARNING. I know that Justice League has been out for years, and this film shares the same bones as Whedon’s cut, but there’s so much more in this film to talk about that to do so without issuing this warning would be a disservice to those who haven’t seen it. So please, if you haven’t watched the film just yet, take the time before we press on.
Now, since this is the Superman Homepage, let’s start with Superman…
Two characters clearly embody the heart of this film, and the first of which is Superman. The film opens with another angle on Superman’s heartbreaking demise from the end of Batman v Superman. His voice literally echoes around the world and is the reason the first Mother Box is awakened. The opener does a great job of setting the stage, and, like the theatrical cut, it’s centered around the Man of Steel. As Steppenwolf says later on, “No Lanterns, no Kryptonians…”. Superman’s death is the catalyst for the events of this film, something Whedon’s cut touches on but never actually explains. It’s made clear here, proving that “The Death of Superman” wasn’t simply for show. It was planned.
If there’s one critique I have when it comes to Superman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (besides the fact that I prefer the red and blue), it’s that I wish we had spent more time with him.
Obviously, the majority of the film is spent either dealing with Steppenwolf’s invasion or resurrecting Superman, and that’s incredibly necessary, but it’s hard for me to not want more.
What we do get though, is wonderful. Between Clark’s initial fight with the League (truly showcasing just how powerful he really is) to his heart-felt “so I guess that means ‘yes'” conversation with Lois in the cornfield (where he also reunites with Martha), there’s a lot to love. I especially enjoy Superman showing up to the final fight to face off against Steppenwolf. Where the other members of the League seem to barely hold their own against the New God, Superman overpowers him immediately.
The Snyder Cut goes even further than the theatrical, all-but-confirming that Lois Lane is in fact pregnant with Clark’s child. A welcomed addition to the film that hits home and raises the stakes in the final act. I love the brief “congratulations by the way” moment in the Epilogue where Bruce makes it clear to Clark that he knows the baby is coming.
Speaking of Lois, I couldn’t get enough of Amy Adams in this movie. I’m so glad that Whedon’s “thirsty” scene was removed and replaced with a more heartfelt scene, pushing Lois back into the working world of the Daily Planet. It’s clear that Lois, more than almost anyone, has lost the most because of Clark’s death. Still faithfully wearing her engagement ring, she is dealing with the grief by… Not dealing with it. It’s honest and human and completely understandable.
But Lois is the key. She is the one, the only one, who is able to bring Clark back out of his rage. It’s because of her that his memory returns, and it’s because of her that he has a future to fight for. Not just a future marriage, but a future family. While Lois does have less to do in Zack Snyder’s Justice League than either of the previous Snyder installments, she’s treated with more dignity and respect than Whedon gave her in his iteration.
But let me return to Superman for a moment…
There’s also this incredible moment where Clark enters the Kryptonian scout ship in Metropolis (can we please just call it the Fortress already?) and we hear the voices of his fathers, both Jonathan Kent and Jor-El, as he takes on his “final form” if you will. It’s a powerful scene that brings Clark’s arc among the three Snyder films full-circle, with Clark Kent embracing his Kal-El side, deciding once and for all that with this second chance at life, he will continue to protect the world as Superman. And I love it.
One thing this film (and my recent rewatches of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman) makes clear is how perfect Henry Cavill is in the role of Clark Kent/Superman. There is no one else I would want to play the character in the live action films right now than Cavill, and my hope is that, with the success of the Snyder Cut, he will return to the role in the future.
The other heart of Zack Snyder’s Justice League may surprise you, but it is in fact Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone aka Cyborg. Victor lives a hard and tragic life. A former football star at Gotham University, Victor and his mother were in a fatal car accident, taking her life and leaving him all-but-dead himself. Victor’s father, Dr. Silas Stone (played masterfully by Joe Morton, who is no stranger to cybernetic organisms), used a Mother Box to save his boy’s life. And it has taken a toll on Victor’s mind and soul.
Besides Darkseid himself, Cyborg benefits the most from Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Between the added backstory behind Victor’s incident to us finally understanding the full scope of his abilities, this version of the film provides Victor with not only enough screen time, but enough to do. He’s not just some depressed kid who’s forced into helping the League, he learns to help people in his own way before stepping out to help Batman and company.
While Victor has a hard time engaging with the team socially, he’s integral to their success. Without Cyborg, the unified Mother Boxes could not possibly be split, Superman would not be able to return, and the League may have never found the third Mother Box.
But what makes Victor the heart?
Victor is the heart of Zack Snyder’s Justice League because it’s one of the only body parts he has left. Between his strained relationship with his father to his heroic journey, Victor develops the most throughout the film. There are times where we can feel his hatred for what his father did to him so much that we think Vic may kill his father himself. But only when Silas is taken by Steppenwolf and Victor must choose to save him do we begin to see the man behind the machine. Victor’s hero’s journey culminates when he attempts to save his father near the end, and Silas dies to give his son the last piece of the puzzle, so that the League might have a chance at defeating this foreign enemy.
Fans of the theatrical cut (do those even exist?) will note that Silas Stone doesn’t die in the Whedon version of Justice League, but his death in the Snyder Cut carries so much weight, body-slamming Victor into the final fight, with enough force to help him separate the Mother Boxes from the inside. And boy is that scene powerful.
Silas Stone’s narration guides us, and Victor, through the Epilogue, inspiring us forward and giving us hope for the future. Without Cyborg’s arc, this film loses its focus and becomes a jumbled mess (see: Joss Whedon’s Justice League).
Everyone else contributes to the film in meaningful ways too. Bruce Wayne/Batman is the one with the vision to unite our heroes together in the first place (which serves him well seeing as how whenever he is around the rest of the League, it’s obvious how under-powered he is in comparison), Diana Prince/Wonder Woman helps him on this quest, but she’s much more than that. Diana is integral to Bruce’s intelligence. Without her, the Amazon’s invasion beacon wouldn’t have meant anything in the world of men, and no one would have known a thing about Darkseid, or his initial invasion on Earth. And forget about the Anti-Life Equation…
Diana is one of the best parts of the movie. As the League’s powerhouse, Aquaman barely rivals her strength (Superman is a whole different story, as mentioned above) she wastes no time in taking Steppenwolf on and her powers are really showcased here. Diana is also integral to both Victor joining the team and keeping Bruce in check. Bruce and Diana are very clearly co-chairs of the Justice League.
Barry Allen/The Flash and Arthur Curry/Aquaman make their impact as well.
Barry, the jokester (Ezra Miller seeming to channel more Wally West than Barry Allen) with a heart of gold, is given real depth in the film. We understand why he cares about saving the world (not just because Batman recruited him and that’s “cool”). Barry has a deep sense of justice because of what’s happened to his father, who is facing a life sentence in prison for allegedly killing his wife and Barry’s mother. This forces Barry to do everything he can to break into the criminal justice system to fight for his father. He also spends time saving Iris West before Batman even confronts him in Central City, again proving his deep sense of empathy for humanity.
The Flash’s powers are also more enhanced in this version than in the theatrical, with Barry actually turning back time near the end when he fails to help Cyborg disrupt the Unity. It’s alluded to earlier in the film, and we see time reverse when he helps bring Superman back from the grave, but when Barry is using the full extent of his powers later on, we see that there is much more to the Scarlett Speedster than initially met the eye.
Arthur is a little different. He does what Barry does too, helping those who can’t help themselves, but he does so more discretely. He doesn’t want the attention, he doesn’t want anybody finding him, especially the Atlanteans. Having seen Aquaman (which takes place a year after Justice League), we know that eventually Arthur overcomes some of this and takes his place as King Arthur of Atlantis, but right now he’s the mysterious “Aquaman” who, much like Clark in Man of Steel, kind of just wanders and saves aimlessly.
His arc, though smaller than Victor’s, and even Barry’s, is just as meaningful as Arthur develops into the hero he was literally born to be. Superman seems to have inspired him too, even though he attempts to deny it. He is a man who is very much lost (again, lots of Man of Steel vibes from Arthur in this movie) but feels the call of destiny in the wind. Or, at least in the current.
I kind of skipped over Batman’s arc in the film because… Well, out of all the lead characters, he’s the only one who doesn’t really have one, but the odd thing is, it works. His guilt about failing Superman in life is what fuels him, to the point of almost going on a suicide mission, but it doesn’t change anything when Clark returns from the grave. Bruce still helps reverse the foreclosure of the Kent Farm at the end, and one could argue it’s from a place of newfound friendship, but I would argue that there’s still a hint of guilt in there.
His dynamic with Alfred continues to entertain, and there is more Gotham world-building as we’re introduced to Gotham Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (J.K. Simmons), but that’s about it. Bruce is the guy who brings the team together and leads them into battle, that’s his entire function in the film. And it works! We don’t need anymore; his main redemption arc is finished. It seems that Zack Snyder had more plans for Batman in the future (with the Knightmare future and his rivalry with both the Joker and Deathstroke), but it seems those projects are dead in the water. Hopefully, Warner Brothers (and Ben Affleck) will come to their senses and do a Batman vs Deathstroke HBO Max series or an adaptation of “A Death in the Family” or something…
As the final fight comes to a close (after Cyborg and Superman separate the Unity, which is so cool), Aquaman, Superman, and Wonder Woman send Steppenwolf (and his head) back through a Boom Tube to Darkseid’s feet. As the League stands united, Darkseid seems to retreat, only to tell Desaad to gather the troops as they’re going “back to the old ways”. Zack Snyder’s Justice League makes it clear that this is a story that is meant to continue.
It’s so clear, in fact, that the revelation that General Swanwick from Man of Steel was the Martian Manhunter the whole time feels like it’s pointing towards something more. J’onn J’onzz (though, he’s not called that on screen) appears twice in the film, first when taking the guise of Martha Kent to help Lois step back into the world and secondly at the end where he introduces himself to Bruce, forming a new alliance and almost repenting for not having been a part of the fight, promising to be in touch.
It’s exciting to see Martian Manhunter as a part of this film, and after seeing not one, but two Green Lanterns throughout this movie it gives me hope that we might see Hal Jordan or John Stewart done right in live action someday.
Lastly, the Knightmare sequence. The Knightmare sequence in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of my favorite parts of the movie (though I admit it feels out of place and seems unnecessary in BvS), and I was happy to see that continued here. Seeing not only Knightmare Batman, but Cyborg, Flash, Deathstroke, Mera, and the Joker himself was a welcomed addition to this post-apocalyptic DC Universe. Of course, it ends with evil Superman arriving, eyes glowing read, and Bruce waking from the dream, but it’s cool set up while it lasts.
Unfortunately, the Knightmare set-up feels less like a tease for the next installment and more like a reminder that this is the last we’ll see of it. We might not ever find out what happened or how it’s resolved (at least, not on screen) unless a Justice League – Part 2 happened to be released. And I know that we’re all sick of seeing evil “Injustice Superman” (believe me, so am I), but I do believe that there’s more to it than that, and I would like to know what it is. Sadly, we may never get the chance.
While the Snyder Cut is amazing, and I’m so grateful that us Associate Producers were able to help get it made, I can’t help but be sad that this is the end. Not the end of some of the toxic fandom (which should’ve ended long ago), but the end of a director’s clear vision for a complete story with some of my all-time favorite fictional heroes. Say what you will about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Avengers: Endgame gave me everything I could have asked for and more from nearly a decade of buildup, and I really wish Zack Snyder would get that same chance to bring us the same satisfaction for his DC Extended Universe.
For those who loathed Justice League when it was first released in 2017 and are still on the fence, get off. Zack Snyder’s Justice League feels like a completely different movie. The characters are real, with real motivations and arcs. The plot, though long, is not all that complicated and doesn’t take away from our heroes. The Snyder Cut builds upon the foundations that Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Wonder Woman laid and brings the DCEU into its “fully furbished form”.
After all the fanfare and drama surrounding its production, Joss Whedon’s Justice League saw the team divided, but Zack Snyder has done an amazing job at bringing everyone together again.
Bravo, sir. Bravo.
Michael John Petty