Director: Zack Snyder
Date: March 18
R | 4 hours 2 minutes
This story was originally posted March 23. It was accidentally removed during a website update and has been restored.
It’s finally here.
Almost four years after the tragic loss of his daughter forced filmmaker Zack Snyder to leave the production of “Justice League,” the contentious director’s complete vision of the 2017 DC Comics superhero team-up is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
Formally titled “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” the definitive version of Snyder’s original film has a storied history.
Snyder’s first cut was reworked by Joss Whedon, who reportedly wrote nearly 80 new pages of material and rewrote much more, including major cuts to backstories for Justice League members Cyborg and Flash.
All of this and more has been restored to “Justice League,” and the results are clear — Zack Snyder was right.
The new cut, which runs over four hours, is an ungainly, desperate miracle of a movie. It’s glacially paced, but full of heart and bursting with off-kilter ideas.
The film also brings Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker back to the forefront for another fleeting moment. Their appearance is a reminder that this is essentially a miniseries-length fan tribute to a now-abandoned Warner Bros.’ strategy for challenging Disney’s Marvel dominance with a confluent DC film series
As far as changes go, the film’s bones remain the same. The plot still follows Bruce Wayne’s (Affleck) attempts to create the Justice League, a collection of super-powered defenders of Earth, to ward off an oncoming invasion.
There’s still the piece-by-piece assembly of the team, beginning with Batman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), then moving to the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) still plays a major role as an antagonist.
But the film is vastly changed. There are hours more background to the story, most prominent in the aforementioned backstory for Miller and Fisher’s characters, as well as dozens of minor DC characters added back into the film.
The most prominent of these additions is Darkseid (Ray Porter). Originally, Darkseid did not appear in the 2017 cut. Instead, it was established that Steppenwolf was an intergalactic invader preparing the way for Darkseid’s arrival. In the Snyder cut, this dynamic is more fully fleshed out.
There’s a seemingly endless list of changes made for the Snyder cut, but the new edit and reshoots have added up to more than their sum. It’s not the re-lengthening of flashback scenes, the color palette shifts or the Martian Manhunter cameo that makes the Snyder cut worth it.
All the cosmetic fixes and additions are welcome and much-needed — the 2017 film was muddy and confusing to look at, where the Snyder cut is a delightful, grimy hodgepodge of stylistic influence noticeably distinct from Marvel fare.
But what makes Snyder’s cut better is the clear sense of direction. The film is probably too narratively simplistic to justify its runtime, yet it’s a breeze compared to the 2017 cut.
Each narrative development has room to breathe, whether it’s Barry Allen’s introduction as the Flash or Superman being dug from the grave. A formerly useless character like Cyborg is given new appeal through his Frankenstein riff of a backstory.
In telling Victor Stone’s journey to becoming Cyborg, Fincher twists the character’s pulpy comic origins with gothic influence. Organs blare over night shots of lonesome cemeteries; a despairing doctor hooks his only son up to an alien technology in his shadowy lab in a last-ditch life-saving effort.
Blend these moments with cacophonic battles over Mother boxes or time cubes or something, give Fincher whatever special effects and music licensing budget he needs, and get what the Snyder cut provides: a uniquely fresh experience.
The film’s weak performances, questionable thematic influences (get Ayn Rand out of here, man) and McGuffin-centric plot remain weak points, but it doesn’t matter. Snyder’s cranking on all cylinders, everything is happening in slow-motion, I’m pretty sure Jared Leto just did a Heath Ledger Joker impression as the Joker and wow, did four hours just go by that quickly?
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” rated R, is now available in theaters and on HBO Max.