Regardless of your thoughts on the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement which ultimately played a crucial role in Zack Snyder’s Justice League becoming a reality, the simple fact the filmmaker is being given the opportunity to share his original vision with the world is truly something special. When studios clash with a director, it’s often the latter that comes out on the losing end of it (don’t bank on ever seeing director’s cuts of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Suicide Squad, for example), so HBO Max giving Snyder the chance to finish his Justice League movie is in equal parts surprising and groundbreaking. Despite being a mess, there were still some things to like in 2017’s Justice League, but it wasn’t the movie it should have been, and after watching this version, you’ll never want to dig out the old one again. Snyder’s epic vision for the DC Extended Universe is given the chance to pay off in a big way in this four-hour behemoth of a comic book movie, and you can consider us fully on board with #RestoreTheSnyderVerse, because we’re going to need a sequel ASAP.
The most striking thing about Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the fact that everything that didn’t make sense three-and-a-half years ago now does. The basic structure of the two movies is roughly the same (with a lot of new content thrown in), but this cut fleshes out the motivations of every character, better explains key plot points like Superman’s resurrection and why Steppenwolf sets up base in a Chernobyl-like town, and, mercifully, gets rid of some of the worst, most cringe-worthy lines and moments which had a certain other filmmaker’s stamp on them. Comparisons aside, Snyder’s film just works, and while it’s a little too long at four hours, that mammoth runtime flies by. Breaking it down into six parts means you also have to the option to watch Justice League as a “TV series” and still walk away satisfied with the experience. Some will argue that the director is being self-indulgent by seemingly throwing in everything he shot, but given this once in a lifetime opportunity to share a cut it seemed would go no further than as a series of screenshots on Vero, no one can blame him for throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.
With so much more room to breathe, each member of the League is truly given the chance to shine. Now, we understand why Batman was so desperate to bring a team together, while Wonder Woman’s struggle to find her place in this world (while mourning the one she left behind during World War I) continues to make for fascinating viewing. Aquaman is a very different character in some ways, rougher around the edges and full of resentment towards Atlantis, and while his arc is the least interesting in some ways, his decision to join the team packs a far more powerful punch this time around. Like Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa is on top form, and if you wanted a badass Arthur Curry, this is where you’ll find it.
The two characters who undergo the biggest changes, however, are the Flash and Cyborg. It seems all but a couple of Ray Fisher’s scenes were reshot for the theatrical version of Justice League, and what a crime that was. The actor is downright phenomenal here, and a combination of his performance and Snyder’s directing mean we get a Cyborg who is clearly horrified by what he’s become and struggling to come to terms with his new status quo. Fisher effortlessly manages to get that across with the way he moves and walks, and is able to convey a huge amount of emotion through his facial expressions, a must when 90% of his body is being brought to life with visual effects. This is a star making performance from the actor, and hopefully not one that’s going to be overlooked. Ezra Miller also gets a major upgrade, going from the team’s comedy sidekick to one of the most interesting, visually exciting characters in the movie. Exploring both his loneliness (which now feels extremely relevant given what we’ve all gone through over the past year) and powers, Snyder delivers a take on the Scarlet Speedster you’ll be desperate to see more of. Comic book fans have always argued that DC’s characters are God-like, and the groundwork is laid here for that to be the case with both Victor Stone and Barry Allen.
Henry Cavill’s Superman shines in the last ninety minutes or so, and the scenes he shares with characters like Lois Lane, Martha Kent, and the rest of the League work much better here. He is a supporting player in many ways, but there are plenty of exciting hints about what might have come next for him in the “SnyderVerse.” Everyone from Joe Morton (Silas Stone) to Willem Dafoe (Vulko), Connie Nielsen (Hippolyta), and Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth) also get more to do and benefit from it, but ditching the English accent we hear Amber Heard’s Mera use might be one decision from Warner Bros. made in 2017 we can get on board with. Another big change in Zack Snyder’s Justice League is how its villains are portrayed, and Ciaran Hinds’ Steppenwolf proves to be a highlight here. Thanks to a complicated relationship with Darkseid and an actual end goal, he now has a vastly improved reason for wanting to unite the Mother Boxes. He also looks nothing short of incredible in motion, and comes across as a convincing threat from start to finish. Ray Porter’s Darkseid doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime, but he makes every second of it count, and you best believe we’d loved to see more of this iteration of the villain on screen.
New characters like Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix) and Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) are fun to spend time with - don’t go in expecting more than brief cameos - but once Batman and Joker share the screen...well, you’ll be forever grateful to Snyder for making this happen.
Ultimately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League probably isn’t going to be a movie that converts those who aren’t a fan of his work. Tonally, it works better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (it’s certainly not as dark, though that story arguably needed to be), and had the filmmaker’s grand plan be allowed to play out, the snippets of that we see here do point to an epic series of movies on the same level as something like The Lord of the Rings. For those of you who do love Snyder’s work, however, he’s on top form here, and everything is complimented perfectly thanks to a strong soundtrack and an epic, sweeping score from Junkie XL. Put all these pieces together, and you’re left with a comic book adaptation that feels like an event, and is on a scale every bit as grand as Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Seeing this group of heroes work as a team in the final battle is so, so satisfying, and that entire sequence will almost certainly leave your jaw on the floor.
The same could be said for all of this cut’s action scenes, but that’s an area where Snyder has never faltered. Those are far from the only noteworthy visuals, though, and whether it’s the Flash racing through the Speed Force (a stunning, unmissable sequence) or Cyborg mastering his newfound abilities as he helps a woman who is financially struggling, there’s a lot here which will quite simply blow you away. Trimming 30 minutes off the runtime certainly wouldn’t have hurt, while there’s no denying that this feels like the opening chapter of a much bigger story which we may now never get to see. That may or may not affect the enjoyment of some fans, but after Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984 struggled to capture the tone of a Marvel Studios movie and Birds of Prey tried and failed to replicate Deadpool’s magic, Warner Bros.’ decision to not embrace Snyder’s vision could be their biggest misstep with these DC characters. These are superheroes on an epic, mythological level, and that feels right for the DC Extended Universe.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the superhero movie event of the decade; epic and exciting, it lives up to the hype, and features a standout performance from Ray Fisher as Cyborg along with must-see teases for a sequel we can only hope becomes a reality.