On November 17, 2017, comic book fans sat anxiously in movie theaters across the globe, waiting to watch what was promised to be the grand display of comic’s greatest team of superheroes, the Justice League. After the polarizing response to the 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, critics and audiences remained skeptical yet hopeful about what would unfold before their eyes on the big screen, but what occurred could not be understood nor expected. The 2017 Theatrical cut of Justice League became a box office bomb; both audiences and critics ruthlessly tearing the film to shreds online. The unconventional story, unsatisfying aesthetic, and clear diversion from director Zack Snyder’s signature style left many to wonder: what happened to Justice League?
Warner Bros. announced in early 2017 that director Zack Snyder had stepped away from the film during post-production to be with his family after the tragic loss of his daughter, Autumn. Warner Bros. also publicized that The Avengers director, Joss Whedon, would be stepping in to finish post-production of the film and honor the integrity of Zack Snyder’s vision. But upon the release of Justice League in 2017, fans became immediately aware that this was not the case. Audiences began to tweet the now mythical #ReleasetheSnyderCut on Twitter in hopes of the release of Zack Snyder’s true vision of the film.
After many years of Warner Bros. denying any existence of a #SnyderCut (although actively disputed by Zack Snyder himself), stories of Joss Whedon and producer Geoff John’s extensive re-writes and reshoots of the film began to surface. These claims eventually led to stars Gal Gadot and Ray Fisher coming forward with accusations of unprofessionalism and abuse at the hands of Whedon as detailed in an expose by Variety.
In early 2020, Warner Bros. and HBO announced that the #SnyderCut of Justice League, officially titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League, would be released on HBO Max in early 2021 with a hefty 70 million dollar budget for finishing visual effects and brief additional photography. On March 18, 2021, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was released into the world. But was it worth all those years of trouble?
After the death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the world is in mourning and ruin. To honor a promise made on Superman’s grave to protect the earth from forces of evil and to bring hope back to the world, Batman and Wonder Woman set out to recruit Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman to bring together a New Age of Heroes. As a result of the death of Superman, the menacing Steppenwolf from the planet Apokolips returns to earth after thousands of years to collect the three ancient, powerful change machines known as Mother Boxes for the menacing force of his master Darkseid. The now formed Justice League sets out to stop Steppenwolf from gathering the Mother Boxes and destroying earth. Is this newfound team strong enough, or does their lack of unity, as well as the strength and presence of Superman, ensure their failure?
If you have seen the theatrical cut of Justice League, you may have noticed that the skeleton outline of the plot sounds very similar. While this is true, one of the biggest assets of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (as well in some moments its most glaring weakness) is its bolstering 4-hour runtime, two times the length of the theatrical cut. So, while these two cuts of the film may sound similar on paper, the cinematic experience reveals them to be two different films entirely that could not be more different.
The film’s 4-hour runtime, while intimidating at first, is an incredible spectacle to behold. These four hours allow for substantial character development and comfortable pacing, allowing the film to breathe and not feel as though it is suffocating its audience. The film’s extended runtime most justly serves Ezra Miller’s The Flash and Fisher’s Cyborg, as both characters find themselves amid conflict with their fathers and both attempt to come to terms with their newfound abilities and responsibility to protect the world.
Snyder connects these two characters both in a narrative way, having them form a bond over their similar circumstances and brilliantly connecting them thematically, bringing them through entire character arcs independently and having them both be the ones to save the day at the end of the film. After the negative reaction to both of these characters in the 2017 theatrical cut, the redemptive message of the Snyder Cut exists not only within a world that fought to see it but within the characters that make up what a truly special film that it is.
Fans of Snyder’s other filmography will be thrilled at the return of the director’s signature filmmaking style. Indeed, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a feast of what has made Zack Snyder a polarizing yet one of the most talked-about directors of the modern era. For one to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League is to behold the spectacle that is 4-hours of “Snyderisms.” From extensive slow-motion set pieces, classic needle drops to characterization and action on screen, visual and narrative references to religious and philosophical storytelling, as well as signature dramatic, wide, gorgeous shots of cinematography that look more as though they could be paintings from the renaissance than a picture captured through a film lens, which is only further enhanced by the films 4:3 aspect ratio. While those who have not been a fan of Zack Snyder’s previous work will likely continue to dislike this film, for those who are a massive fan of all that makes a Zack Snyder film a Zack Snyder film, such as myself, it is a four hour delight to behold.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not a perfect film by any stretch. While scenes of impoverished villagers worshipping Aquaman may feel unnecessary and drawn out, or aspects of the film’s narrative may fall into a melodramatic aura by taking itself more seriously than it is, isn’t this the point? Zack Snyder’s Justice League exists to answer the now mythical and historical movement of #ReleasetheSnyderCut and provide the world with Zack Snyder’s completely uncompromised vision. While Warner Bros. may have thought that the world was not ready for this film in 2017, in 2021 the boldness and honesty of this film have been its greatest reward. Having received acclaim from both fans and critics alike, many are asking to #RestoretheSnyderVerse, which has become the most tweeted Hollywood-related hashtag of all time, surpassing #ReleasetheSnyderCut.
In a world of vast overexposure within the genre, the future of comic book filmmaking is ingenuity, boldness, and originality. Zack Snyder’s Justice League has struck a chord with moviegoing audiences, who are demanding more comic book films with respect to the source material and individual, unique and artistic excellence within filmmaking. Perhaps audiences are no longer looking to be merely entertained, but to be captivated, challenged, and respected. In terms of Warner Bros.’s plan to move forward with DC films, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has served as a return rather than a pivot, and a dedication to a filmmaker’s vision to tell a story that connects with audiences on an intimate level, rather than just sell another ticket. Zack Snyder’s Justice League, both within the concept of the narrative of the film, as well as the movement that has surrounded it, is a story of beauty and redemption‒both for the Justice League and for Snyder himself; as a filmmaker, artist, and father. So, against all of the odds that this film has worked to overcome to merely exist, I ask to #RestoretheSnyderVerse, both for Autumn and for the lives touched and inspired by her father’s work.