Spoiler alert for both Zack Snyder’s Justice League as well as any future films that may, however unlikely, get developed as Snyder has talked candidly about what his future plans were going to be.
After years of petitions, charities, toxicity and debating, director Zack Snyder got to finally release his vision for Justice League on HBO Max. The director left the production of the original movie back in 2017 after the loss of his daughter and clashes with the studio over the direction of the movie. Batman v Superman wasn’t the hit Warner Bros was looking for and they saught a lighter and leaner movie than the philosophical and sometimes misguided superhero epic Zack Snyder envisioned. When Joss Whedon came in, he reshot a good chunk of the movie and edited out major plot points, including a lot of Cyborg’s backstory, that resulted in a Frankenstein cut that wasn’t as fondly remembered.
A Vision Restored
Now, Zack Snyder has a four-hour cut of Justice League available to stream on HBO Max and honestly, it’s a significant improvement over the theatrical cut. The story makes a lot more sense, the tone is consistent and the lengthy runtime allows everyone to shine-particularly Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. Read more of what we think about Zack Snyder’s Justice League in our official review. However, the movie does set up quite a bit. Whether it be Darkseid’s threat of using “the old ways” to find the Anti-Life Equation, to the Knightmare sequence with Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker that was filmed specially for the release of this version during the COVID-19 pandemic. It sets up a future for this story, one that Warner Bros continues to decree as non-canon as they stick to their guns in endorsing the theatrical cut. But why do this?
[Credit: Warner Bros./HBO Max]
Not only an Improvement.
The 2017 version of Justice League, sometimes referred to as the “Josstice League” version, currently sits at a 40% critic score and a 71% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. While it’s still early days, the Snyder Cut has only been out for a few days now, that version sits at a 73% and a 96% respectively. So both critics and audiences think it’s a much better version of the movie. It’s worth pointing out that Metacritic has Zack Snyder’s Justice League at a 54 and the Whedon cut at a 45, but the audience ratings are a 6.2 and a 9.0 in favour of the Snyder Cut. Regardless though, the consensus among most critics and fans is that this is the definitive version and that the theatrical cut is essentially irrelevant now. And they have a point. “The Snyder Cut”, for all it’s worth, represents the final cut for the director; to be allowed to complete one’s vision artistically without the studio saying, no you can’t do this, this is too long, our focus groups say this, etc. By releasing the movie on HBO Max, Snyder got to release a four-hour superhero epic, something he’d never have been able to do with a theatrical cut. But Zack Snyder’s Justice League, as we’ve now seen it, was only meant to be the introductory chapter of a would-be trilogy.
[Credit: Warner Bros./HBO Max]
Since 2017, Warner Bros has shifted away from a shared cinematic universe, à la MCU, in favour of standalone and “lighter in tone” cinematic offerings like Shazam! and Aquaman. And that’s a fine move, nothing wrong with it at all. But for his faults as a filmmaker, Zack Snyder’s Justice League may just be his best film to date. He seems to understand the criticism launched against him over the years and has made a much more cohesive story. Not only that, he’s built the foundations for what’s to follow. He’s mapped out that Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is pregnant with Clark Kent/Superman’s (Henry Cavill’s) child, who will go on to become the new Batman after Ben’s Batfleck sacrifices himself by the end of the franchise in order to save the timeline and ensure the safety of Lois, thus preventing Superman’s turn to the dark side (get it?).
[Credit: Warner Bros./HBO Max]
Likewise, Zack Snyder’s Justice League teases that Darkseid, the big bad of the entire franchise (akin to Thanos in the Marvel films), would emerge victorious for the second film and that Superman would indeed join him after Batman fails to save Lois, bringing the Knightmare vision of the future come to light, which would compromise the entirety of the second movie’s runtime. This film closes with Bruce coming face to face with The Martian Manhunter, who tells him that the League has to find the Anti-Life Equation in order to stop Darkseid’s plans.
[Credit: Warner Bros./HBO Max]
An Unlikely Future
I’d understand if much of this was filmed all those years ago, but Warner Bros allowed Zack Snyder to film the closing Knightmare sequence with the Joker and Batman and the Manhunter conversation simply to allow Snyder to fulfill his vision, resulting in a cliffhanger that may never get resolved if the studio has their way. In an interview with The New York Times, Zack Snyder stated that this was his last DC movie and that not having a scene with Joker and Batman felt weird and so he got to realize that vision as well. That’s all well and dandy, but if that vision sets up a future that begs to be realized, then Warner Bros should have put their foot down and said that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is to be compromised of footage you’ve already shot, nothing new. By not editing out Darkseid’s threat and by filming an entirely new sequence to close out the film, suddenly the floodgates are open. Fans and even casuals such as myself who didn’t care for the DCEU much (or for the Joker scene for that matter), want to see more of this regardless due to the potential that this movie sets up.
[Credit: Warner Bros./HBO Max]And why not? Superhero films vary in quality, from fun popcorn entertainment to bold, thought-provoking films to peak genericness. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is certainly the longest superhero film to date but it makes great strides to tackle character and mythology in its four-hour runtime and is a significant improvement over its predecessors. I think this sets it apart and, even as an advocate of the theatrical movie experience, I do think a sequel to this movie should find a home at HBO Max again. There, Zack Snyder can have final cut yet again and produce a film that’s as long as he thinks it needs to be.
However, it seems like such a future will never come to pass. On March 22nd, Ann Sarnoff, CEO and Chairwoman of Warner Bros, basically cut down any hopes for a sequel to this film. Stating that the future of DC looks bright thanks to plenty of content coming over the next few years across multiple media formats, including film, television and video games, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ upcoming Superman reboot (which basically confirms a multiverse, by the way). In an interview with Variety, Sarnoff stated:
“We’re always going to listen to our fans, but we are in service of the broadest fanbase and we owe them an integrated, holistic strategy. We are the shepherds of the franchise and hopefully when the fans see what we’ve got in store they’ll know that DC is in good hands across many different platforms with many different creators. We want different voices in the mix. For certain fans that want singular voices, they may be disappointed, but we would ask them to be patient and see what we’ve got in store because perhaps the newer voices in the mix will have just as compelling stories to tell. On balance, you of course want to listen to your fans, but we do want to stay true to our vision and our mission for DC and build that out.”
“I appreciate that they [the fans] love Zack’s work and we are very thankful for his many contributions to DC. We’re just so happy that he could bring his cut of the “Justice League” to life because that wasn’t in the plan until about a year ago. With that comes the completion of his trilogy. We’re very happy we’ve done this, but we’re very excited about the plans we have for all the multi-dimensional DC characters that are being developed right now.”
I’m not sure why Warner Bros wants to die on this hill. The demand is there, at least to see what this version is like, as the surge of viewers on HBO Max sent the service crashing around the world and the critical and audience ratings decree that this is the version that should stand the test of time. It seems that WB is adamant about their future road map and that’s the course they want to take, which is fine, but also bear in mind that a) the multiverse exists and b) everything that happens in a theoretical Justice League 2 and 3 can be undone thanks to time travel, akin to the finale of the 2021 version. If Zack Snyder no longer ever wants to work with Warner Bros due to bad blood, that’s fine. That’s his decision and that’s totally understandable. But if the studio can get over themselves, makeup with Snyder and grant him all the things he wants to deliver a sequel that is either in a separate timeline (seriously, no one cares about continuity when the story is good, just look at Joker, a film set in a different timeline than the DCEU) then I think Zack Snyder should do everything he can do to finish his vision completely; and that’s coming from someone who did not care about the Snyderverse before.