Updated: Jul 28, 2021
After a long wait, Warner Bros in partnership with HBO Max have recently released the director's cut of DC's Justice League (JL) film. As some of you might be aware the original director, Zack Snyder had to drop out due to personal reasons, hence why he was replaced by Joss Whedon, the Marvel alumni who ended up putting together the 2017 theatrical cut. As you can imagine, if you're well-ingrained with the DC Extended Universe or the superhero genre as a whole, it came as no real surprise that fans were not that satisfied with the final result. Ultimately divisive reviews and defensive opinions sparked an idea, a worldwide protest even.
Years later, in the wake of this movement and after much resistance a passionate fanbase gets to see the fruits of their labour. This being Snyder's unaltered vision which spans four hours and two minutes, altogether surmounting to a very different film. A lot of people have a lot of different things to say about the Snyder Cut, but like Batman I knew I didn't want to take on this great task alone. With the help of Nathan I wanted to try making a different kind of review, so enjoy where this spoiler discussion goes.
Before the Snyder Cut even came out did you have any expectations or opinions going in?
Actually, not really. Even though as you know I'm a big fan of everything superhero, Marvel and DC, I was in a similar camp to others in that the theatrical cut was just an ok movie. Nothing more, nothing less. I definitely compared it to it's predecessor Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) which sadly I thought was awful. And given JL takes place in its aftermath I thought "this is understandably a bit weird but hey it's not as bad as BvS right?" I try not to be pessimistic about everything the DC Extended Universe attempts to offer, and I'm cautiously hopeful that the next thing to come from it could be decent, even if Warner Bros make that hard sometimes. It's things like this that made it hard for me to digest that Snyder could actually deliver on such a hopeful promise to us as fans. Clearly I had a low bar going in but I feel that you're the bigger DC fan out of the two of us so I'm interested what you thought.
I may be a bigger DC fan than you but I'm trying my best to be objective these days. Truth be told, I didn't feel that Joss Whedon's version was terrible, but when I first found out about the Snyder Cut, I did have the expectation that it would be better. Whilst Whedon's take on the Avengers was exceptional, I felt that his style was slightly out of place when it came to characters that Snyder had already dealt with in previous movies (BvS, Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, which I believe he helped write the script for). As the ball started rolling and demands to #ReleasetheSnyderCut began to rise, the snippets and information that Snyder provided began to pique my interest. Even with an objective viewpoint, the Snyder Cut was an exciting prospect for me.
So after that marathon, what were your first impressions?
Honestly, I thought the Snyder Cut was brilliant. In pretty much every category, it was better than Whedon's version. With the added run time, the characters had more room to grow, especially Cyborg and the Flash. Even though the basic story elements were the same, they seemed to be different when they were treated with the level of care that Snyder had originally envisioned. After I got past the introductory phase of the movie, I barely registered that the whole experience was close to four hours. It just seemed to flow so well. If I was to be presumptuous, I would say that you also appreciated the attention to detail.
Even though yes, I admit I preferred to pace myself and not watch the entire thing in one whole session, I really appreciated what Snyder's Cut added to the original. I should have seen it coming in hindsight since a longer runtime implies that there will be more attention to detail as you noted, but I just didn't know what the extra missing context would be. It's the same film, and yet something like Cyborg's disregarded arc turns it into something completely different and meaningful. Who would've guessed that this was always going to be the case given the lack of introductory solo films for the individual characters before their ensemble debut? From this standpoint Snyder was put in a tough position, but I'm glad and grateful that he managed to get across all the information, backstory, and emotional beats that were necessary to make the film better overall.
What do you feel was the best, and conversely the worst thing going for it?
Aside from all the aforementioned benefits of a more developed story and characters, as well as the incredible visuals and Junkie XL's contribution to the score, there is one thing above all that I appreciate as a Marvel junkie - references. A Green Lantern cameo, and the addition of (side) characters like Ryan Choi as weird or derivative as it sounds from an outside perspective makes it feel more enriching to me. It shows that the people making these types of films care about the the future of the universe they're crafting, and subsequently why I should care too.
Though, it is undeniable that some of it is fan service more than serving a foreseeable purpose, such as Manhunter in the Epilogue essentially saying "I'll be here for future films when I'm needed." Some can even be mishandled as I'll definitely get into later, but I can be nit-picky and that's probably down to personal preference more than anything. This doesn't change the fact that there's certainly a lot of positive aspects to appreciate about Snyder's Cut.
If I had to narrow down those best aspects of the movie, they would definitely include the subtle changes to Steppenwolf's character. His design looks better and even the way he conducts himself as a villain (i.e. his motivation and physical dominance) is superior to the previous version of the film. Seeing Superman in his black costume was an incredibly awesome sight and of course, the inclusion of Darkseid was greatly appreciated. As I mentioned before, the expansion of the characters was a vast improvement. It drove home the idea of the Justice League facing a threat that truly deserved the input of all its members.
I couldn't agree more that it's all the little things (sometimes big in the case of Cyborg, Flash, and Steppenwolf's developed arcs) that make a monumental difference, even if things understandably change before the final theatrical cut. These different versions can lead to things like plotholes though, such as the fact that Darkseid would somehow forget where Earth and the Anti-Life Equation was. Amazing to see him included as you mentioned, but how it went down made no sense! If Steppenwolf was the one who got his ass handed to him in the battle 5000 years ago instead of Darkseid, then firstly it would have been more plausible, and secondly that would have addressed the unknown debt he needed to redeem himself for.
Additionally, I know a director's cut by definition is intended to be longer; after all Synder's extensions have built on characters and contributed needed depth to the established world. However, the man has always been terrible with pacing in my opinion, not knowing when to move from one beat to the next. A camera will pan for three minutes before the money shot, and multiple characters will stare off in the distance for unreasonable amounts of time. No doubt all these individual moments look cool, but respectfully sometimes I think he gets carried away in a cinematographer's trance.
While I love the fact that Zack Snyder was allowed the time to bring his vision to life, the movie could have been trimmed around certain edges. The story beats were all necessary but they may have had one too many scenes dedicated to them. I also thought that Darkseid was defeated too easily in his previous attempt to conquer Earth, but I understand that he was younger at the time and so was probably not at the height of his power. Finally, a critique I would add is that despite all the shortcomings of the Whedon version, Superman had better interactions with his teammates during the final act of that movie than he did in the Snyder Cut.
What is the significance of the Snyder Cut?
Well if we look at the facts, the reception for the director's cut was unanimously positive especially in comparison to Whedon's cut. Sadly it is confirmed by Warner Bros that the SnyderVerse is not happening and that they consider the theatrical version to be canon. This being said, the Snyder Cut was not supposed to happen in the first place and yet here we are talking about its existence in a world where the winds of change could be on the rise again. If anything I wish that out of the success of the Snyder Cut comes at least two things: future directors being allowed more creative freedom, as well as the DCEU gaining some sort of an overseer like Kevin Feige to manage and plot out the connected narrative of this universe. Though, at the end of the day I don't know what will happen behind the scenes because the politics of business can be confusing, messy, and sometimes toxic. Nevertheless, at this point I'm used to it and as a result always cautiously hopeful.
I agree with the idea of not getting my hopes up but people had the same sentiment regarding the existence of the Snyder Cut itself. I believe that even if we don't get a continuation into the universe that Snyder has spearheaded, the fact that his film was even able to see the light of day could shift the thinking amongst studios. Filmmakers have more grounds to demand that their true visions are realised. Not to mention the fact that studios are now more likely to take the opinions of the fans into account. In a world where studios are constantly looking for the next big hit, it's easy for them to overlook what actually makes a good movie. The Snyder Cut will hopefully be the kick in the backside the industry needs.
The 'S' does stand for hope, but in this case it refers to Zack Snyder as fans want Warner Bros to bestow him the mantle of responsibility for DC's Extended Universe. Only time will tell.