ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021) is the superior DC superhero epic!

After 4 long years of believing the elusive “Snyder Cut” of 2017’s Justice League was never going to see the light of day, it has finally arrived in all its 4-hour glory! Zack Snyder has compiled the version of the film he intended to release (albeit with no runtime restrictions this time) back in 2017 – restoring all of the footage he shot to its original format, removing the extra nonsense Joss Whedon rewrote and actually crafting a superior superhero film that is the best thing in the DCEU to date.

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE

As Zack Snyder’s Justice League begins, the changes are noticed instantly. The opening scene of the 2017 Justice League is a mess in every sense of the word, from the horrid Superman face CGI to the nonsensically convenient Mother Box imagery that’s a theme throughout. The opening of this movie perfectly connects the end of Batman V Superman to this film and sets up every single element of the coming narrative in just a couple of minutes. It really does feel like the conclusion to a trilogy of films, as it should. It’s an Avengers-level culmination of events with the Amazonians, Atlanteans, gods and men putting their forces together to overcome a common evil, a detail that felt lacking in the original release.

The fact of the matter is, this feels like an entirely different film, right down to the actual narrative taking on new meaning. So much content was changed, cut and rewritten in Joss Whedon’s version that it literally ended up being a different movie. This extended runtime has given Zack the ability to properly flesh out the backstory of characters who were introduced for the first time in this film and horribly set up. Take Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman, three characters who were all introduced properly for the first time back in 2017. The Flash had a decent amount to do in the narrative, but both Aquaman and Cyborg probably had 5-10 minutes of backstory and insight into their characters between them. In this version, not only is Cyborg more fleshed out as a character, but he’s the heart of the film – one of the most important elements of the story who drives a large chunk of the emotional storytelling. His entire arc had basically been thrown on the cutting room floor in 2017, and it turns out to be one of the strongest points of the film. There is so much more content with his history, his relationship with his father and the inner struggles he’s facing through this entire movie. All of it is valuable in elevating the impact and heart of this film that was previously missing.

Even the Flash, who already had a decent presence in the film, gets more to do here. Not only does he get a nice new introductory scene, but he has a game-changing presence in the final battle that is absolutely insane! Aquaman is a character who we are more familiar with now, since the release of his solo film, but at the time this was our first introduction. Cutting Willem Dafoe’s Vulko out of this film was an absolute crime. Not only does it give more insight into Aquaman’s character, it also perfectly sets up his solo film by better establishing the Atlanteans as a part in this story. The time spent on the history of these characters really completes this film.

One severely lacking element of the 2017 release is the handling of the film’s villains… oh, did I say “villains” plural? Sorry, I meant “villain” because they cut out one villain and completely butchered the only existing one. Let’s begin with Steppenwolf who, in the 2017 release, is a thinly written, boring and cliche villain who has absolutely no drive. He’s just a bad guy who want the mother boxes to do bad things… why?… because he’s a bad guy who does bad things. It’s a stupid approach that I wouldn’t put past Joss Whedon. However, in this version, Steppenwolf is a villain with a backstory and a purpose that you can understand. He was exiled from his home planet, and in a bid to prove his worth to his master he’s gathering the mother boxes that had been lost until now. Something as simple as that gives the character more depth and makes them instantly more intriguing.

Speaking of villains, Joss Whedon’s version of the film entirely cut out the presence of another villain who made an incredible impact on this film with just a handful of very short scenes. None other than Darkseid makes a few appearances over the course of the film and every time he shows up it’s absolutely awesome! From his presence in the ‘history lesson’ scene to the way he shows up in the final moments, it’s baffling why his character was completely cut. It’s like completely cutting out the looming presence of Thanos from the more recent MCU and Avengers films. For as long as I live, I’ll never understand this disaster of a creative choice from Whedon. The film ends teasing Darkseid plotting his revenge on Earth, something we will probably never see now. This also ties directly into Batman’s knightmare visions, something I will get more into while discussing the epilogue.

I need to touch on the handling of Superman, one character whose dialogue Whedon almost completely rewrote for his entire presence here. Superman still has a similar presence – from being reborn to fighting off the Justice League, then talking with Lois and Martha and finally joining the team in the final fight – but with the infamous black suit and original dialogue now in play, he is a lot more of a badass than before. His presence in the final fight is so much more impactful as he just brutally destroys Steppenwolf with no questions asked. He’s one character who benefits from the tonal shift of this version. I’ll go into this final battle more in a bit because boy does the 2017 version suck in comparison.

There’s no question that Joss Whedon completely shifted the tone of the film to accommodate more shockingly bad humour that comes at the most untimely moments. The little jokes and quips he threw right into the middle of intense moments are tonally out of whack. Zack Snyder restores the more serious, gritty tone that was intended – fitting perfectly in line with the tones of Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. Another element that Snyder has restored to its former glory is basically all of the action. Right from Wonder Woman’s introductory action sequence, it’s clear the action here is a lot more brutal and doesn’t hold back like in Whedon’s version. In that version – she barges in, knocks two guys in slow-mo and it’s done… in this version she brutally takes out like 6 men before it’s over. Overall, it’s a little bloodier, but the main difference is just that some of the action sequences run longer. They’re deeper and show more of the ass-kicking stuff that felt lacking. For instance, when Steppenwolf attacks the Atlanteans, the scene lasts maybe 1 minute and is almost entirely void of action. Here, the scene is longer and shows him really causing destruction – it also means Mera has more to do than just being thrown to the ground and that’s it. The differences in the action really are astounding.

The sequence that benefits most from those above changes is the concluding battle. With the now darker tone and without the constant jokes, it’s able to actually feel like a final showdown between the characters. It feels like there’s a lot more at stake this time around and the overall threat is greater. Plus, without the added shit about the family trying to escape in their car, it keeps you locked into this one location. Superman is able to show up in a more kick-ass way, dealing with Steppenwolf in 10 seconds like he’s nothing, and Darkseid’s presence, as I mentioned, is absolutely awesome. The best part about this new final sequence has to do with the Flash. In this version, the Justice League lose! The mother boxes fuse together, creating the unity, and begin wiping out all existence on the planet. Then, the Flash reverses time in an epic scene, giving cyborg the charge he needs to separate the mother boxes and thwart Steppenwolf’s plans. This is just one of the moments that made the teamwork of this Justice League feel earned. The mindset of removing that is another decision that’s absolutely baffling.

The film ends with an epilogue that is all too bittersweet, showing us all of the future plans we most likely will never see (although I hope we do). The Lex Luthor scenes are still there, this time teasing a solo Deathstroke vs Batman film rather than a squad of villains, a film we almost certainly won’t see. There’s a scene confirming Ryan Zheng’s character in the film as Ryan Choi, otherwise known as the Atom. Depending on how the DCEU is presented moving forward, maybe he could make an appearance… but it’s all up in the air. The big scene here is the newly filmed knightmare sequence, giving us more of Batman’s vision of a post-apocalyptic future. It features a slightly new League, made up of Batman, Cyborg, Mera, Deathstroke, the Flash and Jared Leto’s Joker, surprisingly. After some tense discussion, evil superman drops in and is ready to go against the remaining members of the League. It’s a fantastic tease at the larger mythology going on, but one we sadly won’t get to see… most likely. The final scene features an appearance from Martian Manhunter, who we saw earlier in the film, teasing his involvement in the long-lost future of this story. As I mentioned, all of this is awesome even though we may never see it come to fruition.

In the end, it turns out Zack Snyder’s Justice League really is the superior film. Where the 2017 version was a complete let-down with a poor setup, lacklustre characters and uneven story, this version does everything right from beginning to end. I understand that if Zack Snyder had stayed on the film in 2017, we wouldn’t have gotten this exact version – but we would have gotten a condensed version sitting at somewhere under 3 hours that would have been just as good. It nails the action, story, pacing and characters in a way that displays the ultimate vision Zack had for this franchise and these characters, before it was thrown in the trash by Joss Whedon. It’s a shame that Whedon is the villain of this story, but when you leave your distinct mark on something, and it sucks, that’s on you. The film has a complete, cohesive story and is the best thing to come out of the DCEU by far. Even if you disliked the 2017 version – rather – ‘especially‘ if you disliked the 2017 version, you should check this out because it is absolutely fantastic.

9.2/10

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