Note: The following discusses changes between the 2017 “Justice League” film and the 2021 director’s cut, but there aren’t any major spoilers for the new edition.
Are you ready to watch the longest, most polarizing superhero movie in recent memory?
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (streaming on HBO Max Thursday) – referred to online as the much-ballyhooed “Snyder Cut” of the 2017 DC superhero teamup adventure – is a four-hour director’s edition created to finish Snyder’s vision as well as satiate the filmmaker’s rabid fandom. The epic gives audiences more of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, rekindles the fire for those living for Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman and serves up much-needed justice for new heroes like Ray Fisher’s Cyborg and Ezra Miller’s Flash.
Not up to date on the drama behind the existing “Justice League”? Let’s tackle a bunch of burning questions you might have before booting up HBO Max.
‘Justice League’:Check out Jared Leto’s freaky Joker in the trailer for Zack Snyder’s new HBO Max cut
The Whedon Cut:Read our review of the original 2017 ‘Justice League’
Why is there a Snyder Cut in the first place?
It’s a good question since the original was pretty decent. But there’s been quite a story behind the scenes with “Justice League.” Snyder, 55, and his producer wife Deborah stepped back from post-production in early 2017 after their daughter Autumn’s death, and Joss Whedon (“Avengers”) was brought in to finish the film and shoot new scenes.
The original movie made some money ($658 million worldwide) but was roughed up in critical circles, a grassroots #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign grew over the ensuing years online, and Fisher publicly accused Whedon of “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” on-set behavior. Aside from the tumult, some toxic corners amid Snyder’s loyal following, and whether or not the world needs another “Justice League,” it is satisfying to see an artist get to complete his work that had been derailed by personal tragedy.
What’s ‘Justice League’ all about?
Both the Snyder and Whedon cuts are essentially the same movie: Batman needs to recruit a bunch of heroes to take on Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a supervillain from the hellscape world of Apokolips, when the villain brings an army to Earth to unify and harness the combined energies of three all-powerful Mother Boxes. (They’re kind of like the Infinity Stones from the Marvel movies.) Oh, and the gang also resurrects Superman, who died at the end of Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
What’s the biggest difference between the movies?
Think of them like different paths of a road trip: The Whedon Cut takes a shorter, two-hour drive to a certain destination while the Snyder Cut is the four-hour scenic route. Many of the new scenes are extended versions of what came before, and a comparison of the two showcases each filmmaker’s differing style, especially in the way they view the movie’s resident Man of Steel. Overall, Snyder’s vision features a lot of slow-motion action and offers a darker, solemn vibe, from character interactions to the music. Whedon’s movie is quite a bit sunnier – he reshot scenes to add a lighter quality – and the score, with bits of memorable themes from the Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Michael Keaton’s Batman films, lends a nostalgic bent not in Snyder’s previous DC entries.
Did they do anything about that horrible CGI villain?
Yes! Steppenwolf (performed via motion capture by Ciaran Hinds) looks about 2,318 times better than in the original film. Recent DC projects have had kind of a rough go with their computer-generated bad guys but Steppenwolf 2.0 oozes primal, troublemaking brutality. And thankfully there’s no terrible digital erasing of Cavill’s mustache this time around.
Anything else get fixed from the Whedon cut?
A lot of Cyborg’s backstory never made it into the theatrical movie, but his “Frankenstein”-esque origin tale, and the family friction caused when his scientist dad (Joe Morton) saved his life by mechanizing him, is explored in detail in Snyder’s new version.It also firmly plantsCyborg as the audience’s surrogate within this newly formed band of superheroes, with a fully formed character arc that unlocks new emotional depth by showing him coming to grips with his new heroic lot in life.
Did it really need to be four hours, though?
No film needs to be four hours because that’s just cruel, unusual and exhausting. (“The Ten Commandments” is allowed because it’s a biblical epic.) This would have been just fine at an “Avengers: Endgame”-length of three hours, though one also now realizes Whedon’s no-win situation trying to shoehorn a four-hour movie into two.
Also, why is it rated R?
Heads literally roll, many of Steppenwolf’s alien Parademons get hacked to pieces, and Batfleck drops an F-bomb.
Do we get to meet anybody new this time?
Some new personalities who missed the Whedon Cut show up. Cosmic baddie Darkseid – DC’s version of Thanos – makes his debut, as does his chief henchman Desaad. Both are CGI characters and look pretty boss, especially Darkseid. Iris West (Kiersey Clemons, who’s in the upcoming “The Flash” movie) also makes a quick first appearance as the Scarlet Speedster’s future love interest, and Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix Jr.), a fan-favorite Justice Leaguer from the comics, finally gets his cinematic introduction.
Wait, didn’t I hear Jared Leto’s Joker is in this?
You bet, and it’s a much different, almost philosophical yet still nihilistic guy as opposed to the tattooed gangster audiences saw in “Suicide Squad.” Snyder filmed a new scenefor his director’s cut that let Affleck and Leto’s arch enemies share the screen for the first time. He’s still no Heath Ledger, though.
Capsule review: So, is the Snyder Cut worth a watch?
It is an improvement on “Justice League” in the sense that there’s better character development and the world building’s more impressive – that’s the luxury of having a four-hour movie. Snyder also attempts to throw in a lot of personalities and plot points to set up future movies so it’s a bit of a mess, too. (And if you’re used to widescreen presentation, Snyder’s filming in a square-ish IMAX-ready format might drive you batty.) While both cuts have their positives and negatives, the existence of the Snyder Cut is most interesting as a fascinating study of two filmmakers’ radically different views of iconic superheroes.