First of all, Zach Snyder can make a good movie. There is no doubt about that. But given his family tragedies and personal situation, it’s understandable that he was not at his A game during the making of Justice League and had to depart the project.
he took a breather, dealt with the trauma his family suffered, and came back with some hindsight and a budget from Warner Brothers for the Snyder Cut of the Justice League.
With reshoots, a new edit, a brand new soundtrack – that stands out all on its own – and a much longer run time, the film is what it should have been on release in 2017. Snyder’s stylistic approach to superheros with complete character arcs, backstories, a far more coherent story, and proper freaking lighting for the costumes.
Marvel and DC have always had a different approach to storytelling and their audience. Marvel was written as escapist fantasy for teenage boys, featuring younger heroes dealing with teen angst, dating, high school, and jobs. There has always been more of an escapist fantasy feel to Marvel Comics.
DC has always been a more adult oriented comic, with deeper philosophical and storytelling tones. This is one of the reasons that DC tends to outsell Marvel 2 to 1. Collectors and readers are older, tending to be college graduates well into professional careers. But who still enjoy the characters and stories.
It makes sense that the movies would also take this very different approach in tone. While Marvel movies are fluff, dissipating heavy themes with light jokes DC is the exact opposite. Chris Evans and Captain America are the perfect face for Marvel, while Ben Affleck or Christian Bales Batman is the perfect one for DC. Fat Thor could only occur in a Marvel Universe.
One of the major differences is that, in Marvel films the heroes do not kill, while under Snyders watch, the heroes that make up the universe of Superman and Batman stand ready to slaughter without hesitation or remorse, utilizing every power at their disposal to not only ensure that the immediate threat is eliminated, but to send a very clear message to deter future threats. This was announced in the climactic moment of Man of Steel when Superman broke Zod’s neck. It was continued in Batman v. Superman where Batman uses chain guns to cut cars, and their occupants, in half.
There is a difference between the companies and their product and Snyder made that line very clear.
This is why the 2017 Justice League movie was tonally out of sorts. It was started by a director who understood the DC philosophy of comic books, and who solidified it with his vision, but finished by a director who excelled in Marvel films and their philosophy. It was a mismatch of light and dark tones, of misplaced juvenile humor with mature themes.
Given the reception of the final film in 2017, it was a small miracle that Snyder was brought back to realize his vision, to redirect the tone of the Warner/DC universe, and restart the franchise. And with such a poor showing in Wonder Woman II, Warner is probably willing to try about anything at this point.
The Snyder Cut
The changes are immediate with a brand new beginning of the film. Gone is the kids cellphone interview of Superman, a light touch, clearly shot by Whedon.
Snyder instead begins as he has with each film, at the ending of his last. But this is a paced, measured tone, a retelling of the Death of Superman in visuals that connect us to primary and secondary characters, with a soundtrack that supports and enhances the emotion, showing the impact of his death through visuals and introducing us to each character and location at the moment of his death.
The storytelling is novel-like, told in chapters, as we move from character to character through time, getting to know who they are, what they are about, and their contributions to the plot. Most important is the now 4 hour run time which gives Snyder room to breathe, to tell not just the main story, but the stories of each of these characters and why they are there.
Big changes/Big Spoilers
The villain of the movie is now Darkseid, with Steppenwolf as his lackey. While some would mistakenly think Darkseid is just a DC ripoff of Thanos, it’s actually the other way around. Darkseid is a creation of Jack Kirby, while Thanos was created by Jim Starlin, Kirby’s apprentice, two years later
Darkseid attempted to take over the Earth 5000 years ago. His plan involved merging three advanced sentient artificial intelligences called ‘motherboxes,’ together, which have enough combined power to terraform the planet in Darkseids image.
At the start of the combat Darkseid realizes that this is the host planet to the Anti-Life equation, the thing he has been searching for. It is a mathematical formula that, if understood, would allow the person to control the minds of every sentient being not just in the galaxy, but in every galaxy throughout the multiverse.
But the host planet of the anti-life equation has defenders to protect it. This is the origin of powered meta-humans, the reason why this Earth is so different from other planets and other dimensional Earths.
Before the motherboxes can merge, Darkseid is rebuffed and nearly killed by those defenders made up of the combined forces of the Green Lantern Corps, The Greek pantheon of gods, and the three tribes of Earth – Humans, Atlanteans, and Amazons. Defeated, Darkseid fled the planet and went on to conquer other worlds and other dimensions, eventually forgetting the location of the one planet that hosted the very thing for which he was looking. the Anti-Life equation
The motherboxes, abandoned by Darkseid, went into hibernation, monitoring the Earth. Slowly the Defenders of Earth grew apart. The Atlanteans went under the ocean and cut contact with the other two tribes. The Amazons were betrayed and isolated on an Island. The Greek pantheon was slaughtered one by one by Ares over time until the events of Wonder Woman ended Ares reign of terror. Shortly after Superman’s arrival on Earth, the Green Lantern Corps had an unknown issue and the Earth was no longer patrolled. The defenders of the planet were no more. Except of one lone, powerful, Kryptonian who was enough to serve as a deterrent to an invasion.
The moment Superman died, with no Green Lantern in the sector, the gods dead, and the tribes no longer communicating, one of the motherboxes sent a signal that the Earth is ready to be conquered once again. This message is picked up by Steppenwolf, a New God and lackey to Darkseid. Because of an attempt to overthrow Darkseid and take the throne at one point, he now serves his penance by conquering worlds until his debt is paid and his allegiance proven.
While the motherboxes are the initial reason why Steppenwolf arrives on the planet, he discovers that this is the forgotten planet that hosts the anti-life equation that Darkseid failed to conquer. He ponders keeping it for himself, but ultimately passes the information to Darkseid who immediately states he will come to the planet personally, once Steppenwolf has merged the mother boxes and terraformed Earth.
The heroes of the film are the only one’s standing in Darkseids way – Batman, a human, Aquaman, an Atlantean-human hybrid, Wonder Woman, an Amazonian who, after killing Ares became the Greek God of War, Flash, a meta-human who taps directly into the speed force and can move so fast he can travel through time, and Cyborg – a teenager who was merged with motherbox technology by his father to save his life after an accident. In the background is the Martian Manhunter who, like Superman, is the lone survivor of his planet Mars and as US Defense Secretary Calvin Swanwick is a three film and 8 year long Easter Egg.
Batman at first tries to bring the individuals together as a team due to a suspected threat, but he is rejected. It is only after two of the boxes are taken, and a clear danger has presented itself, that the team begins to form. The first box stolen from the Amazons , leading to Wonder Woman joining Batman. The second is stolen from Atlantis, leading to Aquaman reluctantly joining the team. The two remaining members join for their own reasons. Victor Stone has possession of the third remaining mother box that was used to transform him and needs to protect it. Barry Allen as Flash is the only member of the group who does not have a direct connection to a mother box that we know of (how he got his connection to the speedforce is not revealed). He is a lonely and isolated kid whose father was falsely convicted of the murder of his wife and mother to Barry and is coming to terms with his powers. His willingness to join the team comes primarily from a need for human contact with people who will understand him.
Steppenwolf, in his search for the third motherbox, kidnaps a group of people who had contact with it in an attempt to get information on its location. The kidnappess includes Cyborg’s father The team of Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Cyborg stage a successful rescue attempt and battle Steppenwolf to a standstill, with Steppenwolf escaping and the group rescued by Aquaman.
While discussing strategy it becomes apparent that the only way to win is by reviving superman using the third motherbox. This is suggested by Cyborg whose powers include the ability to interface, speak with and understand any technology. His knowledge of the motherbox, and his ability to speak with the kryptonian ship and computer, make this a potential plan. It is balanced by the realization that activating the mother box will reveal its location to Steppenwolf who will then be able to complete the merge and terraform the planet, killing them all.
As they are preparing to revive superman, the kryptonian ship reveals glimpses of the future to Cyborg, including Superman turned to Darkseids will after the death of Lois Lane and a glimpse of the Justice League headquarters with a dead green lantern in the rubble. Despite this Superman is revived.
Superman is confused by his resurection, which leads to a battle with the heroes and almost ends in Batmans death before Lois Lane intervenes. Superman and Lois fly off, while the third box is captured by Steppenwolf, but only after Cyborgs father tampers with the motherbox to make it easy to locate.
The team prepare a battle plan, which involves getting Cyborg to the merging cubes and then Flash running fast enough to collect energy to transfer to Cyborg to allow him to access the motherboxes to reverse the process. The group confronts Steppenwolf, with Superman joining the battle halfway through. As they fight, a boom tube opens revealing Darkseid and his invasion force standing ready for the merge and terraforming. The team fails, the motherboxes merge, and everyone except for Flash are vaporized.
The Flash, seeing the energy burst, immediately steps into the speedforce where time stands still. Flash begins running faster than time to reverse the events. He unwinds the explosion and it’s results, arriving at Cyborg just prior to the merger and transfers enough energy for Cyborg to separate the motherboxes. Cyborg, with Supermans help, reverses the merger, then defeats Steppenwolf by throwing him through the Boomtube, head separated from body, to land at Darkseids feet.
The film ends with an Epilogue. In it we see the future, the same one Batman has seen in his dreams. Darkseid has come back and won. Lois Lane was murdered, Superman converted to Darkseids plan. A new team led by Batman is joined by the Joker who has some secret to defeat Darkseid. Just as they are about to move off to a hideout, Superman lands and ignites his heat vision. And Batman wakes up. A final conversation with the Martian Manhunter ends the film.
Fans have had a rough time with Zach Snyder, who has had a rough time with Warner Studios. Warner has a vision for how movies are made, Zach has a vision for how he wants to make movies, and fans have a vision for the movies they want to see made. It seems that everyone was on board with Man of Steel until the end when a massive cacophony of sound and visuals lit up the screen as titans fought and destroyed a city, murdering thousands, and ended with a character with one clear trait for 80 years, no killing, killing his enemy.
It was the climax of the film that set people on edge. Did Snyder understand the beloved character? Did he go over the top in an attempt to recreate Superman in Christopher Nolans image? But people forget that it was Snyder who brought The Watchman to the big screen in all it’s big, blue penised glory. This was not a director to hold back. If there was a giant blue man on screen, we were going to have his two-story dick in our faces.
His vision for the DC universe and it’s heroes was continued into Batman V. Superman. This was a film that was referred to as a muddled mess, but which might have suffered the same issues as Justice League – too short of a run time for the director to realize his visions. There are certainly brilliant moments in the film, including the best Batman fight sequence ever filmed in Batman’s cinema history.
On now viewing the Snyder Cut of Justice League, I would like to see an extended cut of Batman V. Superman as well. Snyder has set an interesting precedent that may well be possible in this new age of film making. With streaming services and home theaters, no longer does a film have to be a tight 2 hours. If you give talent like his, and others as well, room to move and breathe, to develop characters properly and to integrate them in the story naturally and not in a forced or concocted way, film as a story telling medium can only benefit.
Was Justice League great? Yes, but because a very talented director was given the room to move and create without boundaries. There is payoff in the film with explanations now given, backstory that was so desperately needed to engage the audience, sequences that went to the cutting room floor that put so much in perspective, and performances that were enhanced.
I cannot rave enough about Ray Fisher who, now, with screen time and backstory, became a 3-dimensional character with depth. The actor brought him to life with subtle choices that complete a story arc. His moments separating the cube are both emotional and tonally perfect.
Ezra Miller went from someone who appeared to be channeling Justin Long to a hyper teenager suffering profound loss who wants to fit in. And the joy he expresses at being part of the team, in particular his first steps into the Batcave, is cleverly delivered in non-verbal choices.
This is, without a doubt, a restart for the DC franchise. I just hope that Warner pays attention and, going forward, allows directors with a coherent vision to bring their stories to the big screen their way.
And by coherent I mean well written. How the hell did Wonder Woman 1984 get by anyone who can read?
But that’s a film for another day.