A Dose of Justice (League)

When word first began circulating of the fabled “Snydercut” of the 2017 Justice League film, I was intrigued. I participated in the #releasethesnydercut hype. However, it was difficult to believe, even if such a thing existed, it would ever see life on screen. For reference, Snyder stepped down from directorial duties following a family tragedy, coupled with what seems to have been a massive amount of studio interference with the vision he had in mind for not only the film, but the then-universe of the DCEU as a whole. The door seemed to be closed.

The 2017 version of the film that fans got to see in theaters was a botched, patchwork disaster of film-making that couldn’t settle on a tone or consistent vision and made a mockery of the characters. I’d prefer not to mention the additional director/writer who was brought on board to “fix” the movie after Snyder departed, but many fans have dubbed the theatrical cut the “Josstice League” version, so… take from that what you will. Since then, the DCEU has stepped away from the darker, desaturated world Snyder first presented in 2013’s criminally underrated Man of Steel, aiming to get the struggling cinematic universe off the ground via solo, self-contained outings – an effort which has, thanks to films like 2017’s Wonder Woman (NOT WW84) 2018’s Aquaman, and 2019’s Shazam! and Joker, has seen some degree of success, though whether any real connected “universe” remains has been left somewhat ambiguous.

In 2020, when it was announced that, after literal years, Zack Snyder would get to present his “Snydercut” of Justice League on HBOMax, it was almost unbelievable. Immediately, like Superman’s death knell, speculation rippled across the internet. Naysayers assumed it would just be a longer, more dour version of the monster brought to theaters in 2017, while steadfast fans prepared to see the vision they were deprived of years ago. And, as a fan of Snyder, I was personally hyped – but also apprehensive.

Ezra Miller as The Flash, Henry Cavill as Superman, Ray Fisher as Cyborg, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Ben Affleck as Batman, and Jason Momoa as Aquaman.

I’ve been a long-time admirer of Snyder’s work – it is rare, these days, to see an artist or creator who is so earnestly passionate about his work, and whose style is utterly distinct that it is immediately noticeable when a work is theirs. Plus, Snyder just seems like an overall great guy. The man is capable of bringing epics to the screen – I forever stand by the statement that 2009’s Watchmen is one of the greatest comic book adaptations of all time. His works aren’t perfect, of course. Even I can admit that the theatrical version of 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, while it was a visual spectacle, is not a great movie. The Ultimate Edition does rectify that somewhat, but after the film’s poor critical performance, it is not hard to understand why WB felt the need to interfere with the production Justice League… but, clearly the way they went about it was absolutely ridiculous and misguided, and the “Josstice League” cut is a testament to that monumentally erroneous approach, not to mention the rumors of misconduct during production.

My dad and I sat down to watch the Snydercut on release day, March 18th… and from the get go, we were stunned by how different it was. How more in tune it felt with the previous movies, how, even though some scenes were similar to the theatrical version, the way they were presented gave them new, more powerful significance. Batman is given the redemption he deserves. Cyborg had an arc that gave him actual character development, one of the best parts of the movie, and his father is given more to do that bears actual weight in the story. Steppenwolf was a fleshed out, solid villain with coherent motivations – and who I actually FELT BAD FOR at one point, as he was getting the verbal smackdown from DeSaad, who was CUT FROM THE THEATRICAL VERSION along with the great and terrible Darkseid. Action scenes were grittier, more impressive, and on a grander scale – especially the Amazons battling Steppenwolf on Themyscira. Flash was no longer reduced to a rambling, silly joke-spewer, and features in what is possible one of the best scenes ever realized in a superhero movie – if you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it, but it is incredible. THE BLACK SUIT. That stupid Russian family sublot is gone. Aquaman has more to do, and his character is in line with his solo film. All of the restorations – from the cut characters, the slaughtered action sequences, the altered dialogue – show that the original vision was a four-hour epic of storytelling. It is almost CRIMINAL to see what was left on the cutting room floor, which would have never seen the light of day had Zack not been able to complete the cut – I mean, the four hour cut would have never made it to theaters anyway, but many of the changes are still mind-boggling. This version is dark, for sure – and it earns that ‘R’ rating with the violence – but it’s unique, it has some decent comedic moments, it does (no pun intended) justice to every character, and boasts a cohesive plot and pacing that makes four hours feel nothing like an uphill slog. The dialogue is a little clunky at times, but the positives FAR outweigh the negatives. And, in what is possibly the best thing to come from the original film being brought to the world… Henry Cavill’s CGI face is nowhere to be seen. I still have nightmares about that face.

The Snydercut makes the theatrical version look like a joke. And a bad one, at that. Like… to be frank… I hope WB is embarrassed to see the positive reception Snyder is getting as opposed to the Frankenstein they slapped onscreen in 2017. It’s been trending for days. Celebrities are tweeting about it. I mean, I would be embarrassed to have that much egg on my face.

The theatrical version tried to keep pace with Marvel – which, even in 2017, pre-End Game, was impossible. The DCEU was never going to be the MCU, and they should have never tried. And now, having seen the Snydercut – which, in contrast to the theatrical cut, is getting pretty damn good reviews, despite fairly consistent criticism of the runtime – it makes me so, so sad that we will, most likely, never see what could have been had Snyder remained onboard for the sequels. #Restorethesnyderverse is a movement I can get behind, but the logistics of it are absurdly complicated. Such a feat seems impossible now – not only because WB is doubling down on their decision to move on from that chapter, but Affleck has stepped away from the Batman role, Ray Fisher is embroiled in controversy with the studio and is unlikely to return as Cyborg, and I don’t think anyone would blame Snyder for not wanting to go back down that route after the way he was treated. I wish better things for him, honestly. And, in a side note… seeing “For Autumn” at the end of the film made me tear up. The film is a monument to Zack’s love for his family, not only his passion for filmmaking.

The Snyderverse may never be restored in full the way it was originally intended, but the release of the Snydercut is a landmark in the world of film, and a dose of justice for not only a much-beleaguered director, but for all who were involved in the original project and had their work tossed aside. The actors who had their scenes altered, or cut entirely. Tom Holkenborg, whose score finally got to be used after he was replaced last minute by Danny Elfman back in 2017 (not Elfman’s fault, mind you). And the fans, who rang the first bell to #releasethesnydercut, and finally get to watch the movie they yearned for years ago.

Maybe the world wasn’t ready for Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2017. Maybe we didn’t deserve it. But 2021 is a different time, a turned page, and finally, we got to join Snyder in the sun. I hope he is able to bask in his success, to relish in vindication, and know that so many fans will continue to stand by him no matter what he does next.

If you haven’t streamed Zack Snyder’s Justice League yet… do it. You won’t regret it.

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