2021 (Original Cut 2017)
Directed by Zach Snyder (Joss Whedon reshot parts for the theatrical release, which were excised for this version)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, and Ray Fischer
In another universe, this should have been the biggest film of all time, rivaling and surpassing Avengers: Endgame. Then, so many things went wrong—many of them not the director’s fault. After all, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have/had more cultural recognition and credit than Ant Man…
I had initially given up on Zach Snyder’s DC films after the painful scar Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice left on my psyche, but then I heard about the sexist and racist abuse that went on during Joss Whedon’s reshoots and the cultural backlash to the original cut of the film. While I harbored plenty of resentment towards Zach Snyder’s previous work, I didn’t think he, the cast, or the crew deserved the treatment they got. Once the Snyder cut was officially released, many of my DC-comic-loving friends raved about what a step up this version of the film was. With The Batman coming March 4th, I caved, bought HBO Max, and here we are.
Superman is dead. That’s not a spoiler; it’s literally the first shot of the movie. Apparently, Darkseid of the planet Apokolips has it out for planet Earth because it’s the only planet that’s ever beaten him. He’s so rankled by the idea that he left three “Mother Boxes” behind to Google Alert him when the planet was weak enough to take over again. He sends his eager-to-please crony Steppenwolf to prepare the way with an unlimited army of flying “parademons.” Once the three Mother Boxes are united, the planet will be scorched and Darkseid will arrive, turning all sentient life into future parademon troopers.
Batman’s on the case! After helping to kill Superman out of paranoia, Bruce Wayne realizes he took out the best chance Earth has against cosmic threats. To make amends, he teams up with Wonder Woman to recruit as many “metahumans,” or super-powered individuals, as possible. That’s going to be tough, seeing as Steppenwolf has a habit of killing any metahumans he comes across in his pursuit of the Mother Boxes.
Zach Snyder was already bargianing with Warner Brothers to get his film a longer runtime when a horrible family tragedy occurred. Snyder, understandably, stepped back from the director’s chair, but left Warner Brothers with an expensive yet incomplete film.
They hired Joss Whedon who had just finished the first two Avengers films to tie off the project and get it to theaters on time. To be more than fair to Whedon, he had to make do with the schedules in place and finish shooting—a tall order in any situation. Then Whedon decided to put his artistic stamp on the film rather than stay the course. This meant additional reshoots that didn’t mesh with actors’ other projects, most notably Henry Cavill’s role in Mission Impossible: Fallout. This meant that two radically different approaches to the same concept were Frankensteined together, which gave the visual effects artists minimal time to adapt. The result was a carriage hastily cobbled together pulled by horses going in different directions. In short, the film disappointed both financially and with fans.
Then the allegations of sexism and racism came out. Ray Fischer, Cyborg’s actor, claimed his part was drastically cut despite Snyder’s script making him the heart of the film. Additionally, he claimed that there had been conversations of “skin lightening” in the color-correction process. Gal Gadot stood by Fischer, saying that her costume was altered from Wonder Woman’s model to have shorter skirts and that she was threatened with career blacklisting during post-production. Women from Whedon’s past projects, in particular Charisma Carpenter of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, spoke about similar experiences, siding with Gadot.
Hurt fans, curious about what Snyder’s original vision would’ve been, began clambering for the Snyder Cut. Warner Brothers didn’t particularly care, though, until they launched HBO Max. Knowing that they’d need a public draw to the service, Warner capitalized on the fervor and gave Snyder, once again available, a chance to complete his original vision.
Somewhere in this mess is a fantastic film worth seeing. By all accounts, Joss Whedon’s two-hour version is an unholy, flailing atrocity. Zach Snyder’s cut is a four-hour-long rambling jumble, akin to a child dumping out a box of unsorted Lego. While I believe that Snyder’s epic, Greek-god vision of Justice League needed a hefty runtime, I think that just shy of three hours (instead of over four) would’ve felt appropriate.
I also understand Snyder’s kitchen-sink approach to this cut, filming, then adding pieces of future projects and including left-field cameos of major DC characters. This was, after all, the last time Snyder was going to get to play in this universe, he wanted to show viewers everything that could have been.
But I don’t care! Call me capricious, but that’s what the extras are for. Let the project be the project without these mindless, geek-baiting detours or Easter-egg shoutouts. The average person doesn’t care about (or want) Jared Leto’s Joker appearance. In the context of the movie itself, only a vocal minority will understand or appreciate Martha Kent morphing into a Martian. The result is not admiration of what the film could be; rather, it is frustration at what the film is: overstuffed. Marvel films occasionally deserve the joke that people only watch their movies for the end-credits tease, but in this version of Justice League, there’s 45 minutes of tease for a movie that will never come!
The best that viewers can hope for is some fan cut ten years from now, a la The Hobbit Trilogy, that will keep the essential narrative and discard the rest.