Zack Snyder's Justice League is officially coming to HBO Max in 2021, but how will the highly-anticipated release differ from the 2017 Warner Bros. version completed by Joss Whedon. Realistically, there was only so long Warner Bros. could ignore the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign, especially after the Justice League cast themselves threw their weight behind it. Zack Snyder's vision for the DC Extended Universe had always been divisive, and that can be seen clearly in the reactions to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the director definitely had a plan, and Warner Bros. invested in the long-term story Snyder was striving to tell. That all seemed to change with the DCEU's first big team-up venture, Justice League.
With Batman V Superman not performing as hoped, Warner Bros. is reported to have shifted the direction of Justice League even while Snyder was still working on the project. When filming was completed and Snyder had to step away from post-production due to a personal tragedy, Warner Bros. drafted in The Avengers director, Joss Whedon, to finish Justice League, and with extensive reshoots undertaken, Justice League sailed even further away from what Snyder originally intended. Ultimately, the finished product satisfied no one. The box office, critics, casual fans, people who loved Batman V Superman, people who hated Batman V Superman - all stood united against Justice League.
What followed was a lengthy fan campaign demanding Warner Bros. release Snyder's original cut of the movie and finally, when the calls became so loud it was harder to ignore them than to just release the damn thing, that wish was granted. Warner Bros. has confirmed that Zack Snyder's Justice League will premiere on HBO Max and has been assigned a budget of roughly $20 million to complete it. Now that the Snyder cut is on its way, what can fans expect to change?
Both before and after Whedon arrived on the scene, Warner Bros. sought to drive Justice League down from the multi-hour marathon Snyder had planned into a more palatable and brisk superhero movie. They achieved this, but at the expense of some woefully underdeveloped characters. Remember, Whedon's Avengers movie was preceded by years of solo releases, but Cyborg, Aquaman and Flash still required fully fleshed-out backstories in Justice League, and that's exactly what Snyder planned to give them. In fact, the director has described Ray Fisher's Cyborg as the beating heart of his movie. Consequently, the Snyder cut will see much more exploration into Victor Stone, including his pre-Cyborg life, his technological transformation and how he acquires knowledge of the fabled Mother Boxes. Snyder has also revealed that Victor's father died in his original Justice League, and this character-defining emotional beat should be a shoo-in for the Snyder cut.
Barry Allen can also expect to be more than just super-charged comic relief in Snyder's story. Justice League originally had Barry saving Iris West, his comic book love interest, which hints at the possibility of more insight into Flash's personal life than the 2017 theatrical release offered. Somewhat less clear is how Aquaman will be rewritten for the Snyder cut. On one hand, Justice League originally contained appearances from Amber Heard and Willem Dafoe in their Aquaman roles, which would've expanded on Arthur Curry's backstory before being recruited by Bruce Wayne. That footage may be included in Zack Snyder's Justice League, but might now be redundant after James Wan's Aquaman solo movie released to commercial and critical success.
The primary arc of banding together the League to fight Steppenwolf and uncover the secrets of the Mother Boxes will remain true, but Snyder's cut will likely shuffle around the various sub-plots. Whedon altered his predecessor's use of Parademons in Justice League, adding the siren lure and the idea that they're able to sense fear. This means Bruce Wayne will have to learn about the Mother Boxes via different means - probably Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, who reportedly had a much bigger role in Snyder's film. By the same logic, the final battle will also play out differently in the upcoming Justice League cut, particularly Steppenwolf's eventual defeat which could bring back the original ending of Wonder Woman beheading the villain. Additionally, Snyder has confirmed that the Russian family plot point in the third act didn't come from him, hinting the Snyder cut's final act will be more directly focused on the big battle.
It's expected that the side story of a the Kent family farm being repossessed came from Whedon, so that'll be axed, and in its place could be all of the Batman V Superman and wider DCEU through-lines that were ultimately dropped for the 2017 film. One of the biggest is the Knightmare sequence, in which Bruce Wayne dreams of an apocalyptic future and receives a warning from Flash. This was never explained after Warner Bros. changed the direction of the franchise, and although Snyder won't be able to express his entire DCEU vision in his upcoming cut of Justice League, there is an opportunity to address these lingering threads. Another major facet to Justice League removed following Snyder's departure was the presence of Martian Manhunter, which has since been confirmed. Fans shouldn't expect to see the character as a fully-fledged member of the team, but the identity reveal itself looks set to be included.
Essentially, less MCU and more Batman V Superman. Even before Zack Snyder left the Justice League project, Warner Bros. were pushing for a lighter film after Batman V Superman was criticized for being too dark. Hiring Whedon for the reshoots only highlighted the studio's intentions, with the filmmaker known for mixing action with his trademark humor, and the theatrical cut is littered with familiar Whedon gags. The shift is unsuccessful and leaves Justice League in an inconsistent tonal quagmire with forced funnies and sex jokes but no sense of identity, letting both the characters and the audience down.
Depressingly, Wonder Woman bore the brunt of this in 2017's Justice League. The sexual tension between Diana and Bruce is ramped up into more of a legitimate romance angle, and there are several jokes that play directly on the fact that Wonder Woman is the team's sole female, most notably with Aquaman's cringe-worthy assessment of Diana's attractiveness made while sitting on her lasso. After a very strong solo outing directed by Patty Jenkins, the Amazonian deserved better. Perhaps more understandably, Whedon's Justice League cut did lean into the tone of Wonder Woman for some Diana-centric scenes, but this is unlikely to be part of Snyder's film.
Zack Snyder's intense, stylized, mature superhero movies aren't to everyone's taste, that much is known and has been true since before the director came to helm the DCEU. But as much as that darker tone divides, Justice League was left crying out for some form of consistency, as traits of two very different directors clashed in the theatrical release. However you feel about Zack Snyder's style of filmmaking, Justice League having a clear tonal foundation will be a massive improvement.
In pursuit of that grittier ethos, reports have confirmed that Snyder's Justice League originally featured a far heavier military presence, for example during the fight between the League and Superman at Hero's Plaza. The authorities are mostly absent in Whedon's lighter take, and will no doubt be reinstated in Snyder's new 2021 version. Adding to that difference in tone, Junkie XL's unreleased Justice League score was completed while Snyder was still leading the production, and will surely get to see the light of day in its full glory now that the Snyder cut is officially coming.
Superman's story is undoubtedly the most chopped-and-changed element of Justice League, as evidenced by the infamous CGI shave he received during the reshoots. Helpfully, the presence of a hideous upper lip helps indicate exactly which Superman moments were changed... and it's pretty much everything. Aside from parting the Mother Boxes with Cyborg and returning home at the end of Justice League, everything else about Superman's arc is subject to change in Zack Snyder's Justice League, although it's difficult to pin down exactly how.
Additional shots of the League visiting Superman's grave and the STARS lab, combined with trailer footage emphasizing Clark's legacy prove that Snyder's cut put more emphasis on the reasoning behind Superman's resurrection. Rather than coming to Bruce Wayne suddenly as a Hail Mary plan to defeat Steppenwolf, it seems Superman's resurrection was part of a larger arc reaching back into Batman V Superman and perhaps tying into the rising dirt on Clark's coffin - a shot that is merely now "symbolic." Another change made while Snyder was still Justice League's director is the removal of a scene in which Lois Lane was killed. This creative choice might've been part of the general attempt to "lighten up" Justice League, but with Snyder now fully in control, could the scene be reinserted?
Snyder collaborators have also promised a more unhinged Superman right up until the final battle, which would fit with the director's generally more intense tone. While much of Henry Cavill's material was clearly reshot under Whedon, concept art from Snyder proves that certain moments were merely reinventions of previously filmed scenes, such as the battle against the Justice League and his reunion with Lois Lane. Consequently, Clark's story might not be revamped wholesale in Snyder's Justice League even if some scenes are cosmetically different.
One moment fans will definitely be looking forward to witnessing in its full context is the apparent meeting between Alfred and Superman - the trailer shot with the Jurassic Park-style shaking glass of water. This scene was missing from 2017's Justice League, indicating that Snyder's Superman is darker for longer in his telling of Justice League, and perhaps even incorporating the famous black Superman costume. However Supes' story changes in Zack Snyder's Justice League, at least the audience will be able to look at his face without recoiling in horror.
With Batman V Superman, Zack Snyder appeared to be setting up a larger DCEU villain pulling the strings from the shadows, and it was thought that Steppenwolf would merely be an emissary of the much more significant Darkseid. Several sources have confirmed that Darkseid did indeed have a role in Snyder's original Justice League, although the extent of this is not currently known. A released shot of the League facing a Boom Tube seems to suggest the arrival of Darkseid at the very end of Justice League, perhaps as a final villain after Steppenwolf's defeat, or perhaps by way of setting up a future movie.
Steppenwolf will still be the Justice League's main antagonist in the Snyder cut, but expect plenty of Darkseid setup to be added, with the director confirming scenes were shot with Ray Porter playing the iconic DC villain. Judging from the various snippets of information available on the Snyder cut, Justice League was supposed to explore Darkseid's younger years and establish him as an overarching villain of the franchise in a way that tied directly into the Knightmare plot thread. The obvious comparison to make is to Thanos of the MCU. While Loki was the actual villain of The Avengers, he was under orders from Thanos who was being readied as a bigger adversary looming in the background.
Of course, it'll be interesting to see how much of the Darkseid material makes it into Snyder's forthcoming Justice League cut, given that the character wasn't intended as a main villain until later films. Now that Snyder's full DCEU plan (probably) isn't going to happen, everything needs to be contained into his edit of Justice League rather than setting up sequels that will never come. This could mean Darkseid's presence in the Snyder cut is curtailed or, conversely, amplified to bring him to the fore much sooner.
Zack Snyder's Justice League premieres on HBO Max in 2021.
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