It’s finally here: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” landed on HBO Max on March 18 after a long-fought battle by fans for Warner Bros. Pictures to release the infamous director’s cut of 2017’s “Justice League.” Dubbed the “Snyder Cut,” this 242-minute film is a journey through the team up of DC’s biggest heroes, presented in a surprisingly nuanced character study format.
Snyder, the original director of the project, left before its completion due to unforeseen circumstances, prompting Joss Whedon to be brought on for postproduction, which resulted in a large reshooting of the project. It was revealed later, however, that Snyder kept his original cut of the film, which sparked a fan campaign for its official release. After years of waiting, fans got what they asked for, thanks to the platform offered by HBO Max.
While both Whedon and Snyder’s cuts are centered around the same major plot points — an alien invasion prompts Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to assemble a team of heroes following Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death — these are two entirely different films. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is an all-around improvement upon its predecessor, landing a more uniform tone alongside an intricate, detailed reimagining of its characters. Almost every character in the Snyder Cut receives unmatched agency, and likewise, almost every scene receives unattenuated focus and capacity.
The structure of the story that Snyder crafts in his “Justice League” provides liberal amounts of space for these improvements to occur. The turbulence prevalent throughout Whedon’s theatrical cut washes away in Snyder’s willingness to sacrifice commercialization for artistic value. Snyder’s boldness shapes his “Justice League” into a film that’s not only outstanding in comparison to the original, but also an outlier in the superhero genre entirely, in large part due to Snyder’s commitment to his vision and the integrity of his craft.
Because of this, the film sees characters such as Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) take on entirely new roles in the story’s main arc. Cyborg is, ironically, one of the most human characters in the film, with an incredibly passionate and effective performance from Fisher that adds depth and texture to the otherwise dull misportrayal from the 2017 original. Likewise, Miller’s Flash possesses balanced amounts of comedy and heartfeltness and is given well-deserved, but previously absent, moments of conflict and resolution.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” often opts for small moments in lieu of the bombastic, cartoonish ones that its predecessor relied so heavily on — even still, it’s action sequences are a hell of a lot more thrilling. This level of balance and confidence only comes from fully understanding the stories, characters and universe at hand, allowing this film to arrive at a place that feels lived-in, purposeful and, at times, quite powerful. Moments of intimacy, such as Superman’s return home or the quiet, unexpectedly emotional conversations with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) help tie together the sympathetic tone that overlays the galactic scope of the film’s plot.
Occasionally, however, these moments get lost in awkward soundtrack interjections or drawn out scenes that devolve into silliness rather than seriousness — yet these are few and far between, and they are supplemented by stunning cinematographic work and beautifully shot emotional sequences. The contrast between “Justice League” and the Snyder Cut is stark in this regard; where the original appears oversaturated and childish, the latter is rich in melancholic undertones and muted uniformity, expressing the mature and thoughtful approach Snyder took in postproduction.
It is, in effect, Snyder’s smallest choices that make the biggest difference here. His artistic vision is keen and precise, knowledgeable and firm, and it should undoubtedly become a standard for DC moving forward. His triumph is a testament to intuition over institution when it comes to filmmaking, and it quickly becomes apparent that directing this film should never have been a one-dimensional task — thanks to Snyder, this story shines a light at the end of the tunnel for the DC multiverse.