When I saw Justice League in theaters back in 2017, I liked it fine. It feels like an eternity has passed since then for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that the past year has felt like a decade. The first week or so after seeing the original Justice League cut, I thought about it quite a bit and realized I probably gave it too much credit. This actually happens to me a lot; I get really excited about a movie, and when I finally see it, I can’t see it clearly. I did the same with Captain Marvel and especially Incredibles 2, which was probably my most anticipated movie of all time. That’s sad (and embarrassing) to think about now. In short, the original Justice League was like eating pure cane sugar. It was such a rush that I thought it was pretty good at the time, but I was left with a headache when the high wore off. The story didn’t make a lot of sense, the graphics were terrible, and the characters were poorly defined. I didn’t care for Man of Steel, but I liked Batman v. Superman quite a bit, much to my surprise. As such, when they announced that the mythical Snyder Cut was actually being produced, I didn’t know what to expect. I was at least glad Zack Snyder was given a second chance to complete his film, and pretty sure it would have to be better than the original, almost by default. Let’s dive in.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League again follows Batman’s quest to unite the individuals who will be the Justice League. Steppenwolf has descended from Apokolips to claim Motherboxes, living machines, for a tyrant named Darkseid. With Superman gone, it’s left to Batman and his band of metahumans to save the world. The only catch is, he’ll have to get them to stop fighting each other first.
Going into this new version of the film, one of my main questions was how different it would be from the theatrical cut. I was almost certain it would be better, but would it really be a justifiably different version for re-release? I actually find this question more complicated than I was expecting. The overall story is the same, and some of the scenes are the same, or, at least, very similar. However, Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman feel like totally different characters here. Aquaman is actually treated seriously, and even his scenes that were in the theatrical release have a different mood to them here. Cyborg and Flash were glorified sidekicks in the original cut, and at times I wondered why they were included at all. I don’t love the Flash here, but at least he makes sense as a character now. Meanwhile, Cyborg is at the heart of the Snyder Cut’s story. Of all the changes made to create the theatrical cut, the removal of Cyborg’s story is the most baffling. Aside from Batman, Cyborg is the film’s other lead character, and quite possibly has the most interesting story. His backstory is tragic, he endures another tragedy during the main story, and I found his arc the most interesting. His choice to join Batman seems more heroic than Barry, who says he wants friends, and Arthur, who is just being a butt head. That being said, I like this more serious take on Aquaman a lot more than his unfunny attempts at comedy in the original.
In fact, a lot of the cringe humor from the original Justice League is removed here. However, a lot of the new and remaining comedy doesn’t work for me, either. Unlike the Marvel movies, the DCEU was never really funny to me. I don’t even remember laughing during movies I otherwise enjoyed, like Batman v. Superman and Wonder Woman. In both versions of Justice League, Barry’s lack of social grace is an ongoing joke that never struck me as funny. I guess at times, he reminds me of when I was younger and socially awkward. But even then, it being played as an unfunny joke doesn’t do much to garner sympathy for him. I like his storyline with his father well enough, but it has nothing on Cyborg’s problems with his dad. This version of the film also includes some characters that didn’t appear in the original, but I’ll leave those surprises for you to discover.
Junkie XL’s score for Zack Snyder’s Justice League is vastly preferable to the one Danny Elfman provided for the theatrical edition. I’m an Elfman fan, and blame that less on him and more on the way that film as a whole was designed to please everyone. Of course, the irony is that it wasn’t a crowd-pleaser for the most part anyway. The inclusion of Superman and Batman’s iconic theme music from past films sounds good on paper because people are nostalgic, and we all love those movies. But it was awkward given how different these newer movies are from the classics, and it ended up more distracting than anything. The new (or old?) score is much better suited to the film in which it actually appears. The movie also looks better now. The whole desaturated, sepia-toned look isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but the original cut looked like a toddler went crazy with crayons. There’s a happy medium out there somewhere, but given the choice, I’d take this. It also goes without saying that the visual effects look much better here. I’m sure we all remember how embarrassing some of the CGI was in the original.
Overall, I think Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a vast improvement over the cobbled-together theatrical version. The story is the same for the most part, but the character motivations are fleshed out and make more sense. Steppenwolf is an improvement both in appearance and stage presence, and Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg are treated like actual characters in this version. My one problem with Snyder’s vision is, sadly, a pretty big one: I rarely felt any connection with the characters.