After Zack Snyder stepped out of directing Justice League due to a personal tragedy in May 2017, Joss Whedon was hired to finish production — but not before conducting extensive reshoots that would add $25 million to the budget and constitute 15 to 20 percent of the theatrical cut of the film. This, together with the poor critical and commercial reception of the film, made fans wonder just how much of Snyder’s original vision remained in the theatrical cut of the film? And more importantly, what would it take to get that cut released? Four years, an extensive fan campaign, and an additional $70 million added to the budget later, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is finally about to be unleashed on the world.
If you didn’t spend the last four years on Vero meticulously analyzing every single post by Zack Snyder looking for clues, it can be confusing to know just what the big deal is with watching a 2017 film again, or why you should care. With the HBO Max premiere date of March 18 coming at us faster than the Flash, and the latest trailer already making waves like it was the king of Atlantis, we’re here to give you a primer on the major differences between 2017’s version of Justice League, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
It’s a Much Longer Film With a Bigger Cast
This is the difference that will make or break the “Snyder Cut.” Where the theatrical cut of the film was reportedly mandated by former Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara to be under 2 hours, Snyder’s original assembly cut was 5 hours long, and the finished product is closer to four hours — which Snyder has long held to be his “optimal version” of the film. Though the longer cut of Batman V Superman didn’t add enough material to make the film feel fundamentally different, the Snyder Cut is basically adding a whole other movie on top of the movie we saw in 2017 so there’s bound to be enough new material to feel like a completely new film, or at least a much longer one.
Is the added runtime necessary? Like most other changes we’ll list here, it depends. Most of what is being restored from Snyder’s original cut are set-ups for his planned Justice League trilogy, characters and storylines that would pay-off years down the line. The problem is that it is extremely unlikely we’ll ever get to see those pay-offs. For one, Warner Bros. has recently been moving away from the interconnected stories with the DC universe, and more importantly, it doesn’t feel like Snyder would like to go back and work with a studio he’s been fighting for the last four years. If we don’t ever get Snyder’s planned JL2, then most of these additions will end up being little more than just cool easter eggs — and that includes all the new character cameos in the film.
Together with the new runtime, Zack Snyder’s Justice League promises to bring back a whole lot of character cameos that got cut in the theatrical cut, including Kiersey Clemons‘ Iris West, Amber Heard‘s Mera and Willem Dafoe‘s Vulko — the last two of which were supposed to be introduced here before having larger roles in Aquaman. Seeing cameo introductions for characters we already know from other films, and the addition of such an important character for the Flash’s story like Iris, but (presumably) without the necessary runtime to give her character any nuance, feels unnecessary.
Then there’s Martian Manhunter. One of the seven original members of the Justice League of America and a central character in the DC Universe, Snyder planned on introducing the character in his original cut of Justice League by retconning Harry Lennix’s Secretary of Defense Calvin Swanwick (who first appeared in Man of Steel) to be the alien superhero. Though Snyder left production before he could film a scene that would show Swanwick reveal his martian form, Lennix recently confirmed he’s shot additional footage as Martian Manhunter specifically for the Snyder Cut.
Now, seeing the whole Justice League united, even if it lacks a Green Lantern, is incredibly excited for fans — and it finally fulfills the promise from all the way back in 2015 that Snyder would “Unite the Seven.” Martian Manhunter is also a very popular character that unfortunately has never made his way into a live-action movie before, so seeing him should please diehard DC fans, but those not familiar with the character? Since there are no current plans for either a solo Martian Manhunter film, another Justice League or even a Man of Steel 2, the shapeshifting superhero adds little to the experience of watching Justice League other than a glorified cameo.
A Lot More Villains Show Up
Just as we get new side characters and a new hero, the trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League has shown a bigger focus on the villains than the theatrical cut. For once, the main villain of the film, Steppenwolf, has a new design that feels redundant. The main draw, however, is that the Snyder Cut will finally introduce DC’s answer to Thanos.
Since at least 2018, Snyder has alluded to his plan to introduce Darkseid, a tyrannical New God, ruler of Apokolips, and one of the most powerful beings in the entire DC Universe. Darkseid was intended to be an evil lurking behind the scenes, controlling Steppenwolf’s assault on Earth before becoming the main villain in the sequel. With plans for a JL2 scrapped for now, we won’t see Darkseid play as big a role as once intended, but trailers indicate that he will still play a significant role. Played by Ray Porter, Darkseid will be shown during a flashback sequence that was briefly shown in the theatrical cut (except Darkseid was replaced with Steppenwolf for that scene), as well as during an alternate reality sequence titled “Knightmare.”
Even if he doesn’t play that big a role, the introduction of Darkseid is huge for fans of the DC universe and particularly Jack Kirby’s legendary and influential Fourth World comics. Plus, given how much more powerful he is than any other villain we’ve seen in the DC universe should make for an incredible fight scene. Plus, Darkseid will not be alone, as the latest trailer also teases the appearance of Darkseid’s chief torturer, Desaad (played by Peter Guinness) and the master of brainwashing, Granny Goodness. Now, given how Ava DuVernay is still scheduled to make a New Gods movie, we could see Darkseid and his followers return for that film, so it should be interesting to see if that impacted the characters’ role in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Another big change we see in the trailer is the appearance of Jared Leto’s Joker, who is seen saying the quiet part loud by proclaiming we “live in a society.” Though Joker was not a part of Snyder’s initial plan, his inclusion is a good opportunity for Snyder to give a proper send-off to this version of both Joker and Batman, now that Ben Affleck is no longer making his own Batman film. Even if it’s just a dream sequence, fans of “Batfleck” should appreciate the nod, especially since Snyder has said that he wants to tease the death of Robin at the hands of Joker in his cut of Justice League.
The Extended “Knightmare” and Flashback Sequences
During Batman V Superman, we see a weird and kind of out-of-place sequence in which Batman has a dream of an alternate reality where Superman becomes evil. For years, Snyder has hyped up the importance of this “Knightmare” sequence for his multiple-film-plan, and he’s finally paying that off in Justice League.
According to Snyder, this alternate reality is meant to show what happens if Darkseid wins, but also a reality caused by the Flash creating a rift in time. Though plans have probably changed since 2017, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the opportunity to build a bridge between Batman V Superman and the upcoming Flash solo film, which is said to introduce the idea of the multiverse to the DCEU. This is the one sequence that has the most potential for the future of the DC films, and it gives Snyder free rein to do whatever he wants without having to care about canon, since it’s all an alternate reality. Not only is Joker coming back for this sequence, but so is Deathstroke.
It wouldn’t be a Zack Snyder film without tons of action, and we know of at least two extended action sequences in the film. One is the “Knightmare” sequence, and the other is an extended flashback scene that was heavily reduced in the theatrical cut, showing the first invasion of Earth by Darkseid’s forces, and how the united forces of humans, Atlanteans, Amazons and literal Greek gods held them back. Snyder has even promised a fight between Darkseid and Ares, the god of war. If nothing else, the Snyder Cut promises to provide a more brutal (thanks to its R-rating) and visually stunning version of Justice League that kids won’t be able to see, but hardcore adult fans will go nuts for.
A New Soundtrack Accompanies the Film
This is a smaller yet still significant change. Originally, composer Junkie XL was meant to score Justice League, continuing his involvement with the franchise after helping score Batman V Superman, but got replaced by Danny Elfman for the theatrical release.
For the Snyder Cut, Junkie XL is coming back to finish the job, which will at least bring some consistency to the sound of the film.
No Super-Mustache This Time
Most of Henry Cavill’s scenes as Superman were reshot by Whedon, and his glorious Mission Impossible: Fallout mustache got digitally removed in the theatrical cut of Justice League, as most of Superman’s storyline was remolded for a big change in tone. The latest trailer not only shows different takes of some scenes featured in the theatrical cut, but it really wants you to know that this Superman is wearing the iconic black suit from the Reign of the Supermen comic storyline. In a way, this suit represents the difference between Snyder’s cut and the theatrical version of Justice League, as Snyder’s version of Superman is rumored to be a darker, more violent version of the character compared to the smiling boy scout of the theatrical cut.
At the moment, there are no Superman movies in the works, meaning this will be the last time we’ll see Cavill in the role for the foreseeable future. Even if it doesn’t amount to much, or if it feels incomplete, seeing Snyder getting to show his original vision for Superman’s story vis an exciting prospect, especially since there is no way it can be worse than the horrifying Super-mustache.
Cyborg Is the Heart of the Film
According to Cyborg actor, Ray Fisher, he reshot virtually all of his scenes for the theatrical cut, and as Snyder himself said last year, “Cyborg is the heart of the movie.” In the theatrical film, Cyborg is more of a comic-relief character together with Flash, and we get the bare bones of a character story, but Snyder’s cut of the film promises to tell the full story of the popular character. The trailer already teases a pre-transformation Victor Stone, as well as new powers and a deeper connection to the Mother Boxes — a key part of his character in the comics.
This is important because the approach taken by Snyder and the DC films would mean that we met the members of the Justice League fight together long before they got their solo films, unlike with the MCU. The original plan was for Cyborg to become the first Black DC superhero with his own solo film, which was scheduled to come out last year. Of course, that didn’t happen, and there haven’t been any public announcements about the Cyborg film, so Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the one chance for audiences to get to know Cyborg as an actual character. Unlike Martian Manhunter, Cyborg as both the screen time and the connection to the main plot to have his arc mean something to the film and to the audience (if done right).
Is It Worth It?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? The answer depends on your expectations. Do you need every film to build up to the next one? If so, Zack Snyder’s Justice League will offer very little. As a source for easter eggs and nods to the comics? There are sure to be plenty, so hardcore fans will have lots of chances to analyze every frame to look for references.
What the Snyder Cut offers is a vastly different tone from the theatrical cut, for better or worse. This is a filmmaker free of every studio mandate, with a budget to finish his pure and unrestrained vision, but with the hindsight of how the franchise has moved on in the past 4 years. Snyder knows how Justice League was received, what audiences liked and what they hated. And, most importantly, the parts that felt rushed or cut down. If nothing else, this should feel like a fuller, more complete story for the main characters.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will premiere on HBO Max on March 18.