Joss Whedon vs Zack Snyder: Whose Justice League Was Better

So it’s been a while since my last review. Trust me, that wasn’t intentional. There’ve been quite a few things I’ve wanted to write reviews on. Like the current seasons of 90 Day FiancĂ© and Married at First Sight, shows that have undoubtedly become obsessions for me since the pandemic. We could talk about how The Little Things kept me on the edge of my seat the entire movie and then just crushed my soul at the end. My review for Wonder Woman 1984 is currently still sitting in drafts. I’ve procrastinated so long it’s not even available on HBOmax anymore…

Anyway this review is about another DC film. Zack Snyder’s long-awaited Justice League. Popularly known on social media as the Snyder Cut. After years of Warner Bros trying to convince use it didn’t exist or that it wasn’t good and years of YouTubers, bloggers, DC lovers, and Snyder stans across the globe campaigning for the release of the Snyder Cut, we finally got it!

I spent 10 hours of movie watching this weekend (because Zack Snyder’s Justice League is 4 freaking hours long, and I watched it, then I watched the theatrical cut to compare, and then I watched the Snyder Cut again…not all in one sitting), and to sum up my feelings…

FUCK YOU, WARNER BROS!

FUCK YOU, JOSS WHEDON!

ZACK SNYDER IS THE REAL MVP!

TEAM CYBORG ALL DAY!

WONDER WOMAN IS A BADASS WARRIOR GODDESS!

TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK!

If you can’t already tell, I absolutely loved this version of Justice League. This was the Justice League I wanted from the beginning. This was the Justice League I expected to see when I walked into that theater the day after Thanksgiving with three of my cousins nearly 4 years ago.

I still remember that empty feeling I had after the final credits rolled and the end credit scene faded to black. Some lingering questions were…

  • Where was Darkseid? All we got was a name drop? No set up for Part 2…is there still a Part 2?
  • Why was black-suit Superman cut out?
  • So we’re not even going to address Batman’s weird dream sequence in Batman v Superman?
  • What the hell happened to all those scenes I saw in the teaser trailers?
  • Where is the movie I paid for?

And when we got back in the car to return to Grandma’s house to give a review to the rest of the family, we all collectively agreed…

THIS MOVIE IS TRASH!

Shortly after the movie’s release, all the controversies started to come out, from extensive reshoots to a digitally removed mustache, and disappointed Justice League fans everywhere started demanding for the Snyder Cut. For me, I don’t know if I truly believed at the time that the Snyder Cut was better, I just wanted to see what the movie was initially supposed to be, before Zack Snyder stepped away, before the studio execs stepped in and brought in Joss Whedon to finish change the movie.

Fast forward 4 years, and here we are, y’all! Snyder’s original vision for Justice League! It exists! It’s real! And it’s available to stream on HBOmax.

How does it compare against the theatrical cut? In my opinion, it’s a thousand times better (and a full 2 hours longer) and adds some much needed context and depth to a very basic and surface-level movie.

So what are some of the key differences between the 2 movies? Let’s go through some of them, shall we?

I’ll try best not to spoil the movies too much, but be warned, slight spoilers are ahead.

Justice League (2017) vs. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Technical stuff

Off the gate, the most obvious difference is the format. The theatrical cut was presented in the standard widescreen format that we’re used to, while the Snyder Cut has the more square, 4:3 format, which is more standard for IMAX (I would love to see this film in an IMAX theater…you know, if we weren’t in a pandemic) Initially, I thought the black bars on the sides of my TV would bother me, but you very quickly forget that they’re there. And despite it not filling your screen (if you have a widescreen TV), this format gives you a fuller picture, and trust me, there’s a lot to see.

Another difference is the color palette. The theatrical cut is much more saturated—in an attempt to lighten up the movie, I presume—but in the final showdown with Steppenwolf, there’s this awful red filter that really hurts my eyes and makes it physically painful to watch. In the Snyder Cut, the color is toned down and it fits more with the tone set up by the previous 2 films Man of Steel and BvS. Plus the final battle is crisper because it’s not saturated in red.

What a difference a new score makes! The music in this film was so much better. It adds a layer of suspense to the action sequences that we didn’t get in the theatrical cut. The action in the theatrical cut was tired and boring, probably because it was rated PG-13, so we don’t get all the blood and death that we get in this version (rated R). Also, the music in the theatrical cut felt very repetitive to me. It was almost as if the same song was played for every scene, and it nearly put me to sleep on the rewatch. The music was also too familiar, it sounded too much like The Avengers. I honestly feel like they were trying to make the theatrical cut like The Avengers, and I don’t understand why. Why can’t we just have a darker, grittier superhero movie? What’s wrong with that?!

Another obvious difference is the doubled run time. Yes, this movie is FOUR. HOURS. LONG. But it’s at least broken up into 6 parts and an epilogue, so it allows you to take breaks, although I didn’t take any on the first watch because I was so captivated. (But you’ll definitely want to take a break after the fight scene in Themiscyra.) All the action sequences are much longer. My favorite is Wonder Woman’s fight against the terrorists in the museum at the beginning of the film. She was kicking ass and taking names! This extended scene allows you to see Wonder Woman in all her might and glory, the change in music added more tension and suspense, and overall, it was just better. See for yourself.

The longer run time also allowed for more character development, especially with Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg, who was the most cheated in the theatrical cut. We get more of their stories, their background, set ups for their own independent films. Cyborg is essential to this film making sense; it’s basically his origin story, which is satisfying since, given the ongoing beef the actor who plays Cyborg, Ray Fisher, is currently having with Warner Bros (more on that later), I doubt we’ll ever see a solo Cyborg movie.

Some may ask, did this version really have to be 4 hours long? That’s the thing. When it comes to team up movies like Justice League (and to a lesser extent, The Avengers), where there are a lot of main characters, it’s really hard to fit all their story arcs into a movie that is only 2 hours long, especially characters who we haven’t seen on the screen yet, as was the case for Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. What you get is a very surface-level film; you don’t really understand why the characters make the decisions they do because you don’t have the time to get to know these characters and their motivations because there’s still the basic plot of the movie to get through. The Snyder Cut slows everything down and allows you to see the characters think before they make the decision to do something. Again, I go back to the Wonder Woman opening scene. After she gets rid of the bomb, you see the terrorist tease shooting the hostages, then he pauses, then he proceeds to shoot them with a bigger gun, more efficient at committing mass murder. Then Wonder Woman comes back to save the day and blows him to smithereens. I loved this version of Wonder Woman. She is more sure of herself, self-confident, she doesn’t allow her mourning (still) of Steve Trevor to get in the way of the job she has to do. Case in point, the argument between Batman and Wonder Woman about whether or not to resurrect Superman is gone!

This brings me to my next point.

Random lines and bits of dialogue that don’t make sense

My biggest issue I had with the theatrical cut were these random one liners, jokes, bits of dialogue that didn’t make sense with the scene or the tone of the film or that didn’t make sense coming out of the mouths of the characters who said them.

Here are just a few:

  • Wonder Woman calling herself a believer at the end of the museum fight. A believer of what?! What does that even mean?!
  • Flash’s random ass brunch rant.
  • Aquaman telling Mera, “I’m gonna need something from you,” which we later learn is his Atlantean armor and trident. It never made sense to me why Mera would even have that or why she so easily convinced him to follow Steppenwolf (going back to my point about seeing characters think before they acted). Apparently this line was added to close the plot hole created when they took out the scene of Vulko giving Aquaman his trident and armor, which is a better set up for the Aquaman movie!
  • A very tasteless race joke involving a fist bump between Cyborg and Flash at Superman’s grave that I didn’t catch when I watched in theaters, but I definitely caught on this recent rewatch. And I can’t help but think of Ray Fisher’s recent complaints of the toxic work environment at the Joss Whedon reshoots. This part was very triggering for me, because it singles out Cyborg as the only Black person on the team (and probably the only Black person on the set of these reshoots—for something like that to even slip through). I’ve been in situations like that, where I’m the only Black face in the room, and maybe I don’t notice it at first, or don’t care, until a white person comes up trying to be cool or impress me and says something that singles out my Blackness and makes me self-aware that I’m the only Black person there and that everyone knows it. It’s the most uncomfortable feeling ever, and while what the person said may not have necessarily been racist, it was unquestionably offensive, because you know it would have never been said had I not been there. I can’t imagine how Ray Fisher must have felt when he saw that in the script. Anyway that was my rant for the day. Ray Fisher, I see you, I understand you, I believe you.
  • LITERALLY EVERYTHING SUPERMAN SAID AT THE FINAL BATTLE! So cringe. So freaking cringe. Honestly, some of the things he said sounded more like something Mr. Perfect, Captain America, would say. So are we watching Justice League or The Avengers? Seriously, if he pulled off his face, Mission Impossible style, and revealed himself to be Steve Rogers, and I would have totally believed it, because THAT makes sense.
  • Cyborg saying his toes hurt, he doesn’t understand the physics beind how his toes hurt. Yeah, Cyborg, we don’t either!

Gone also is the very dry sex humor throughout the theatrical cut, the beginning that shows the world in chaos after the death of Superman (in the Snyder Cut, we see how the death of Superman awakens the mother boxes, which, again, is much more logical), a random thief who apparently knows more about the movie than we do, that Russian family the film kept cutting to, and Superman leaving mid-battle to go save civilians who didn’t both to evacuate despite the world around them turning into a hellscape!

The biggest difference I noticed is the overall tone and message as it relates to the importance of Superman. The theatrical cut says, “We need Superman to save the world. We are inadequate without Superman. Batman and Wonder Woman are unworthy without the leadership of Superman. He is our great white savior,” which, honestly, is kind of depressing, especially since the theatrical cut was supposed to be a lighter, more Avengers-like version than Snyder’s original vision. In contrast, the Snyder Cut presents the five members of the Justice League as a formidable team, but the addition of Superman makes them whole. “We need Superman to HELP US save the world,” which is much more hopeful—for all of y’all who say that Snyder’s DC universe is too dark. So at the final battle, it’s not just Superman beating up Steppenwolf. It’s Superman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman whipping that ass and sending him back to Darkseid (and, yes, we do see Darkseid) in two pieces with a fucking message!

Oh, did I mention that Steppenwolf is ten times scarier in this version? He’s bigger, his armor has more spikes, his voice is deeper. Compared to the theatrical cut, you have to wonder if the artwork for his CGI was even finished—they were that different. There’s this part during the battle in Themiscyra, where all the Amazons are shooting arrows at Steppenwolf, and he uses his armor to slice the arrows. It was chilling!

2021 Steppenwolf would beat the shit out of 2017 Steppenwolf, I’m talking literal self-defecation. I mean, look at the difference!

All in all, the Snyder Cut is worth the wait and worth the 4 hours. The only thing I could see possibly being cut is the last 10-15 minutes, where Batman has another damn dream. I didn’t think that was necessary, especially if it was added to make a connection with the “Knightmare” Batman has in BvS. There are scenes sprinkled throughout the movie that answer any questions we may have had regarding Batman’s dream—Cyborg himself having a vision of events to come if they fail right before they bring Superman back to life, the Kryptonian ship warning that activating the mother box to bring Superman back to life could have catastrophic consequences, Batman remembering the dream he had of Flash coming back to warn him that Lois is the key and thinking it may be a warning of something darker still to come, and then Darkseid, after Steppenwolf’s defeat, saying they will conquer the Earth the “old ways.”

Although good and a glimpse into what could have been, we didn’t need this new scene. Especially since the chances of us getting the sequels that Justice League was originally supposed to have seem unlikely. Then again, we didn’t think we would ever see this version of Justice League, so never say never.

The Martian Manhunter reveal happens midway through the film, when he poses as Martha to help get Lois out of her funk. The cameo was great. I loved it. It was enough for me. We didn’t need to see him again at the end when he introduces himself to Bruce. It was slight overkill.

We also did not need Amber Heard’s horrible British accent. Especially since we know she didn’t keep it in Aquaman.

Out of a 4-hour movie, those were the only critiques I had, which is amazing, because I usually have a lot of complaints when it comes to superhero movies (cough, cough, WW84).

So, if you haven’t seen the Snyder Cut yet, or if you are hesitant to watch it because the theatrical cut left such a bad taste in your mouth and you’re afraid you’re still gonna get the same movie, trust me, it is not the same and it is worth the 4 hours. This is the movie we were all asking for in 2017. And while we may not get the sequels, we at least got this one, and I’m happy with that!

—T

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