A Look at What Justice League Could Have Been
In 2017, we finally got a live action version of the Justice League. Instead of introducing most of the characters in their own movies prior to the team production as was done with The Avengers, half the characters barely made cameos prior to the movie. This means the movie had to do a good enough job building them up in an ensemble cast. While most of the characters are generally known from the cartoons, the movie versions can vary some. To complicate matters, part way through production, director Zack Snyder was replaced by Joss Whedon. Yes, the same Joss Whedon who directed The Avengers. The same Joss Whedon who decided to just kill off Quicksilver before the character got a chance. (No, I’m not bitter.) The movie went in a bit of a different direction from that point. Until now, we didn’t know how much of a different direction. For a couple years now, Zack Snyder had been trying to get his own director edit of the film released as he wanted it to be. This past Thursday we finally got a view of it on HBO MAX and I really wish this had been the released version. The movie does have one thing is its favor in that while the original had a normal theatrical length of 2 hours, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is 4 hours long allowing for twice the content and chances to build things up. I do have to say that it was a 4 hours well spent. It’s also presented in a 4:3 letter box format instead of the standard wider theatrical release and broken down into “Parts”. Before I get into the details of the movie, I will give you my standard warning…
The new movie is different right from the start. The movie picks up after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the death of Superman. The 2017 begins with a recording someone took on their phone of Superman talking about hope. The new instead picks up with Superman’s death and leads right into the first of the mother boxes opening. Before anything more happens with the device, we jump to Bruce Wayne approaching Arthur Curry to join his new team, a scene that occurs similarly if a bit later in the original movie. (We, thankfully, still get the gratuitous shirtless shots of Jason Momoa going into the water after the talk.) The original movie, at this point, has introduced a parademon from the planet Apokolips into Gotham, a scene not used in the newer version. Both movies bring in Wonder Woman at this point in a scene where she rescues some hostages, but the new cut shows a little more, ending with the building wall blown out and one of the people she’s fighting (a normal human) obliterated by here attack with only his hat left. The original movie gives us our first looks at Barry Allen and Victor Stone, something Zack Snyder’s movie delays. I actually like the fact that the rest of the team is starting to get introduced earlier in Whedon’s version. Both move on to Themyscira where the mother box has been activated.This scene is one of them where the Snyder version wins out on having a lot more time to work with. Steppenwolf appears on the island through a boom tube with a horde of parademons and fights the Amazons for the mother box. The new version stretches out the battle from about 4 minutes to around 9 minutes, given time for a lot more action and giving time to build up the Amazon fighting style. One other big different as well is Steppenwolf himself. In the comics, Steppenwolf is pretty much human looking. In Whedon’s version, he’s a touch more alien but still not far off from the look in the comics. Snyder’s version, while humanoid, is not something that would be taken for human as what was a helmet in the first movie has become the actual shape of his head with armor covering it. I’m guessing it was done to give him a look more to match Darkseid’s as being part of Apokolips. After the battle, Hippolyta sends a warning to Diana of what’s going on. In Whedon’s version, she somehow just knows exactly that is going on because of the arrow where Snyder’s version leads her to learn about it in the basement of a building. (Still a bit odd the information just happened to be there.) Both show an incredible battle with the Amazons, Atlanteans, mankind, gods, and even a Green Lantern fighting against Apokolips. In the original movie, they fought Steppenwolf making him the true bad guy and conqueror while the new version makes Darkseid the big bad and Steppenwolf is actually just checking in with Desaad about how things are moving along throughout the movie to prove himself to Darkseid. It is around this time that the new cut builds on Barry and Victor just before Bruce and Diana go to recruit them in both versions. One important part of this is that we learn more about what Cyborg can do than in the first movie. Steppenwolf then retrieves the Atlantean box just at the 4 heroes start tracking him down.
While much of the league’s first encounter with Steppenwolf is similar between the 2 movies, I noticed a big change in how Barry acts this early on. In the original movie, I felt that Barry acted more like Impulse than Flash. (If you don’t know who Impulse is, take a look here.) The new version has him acting smarter, braver, and more mature throughout the movie. I’m honestly not sure what direction they will be taking with Barry in his own movie (not due out until late in 2022), but I really hope it’s closer to how he is in the Snyder version.
Before moving on to the “revive Superman” part of the movie, Snyder has a scene which at first doesn’t seem like much. Martha visits Lois to encourage her to get back on with her life. It isn’t until Martha leaves that we find out that this was actually the Martian Manhunter who has also been pretending to be General Calvin Swanwick in previous movies. So, now we move on to the revival of Superman which is the same except for a last second vision that Cyborg has of the future and an evil Superman destroying the world. After the mother box manages to bring Clark back to live, shirtless and hairy chested Superman beats the team without trying even with Batman’s new gauntlets in the Snyder cut which can absorb energy, but apparently not as much as Superman puts out. This seemed an odd addition to the move and just takes the place of Superman bitch-slapping Batman instead. Lois comes and saves the day as you would expect though and they fly off. That still leaves the 3rd mother box to account for. In Whedon’s version, it is just sucked up in a boom tube like some vacuum cleaner sucking up dirt. Snyder makes it more interesting with Cyborg’s father recovering it and sacrificing himself to turn it into something that the heroes would be able to track down after Steppenwolf recovers it from him. Snyder also makes a good choice in not including the awkward and painful scene when Aquaman sits on Wonder Woman’s lasso. Also missing is the whole sub-story of the family that Flash ended up saving which made no real difference to the movie. The more serious theme of Snyder’s version over all makes for a better story.
Finally, we move on to the big battle. As the League starts out after Steppenwolf, Snyder has Superman go get his suit. This is not the standard red and blue one that he wore in Whedon’s cut but a black one more reminiscent of Superman’s black outfit after returning from the dead in the comics. The darker color also fits the overall darker color theme of Snyder’s movie. Superman’s arrival at the battle in the new cut is a lot better. Instead of just floating down with some cheesy speech about truth and justice that Steppenwolf just stands there and listens to before getting punched into a wall, he swoops in and saves Cyborg from Steppenwolf’s axe before smashing it. In the original movie, it’s Wonder Woman who destroys his axe and he’s suddenly scared causing the parademons to swarm on him and kill him. This was a pretty stupid way to beat him. Instead, Snyder has Darkseid open a boom tube (with Desaad and Granny Goodness beside him), intent on going to Earth but instead, Aquaman skewers Steppenwolf, Superman punches him at the boom tube, and Wonder Woman beheads him as he’s getting tossed back to Apokolips. This is definitely much more dramatic. And as for the mother box unity? Well, the original version just has Superman and Cyborg pulling it apart. Snyder is much more dramatic in that Flash was supposed to help charge Cyborg up to pull it apart but gets injured and doesn’t make it and the unity goes off destroying everything. Flash runs fast enough to go back in time and reach Cyborg in time to stop the mother boxes from merging. This builds on the level of Barry’s power better (both time travel and speed healing) and his maturity as he pushes through the injury and also makes it all a bit more dramatic.
Then we get to all the end of the movie stuff. Gone is the silly Flash vs Superman race. There are no mid-credits scenes so the scene between Deathstroke and Lex Luthor is moved to an “EPILOGUE” chapter, Also in here is a dream Bruce has about what happens after Darkseid comes to Earth to conquer it the old school way to get the Anti-Life Equation that is located there. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are dead and other characters are backing Batman up (along with Jared Leto as a much better Joker than he was in Suicide Squad). We find that Superman’s mind was taken over by Darkseid which is why he was shown as evil earlier. As Bruce wakes from the dream, the Martian Manhunter shows up and introduces himself and expresses a desire to help too. (I read that Zack wanted to use Green Lantern/John Stewart instead, but he wasn’t allowed to so he went with the Martian Manhunter.)
I’ve read that all of this at the end was a lead-up for the sequels that Zack Snyder had planned but may never come. I’m not sure what I think of the planned path for the sequels, but I’m definitely glad we got this version of the first movie finally. There’s a lot in there as the 4 hours allowed a number of scenes to be added or extended. Removing some goofy stuff both gave more time and enhanced the theme of the movie and made it more cohesive. The characterization was so much better this time around and there were a lot of storyline choices that made this better overall. I can’t wait until this eventually comes out on DVD. I will definitely be picking it up.