‘Zach Snyder’s Justice League’ Is Coming to Digital, If You’ve Got Four Hours Ahead

When DC’s Justice League hit theaters, it was quite different from what the original director Zack Snyder intended. Therefore the Snyder Cup of Justice League makes up for that, stretching the film to four hours of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League fighting the good fight. Releasing on HBO Max in 2021, it will be released on digital on July 19.

Did I mention it’s four hours long?

This extended director’s cut is a re-edited version of 2017’s Justice League, which was credited to Joss Whedon after Snyder quit halfway through production due to personal tragedy. Three years later, Snyder dusted off the original footage, shot some new stuff, and compiled it into a four-hour cut. Officially titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League, this epic version was originally exclusive to HBO’s streaming service alongside other blockbusters from Warner Bros. and DC Comics spin-offs. You can buy it on Blu-ray disc, and it’s also coming digitally.

Like the theatrical version, Snyder’s Justice League sees Batman recruit superpowered pals Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Flash to seek out their fallen superfriend Superman and thwart an alien invader. Superpowers and soul-searching ensue.

The greatest strength of this movie and all DC movies is the cast of heroes. Gal Gadotit’s the smoldering Wonder Woman, Henry CavillSquare-jawed Superman and Ben Affleck’s world-weary Batman all fit comic book costumes perfectly. By their side, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller give outstanding performances, breathing life into lesser-known characters. It’s fun to hang out with this league of heroes as they smack, pose, and bounce against each other.

The fun relationships between the heroes were a big part of Joss Whedon’s rewrites in the version of Justice League that hit theaters. However, a section of fans quickly rallied to reinstate the director’s original vision with an online campaign for #releasethesnydercut. Somewhere between a popular movement of comic book fans and a restless howl of harassment against critics and DCThe Snyder Cut controversy has become an odd nexus in the online culture wars, recently complicated by allegations that Whedon was bullied on set.

So yes, this film comes with a lot of baggage, but life is too short to get into all of that here. I’m also not going to comb through the differences between the two versions. Instead, I’ll examine whether the Snyder Cut stands on its own as a cohesive storytelling experience.

It’s not a spoiler to say that the new cut begins with a recap of a previous film, the one from 2016. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Which means you don’t just have to reminisce about the Wonder Woman and Aquaman movies that have since been released; you have to think back five years to an even older film in the series. Look, I forgive you for not remembering the specifics of what’s going on or why Lex Luthor is hanging in some sort of CGI wading pool. In fact, I’ll save you the trouble and tell you up front that Lex Luthor is no longer mentioned in the main plot of this movie, so including him in the intro is just unnecessary and confusing.

Ten seconds later, I already have that annoying feeling, all too common in today’s continuity-obsessed blockbusters, that I need to stop the movie and check Wikipedia to see if I’m missing something.

This murky prologue tells you very clearly, from the jump, who this movie is for. Do you know the details of Zack Snyder’s films intimately? Welcome aboard. Are you the remaining 99% of the movie-going audience, who kinda liked Wonder Woman movies and just want to get away with some superheroes while sitting at home with only streaming services for the company ? Go show yourself! Go watch Batman Forever, you poser!

The Snyder Cut isn’t meant to be fun. It’s full of serious people saying serious things. Granted, the theatrical cut’s stream of self-conscious banter has come perilously close to fans being ridiculed for taking such things a bit seriously, but there has to be a happy medium between Whedon’s awkwardness and Snyder’s leaden approach. When the Snyder Cut tackles humor, it plays like someone who heard a joke once but didn’t quite understand why everyone was laughing. In this version, Ezra Miller’s performance as the Flash is still an offbeat high point, but his dialogue often feels forced and weird rather than cheesy and endearing.

You can tell it’s serious stuff from the heavy textural touches, like Norse villagers singing ominous songs, or black title cards, or flashbacks and dream sequences and several voiceovers of several dead fathers. And sooo muuchhh slooo-moooo. Get in your feelings with a full minute of Lois Lane drinking coffee in slow motion in the rain while Nick Cave plays, or get your feelings back in for a full minute of Aquaman drinking whiskey in slow motion in the rain while, uh, more Nick The Cave plays.

This all adds to the bloated runtime. For my part, I am happy to spend time fighting crime with each of the caped crusaders. But the film is also bloated with countless thrift stores that any responsible editor would cut without a moment’s hesitation. We probably didn’t need Commissioner Gordon in a subplot about Batman being an alleged kidnapper who is then completely forgotten, or a recurring theme about poverty and deportation that connects to absolutely nothing (particularly incongruous when one of the heroes is literal billionaire Bruce Wayne). And we really didn’t need a scene where Alfred shows Wonder Woman how to make tea.

Zack Snyder in the early stages of making Justice League.

Warner Bros.

Yet despite its length, the Snyder Cut doesn’t feature anything significant or significantly new. For an example of how a re-edited version can deepen a story, watch Blade runner. The legendary Director’s Cut added fascinating nuance and ambiguity to the question of whether the hero was human, truly adding an extra dimension to the film even if you’ve seen it before.

But the four-hour Snyder Cut of Justice League essentially feels like the same movie as the two-hour theatrical version, just longer. At times, it feels less like a story and more like a free-roaming video game where you wander around the DC Universe interacting with non-playable characters.

And don’t even get me started on nailed mini-movies designed to set up sequels that will never come. These throw a bunch of fan-pleasing DC characters on the wall and look cool but are, frankly, incoherent nonsense.

On the plus side, a few plot strands are expanded throughout the film, with varying degrees of success. The expanded story leans heavily on Fisher’s Cyborg, which is good because he has an intriguing and conflicted relationship with his superpowers that make him the most interesting character on the team.

We also learn that the villainous Steppenwolf is an underling of a cosmic conqueror named Darkseid. In theory, this could add a fun nuance: Marvel movies have shown how villains can be developed as personalities with relatable conflicts mirroring the dilemmas faced by good guys. But in practice, that just means the over-CG gray beast guy from Justice League now reports to another CG gray beast guy who in turn reports to another CG gray beast guy .

And I’ll save you some Googling here: you can’t hear the dialogue badly, it’s just that one of these gray CG baddies is called “DeSaad” and the other is called “Darkseid”. Ridiculously similar names like this are the kind of clutter you take out of a movie, not deliberately add.

By the way, are you impressed that we got this far before we mentioned the M-word? Like it or not, Marvel is setting the bar for superhero blockbusters, and DC has been catching up for a decade. Justice League tried to do in a movie what the Avengers series has done for several years, and it’s just not the same thing. But Snyder, Warner Bros. and DC are also doing themselves a disservice by telling a story so similar to what happens in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Bickering heroes collect magical alien artifacts are basically the same as Infinity War and End of Gameand Darkseid is basically Thanos without character development. Hell, Snyder even throws in a moment that seems to pick up on the Hulk’s signature line (“I’m still mad”) from the first Avengers movie – written and directed by a certain Joss Whedon, ironically.

So, at least after all the fuss and online battles, we can finally compare Snyder’s and Whedon’s versions. And we can officially confirm that no matter how awesome it seemed to the feverish imaginations of fandom, the Snyder Cut is just as messy as the theatrical cut. Which version you prefer is entirely up to you – I’m not going to judge whether the two-hour or four-hour version is better.

But I will say this: at least one is finished early.

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