Weighing in at twice as long as the theatrical cut of Justice League, the just-released director's cut of the film, Zack Snyder's Justice League, is necessarily a much different viewing experience. There are plotlines and entire characters in the movie that did not appear in the 2017 version, which was assembled by Joss Whedon following significant reshoots and a good deal of input from Warner Bros. executives after Snyder departed the project. Certain sequences have always seemed clear that they weren't Snyder's -- a sequence where The Flash falls during a battle and lands, face-first, in Wonder Woman's cleavage is virtually identical to a similar moment from the Whedon-directed Avengers: Age of Ultron -- but excepting a few tantalizing hints from the filmmaker, fans knew little of what wasn't there.
Now they do, of course, and the film has been much better received than its predecessor, with 73% of critics and 93% of audiences giving the reworked superhero blockbuster high marks. That's compared to 40% and 71%, respectively, for the theatrical cut.
So what's the big difference? There are, as one might expect from a movie with a totally different final cut and twice the length, quite a few of them. Below, we've assembled a quick and dirty guide to give you a sense for what they are. To see for yourself, both of them are available to stream with an HBO Max subscription.
The first and most obvious thing -- especially since HBO Max makes a point of noting it at the start of the film -- is that Zack Snyder's Justice League is shot in a 4:3 ratio usually reserved for IMAX. While the movie isn't yet available to watch in theaters, and may never actually be shown on a large number of IMAX screens, the aspect ratio has carried over to the HBO Max release, giving it a very different look.
The 2017 cut was screened in the standard theatrical widescreen format, and released on DVD and Blu-ray at that same aspect ratio. This represented some loss of picture -- an ironic reversal of the days of VHS, when movies would be shot in widescreen and then cut down to 4:3 to fit square televisions.prevnext
There are a few scenes in which things have been digitally recolored -- likely in the Snyder version, with the theatrical depicting what things actually looked like on set, although in some cases that could go either way.
Superman's costume, we know, was red and blue on-set, with Snyder having said previously on Vero that while he wanted to use the black costume all along, Warners wanted the traditional Superman look in the movie.
Similarly, there's a scene near the end where Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne are scouting out the disused Wayne Manor as a potential Hall of Justice. In it, Diana's wardrobe is red and black in the theatrical cut, more closely mirroring her costume, and black and gray in the Snyder Cut, more closely mirroring her partnership with Batman.
There are other examples, and it's likely they will all be enumerated and explained eventually, given how open Snyder tends to be about process when fans ask him questions on Vero.prevnext
Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) provides the score for this new version of the movie, which is more adventurous, eclectic, and dynamic than the Danny Elfman score for the theatrical cut, which played things so safe that it actually fell into using Elfman's 1989 Batman theme and John Williams's theme from Superman: The Movie in key action scenes. At times, that was effective -- certainly it helped punctuate a groan-worthy line that Superman spoke when entering the battle with Steppenwolf -- but ultimately it didn't really fit with what came before it in Batman v Superman and Man of Steel, which had established their own themes for the characters.prevnext
The film's opening is completely different; rather than opening on a shot of Superman, talking to kids and made to look like it was filmed on a shaky iPhone, it opens exactly where Batman v Superman left off, during the battle with Doomsday and in the moments following the fatal blows that Superman and Doomsday delivered to one another.
From there, a (metaphorical?) soundwave reverberates out from Superman to the wider world, alerting the Mother Boxes that the hero has died.
After that, we get the introductions for each character, which are substantively the same as in the theatrical cut, just longer and with more character development and stopping to look at pretty landscapes and the like.prevnext
There's a lot more Lois Lane in this movie, and even what's there plays differently. In this version, she meets with Martha at her apartment, not at the Daily Planet. Here, she is not working at all, having taken some bereavement time, as opposed to in the theatrical cut, where she has gone back to work but is only covering low-stakes stories that don't challenge her. There are likely fans who would strongly argue that either of these options is better or worse than the other.
But her not being at the Planet changes the conversation with Martha somewhat, with Lois's would-be mother-in-law now telling her how important it is for Lois to get back to work. After that, the pair part ways and we discover that Martha was actually Martian Manhunter in disguise -- which is going to make for a really confusing follow-up conversation back at the Smallville farm.
She loses the closing monologue (now it's SIlas Stone's), but also gains a bit of characterization that makes a lot of sense, and explains how quickly they were able to get her to the Superman memorial. In the theatrical cut, Superman is revived, he isn't himself, he flies to the memorial, and shortly thereafter, Alfred shows up with Lois, bringing her in to help calm Clark down as part of a contingency plan Batman had in place.
Here, instead, we see that Lois regularly visits the Superman memorial, and had just left it not long before everything went down. A reporter by nature and in love with Superman, she rushes back in that direction when she hears a commotion and sees a flying man hovering over the site of the Kryptonian Scout Ship.prevnext
In the movie, that is. Darkseid is in the movie. That's different, because obviously he was not in the theatrical cut, although his name was uttered by Steppenwolf.
In the History Lesson segment of the movie, it is no longer Steppenwolf who was defeated by the ancient heroes of Earth, but Darkseid himself as a much younger being. Repelled and sent scrambling away injured and without the Mother Boxes, Darkseid lost track of Earth for centuries until it fell into Steppenwolf's sights.
It also gives us more insight into what the villains' goals are -- Anti-Life is on Earth, and Darkseid wants to obtain it! -- as well as a tease of what might have come, had Snyder remained in control of the DC Films.prevnext
Iris West is similarly restored to the film, for what is essentially an extended cameo. In it, she is so distracted by exchanging amorous glances with Barry that she almost gets killed when a truck T-bones her car. Barry speeds into action to save her, with a little creepy hair-stroking and a minor hot dog theft along the way.
She didn't get to do or say much, but Kiersey Clemons did get to establish herself as the character ahead of her apperance in next year's The Flash.prevnext
Harry Lennix, whom fans have long hoped would turn out to be the Maritan Manhunter, gets to lend his voice to the character in a couple of scenes filmed for the HBO Max release, including one in which he essentially invites himself to join the team.prevnext
Where to start with the epilogue?
The scene between Deathstroke and Lex Luthor is different, from the cosmetic (Luthor's suit is blue instead of green and lacks a flower, thus dropping the homage to Superman: The Movie) to the substantive (the Knightmare sequence is full of big moments that are nowhere near the original).
The Knightmare sequence, in which Batman sees how Lois Lane's death opens Superman up to manipulation by Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation, is entirely new, having been added in reshoots. Whether it was always Snyder's intent to film this or whether it came to him during the months and years between the film's production and release is anybody's guess.
The expanded epilogue includes a shot of a dead Green Lantern who appears to be Kilowog; a brief appearance by The Joker; and a lot of exposition as to what Snyder might have done next, if this weren't the final movie he's likely to make in the DC Universe. None of those were in the theatrical cut, which went straight from the team defeating Steppenwolf to a post-credits look at Lex Luthor and Deathstroke.
Speaking of which, the theatrical cut saw the villains plotting a new League of their own -- but not so much in the Snyder Cut, which was to set up the Ben Affleck-helmed Batman movie in which Joe Manganiello's Deathstroke would be the central villain. Here, Luthor gives Deathstroke Batman's secret identity and sends him on his merry way to make the Dark Knight's life harder.
And, yes, you get an F-bomb from the Caped Crusader...but no race between Superman and The Flash.prevnext
The History Lesson
We've already touched on a lot of this, but in the theatrical cut, the segment Snyder has referred to as the History Lesson -- in which the heroes learn about Steppenwolf and the Mother Boxes -- was significantly longer and more detailed in the Snyder cut, with more clarity of action, more characters (including a look at Green Lantern Yalan Gur) and a longer fight with Steppenwolf. Because there was so much more footage, it meant the explanation by Wonder Woman could be more elaborate, providing more insight into the villains and the challenge facing the heroes.prevnext
Aside from the obvious fact that he likes to dream (yes, yes), right between the sound machine, Steppenwolf has a wildly different role in this film than he does in Justice League's theatrical cut.
Steppenwolf's sharp new costume aside, he also isn't the REAL threat anymore, supplanted by Darkseid, a threat only previously alluded to. We learn here that after a failed coup, Steppenwolf is paying off a "debt" to Darkseid that includes conquering hundreds of thousands of worlds and reporting back to DeSaad, Darkseid's #2. Steppenwolf becomes somehow so pathetic that you simultaneously root for him and realize he's an even bigger threat because he has so little to lose.
There's also the final battle, in which he clearly dies -- and at the hands of the Justice League, with Wonder Woman rendering the killing blow -- rather than being pulled into the Boom Tube and probably (?) killed by Parademons.
It's also worth noting that in the History Lesson, we don't see the heroes of Earth's past repel Steppenwolf, but instead Darkseid, changing the motivation for taking Earth.prevnext
The New Gods
The mythology of the New Gods permeates the Snyder Cut in a way it doesn't for the threatical. Darkseid's presence, along with Desaad and Granny Goodness, is one thing...but the frequent references to Anti-Life and "the great darkness" -- a reference to the best Darkseid story ever written by someone other than Jack Kirby, "The Great Darkness Saga" -- deepen the mythology of the film and the New Gods in a way that will hopefully tie into the movie that Tom King and Ava Duvernay are making.prevnext
RIP Whedon's Jokes
There's still more humor in here than some fans might expect from Snyder, but all of the very-obviously-Whedon jokes are gone completely. So, no scene where Aquaman sits on the Lasso of Truth and has a heartfelt confession and no scene where The Flash falls into Wonder Woman's breasts.prevnext
The flirtatious relationship between Batman and Wonder Woman, which mirrored Justice League: The Animated Series in that it was just enough to tantalize fans but didn't really go anywhere, is almost completely gone, replaced by a primarily professional relationship between the two -- even if there are still some moments that shippers could latch onto if they were so inclined.prevnext
The Final Fight
Superman wears a black suit, inspired by his resurrection duds from "The Reign of the Supermen!" in the comics -- and that's just the start of the changes to the final third of the movie.
There's no "lasso of truth" scene with Aquaman and no lengthy subplot with the Russian family. The music is different, with the aforementioned removal of classic themes from past franchises.
The Unity has a different design here, more like a Rubik's Cube than a ball of tinfoil, and that plays better when Cyborg and Superman have to interact with it to separate the three Mother Boxes.
Superman has a different entrance (and costume) -- with his new one-liner less corn-fed and more badass, in keeping with the tone of the Snyderverse, but still with a little humor to it as the Man of Steel takes a shot from Steppenwolf's ax and says "not impressed." There was a charm to the "truth and justice" line, but it felt out of place in the film, and coming from this Superman.prevnext
Aquaman gets a lot more backstory, especially scenes with Vulko, his Atlantean father figure. Silas Stone, meanwhile, pops up a ton more, too. Those all play into the overarching theme of fatherhood and the relationships between parents and children, which permeates all three of Snyder's DC superhero movies.
We get a lot more detail that would have set up Aquaman nicely, although some of it feels redundant now that the movie has come and gone. We also get a lot more of a sense of the relationship between Barry Allen and his father, who
"Cyborg is the heart of the movie," Snyder said at the film's panel at DC FanDome. "Cyborg is the thing in the end that holds the team together in a lot of ways."prevnext
We get a lot more of a sense for the look, feel, and function of STAR Labs -- plus an introduction to Ryan Choi!prevnext
So, there are a couple of things at play here. First off, there's the Flying Fox, which has some issues in this movie, but which ultimately is able to be brought online with a little help from Cyborg. It's the culmination of a quiet running storyline, which makes it more satisfying when we get that hero shot of everyone entering.
There's also another thing he's playing with -- gauntlets that will collect and disperse energy. These allow him to survive a blast of heat vision from Superman, whereas in the theatrical cut, it was just more or less luck and the fact that Superman never really hit him straight on.prevnext
For reasons that pass understanding, Mera (Amber Heard) has an English accent in this version of the movie.prevnext
In the theatrical cut of the movie, the argument over whether to revive Superman or not certainly involves the team (and Aquaman in particular) but is mostly between Batman and Wonder Woman, who are the characters with the most development and screen time in the theatrical cut of the movie.
It's also less emotionally-charged ("we need his leadership!") and more practical ("nobody else can stop Steppenwolf") when the desperate League decides to actually revive the Man of Steel.
And, of course, in keeping with the Reign of the Supermen storyline from the comic, when he returns, he does so wearing a black and silver verison of his costume.prevnext
Cyborg Sees the Knightmare
This is kind of big, in terms of being sure there's something to it and it isn't just Bruce's paranoia: while trying to interface with a Mother Box to prevent the Unity, Cyborg sees elements of the Knightmare reality that would happen if Darkseid took over the world and had Superman under his control.
In the Knightmare this time around, there's also a dead Kilowog -- a character who hasn't made an appearance in this franchise yet, and whose existence is not known to any of the people having these dreams, suggesting that it's a very accurate vision.prevnext
Superman vs. the League
Whether it's using his heat vision on Batman or the reason and timing of Lois's return, the battle between Superman and the Justice League is pretty different. Also, we get a fun Marvel Comics Easter egg that was missing in the previous cut, when The Flash gets knocked down and one of the names on the memorial wall is "Ben Parker."prevnext
The final monologue
At one point in the movie, we get a technical explanation fo Cyborg's predicament via a recording from his father. He left the recording for Victor to hear, but as soon as he transitions from his scientist mode to Dad mode, Victor -- furious at his father for having turned him into Cyborg and for the death of his mother, which he blames on his dad's absence at a football game on the day of the fateful car crash -- destroys the recorder in his hands.
Later, the movie's final monologue is Silas's words of compassion and love to his son, delivered via that same recorder and cassette, which Victor manages to reconstitute using his powers. Since Silas dies to help save the world in this cut of the movie, hearing his voice one more time is all the more powerful.prevnext
The fights are longer and bloodier
As a general rule, the longer runtime is spent on a little of everything. It isn't all scenic shots or all character -- most of the action sequences are longer, cooler, and bloodier in some cases. Whether it's Wonder Woman killing a terrorist by bouncing him off a wall with one throw or impaled Parademons and a decapitated Steppenwolf, there's...a lot going on.prevnext
Run, Barry, Run
The explosion and time travel at the end of the movie is unique to this version -- although there's obviously some precedent. At the end of Superman: The Movie, the Man of Steel traveled back in time in order to save Lois Lane, who had died as a result of an earthquake put in motion by Lex Luthor. The DC Universe animated movies had a whole continuity that started (in The Flashpoint Paradox) and ended (Justice League Dark: Apokolips War) with Barry changing reality by running back in time.
And of course, he did the exact same thing -- explosion that rips the flesh from our heroes and all -- in the Arrowverse crossover which introduced the Legends. In that story, Barry saved his fellow heroes as well as their supporting casts, all of whom had been killed by a massive blast set off by Vandal Savage -- by running a few minutes back in time to get a mulligan.prevnext
Cyborg in the Black Lodge
This movie is more visually creative, with more big ideas and weird stuff going on, than the theatrical cut. One of those? Cyborg comes face to face with his dead parents and a fully-human version of himself while interfacing with the Unity. Intuiting that Cyborg wants to stop the Unity, the spirit of three Apokolipitian priestesses try to fool him by saying that the Mother Boxes can give him back everything he wants. It's a creepy turn that evokes Twin Peaks.prevnext
Jonathan Kent is coming
There's a shot about midway through the movie where you see that Lois Lane has a pregnancy test near to her. At the end, Bruce tells Clark "congratulations," suggesting that Lois is pregnant, since the only thing Clark has done since returning from the dead is defeat Steppenwolf. That certainly merits congratulations, but Bruce was a big part of it, too.
This turn of events plays well with Snyder's condensed timeline -- the movie picking up right after Batman v Superman rather than an unspecified amount of time later -- since it suggests that Lois and Superman may have conceived the child recently enough for neither to know.
Now maybe that bathtub scene in Batman v Superman takes on a new significance, huh?prev