The long and winding road to Zack Snyder’s Justice League has finally reached its destination. Colloquially known as “The Snyder Cut,” the fan-demanded, four-hour epic has finally debuts on HBO Max, marking the conclusion of one of Hollywood’s wildest stories. But after all that fuss, GQ can report Snyder’s vision of Justice League is . . . more or less the same? The movie’s overall beats are similar to the Joss Whedon version released in 2017. However, with two extra hours of running time, Snyder has the space and grace to play with concepts and characters previously left on the cutting room floor.
The story unfolds across seven parts — six dedicated chapters and an epilogue — and feels like the director’s final statement on the DCEU. He goes for broke, incorporating final boss Darkseid, decidedly nerdy elements like the Anti-Life Equation, and a few showstopping setpieces. Whatever Snyder had left to say about these characters, it feels like he’s definitively accomplished it here.
For those who watched the original already, don’t have time to commit to a four-hour movie, or are just looking to know what changed, what follows is a breakdown of the eight most important changes Snyder made to his version of Justice League. Here’s what you need to know. And obviously: spoilers!
The film opens with Superman’s Death Cry
Historically speaking, Snyder has a pretty excellent track record when it comes to starting films — his opening Watchmen credits are the best part of the adaptation — and he’s pulled off a similar magic trick here. As the credits roll, we see a slowed-down, diorama-esque version of Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday. The echoes of his death cry ring out and reverberate through the universe, activating the Mother Boxes (the DCEU’s version of the Infinity Stones) and letting villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) know Earth is ready for an invasion. It works as a friendly reminder of Superman’s role as the protector of the planet and sets the seeds for the importance of his revival later in the movie. It’s a quieter, more somber introduction that sets the film’s stakes without a cover-set montage of cringe-worthy newspaper headlines.
Steppenwolf is bigger, badder and has a backstory
Steppenwolf’s motivation as an antagonist in the original Justice League is exceptionally thin. We hardly know anything about him outside of the fact he’s just the film’s bad guy. He’s smug and powerful — but that’s about it.
Snyder’s version paints the character in a radically different light. Cast out of Apokolips, the evil hellscape where DC’s darkest foes dwell, Steppenwolf has been forced to destroy worlds to get back into the good graces of the Darkseid. Hinds and Snyder position Steppenwolf as almost a mid-level enforcer who is desperate to please his pissed-off boss. The added running time also allows Snyder to introduce Darkseid, who takes on a more prominent role in two regards: First, he’s swapped in as the primary attacker in the film’s ancient flashback instead of Steppenwolf. Second, after it’s discovered that the Anti-Life Equation — a power that lets Darkseid dominate the human race — lingers on Earth, he preps to invade, only to witness the League taking on and defeating Steppenwolf in the movie’s finale.
This is all nerdy stuff that DC fans will love to finally see come to life while also providing more context on why Steppenwolf is so desperate to take over Earth.
Batman and Wonder Woman’s solo journeys are extended
The overall arcs of Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), remain essentially unchanged but are given greater depth. In both versions, Diana is introduced as she thwarts a terrorist attack in London but is given a chance to interact with a small girl in the Snyder version. Additionally, Diana learns about the Mother Boxes’ function after seeing the fire in the Amazon Temple. In the Whedon version, her knowledge about the boxes comes out of nowhere, whereas here, we see her learning about them before she details it all to Bruce.
Speaking of Batman, we see a bit more of Bruce prepping his various gizmos and gadgets alongside Alfred (Jeremy Irons), which allows his sardonic British wit to provide some moments of levity to the film. Affleck’s Batman continues to be superlative, and the actor does an excellent job of making you understand why he feels compelled to bring everyone together after spending so much time trying to divide.
Aquaman and The Flash get weightier introductions: Back to the Future
One of Justice League’s many problems — in both versions — is that the movie suffers from doing the most. It’s challenging to introduce a handful of new characters and provide proper motivation for a nemesis. On some level, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Barry Allen, aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), are easy to understand; one can run fast, while the other is a god who can talk to fish.
Surprisingly, Whedon kept most of the Flash’s arc intact. However, Snyder restores two key sequences: One in which Flash saves Iris West (Keirsey Clemons) from a car crash and another at the very end during the film’s big third-act fight. The latter is, frankly, a visual stunner that’s arguably the best DCEU setpiece. It involves Barry running through time to help save the day. I’d wager the majority of the rumored $70 million reshoot budget went to finishing the visual effects on this scene — it really is a thing of beauty. Clemons’s inclusion doesn’t amount to much more than a cameo here, but I’m glad we’ll have more time with her in the upcoming Flash movie. Snyder’s Barry is also less dweeby, more sure of himself, and overall less annoying than Whedon’s take.
Most of Aquaman’s scenes are focused on setting up the tension we’d see explored to a deeper (ocean pun intended) extent in the James Wan-directed Aquaman movie. Willem Dafoe’s Vulko lays out for Arthur what’s at stake for both the surface and the ocean if Aquaman doesn’t step in and help to fight against Steppenwolf. Additionally, Arthur spends a bit more time speaking with Mera (Amber Heard) about his mother and the role she would have played. The Wan movie ended up covering similar beats, but Snyder wanted to set up those moments for further exploration whenever the eventual solo film bubbled up.
Cyborg is the film’s beating heart
Ray Fisher has a lot to be upset about. In addition to having an extremely toxic experience working with Joss Whedon on the 2017 version of Justice League, the Cyborg actor is essentially the Snyder Cut’s beating heart. Here, we are treated to the entire origin of Victor Stone: he was a star college quarterback who was killed in a car accident along with his mother on the way back from a game. Brought back to life with the Mother Box by his estranged father, played the legendary Joe Morton, Vic feels isolated and alone as a modern-day version of Frankenstein’s Monster. Cyborg’s connection with his father helps to further facilitate Cyborg as the center of the film, as the paternal relationship is something Snyder can clearly relate to in the wake of his own familial tragedy.
Much of Cyborg’s arc is about coming to terms with who he is as the man of two worlds, reflecting part of Aquaman and Superman’s arcs. Vic is of Earth and of Apokolips, the latter of which makes him the key to defeating Steppenwolf — if he can find a way to accept himself before it’s too late. It’s one of the most essential additions to the overall Justice League story, and its omission feels especially glaring when you compare the two cuts. Furthermore, Fisher’s portrayal is one of the movie’s most captivating performances, making Cyborg a profoundly sympathetic character. It’s a shame we won’t see Fisher in the DCEU moving forward.
Back in Black: The Return of the Superman
Great news: Superman is free of his awful face CGI! With all the original footage restored, Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel doesn’t look weird or awkward as he arrives to save the day at the movie’s climax. Additionally, Clark Kent has some more quiet moments of reflection alongside Lois Lane (Amy Adams) as he slowly comes back to life after being revived by the group.
The most notable addition for Supes is a nod to his all-black recovery suit. In the comics, the suit helps boost Superman’s solar-charging abilities, getting him back into the action quicker. That information isn’t addressed in the Snyder Cut; instead, the suit appears to be a purely cosmetic choice. The moment in which Clark selects the suit features a dual voiceover conversation between Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) as they remind Superman of his importance to not only Earth but the galaxy as well — and serves as a touchstone to Man of Steel, which started off the entire DCEU.
Dreams and (K)nightmares: a go-for-broke epilogue teases Snyder’s grand vision for future films
One of the more striking moments in Batman v Superman is the “Knightmare” sequence. Experienced as a dream Bruce has while waiting for the dossier of Luthor’s files to decrypt, Knightmare is a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-type reality in which Earth has turned to dust under Superman’s reign of terror.
In the Snyder Cut, we get more of an understanding of the sequence’s importance. It turns out that Knightmare is an alternate reality where Darkseid discovers the Anti-Life equation on Earth. Upon possessing it, he kills Lois and brings Superman to heel. The two then plunge Earth into a living hellscape, killing Wonder Woman and Aquaman in the process.
In one of the confirmed new additions to the Cut, audiences are treated to another Knightmare sequence that shows Batman leading a ragtag team of heroes and villains — Mera, The Flash, Cyborg, and Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) — to try and save the world. The majority of the scene involves Batman interacting with and ultimately recruiting Jared Leto’s version of the Joker to aid the cause before Superman appears. The conversation between the two confirms some of the lingering plot points from Batman v Superman, including the fact Joker killed Robin and burned down Wayne Manor in the process. The precise details of the conversation are better left experienced — I found it to be one of the most exciting additions to the movie — but despite saying so in the trailer, the Joker does not utter the meme-worthy “we live in a society” line. So sorry to disappoint.
Martian Manhunter finally makes an appearance
Bruce does have one last critical moment. Upon awakening from the dream, he interacts with Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix), who issues a warning that Darkseid is on the way, despite Steppenwolf’s defeat. Manhunter was revealed earlier in the film (after pretending to be Martha Kent) to have been General Swanwick in disguise, but the potential arrival of Darkseid forces him out of hiding and off the sidelines.
This sets up a pseudo cliffhanger that would have been explored in a second Justice League film, which would have further fleshed out the Knightmare world, involved time travel, and would have seen more of the Joker and Batman interacting. Considering we ended up getting the Snyder Cut after all this time, I’m now highly skeptical to say that sequel is entirely dead. Who knows what might happen next.