Yes, you read that title correctly. After sitting through both the Joss Whedon version of Justice League and the Zack Snyder version of Justice League, I truly do believe that Whedon’s film is better than Snyder’s. The Whedon Cut is in fact better than the Snyder Cut, and I’m not saying that to be a contrarian. And yes, I am prepared to back up my claim. I am also prepared to be castrated for my comments.
Now let’s get this out of the gate right now; are either versions of Justice League bad? Honestly, no. Both movies might not be great, but they’re certainly watchable and don’t have too many major offenses. Matt was fairly spot-on in his review of Justice League both in 2017 and in 2021. However, the devil is in the details and it all comes down to personal preference. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses entirely unique to each other.
I spent an absurd amount of time recalling and recounting the production of the 2017 version of the film, Snyder’s tendencies as a director, as well as the overall quality of the original film. To sum up that Deep Analysis in a few short sentences, Justice League was a confused film that, on the surface, was severely impacted by Snyder’s departure. However, it was also clear that Warner Bros. was deeply unsatisfied with the fallout from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and tried very hard to keep Snyder on track and restrained. The film that released in 2017 was exactly the way WB wanted, which led to fan ire. The 2021 version was the way that Snyder wanted it, symbolically sticking it to WB that after all these years Snyder was right.
You know… provided the movie turned out better than the original.
While critics were lukewarm on the 2017 version of the film, some universal problems cropped up in nearly any review you read about the film:
- The CGI felt like it was ironing over incomplete shots and scenes.
- The character work felt incredibly rushed without much time to develop the team.
- Unnecessary fan-service was implemented that didn’t serve the story in any way.
If Snyder was to deliver the perfect version of his film, or even just a better version of the original, it’s safe to say that Snyder would need to address all three of these problems. And to his credit, Snyder did address some of the original film’s problems. Some he just outright ignored. And then there are the new problems he created.
Let’s start with the improvements and work our way down. The character work in the Snyder Cut has improved leaps and bounds, giving most of the cast a lot more time to breathe and interact with one another. The ones who benefitted most from this are undeniably Steppenwolf and Cyborg, who actually feel like fleshed-out characters versus generic mouthpieces. Steppenwolf is a fearsome general who is also desperate to get back into Darkseid’s good graces after leading a rebellion against him, which is the polar opposite to his mother-obsessed brute from the original version. Here Steppenwolf has clear motivations and actually can be imposing on numerous occasions, especially in his extended fight with the Amazons.
Cyborg has also become the beating heart of the film, with Snyder showcasing the tragedy that Victor Stone has gone through not just with the accident that turned him into Cyborg, but his strained relationship with his father. You really do feel for the guy, which is way more than I can say about the original version. He actually has a complete arc by the end of the film, being more confident in who he is and reconciling his conflicting feelings with his father. Then again, it sounds like Whedon wasn’t exactly the kindest to Ray Fischer behind the scenes, so there may be a reason for that.
In that regard, the film really does work. Most of the other characters remained untouched for the most part. Wonder Woman is still underutilized, the Flash serves as comic relief, though an interaction between him and Batman in the original version where Batman told him to save people was cut in this version — which is a shame as it was a pretty neat moment. Understandable given the extra footage we get of Barry, but still. The rest are all basically the same, but more time is given to Aquaman that actually helps to flesh out some points in his solo film. I could have totally seen how Justice League would have benefitted Aquaman if those moments still remained.
So that’s one mark in the Snyder Cut’s favor, but when it comes to not relying on CGI as much, that’s where Snyder Cut fails. Granted, the film doesn’t use CGI as a crutch to complete clearly unfinished scenes like in the original, but instead its use is just excessive for the sake of being excessive. Most of the villains are just CGI abominations that never feel like they’re a part of our world. Steppenwolf may have benefitted from extra character work, but his design is messy and unfocused, making him less interesting visually. The color that was present in the original release feels entirely gone, instead replaced with Snyder’s now trademark muted color palette. I can’t say I’m hardly surprised he wants to release a black and white version of the movie as that lack of color feels completely up his alley.
And then you have the problems that are entirely unique to the Snyder Cut. For as much as audiences may have complained about the two-hour version of the original movie, the alternative presented by the Snyder Cut is not the way to fix it. No movie, I don’t care how good, should be four hours long. I complained about it with The Irishman and I’ll complain about it here. It’s excessive no matter how you look at it.
And yes, I understand that this may be hypocritical coming from a man who unashamedly loves the Ultimate Cut of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, but here’s the thing. Yes, that movie is three and a half hours long, but it’s not good because it’s long. It’s good despite its length. There are plenty of moments that could have been cut from the movie, but it wouldn’t have detracted from the overall quality of the film. What does the Snyder Cut of Justice League honestly benefit from being four hours long?
Well, you may say that the characters benefit from it, giving them more time to shine and interact with one another. And you would be partially correct. Yes, the characters do benefit from having more time to breathe and give us insight into who they are as people, but it takes us two entire hours to have nearly half the team go on their first mission. There is so no real interaction between them for half of the movie. What took the Whedon Cut 45 minutes to do took Snyder two hours. Combine that with the excessive slow-motion that I DARE you to make a drinking game out of, and you have a film that, like Matt originally said, is in desperate need of an editor.
It’s funny because once we get the introductions out of the way, the movie feels almost decently paced (almost). Sure, there are still a handful of extraneous scenes here or there, but the progression from the team partially uniting to them taking on Steppenwolf doesn’t feel like as much of a slog. It’s still padded like nobody’s business, but at least it doesn’t move at the pace of a glacier. You can throw a lot of shade at Whedon’s version of the story, but it was able to briskly tell a fun, albeit barebones, superhero epic in about as long as it took Batman to unite SOME, not even all, of the heroes here.
And then we have the pointless fan-service that both movies fell prey to. In Whedon’s version, it mostly served as meaningless fluff. Having Cyborg say “booyah,” while corny, is fairly inoffensive in the grand scheme of things. It’s a little nod to his Teen Titans origins and nothing else. The same thing goes for the Green Lantern aside in the first third of the film. But here, Snyder goes all-in on dropping as much fan-service as possible. At first, it feels like him saying that these were ideas that he wanted to experiment with in a hypothetical Justice League sequel, but it comes across here as a child saying that he wants to play with his toys but his mean daddy Warner Bros. won’t let him anymore.
Why else would Snyder spend the money he did to shoot an entirely new Knightmare sequence and bring back Jared Leto’s Joker for reshoots? None of it matters anymore. This chapter of the DCEU has officially closed and we’re all the better for it. But Snyder won’t stop reminding you that he had a vision and now no one gets to see it anymore. None of the new Knightmare sequences matter at the end of the day and they only serve to pad out a movie with meaningless nonsense. I know that it’s expected now for nearly all superhero movies to set-up some kind of future content, but when the films you’re setting up will never be made, you look like less of an auteur and more of a wannabe Ozymandias.
Joss Whedon, for as much flack as he has received, and rightfully so over the years, at least understood how to structure his movies. I’ve made comparisons before about how The Avengers was what Justice League tried to be, and failed. Both had basic plots that assembled a motley crew of heroes to defeat a big villain, but the devil was in the details. Snyder’s Justice League, ironically enough, feels like it takes a lot of its cues from Whedon’s Age of Ultron. It also will interrupt the pace of its own movie setting up plot threads to be picked up in other films and spends a lot of its time neglecting its own central conflict. People retroactively look at Age of Ultron as being one of the weaker MCU films because it distinctly lacks an identity. It spends more time worrying about maintaining its universe than delivering us a story that’s actually worth seeing, which is exactly what Snyder’s Justice League does.
The difference here is that Snyder’s Justice League, ultimately, doesn’t matter. As much as fans may cry out for more Snyder content (and Snyder has spoken about what future films could have been), there will be no more Snyder-verse. Given the fact that the Snyder Cut actually exists when a year ago I would have told you the exact opposite, that statement could change. We could get more Snyder content and see all of those seeds eventually grow into something worthwhile. Is that likely? Probably not, since WB has made bank with the more solo-focused output they’ve had since the Snyder Cut’s release. To have WB upend its cinematic universe yet again because ONE movie did moderately well would be one of the dumbest business decisions I would have ever seen.
We’ll never see Ben Affleck team up with the Martian Manhunter since Robert Pattinson is now Batman. We’ll never see Cyborg again since Ray Fischer has publically fallen out with just about everyone at Warner Bros. Those Knightmare sequences seem extra pointless since nearly everything about them no longer gels with what DC has planned at the moment for the cinematic universe. The whole endeavor just feels like Snyder having the final word on what he wanted to do, and woe is us for overlooking such a talented visionary.
I’m happy Snyder got to make his dream film. I truly am, especially knowing what he went through the first time he made the film. If this is the film he wanted to make, I’m glad he got to make it exactly as he wanted it. But that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass. It’s a movie and if it has problems, I’m going to point them out. It doesn’t matter the history of the production. I call a spade a spade.
The Snyder Cut is flawed. Very flawed. It’s not bad in the slightest and I would rather watch this than Batman v. Superman any day of the week, but to look at the excess and think of it only is a positive light isn’t accurate. It’s too long and while character beats are more well defined and the rapport between our heroes is better, most of the elements are inferior to WB and Whedon’s version. Call me crazy, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe WB knew what was best for their own franchise.