HBO Go review: Substantially abundant 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' will make you want more

Fred Hawson

Posted at Mar 16 2021 09:15 AM | Updated as of Mar 16 2021 12:10 PM

HBO Go review: Substantially abundant 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' will make you want more 1
A scene from 'Zack Snyder's Justice League.' Handout

In May 2017, Zack Snyder stepped down as director of "Justice League" in the post-production stage for personal issues brought about by the death of his daughter Autumn. When Joss Whedon (director of rival camp Marvel's "The Avengers") took over, he reshot existing scenes and shot new scenes, editing them in a way that led to a final cut that was said to have significantly deviated from the original vision Snyder had for his film (even if Snyder still retained the sole directorial credit). 

Despite the generally negative critical consensus for this film, I did enjoy the film nonetheless. It was able to fairly give each hero more or less equal screen time as badass fighters, but also gave each one some scenes with humor to break the overall seriousness of the plot about the plan for world domination by Steppenwolf by gathering three powerful motherboxes. The DC fan in me was just too happy to finally see the Justice League come together in a live-action film.

Apparently however, many other DC fans the world over were dissatisfied with Whedon's work. Ever since then, they had been petitioning that Zack Snyder release his own original version of "Justice League," the so-called Snyder cut. Warner Bros. invested additional funds for shooting new scenes, as well as fresh visual effects and musical score. It was first conceived as a four-part mini-series on HBO Max, but it was later decided to release it as a single 4-hour long epic film, with six chapters.

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The big difference can be seen from the very start with the odd squarish aspect ratio of 1.33:1. No more Superman being interviewed by kids, Batman hunting parademons or Lex Luthor's notes referring to three squares. This time in Part One ("Don't Count on It, Batman"), it begins with Superman in the throes of death, his screams of anguish activating three cubes located in Gotham City, in Atlantis and in Themyscira. This, along with a good number of restored scenes, were actually already revealed in the recent trailer that took the internet's breath away.

The introductory scenes of Aquaman (unsuccessfully being recruited by Bruce Wayne in a remote bar in Iceland) and Wonder Woman (fighting terrorists holding kids hostage in a London building) were intact, but longer with noticeable differences in the details and the lines. We see the new, improved, shinier, more menacing design of Steppenwolf with bristling metallic scales, as he attacked Themyscira to get the first motherbox in their possession. 

In Part Two ("Age of Heroes"), we see that Steppenwolf was only answering to a higher evil, called Darkseid. We get the longer version of Diana's history lecture about Darkseid's first invasion of earth and how the tribes of Earth, alien Green Lanterns and the gods of Olympus fought against him. It turned out that Steppenwolf was not even in that epic battle scene at all in the original cut. We also see Diana's exploration of the temple where the burning arrow of Artemis landed and Arthur's talk with Vulko (Willem Dafoe) about his kingship of Atlantis. 

Only in Part Three ("Beloved Mother, Beloved Son") do we fully meet the Flash and Cyborg. We first see Barry Allen as a goofy young man from Central City whose first display of powers was a dramatic time-stopping rescue of a young woman (Kiersey Clemons). Victor Stone was a university football star who was left half dead in a car accident. Guilt drove his scientist father Silas (Joe Morton) to make Victor into a powerful half-machine being. By the end of this chapter, Steppenwolf got possession of the second motherbox from Atlantis.

In Part Four ("Change Machine"), the fledgling team of heroes engage Steppenwolf in a fight for the first time, while rescuing abducted scientists, as we saw in the first film. Cyborg revealed how he was in possession of the third motherbox, and how it was capable of changing anything back to their original form, hence their idea of resurrecting a dead person. However, the biggest surprise actually happened when Martha Kent stepped out of Lois Lane's apartment. Now, you'll understand why Martha used "thirstiest" to describe Lois.

In Part Five ("All the King's Horses"), the team put into action their plan to bring Superman back to save the world. In the first version, it was Alfred who brought Lois (you only saw her feet step out of the car) in to calm the confused Clark down. However, in this new cut, Lois was actually at the monument at that time for a visit. Another new development was the recognition of the character of Silas Stone and his efforts to help Victor and the protect the third motherbox. Silas was never given this vindication in the Whedon's version.

In Part Six ("Something Darker"), the team fought Steppenwolf and his parademon army while at the same trying to keep the three motherboxes from synchronizing their union. Unlike the first version, there was no more token Russian family who were shown trying to escape the chaos. Superman was in resplendent black this time. Flash would play a critical role in the final resolution of the crisis, far more interesting than the way it happened in the first film. Unity was so close that a portal to Darkseid with Dresaad and Granny Goodness was opened for a while. Steopenwolf's end was not as simple as being carried off by parademons.

There was still a 30-minute Epilogue that tied down individual stories, like Cyborg's reconciliation about his father, as well as Aquaman's return to his father. There was a scene where Stone's assistant Ryan Choi was promoted to chief of nanotechnology at S.T.A.R. Labs, perhaps as a suggestion that the Atom may be in a future film. It also included that post-credits scene of Lex Luthor and his guest Deathstroke. The final scene featured the surprise guest first seen in Part Four signifying to Bruce his intention to join the team.

The whole final narration in the first film by Lois Lane which ended with "Look up in the sky" as Clark revealed his S emblem, was not there anymore. It was replaced by Silas Stone's recorded advice to his son Victor, that told him to take his place among the heroes of the world, and that the time is now. 

But the highlight of this epilogue was Batman's haunting nightmare shot in sepia filter, that featured a post-apocalyptic Justice League with the taunting Joker (who did not really say "We live in a society.." like he did in the trailer). 

There was still a sense of humor in the mix, but Snyder was generally more subtle than Whedon. The memorable scene where Aquaman was waxing poetic about his thoughts while sitting on Diana's lasso was not there. The scene where Diana says "Children, I work with children" or Cyborg exclaiming "Booyah!" were also not there anymore. I was actually surprised that Lois Lane's cringy "You smell good" remark and Clark's "Did I not before?" was actually in the Snyder cut, as I thought that was a more Whedon type of thing. 

This new version of "Justice League" is no longer about the story or the acting (since most already watched the 2017 cut), but about the storytelling style. The longer setup of scenes in this cut of course led to a more logical progression of the various individual threads of each hero. Whedon limited the story when he decided to make Steppenwolf the only villain in his cut, but it turned out that Snyder had bigger plans for the DC Expanded Universe given all those exhilarating future films promised by that substantially abundant epilogue.

Now my DCEU appetite is definitely whet, and I want more. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."

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