The Snyder Cut has finally arrived, and fans have two major questions. 1. Is it good? and 2. How different is it from the 2017 version of Justice League? The answer to #1 depends on who you ask, but the answer to #2 is actually pretty darn different. At four hours in length, we knew Zack Snyder’s superhero epic would have some new stuff, but it’s not just new footage of scenes we glimpsed in Justice League. There are entire storylines that are different, completely new characters, and a third act with a massive twist that did not occur in the atrocious 2017 theatrical cut of the film (which, despite reshoots by Joss Whedon, feels wholly anonymous from an author perspective).
The biggest Snyder Cut changes from the other version of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
There’s a Lot More Cyborg and Flash
The biggest surprise of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is just how much of Ray Fisher’s role as Cyborg was cut for the theatrical release. Snyder had previously said Cyborg was the heart of the movie, and he was not kidding. The character is literally a central figure in the plot of the whole film, but also an emotional tether to the audience as well – a son reconstructed by his father, turning his back on his own Dr. Frankenstein for the monster he’s become only to seek reconciliation too late. Cyborg’s arc provides emotional heft and a very personal reason for going after Steppenwolf, and the additional scenes here improve the film greatly.
And again, Cyborg is central to the plot. He’s in possession of the third and final Mother Box that Steppenwolf needs for most of the film, and does a great job of keeping it hidden and playing his cards close to the vest. And when he finally does attempt to separate the Mother Boxes during the third act, his character has the ability to literally step inside the Unity, providing a more personal angle to an essential plot moment.
As for Ezra Miller’s Flash, he’s still a standout in many ways as he was in the theatrical cut, but just as we do with Cyborg, we get a mini-origin story for the character within Zack Snyder’s Justice League, including a show-stopping sequence that involves Flash saving Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) from a car crash in super slow motion. He also gets an emotional moment in the finale during which he showcases an ability that was intended to serve as a preamble to the Flashpoint movie that was in the works (the solo Flash movie is still happening, but the story is different).
There’s a Darkseid!
The main villain in The Snyder Cut is still Steppenwolf, but he has a boss, and that boss’s name is Darkseid. Snyder always intended for Justice League to set up two sequels in which Darkseid would be the Big Bad, so in The Snyder Cut, he serves as kind of a Michael Scott to Steppenwolf’s Dwight Schrute. And by the end of the film, his arrival on Earth is imminent as Steppenwolf informs him that he’s found the Anti-Life equation – something Darkseid has been searching for for a very, very long time.
Zeus Is in This Movie
Speaking of the search for the Anti-Life Equation, remember that big flashback in Justice League that showed the ranks of Men, Atlanteans, and Amazons uniting against Steppenwolf the first time he tried to invade Earth? Yeah, in The Snyder Cut it’s not Steppenwolf, it’s Darkseid, and the flashback shows a much more robust rank of allies going up against the Big Bad – including literally Zeus. Indeed, the Greek God has a cameo in this flashback alongside a reprisal of David Thewlis as the villainous Ares from the first Wonder Woman movie, as well as a Green Lantern and the aforementioned allied Atlanteans, Amazons, and Men.
In this version of the sequence, Darkseid is vanquished by these allied forces and is forced to retreat when Ares’ battle axe goes directly into his shoulder. It’s a gruesome, epic fantasy battle that was supposed to be echoed in Justice League 3 when a similar group of allies would have gone up against Darkseid once more, again on Earth.
There’s So Much Blood
Speaking of that axe wound, there is a lot of blood in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Untethered by MPAA ratings, Snyder was able to finish his cut of the movie for HBO Max without worrying about box office prospects. And thus, just as with the R-rated Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there’s a lot of blood spatter in the action sequences that make up Justice League. Remember that scene in which Wonder Woman battles some terrorists at a bank? Yeah, in this version, she bashes their heads against the wall, leaving behind a mark of blood. And when Darkseid gets wounded in that flashback sequence, he is positively gushing out of his wound.
Steppenwolf Is Having a Really Bad Time
In the theatrical cut of Justice League, Steppenwolf is a pretty innocuous and forgettable villain. He’s a CG creation meant only to serve as an obstacle for the heroes and move the plot along. He barely exists. In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, shockingly, Steppenwolf has a pretty compelling arc. As mentioned before he is very much like a Dwight Schrute in relation to his boss Darkseid, and is in the midst of conquering an ungodly number of planets as penance for betraying his dear leader. Right off the bat, there’s a desperate quality to Steppenwolf and his actions, and he seems genuinely fearful when hopping on a Zoom call with Darkseid’s right-hand man DeSaad, begging his co-worker to tell his boss about all the hard work he’s doing.
But in contrast to 2017’s Justice League, in which Steppenwolf gets a hold of all three Mother Boxes extremely quickly and sets up the third act battle, in The Snyder Cut he has to work for it. His minions are tasked with sniffing out the scent of Mother Boxes in order to track them down, but in practice, this hunt proves much more difficult in The Snyder Cut. And that’s actually kinda great. It’s endearing to see an antagonist having such a hard time – he's stressed out overwork, his boss won’t even talk to him face to face, and he keeps kinda accidentally stumbling onto steps of progress. Is he a great or iconic villain all of a sudden? Absolutely not. But in contrast to 2017’s Steppenwolf – and in truth a majority of CG baddies in comic book movies – The Snyder Cut’s Steppenwolf is memorable, and that's no small task.
Those Parademons No Longer Smell Fear
Speaking of Steppenwolf, a pretty massive change was made to his minions the “parademons” when Whedon took over 2017’s Justice League. In that film, the parademons smell fear, which builds to a third act finale in which Steppenwolf is gobbled up by his own creatures when he grows scared of the Justice League. But in The Snyder Cut, that plot point just… does not exist! The parademons are former beings turned into hunters as part of Darkseid's army, but in The Snyder Cut, they’re just hunters capable of smelling the scent of the Mother Boxes. They don't "smell fear." So they seek out those who have come into contact with Mother Boxes and snatch them for interrogation by Steppenwolf.
The Tone Is More Operatic and, Yes, Darker
Zack Snyder was about to start production on Justice League when his dark and long DC film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit theaters. Critical and commercial response to that film was mush harsher than Warner Bros. expected, leading the studio to take a heavier hand in the making of Justice League – specifically lightening the tone. And while The Snyder Cut is indeed lighter in tone than Batman v Superman (The Flash provides most of the comic relief, but Ben Affleck’s Batman gets a few one-liners in here and there), it still feels like it’s in lockstep with the tone of Snyder’s previous DC movies. That is to say, it’s dark and epic. But also, thanks to the four-hour runtime, it feels rather operatic as well.
Even literally, The Snyder Cut is darker than the 2017 version of the film. Gone are the colorful suits and brightened images, replaced by a more hardened, steely look for the characters and locations. The third act now takes place at night, in darkness against the backdrop of the stars, versus the red hue that populated the third act of the theatrical cut.
But the mood of the whole film is darker as well, though thankfully not as dour as BvS. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is grieving for most of the film, and there’s a somber nature to her scenes. And the threat that Steppenwolf causes is taken very seriously by those involved, as they treat these world-ending stakes with the utmost urgency. Even Cyborg’s arc is darker, though no punishingly so. Thanks to his restored scenes, we get a better sense of his own grief and sadness, and seeing him work through those emotions to become the hero the Justice League needs is that much more fulfilling.
There’s an Entirely New Score
Speaking of that darker tone, that also applies to the film’s score by Tom Holkenborg. He was previously set to reunite with Snyder on Justice League before being replaced once Snyder left the film, so The Snyder Cut features an all-new four-hour musical score by the composer that is right in line with the operatic tone of the piece. There’s a grandiose nature to many of the scenes accentuated by a solo choral voice, and while Wonder Woman’s theme indeed returns triumphantly, it feels more hardened than playful.
The Whole Third Act Is Completely Different
While it was alluded to previously in this piece, the third act of The Snyder Cut is completely different than the ending of the 2017 version. The bones are similar – it’s still Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash descending upon Steppenwolf’s stronghold to break apart the Unity – but the progression of the sequence is different, and it involves a looming threat from Darkseid in a major way.
I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it yet, but the way the ending plays out – and the way it leaves certain characters – is wildly different from the 2017 version of Justice League, and for the better. While the theatrical cut felt like it was going through the motions by the time you reached the end (despite a well-intentioned attempt to introduce a lighter Superman), there’s a real sense of urgency and stakes by the time you reach the end of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.