And you thought Avengers: Endgame was long? The mythical Snyder Cut of 2017's Justice League is finally upon us, and it's got enough fresh material to stretch from here to Apokolips. Sure, we knew the director's preferred vision would feature some new stuff, but we had no idea how much. The answer, it turns out, is a lot.
Now streaming on HBO Max and broken up into numerous chapters, Zack Snyder's Justice League is a vastly different animal that bears only a passing resemblance to the '17 version shepherded to fruition by Avengers alum, Joss Whedon. Despite a cumbersome runtime of four hours and two minutes, the colossal and R-rated movie holds a fresh 78 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, beating out the theatrical cut's score by a whopping 38 points.
"When I first started on Justice League at the end of 2016, Zack showed my crew a four-hour version," the film's sound designer/editor Scott Hecker tells SYFY WIRE. "It wasn’t quite this version, but it was pretty close. We were just blown away [by it]. Anytime you see an initial assembly of the film, you sort of let it go because you know that’s never gonna happen. You just take it all in so you can have all that information. But to think that it’s finally gonna come back and you’re gonna actually get to embellish it and make it come alive — in our case sonically — it was super exciting."
So, how different is this Snyder's variant? Well, that's a very good question. The answer, however, is a little complicated because the tweaks and additions run the gamut from small and subtle to cyclopean and in-your-face. This is Snyder at his most unfettered, firing on all cylinders to deliver a grand-scale epic that some have compared to Peter Jackson's big screen translation of The Lord of the Rings.
Long story short: there's a metric ton of extensions to the house that Zack built and a person would be mad to try and list them all. But that's exactly what we did! Head below for an in-depth guide to the notable divergences that await you in Zack Snyder's Justice League. In the meantime, we're gonna try and solve the Anti-Life Equation. Anyone got a graphing calculator?
***WARNING! The following contains major plot spoilers for the entire film! If you haven't watched it yet, we highly recommend bookmarking this article, heading over to HBO Max, watching the movie, and then Boom Tubing back here afterwards. If you don't really care about being spoiled...well, may Darkseid have mercy on your eternal soul!***
Superman's death awakens the Mother Boxes
Gone is the bad CGI that could barely hide Henry Cavill's glorious Mission: Impossible mustache. Zack Snyder's Justice League picks up during the denouement of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In his final moments upon the spear of Krytonite, Superman lets out an anguished roar that is heard the world over. His death throes awaken the three Mother Boxes held by the Amazons, Atlanteans, and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher).
After setting up a clear reason for why Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) comes to Earth, the film moves over to the League-building part of the story. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) travels to Iceland in an effort to recruit an obstinate Aquaman (Jason Momoa). While a good chunk of this sequence remains the same, it closes out with an extended choir-like hymn sung by the grateful village folk as Arthur returns to the sea.
Cyborg's expanded role
Snyder wasn't whistling dixie when he said multiple times that Victor was the heart and soul of Justice League.
Thanks to the generous runtime, we get his full backstory: he was a football player at Gotham City University with a heart of gold. Even before he became Cyborg, he had a knack for hacking into computers.
But one fateful car crash killed his mother, Elinore (Karen Bryson), and left Victor on the brink of death. Wanting to make amends, his mostly absent father, Silas Stone (Joe Morton) illegally uses a Mother Box (confiscated from the Nazis during World War II) to give his son a second chance. Unfortunately, Victor doesn't see it that way, viewing himself as a Frankenstein-esque abomination.
Via a pre-recorded message, Silas encourages his son to explore his newfound abilities and Victor enters a digital realm — a place where he can still see himself in his GCU letter jacket. The world's nuclear arsenal and stock markets are literally in Cyborg's mechanical hands (the financial side is underscored by a battle with a CGI bull and bear). Once again showing his good heart, Vic helps out a hard-working mother in need, effortlessly placing $100,000 into her overdrawn bank account.
When he first meets with Diana in the dead of night, Vic flies onto the scene. While he doesn't say "booyah" in the Snyder Cut, he does have a shiny faceplate/helmet that comes down when he takes flight. Realizing that Parademons are hunting down the third Mother Box, Vic buries the item in his own empty grave.
Just before Superman is brought back to life, Cyborg has a premonition of Darkseid taking over with a bereaved Superman at his side. We see Diana's funeral and an underwater fight where Darkseid uses his Omega Beam to split an Atlantean in half while impaling Arthur on his own trident.
Not long after that, Vic loses his father when Silas uses the lab's electron laser on the third Mother Box. This isn't to destroy the object, but to mark it with an incredible heat signature so that the team can find Steppenwolf's hideout. Silas's death is highly reminiscent of Doctor Manhattan's disintegration in Snyder's 2009 film adaptation of Watchmen.
Steppenwolf's new look
For the most part, Steppenwolf is still the Big Bad, but Snyder's version of the villain has a few more bells and whistles. Firstly, his overall design is a lot more menacing with a suit of living armor that protects him from most damage. In addition, Hinds' voiceover performance is dialed down a few octaves to make the antagonist sound even more like a dastardly demon from another dimension.
But wait, there's more! Steppenwolf also gets some welcome character development via the inclusion of Darkseid underling DeSaad (Peter Guinness). During one of DeSaad's various Mother Box check-ins throughout the runtime, we learn that Steppenwolf was exiled long ago for a past betrayal against Darkseid. To rejoin the inner Apokolips circle, Steppenwolf must fulfill a debt of several hundred thousand conquered worlds.
Just like in the Whedon cut, Steppenwolf, hellbent on creating the Unity, makes his first appearance on Themyscira to steal the first Mother Box. The key difference is that his fight against the Amazons is much longer. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) orders the Mother Box temple to be knocked into the ocean and when that doesn't work, the Amazonian cavalry shows up to shoot all the arrows (think of Snyder's 300) at Steppenwolf, who teleports away just in time.
And if that wasn't enough for you, the horned conquerer even gets some new toys to play with. When trying to locate the maritime Mother Box, Steppenwolf kidnaps a few Atlanteans and uses a spider-like device that can read minds and extract sensitive information.
Totally absent from the '17 release, Darkseid (Ray Porter) looms larger over Zack Snyder's Justice League. Eons ago, he attempted to subjugate Earth — upon whose surface the Anti-Life Equation is carved — but was repelled by the world's greatest heroes (more on that later). His insatiable lust for power is highlighted in the flashback when he attempts to grab a Green Lantern ring off a fallen member of the Corps.
Somehow, Darkseid forgot — or never knew — the name of the planet on which he suffered his greatest failure because it comes as a total surprise when Steppenwolf discovers the Equation (a method for controlling all life throughout the multiverse) on Earth.
Despite the fact that Darkseid doesn't get a ton of screen time, Snyder makes it clear that he is the Thanos of this universe. After all, Jack Kirby's New God directly inspired Jim Starlin to create Marvel's Mad Titan. Anyway, we get a few glimpses of Darkseid's homeworld and inner sanctum. He holds court in a chapel-like building, surrounded by an army of Parademons and his most trusted lieutenants: DeSaad and Granny Goodness.
“Besides his amazing CG image, much of his presence comes from his voice," Hecker explains. "He’s not in the movie a lot, but his dominant presence is established by the way we processed his voice to make him sound sufficiently booming, menacing, and cool. And I think we achieved that so, I'm excited for everyone to see and hear that. When he appears again later in the film, we get to see a little bit of his world, so we tried to make that feel otherworldly, ominous, and cool with undulating drones as well. So yeah, it’s definitely a wild ride."
Once the Amazons lose their Mother Box, they warn Diana (Gal Gadot) that a cosmic war is brewing. This leads Wonder Woman to explore an underground cave that houses an ancient depiction of good ol' fashioned exposition.
Ryan Choi works for Silas Stone
Snyder's DC world-building touches all corners of his updated movie. For example, Silas Stone's S.T.A.R. Labs assistant is Ryan Choi, a a character from the comics who became the hero known as Atom. Choi inherited the Atom mantle and became a member of the Justice League following the disappearance of his mentor, Ray Palmer. Following Silas's untimely death, Choi becomes the head of the lab studying the crashed Kryptonian ship.
Last summer, Harry Lennix acted all coy when asked if he'd be playing J'onn J'onzz in the Snyder Cut. The rumors turned out to be 100 percent true because Calvin Swanwick, aka Martian Manhunter, gets two scenes in the 4-hour film.
In the first instance, he takes the form of Ma Kent (Diane Lane) and visits Lois Lane (Amy Adams), telling her to start living again. Since Superman died, Lois hasn't been to work, preferring to spend her days at the hero's memorial in Metropolis.
In the second instance, MM pays a visit to Bruce Wayne. J'onn explains that he's watched humanity from afar for quite some time and has finally decided to fight alongside it. Especially now that Darkseid knows where the Anti-Life Equation is.
“He’s another cool looking super hero,” Hecker says. "He’s not in the film very long, and is not involved in any action just yet. The Martian Manhunter’s scene with Bruce Wayne is mostly dialogue-driven, so it’s a really good tease for what is to come, hopefully. Not many of his super-powers are revealed here — except that he can shapeshift and fly, and looks super cool too!”
Even with so many heavy hitters taking up most of the runtime, Zack Snyder's Justice League still takes the time to include some special guests like Willem DaFoe's Nuidis Vulko. Rocking a mane of damp locks, the Atlantean character shows up to give Arthur his armor and trident, effectively setting up James Wan's Aquaman film. Although it should be noted that the Snyder Cut still uses the air bubble effect for when folks need to chat underwater. And for some reason, Mera (Amber Heard) has a British accent now. Go figure...
Other notable cameos arrive in the flashback to Darkseid's failed conquest of Earth. Putting aside their differences, Amazons, Atlanteans, humans, gods, and even Green Lantern banded together and repelled the laser-eyed warlord. Antiope (Robin Wright), Zeus (Sergi Constance), and even Ares (David Thewlis) were among the defending party, which nearly put Darkseid in an early grave.
Set in Central City, this introduction to Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) also serves as an introduction for Iris West (Kiersey Clemons). While trying to secure a job as a dog walker, Barry saves Iris from a deadly car crash, setting the stage for their deeper relationship. What's cool about this scene is that Snyder really goes the extra mile in showing how destructive the Speed Force can be on normal articles of clothing (like shoes).
"It’s such a shame that we didn’t get to see them [in the theatrical cut]," says cinematographer Fabian Wagner. "Obviously now we will, which is great. They were great to shoot and had a great chemistry together. It was really fun from a technical aspect, shooting those scenes ... I’m really looking forward to seeing them all put together the way they should’ve been."
A few days ago, we learned that Clemons will officially return as West for 2022's The Flash.
Unlike his Whedon counterpart, the Snyder iteration of Barry is less of the comic relief in the 4-hour cut. He's definitely the lightest member of the team, but Whedon's rewritten humor is no longer here. That said, Barry is still trying to pursue a career in crimonology in order to exonerate his father (Billy Crudup), who is in jail for the murder of Barry's mother. The moments between him and his dad do get a little more room to breathe.
Superman's black suit
Prior to Superman's resurrection, Clark's body is retrieved by the entire team (save for Batman). In the Whedon cut, only Flash and Cyborg were guilty of grave robbing.
After he comes back to life and goes all nutso by trying to kill the League, Superman spends some quiet time with Lois at the foreclosed Clark farm in Kansas. Some of this showed up in the theatrical version, but thanks to his longer runtime, Snyder can allow the more intimate moments to reach their full emotional potential.
After sharing a group hug with Lois and his mom, Superman decides to join the fight against Steppenwolf. First, he has to put on the proper attire, which means the hero's famous black suit following his resurrection in the comics. Walking through a Kryptonian scout ship, Clark hears encouarging words from his two dads: Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Pa Kent (Kevin Costner). He flies into space for a quick Christ-like pose above the Earth and then checks in with Alfred (Jeremy Irons) to see where the League has gone.
Speaking of Alfred, Batman's trusty butler gets more time to shine, securing a rightful place alongside Michael Gough and Michael Caine. His neuroses over how to properly brew tea is just adorable.
In fact, every character gets more time devoted to them. For instance, after defeating Michael McElhatton's band of terrorists in London, Diana shares a quieter moment with a young student. "Can I be like you someday?" the girl asks. "You can be anything you want to be," Wonder Woman replies. It's a small moment, but a welcome one, for sure.
Speed Force to the rescue
Aside from its darker color grading, the climax of Zack Snyder's Justice League has plenty of key differences from what we saw in theaters. For one thing, it shows that Barry can use the Speed Force to travel back in time, something he does when the team is on the verge of losing.
"That was a lot of fun to work out," Wagner admits. "I had a great relationship with Zack’s whole team ... That was mainly us working together and figuring out how do we shoot the Flash speed and what’s gonna be the difference his speed and Superman’s speed? There’s a lot of technical aspects that we thought about and interactive lighting and everything plays together to make that work. It was really good fun to work that out and I think it really worked."
Meanwhile, Cyborg has a vision of his mother and father while attempting to separate the Mother Boxes (think the visions Thanos and Tony have after using all six Infinity Stones). They promise to make him whole again, but Victor doesn't fall for the Unity's trick, asserting that he's finally come to accept himself as Cyborg.
At last, Steppenwolf is beheaded by Diana (in the '17 cut, he's attacked by his own Parademons) and his severed noggin flies into the portal leading to Apokolips. DeSaad says he knew Steppenwolf would fail and a fuming Darkseid vows to conquer Earth the old fashioned way.
In the closing minutes, the heroes return to their normal lives with a final bittersweet nod to Silas Stone.
Lex's meeting with Deathstroke
This meeting between two of DC's most formidable villains is nearly identical to the theatrical version, save for one key difference. Instead of announcing his plan to create the Legion of Doom, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) provides Slade Wilson (Joe Manganiello) with Batman's true name. The purposes of this scene was to set up Ben Affleck's standalone Caped Crusader flick, which obviously never panned out. Fortunately, we'll still get to see Batfleck one last time in next year's Flash movie.
Filmed over a period of reshoots last year, this Knightmare reprise (an echo of what Bruce saw in BvS) is set in a future where Darkseid has succeeded in conquering Earth. Batman is one of the last heroes still alive and he leads a band post-apocalyptic renegades: Cyborg, Mera, Deathstroke, Flash (rocking an awesome suit of specialized armor)...and the Joker?! That's right, Jared Leto's Clown Prince of Crime — last seen in 2016's Suicide Squad — is one of the good guys.
While we do get some allusions to what's happened since Darkseid took over (Aquaman's been murdered, Deathstroke and Batsy have reached a tenuous alliance), the scene is mostly a showcase for the Batman-Joker relationship. Joker offers a truce, while Batman promises to kill the clown — a promise he made to a dying Harley Quinn. Oh, and Batman also uses the F-word. Hardcore AF!
But, of course, this Knightmare is just...a nightmare and Bruce wakes up safe and sound in his bed just as Superman shows up to slaughter him and his fellow rebels. Earlier in the movie, Bruce tells the team about his vision in BvS about Lois being "the key." Her death pushes Supes over the edge and triggers the end of the world.