The long-anticipated release of Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League almost broke the internet last week. Clocking in at just over four hours, the new version of the film brought Snyder back to the superhero universe he launched in 2013 with Man of Steel.
It also raised interesting questions about authorship, toxic fandom, corporate greed, and whatever was going on with the Flash and that hot dog.
To break down all things Snyder cut, we convened Mother Jones‘ resident Geek Squad: assistant digital producer Sam Van Pykeren, senior fellow Matt Cohen, and reporters Edwin Rios and Dan Spinelli.
SVP: Well, fellas. What’d you think? Initial thoughts? Takeaways?
MC: Let me start by saying it’s nothing short of incredible this movie exists!
ER: It’s surreal when the director’s cut is actually better and more palatable than the original.
DS: I was expecting to hate it. Zack Snyder’s aesthetic is not my cup of tea. I hated 300. Hated Man of Steel. Tolerated Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. And then, for some reason, this just captivated me from the start.
MC: The fact that a studio gave in to fan demand and let a director not only finish a movie he had to leave for sad reasons but let him film additional scenes and turn it into a four-hour movie? Wild.
SVP: I mean, the word “epic” just comes straight to my mind. Not in the cringe “bro, this is EPIC” but as in, old school, Odyssey-like, EPIC.
DS: Yes! I had a friend call it “Superhero Ben-Hur,” and that kinda hits it.
SVP: I loved Man of Steel, and I’m a huge fan of whenever a director has a specific visual style, but to see it expanded on in such a way…. it was fun.
MC: It really was structured like a classical Greek epic. I think that’s the best way to describe it.
DS: The chapter titles contributed to that effect too.
SVP: I cannot say other 3 hour-plus movies strike me the same way.
DS: Even a three-hour movie like Avengers: Endgame does not go about its business in as leisurely a way. There were scenes in this that just went on forever, and, normally, that would annoy me. But Zack leaned into the maximalism of his vision in all the best ways. Case in point: the Icelandic choir at the beginning. Why does that need to be in here? No one knows. But it works!
MC: No indulgence went unfulfilled. Truly.
ER: Thinking back, I legitimately do not remember where I was when I watched Joss Whedon’s original cut of Justice League. It was that forgettable. I was still bitter that Ben Affleck became Batman (Christian Bale/Heath Ledger/The Dark Knight series 4ever). But something felt different about the Snyder cut. It felt more like the chance directors yearn for when they are crafting films—time to let the full story unravel, space to show and tell it. I’m not a huge fan of Snyder’s style—slow motion for days like Juvenile—but I loved how artistic and visually stunning the experience was.
SVP: I saw the Whedon cut in theaters at the ArcLight in Chicago. My friends and I left in a fit of laughter. It was so bad.
MC: I’m just glad that Cyborg—and Ray Fisher—finally got, I’m sorry, justice.
SVP: Ray Fisher acted circles around the rest of them. He held that film DOWN.
MC: His character’s arc was by far the best thing in the Snyder cut, and the worst thing in the Whedon cut.
DS: I can’t emphasize enough how unfunny the Whedon jokes were:
—Ma Kent calling Lois Lane the “thirstiest” reporter.
—The Flash is having an existential crisis about brunch.
It was all so bad.
MC: Actually, I take that back. The weird family that was caught in the middle of the final battle scene was the worst thing in the Whedon cut. But seriously, after knowing everything that Ray Fisher went through behind the scenes with Whedon and Warner Bros. executives, he is the hero of the Snyder cut. The emotional core of the film and his arc were so, so satisfying.
ER: Yessss, Matt! Cyborg’s extended story gave me so much life and warmed my soul. To see a relegated character in the Whedon cut, a Black man whose father was absent but who also wanted to keep his son alive, be brought to the center just gave me the chills.
DS: It was an outstanding performance and—easily—the most emotionally moved I’ve been by anything in Snyder’s work.
SVP: It is truly amazing how essentially different the films feel, from every detail in the redone CGI to thought-out storylines. It felt… finished?
DS: Snyder has this unique way of looking at iconic characters from a sideways view that often doesn’t work. (Batman branding people? Superman killing Zod?) But this incarnation of Cyborg, however dissonant it is from the comic/cartoon version, felt true to how that character would actually be. Coming back to life as this man/machine hybrid would screw me up too!
MC: How did y’all feel about the Flash in the Snyder cut? He didn’t get nearly as much of an arc as Cyborg but I found him FAR less annoying than in the Whedon cut. Though I will say the scene of him rescuing Iris West felt unnecessary and out of place, considering she’s a major character in the Flash’s backstory, and we literally never see her again. Also, the hot dog.
ER: Yes, yes, yes! I was so confused in that moment.
DS: It doesn’t completely work for me. I wish there was more of a nod to his origin, which makes clear that his Dad was framed.
SVP: Right! And his coming to terms with the power he has with time, and his rules, etc.
DS: Without that context, it wasn’t obvious why he felt so strongly about freeing his dad.
ER: The Iris moment was Snyder’s wet dream of a scene sequence—slow motion, eyes locked, then cut, we’re clear, let’s never bring it up again. I still felt emotionally connected to the Flash’s relationship with his father, but it left me wanting so much more, which is bad in a four-hour epic.
MC: Hahaha, that’s such a good way to describe it.
DS: I loved the rescue scene, even though a moody cover of “Song to the Siren” is maybe the worst kind of a needle-drop for an intentionally funny scene? I also judge any Barry/Iris scene on a curve because I love those characters so much.
MC: Even has a phallic object to drive it home!
SVP: Can we just talk about how he had Wonder Woman fight the whole first sequence in wedges? Wtf?
DS: Also…Wonder Woman kills that terrorist guy, right? How did y’all feel about Aquaman and the Atlantis storyline?
SVP: I’m an Aquaman stan. He is my hero 🥰
MC: My man.
SVP: God, that whole part benefitted SOOOO much by being expanded.
ER: He’s the man. Gone is the lame-ass blonde Aquaman image from the comics.
DS: Also, it should be a law that you are not allowed to cut any scene with Willem Dafoe.
SVP: Amen. Ok also tho, what the hell was that accent Mera had?
SVP: Completely out of nowhere
DS: In my head, I always imagined Arthur and Mera having regal accents, so I didn’t mind it, but yeah, definitely weird.
SVP: It just…… was not what she sounded like in Aquaman? Anyway…
DS: You are right—it was different
SVP: I can’t wait to get so much hate for this, but I love Amber Heard as Mera.
MC: I think she’s perfectly fine!
SVP: I really thought, especially in the epilogue, she honed the character perfectly.
ER: Maybe this is a hot take, but I was left wanting more depth and complexity in Wonder Woman’s arc in the same way Cyborg and, to an extent, The Flash had—but she also had her own amazing films with that depth and complexity. Diana still blossomed. Her interactions with Alfred were among my favorite moments of subtlety. I wanted more of that consistency between how Wonder Woman is depicted in her solo flicks and in the Justice League. The Snyder cut offers Patty Jenkins a perfect opportunity to bring Wonder Woman back to Themyscira. Cue: The moment in the Snyder cut when Wonder Woman holds the arrow Hippolyta shot and gazes at the world before her. And maybe that’s another reason why the fact that there’s a Snyder cut and a Whedon cut forces the greater arc of the DC movie universe to fall short. There won’t be as close to the ease in translation between films as there is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
SVP: Yes Eddie!! For sure. She feels like a completely different character in those films than in this and BvS.
DS: Part of the problem with the Whedon cut was shoehorning in that arc about Diana moving on from her grief and embracing what it means to be a public-facing hero….which is pretty much the same conflict she had in Wonder Woman 1984. So, that doesn’t entirely check out.
SVP: I am curious tho, what do we think the Snyder Cut does that the MCU can’t? Is there anything? Cause you bring up a great point Eddie, like there is a serious protection and consistency to the MCU we don’t see in the DCEU. And I think there are pros and cons to that.
MC: As much as I enjoyed the Snyder cut, I am a much bigger MCU stan.
DS: This level of visual majesty does not seem like something we’d ever see in the MCU. Maybe Chloé Zhao’s Eternals will prove me wrong.
ER: I’ve gotta say this, for the record: The Whedon cut, to me, will forever be known as the Costco version of the Snyder cut. Maybe not Costco because I stan Costco. Maybe like Sam’s Club or Albertson’s lol
MC: But yeah, stylistically, feel like we won’t see anything like this in MCU.
SVP: I also just feel like we’d never get something as like…. scary?
MC: Well, Doctor Strange 2 is supposedly something of a superhero horror film. But I can’t imagine any MCU movie getting as grim or dark as the Snyder cut.
ER: oh, Thanos killing half the population with the finger snap isn’t grim or dark enough for ya, matt? (I’m kidding. I agree.)
DS: I imagine at some point the MCU will allow for some standalone projects that allow for the risks Snyder is taking here—maybe on one of the Disney+ shows
SVP: That new Falcon and the Winter Soldier show is pretty scary from a propaganda standpoint, I do have to tell you. But I digress.
SVP: How do we feel about the fact that this is it? The end of the trilogy? (“Trilogy”)
DS: I want MORE. Snyder has pretty much given away the plot for his planned sequel, so I imagine we’ll never get it. But damn, I really want to see it!
MC: Yeah, that epilogue was too good not to explore. I want to see the movie of Batman, Mera, Deathstroke, Cyborg, and Joker teaming up to fight Evil Superman.
ER: The Snyder cut thrives off of how visually-gripping it is in ways that the MCU films were not. Yes, the MCU films were epic in scale. But the Snyder cut felt like it was concocted in That Talented Stoner Film Student’s Brain where they’re thinking: “What if I made the Justice League look like a Christopher Nolan movie?”
MC: I mean, COME ON.
SVP: God. I know. That’s what just breaks my heart! I love the DCEU and find their characters and expanded universe more thrilling and that it asks more interesting questions than Marvel. It felt like Zach wanted to home in on that in his ideas/plans. But now we’ll never get that.
DS: It’s probably worth mentioning that “a post-apocalyptic Earth where a ragtag band of survivors has to fight Darkseid” is basically the plot of the most recent DC animated movie
ER: I want so much more, you guys. I’m legitimately sad.
ER: The epilogue gave a taste of what’s possible when you lean into the dark narratives in the DC universe. And that, arguably, is so much more compelling than the MCU universe. When I watched the Snyder cut, I kept thinking about Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series. Snyder’s vision is so close to Frank Miller’s insane post-apocalyptic, pseudo-political vision of what the underlying battle between Batman and Superman is really about. It’s about the battle between what’s familiar and what’s foreign. What’s foreign—Superman, in this case—can be seen as and can be shaped as threatening. What’s foreign can be perceived as normal and can be helpful if it isn’t corrupted by sheer greed and terror from Thanos’ analogue, Darkseid. That’s why the Knightmare is so damn terrifying—the potential for an all-powerful being to break bad could literally spell the end of the world. I find that so much more compelling, So when you tease it with the introduction of Martian Manhunter and the Joker talking about killing Robin in Batman’s face (lol), I’m so, so brought in.
SVP: I mean… spill Eddie
MC: Man, well said Eddie. Yeah, I feel like Snyder had so much more of a vision than the MCU/Kevin Feige, who sort of just readjusted and adapted based on what worked/didn’t. And it sucks that the biggest hamstring for Snyder was the studio, who so obviously was trying to compete with MCU and immediately went into crisis mode when any of their films didn’t perform as well as they wanted to. I feel like if they just let Snyder be Snyder the whole way through, we’d have ended up with a truly special series of films.
DS: It certainly would have been a coherent set of films. I wish studios would value that sense of continuity through a set of movies rather than rush to be reactive. What we saw with Disney’s Star Wars movies was a redux of this—movies reacting to each other rather than adhering to a common vision.
SVP: Or the source material
MC: I’m really curious how the future DC movies that stem out of the Snyder-Verse will function. Like, there’s the Flash, Aquaman 2, etc. That, like, can’t really ignore the events of Justice League, I guess.
SVP: It’s what got them all together!
DS: Will the characters be intersecting at all, though? Outside of Batfleck apparently showing up in the Flash movie..,
SVP: Who tf knows! You can’t trust studio execs with anything these days.
DS: I guess they’re just OK with all these projects existing in isolation. On TV, there’s Superman, played by Tyler Hoechlin. Then the Snyder-Verse has Henry Cavill, whose future is uncertain. And Ta-Nehisi Coates (!) is writing a Superman movie for…someone else?? Who knows. On another note, I was interested in how you all felt about the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement generally? And whether its toxic elements influenced your enjoyment of the film or general appraisal of it.
MC: I feel the same way about it as I did with the narrative around Bernie Bros: A relatively small group of toxic fans who did some heinous internet shit, but who people maybe gave much more power to than they deserved by constantly acknowledging and feeding into their troll campaigns. The majority of people who made the Snyder cut happen are fans like us who wanted to see a guy who suffered an unimaginable tragedy—the suicide of his daughter—see his original vision come to life.
ER: I have a hard time with the movement. On the one hand, it shows the power of organizing. It shows what happens when studios listen to the fans who want more. And in this case, I think it worked. The Snyder cut fulfilled a vision of fandom in which the conspiracy of a better film was actually true, although it has legitimate problems. Like, it could have been a three-hour epic, not four hours, fooooor sure. On the other hand, I totally see Matt’s point on it, too. The toxic part of the fanbase, like that of the Bernie Bro cabal, can do more harm than good for how the movement among fans is perceived.
SVP: What I just loved about the Snyder cut (the film, not the movement)—it truly felt like a triumph of story, not money. As much as I absolutely love and adore so many hero films across the universes, I have a really hard time because at the core of it all is studios wanting to make gazillions of dollars. Sure, they can argue it’s about the characters and the vision all they want, but there’s such a monstrosity of ownership, corporate entity, greed, and competition that overshadows anything these films actually try and say. But the Snyder cut, well, it truly felt like it was about just telling the story of these characters. Not treating them as a commodity.
DS: I could not agree more with what you said, Sam
MC: Hear, hear.
DS: This was a rare example of someone using these characters not to cash a check or refresh their IP but because they really care. Sure, that’s cheesy. But these characters matter to a ton of people, and it’s nice to see them used by a person who genuinely is invested.
ER: The Snyder cut showed that superhero films can have the depth of story that other films do, that characters can have the depth of motivation and drive as in other “prestige” films. They don’t need to be campy for fans to appreciate them. The Whedon cut version felt like a boring version of the Avengers, and it felt like the studios were just looking to salvage a film for the sake of making that money.
SVP: Nailed it, Eddie.