In 2017, bringing Superman back to life took less than five minutes, but in the newly released four-hour epic Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the same scene is twice as long, and comes with an ominous warning: “This action is irreversible.” The line is spoken by Superman’s Kryptonian computer, telling the gathered heroes that there are no take-backs on bringing Clark back from the dead. Despite a dire vision of an apocalyptic future, the gang goes through with the resurrection, and Supe comes back swinging. The friendly computer concludes: “The future has taken root in the present.” Not one of these lines was spoken in the Joss Whedon version.
With the HBO Max release of the Snyder Cut today, it looks like at least one action was reversible: The 2017 cinematic release of Justice League is automatically taken even less seriously (the bar was already so low that this is a feat in itself). By all accounts, the Snyder Cut is a movie about restoration — and yet, because the other version came out first, it also feels like a revision. Just like the fabled “anti-life equation,” Zack Snyder’s Justice League seems to erase events of the “original” film with a more robust and rowdier version of the story. The future hasn’t taken root in the present, because the past just got rewritten. But does any of this count?
Spoilers ahead for Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
According to Zack Snyder himself, Warner Bros. is “100 percent moving away,” from his vision for possible sequels. Recently he told the New York Times that “they consider the theatrical cut of Justice League as canon.” Then again, upon the urging of Christopher Nolan and Deborah Snyder, Zack himself has apparently never even seen the theatrical cut in its entirety. Jason Momoa has said numerous times that the 2018 Aquaman and any future sequels will adhere to the Snyder Cut. In late 2020, Patty Jenkins also claimed that all the DC directors ignore the canonicity of Whedon’s version, and side with the Snyder Cut in their storytelling. Speaking on the ReelBlend podcast last December, she said, “I think that all of us DC directors tossed that out just as much as the fans did … I felt that that version contradicted my first movie in many ways, and this current movie [WW84], which I was already in production on.” Jenkins went on to reveal that Snyder gave her key details about Wonder Woman in his cut, which she felt contributed to the story of WW84. Keep in mind that the same Warner Bros. that is reportedly “moving away” from the Snyder Cut also just gave Snyder 70 million dollars to finish it.
All of these contradictions have become part and parcel of what the DCEU is: disorganized and confused, seemingly the opposite of the (perceived) united front projected by Disney’s lockstep planning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in that messiness, you could argue, is a slightly more interesting art. Sure, the Snyder Cut could have probably been a tiny bit shorter with fewer slow-motion sequences (isn’t it weird that the fastest character takes the longest to do anything?) but it’s certainly interesting to look at. That said, in comic-book debates, questions of taste are often secondary to questions of continuity. If we accept that more DCEU movies are coming (they are) and that the Snyder Cut could impact them (feels probable), here’s the big stuff that seems to have been changed.
Aquaman (2018) Makes Slightly More Sense
Undersea friends! Amber Heard’s Mera didn’t appear much in the Whedon Cut in 2017, but her role in the Snyder Cut is much expanded. Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe’s character Vulko didn’t appear in the Whedon Cut at all but now has several scenes with Jason Momoa in the Snyder Cut. Although Aquaman doesn’t make a ton of references to Justice League, the Snyder Cut fits more seamlessly, mostly because it shows Arthur Curry going back to Maine at the end of the movie, which explains why he’s kind of a vagabond at the beginning of the 2018 standalone movie.
Darkseid and Jared Leto’s Joker Could Easily Return in Future DCEU Movies
By far the biggest plot change in the Snyder Cut is the primary antagonist, Steppenwolf. In the Whedon Cut, Steppenwolf is the (silliest) worst thing ever. But, in the Snyder Cut, he’s just an overzealous minion of Darkseid (Ray Porter), the pseudo-Thanos of the DC Comics canon. The Snyder Cut also gives us a new version of a Wonder Woman–narrated flashback in which we learn that Darkseid — not Steppenwolf — was driven from Earth in the distant past. The stakes are much higher now because it’s not just about defeating Steppenwolf, but also about preventing Darkseid from showing up on Earth again. Interestingly, the resurrection of Superman has now apparently set into motion an inevitable future in which Darkseid
gets all the Infinity Stones obtains the “anti-life equation,” kills Lois Lane, and turns Superman into his brainwashed enforcer. The “Knightmare vision” that Bruce Wayne saw in Batman v Superman is expanded in the Snyder Cut, only now, it happens twice — first when Superman is brought back to life, and again at the end of the movie as part of the Epilogue.
Snyder has gone on record saying that his idea for a Justice League trilogy would have ended with the Flash needing to go back in time and prevent all of this, presumably by saving Lois Lane from death. In the Snyder Cut, Batman mentions that the Flash told him that Lois Lane was the “key,” and Wonder Woman is like, “Yeah, no duh, Superman would have killed us without Lois Lane.” But Batman says that it felt like “something darker.” This phrase is actually the title card for “Part 6” of the Snyder Cut, and then, in the Epilogue, we see a Mad Max–style future in which Superman is doing Darkseid’s dirty work. Even though it’s not a post-credits scene, it has a post-credits-scene feeling insofar as its WTF-ness is kind of the point. This future teases an alliance between Batman, Cyborg, Deathstroke, the Flash, Mera, and … the Joker, as played by Jared Leto. Batman mentions that Harley Quinn died in his arms, which may or may not have had anything to do with Darkseid.
So, Harley Quinn is now possibly in mortal danger in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, and it seems suddenly very doable that any of the new DC movies could easily bring in Leto’s Joker. Maybe?
Barry Allen’s Entire Story Could Be Set-Up for The Flash
As of this writing, the Ezra Miller–led movie The Flash is totally happening, and probably coming out in 2022. And, thanks to all this Knightmare stuff and the horrible anti-life future, it seems possible that part of the storyline for The Flash movie could be teased out in the Snyder Cut. In the new Superman resurrection scene, the Flash mentions that weird stuff happens when he approaches the speed of light. It’s pretty clear this is meant to imply that the Flash can time travel. We already know that The Flash will be some kind of multiverse movie, because, reportedly, both Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton will be in it, playing their respective Batmen. On top of that, Ezra Miller’s Flash popped into the TV land of the CW universe during the Infinite Crisis crossovers back in late 2019 and early 2020, so Barry going back in time and crossing dimensions already has a precedent. But the Snyder Cut has arguably created an unresolved plot point that could be picked up by The Flash. Somebody’s got to save Lois Lane and it’s probably Barry Allen!
On top of that, the Snyder Cut also reveals Kiersey Clemons as Iris West, Barry’s most famous love interest. Clemons is also set to be in The Flash, making the Snyder Cut her all-too-brief origin story.
What About Lois Lane?
Speaking of Lois Lane, there’s a very brief moment (about 2:30 in the movie), when we see a pregnancy test in Lois’s Metropolis apartment. It is not commented on at all. Not even a little bit. It’s just … there. Was it a mistake? Did they forget to cut this part out? Come on. This is the Snyder Cut, all of this stuff was put in there on purpose! However, what this means is not entirely clear. If Lois and Superman appear in or are alluded to in future DCEU movies, then the Snyder Cut just set up an easy way for them to have a child. It wouldn’t be the first time: Superman and Lois had a son in the 2006 movie Superman Returns, and in the current CW show Superman & Lois, they have two.
The point is, neither Amy Adams or Henry Cavill needs to do another DCEU movie if they don’t want to. With one shot, the Snyder Cut points toward a future super-baby, who could appear fully grown-up in some kind of zany Justice League movie set in the year 2050 or something.
Two Totally New Justice League Heroes
If The Flash, Aquaman 2, or even the Rock’s Black Adam touch on the events of the Snyder Cut, it’s also possible that two additional superheroes could be brought into the mix. Unlike the overstuffed MCU, the idea of new superheroes in the DCEU movies is still somewhat novel. Sure, the Snyder Cut is four hours long, but it’s also mostly only focused on six characters. (Contrast this with the roughly 4,000 characters in Avengers: Endgame.) The point is, if the DCEU did get its mojo back, the Snyder Cut neatly sets up two new heroes for future films. Totally absent in the Whedon version, but prevalent in the Snyder Cut is Ryan Choi (Ryan Zheng), a nanotechnology expert working at STAR Labs with Cyborg’s dad. In the 21st-century DC Comics canon, Ryan Choi is eventually known as the Atom, a superhero who can get really tiny — basically the DC version of Ant-Man. Choi is the third version of the Atom in the comics and he was created by comic-book writer Gail Simone. Notably, Simone is thanked in the credits of the Snyder Cut.
On top of that, the entire Snyder Cut ends with Bruce Wayne (at his summer home?) having a chat with the shapeshifting alien known as Martian Manhunter. This character is played by Harry Lennix, who has played a human named General Swanwick in the DCEU since 2013’s Man of Steel. In the Snyder Cut, it’s revealed that Martian Manhunter (also known as J’onn J’onzz) has been hanging around and shapeshifting into various people for quite some time. He even morphs into Martha Kent midway through the movie! Presumably, the real Martha Kent moves back into her house at the end of the film, otherwise, Bruce Wayne solved some real-estate problems for a shapeshifting Martian.
Anyway. Retroactively, the idea that Martian Manhunter has been chilling on Earth since Man of Steel does fundamentally change literally all the DCEU movies. It also makes the prospect of Martian Manhunter having already been in films he wasn’t designed to have been in pretty easy. Because he’s been a low-key shapeshifter for a while, you can imagine him as all sorts of people. (Even baddies.) Martian Manhunter tells Bruce Wayne, “I have a stake in this world,” but why? Of all the last-minute additions to the evolving continuity of these films, the revelation that a friendly shapeshifter has been hanging around feels like the biggest game-changer.
Presumably, Martian Manhunter is the last of his kind, but if the heroes of the Snyder Cut were ever pitted against their duplicates from the Whedon Cut, maybe we could just decide that one version of the Justice League was composed of an all-shapeshifter line-up. Hey, it works for Marvel, right?
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is streaming now on HBO Max.