Now that the Snyder cut has finally — and, by all accounts, improbably! —been released, the world at last can see what director Zack Snyder’s original vision for Justice League would have become had he not left the film after a family tragedy, thereby allowing Warner Bros. to invite Joss Whedon to take the 2017 film over the finish line. In a way, the newly released cut is even more true to Snyder’s vision than it would have been had he overseen the original film to completion, because there’s no possible way he would have been allowed to release a four-hour movie into theaters. But a four-hour film streaming on HBO Max in the middle of a pandemic? Well, that’s an average binge, right there!
As of today, we can all see exactly what was cut from Snyder’s version of the film as we fully experience just how different Zack Snyder’s Justice League is from the theatrical release. A note upfront: The two versions are fundamentally the same movie. With a few specific exceptions, the plot is identical; Batman and Wonder Woman need to recruit the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg to stop the invading alien conqueror Steppenwolf from uniting three Mother Boxes that would allow him to lay waste to Earth. In the process, they bring Superman, who died in a fight with Doomsday in Batman v Superman, back from the dead. There’s a final showdown in a Chernobyl-like former Soviet Bloc setting, and (spoilers ahead) the day is saved.
Although both versions share the same broad plot brushstrokes, quite a few differences and additional scenes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League add some much-needed context. And since the Snyder cut is literally twice as long as the theatrical version, all those lesser changes and new additions add up to a lot. Given the disparity in length, a minute-by-minute comparison of the two is pretty pointless, though I’m sure some brave fool with a stopwatch will do it. Instead, here’s a rundown of all the substantial ways Zack Snyder’s Justice League is different from the theatrical Justice League.
This story contains full spoilers for both Justice League and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
The theatrical Justice League opens with a vertically shot cell-phone video of Superman (prior to his death) talking to some kids who want to make a podcast. It’s a moment that was probably added to help endear audiences to Superman since he’s dead and MIA for half the movie. It’s cute but perhaps too cute, and Henry Cavill’s digitally erased mustache is … a problem. The next scene is a showdown between Batman and a Parademon across the Gotham skyline.
Neither scene appears in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Instead, this cut opens with extremely Snyder-core slow-motion footage of the ending of Batman v Superman’s final fight, with Superman crying out as he dies defeating Doomsday. The echoes of his death wails travel across the globe, awakening the first Mother Box and giving viewers early glimpses of the other heroes we’ll soon meet.
New Score, Great Results
Zack Snyder’s Justice League simply sounds different. Composer Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) was originally responsible for the score, but when Snyder left and Whedon came on, Holkenborg’s score was dropped in favor of a new one by Danny Elfman. Holkenborg came back to score Zack Snyder’s Justice League, though the music you’ll hear is not what would have appeared in the film as originally planned. Holkenborg threw out his old score and started from scratch for Zack Snyder’s Justice League. We love commitment!
Snyder Cuts Whedon’s Quips
This is a more sweeping change but one you’ll really feel if you compare the two movies. Whedon, who, prior to a recent wave of allegations of harassment on the Buffy and Justice League sets, was celebrated for his nerdy genre stylings, was basically brought on to finish Justice League and make it more like Marvel’s ultrasuccessful Avengers, which he had directed. You can see a lot of this tension in the theatrical release as Whedon’s lighthearted quips contrast with Snyder’s darker and edgier (yet totally sincere) stylings.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League reportedly doesn’t use a single frame of anything Whedon shot, so as a result, all the Whedonesque quirks and oddities are gone. For instance, during Batman and Aquaman’s first meeting in both versions, Aquaman says, “‘Strong man is strongest alone.’ You ever heard of that?” In the theatrical release, Batman responds, “That’s not a saying. That’s the opposite of what the saying is.” Zach Snyder’s Justice League does away with that little quip, and instead Bats moves on with a sincere observation that he had died fighting alongside Superman. (Granted, it’s unclear whether Batman’s quip can be wholly attributed to Whedon, but its absence from the Snyder cut is indicative of the generally less self-aware and cutely clever vibe of the film, regardless.)
On the whole, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is much lighter on banter, replacing jokes and bits with more straightforward interactions that benefit from the expanded runtime’s ability to really develop the characters. It’s more effective for the most part — plus the Snyder cut doesn’t feature a much-criticized moment from the original in which Aquaman straight-up ogles Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman.
Much More Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman
A lot of Zack Snyder’s Justice League’s two additional hours of runtime go toward making Aquaman, the Flash, and, especially, Cyborg more well-rounded characters. Aquaman has a visit with Vulko (Willem Dafoe), the chief counselor to the Throne of Atlantis and Aquaman’s secret teacher growing up. Had this scene not been cut from the theatrical version, it would have been Vulko’s film debut, ahead of his appearance in Aquaman, which came out after Justice League. It explains Aquaman’s complicated relationship with the Atlanteans and, really, what his whole deal is as a character, but the additional scenes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League make him more complete going by just this movie alone.
The Flash gets more screen time too, notably in another scene cut from the theatrical release, in which he saves the life of his eventual love interest, Iris West, played by Kiersey Clemons. The Flash’s various ticks and self-doubt are toned down, making him an easier screen presence in this version than in the original. He has an expanded role in the climax as well, though we’ll get to that in more detail later.
Please Welcome to the Stage … Darkseid
Steppenwolf, the villain in Justice League, isn’t actually that big of a deal in the comics because he’s really a lackey for his nephew Darkseid, the New God who rules the hellish planet Apokolips. A creation of the comics legend Jack Kirby as part of his Fourth World Saga, Darkseid is the ultimate embodiment of evil. He’s a supremely powerful being who wants to conquer worlds and find the Anti-Life Equation, a mythical formula that allows those who know it to dominate the will of any sentient beings they come across.
Although the theatrical release’s Steppenwolf makes subtle references to “New Gods,” the Snyder Cut makes it clear that he’s working on behalf of Darkseid. Played by Ray Porter, Darkseid appears in the flashback to the battle for Earth 2,000 years ago — which is a notable change in itself, as it’s Steppenwolf, not Darkseid, who fights the men, Atlanteans, and Amazonians in the theatrical release.
Darkseid also appears in the Snyder cut in molten form to speak with Steppenwolf, as does Desaad (Peter Guinness), Darkseid’s master torturer and adviser. We get two other glimpses of Darkseid in visions of a dystopian future and at the end, when we see him in the flesh via the portal the Mother Boxes have opened up. All thing considered, he’s not in the movie that much, but his presence makes Steppenwolf (who, it should be noted, has been redesigned for the Snyder cut) a more engaging villain because we know he’s really just the desperate herald of a greater evil, rather than a simple, uninspired alien conqueror.
Parademons Don’t Smell Fear
There’s a through line in the theatrical release that the Parademons — Steppenwolf’s flying goons — can smell fear and are drawn to it. This, apparently, was a Whedon invention. The Snyder cut’s Parademons don’t seem to care about fear one way or another, which means they don’t ultimately turn on a scaredy-cat Steppenwolf in the big finale.
New Characters Make the Cut
Iris West and Vulko aren’t the only characters new to the Snyder cut. Chinese actor Zheng Kai plays Ryan Choi, a scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs alongside Silas Stone, Cyborg’s father. He’s identified as the director of nanotechnology, which is a fun little Easter egg because the character eventually goes on to become the shrinking superhero the Atom in the comics.
More consequential — and somewhat more baffling, if you think about it too hard — is the Snyder cut’s reveal that Secretary of Defense Calvin Swanwick (Harry Lennix), a somewhat major character from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, has actually been the superhero Martian Manhunter this whole time. Martian Manhunter is one of the original seven founding members of the Justice League in the comics’ continuity, making his presence in Zack Snyder’s Justice League kind of a big deal. However, he doesn’t see too much action. He first reveals himself in a scene when it’s revealed that it was actually he, not Martha Kent (Diane Lane), who was visiting Lois Lane. He appears again at the very end of the film when he introduces himself to Batman.
Cyborg’s Dad Bites It
One of the clearest differences between the theatrical release and the Snyder cut is that the former ends with Cyborg and his dad, Silas, making up and bonding while Cyborg adopts a glossy new look and C-shaped logo. In the latter, Silas dies in a pretty graphic way, sacrificing himself in order to superheat the final Mother Box so the League can track Steppenwolf’s location. It’s certainly much more in line with Snyder’s oeuvre, but it makes Cyborg’s character journey feel much more authentic and realized than the happier, brighter ending of the theatrical version.
The Superman Differences Go Beyond Just a Mustache
One of the most infamous parts of the original Justice League is Henry Cavill’s upper lip. The actor was shooting Mission: Impossible — Fallout when it came time to film Justice League’s (substantial) reshoots with Whedon as director. Problem was, Cavill had grown a mustache for the other role, and Paramount Pictures, the studio behind Fallout, wasn’t about to pause filming its movie for the months it would take for Cavill to shoot Justice League and regrow the stache. Instead, Whedon filmed scenes with a mustachioed Superman and then digitally erased the hair. The result is a Man of Steel with a very conspicuously weird upper lip.
With the exception of his initial fight with the League after he’s brought back from the dead (a scene that, in both versions, includes the very fun moment when the Flash realizes Superman is almost as fast as he is), most of the sequences involving Superman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League are new. His role in the climax — which we’ll get to in a moment, I promise — is much cooler and less corny. Superman changes clothes for the Snyder cut, too. He wears a black version of his suit, a nod to the outfit he wore in the comics when he came back to life in the early 1990s after the iconic “Death of Superman” story line.
A Radically Altered Climactic Battle
Zack Snyder’s Justice League’s big final battle is quite different from the theatrical release’s. It’s still a battle between the League and Steppenwolf, who are fighting in an abandoned Russian town in a desperate attempt to prevent the three Mother Boxes from forming the Unity and causing the end of the world as we know it. Aside from those broad strokes, however, this grand action sequence feels essentially all new. The entire battle isn’t tinted red, an aesthetic choice that was presumably a nod to the red skies in DC Comics’ various Earth-changing “Crises” over the years but that in practice just made the end of the theatrical release bad to look at. Zack Snyder’s Justice League also completely omits the subplot from the theatrical release in which the heroes — especially the Flash and Superman — need to save civilians from the battle, including a family living in the shadow of Steppenwolf’s headquarters, which the original film keeps cutting to. This is a good change! The fate of the world is explicitly at stake! We don’t need to keep cutting to a vulnerable child in need of saving in order for audiences to be invested in what’s happening.
Superman’s entrance, and indeed his whole role in the fight, is different. In the theatrical release, Superman enters by appearing behind Steppenwolf after the villain has ripped off Cyborg’s leg, quipping, “I believe in truth, but I’m also a big fan of Justice.” In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Superman simply appears in his black suit to effortlessly shrug off Steppenwolf’s ax strike before proceeding to kick his ass.
Then, in the theatrical version, Superman saves the day by helping Cyborg pull the Mother Boxes apart before they unify, and the two have a little laugh after they both survive the subsequent explosion. That’s not how things go in the Snyder cut. Here, Steppenwolf is successful in uniting the Mother Boxes, and he opens up a portal to Apokolips, setting the stage for Darkseid to conquer Earth and obtain the Anti-Life Equation. However, the Flash runs so fast he’s able to go back in time just enough to prevent the worst from happening, and Superman helps Cyborg separate the boxes in time for Wonder Woman to cut off Steppenwolf’s head and send his corpse hurtling through the rapidly closing portal.
A New “Knightmare”
The theatrical version of Justice League features a scene in which Batman has a vision of a dark future. Wearing a cool trench coat and goggles, he travels through a world that has seemingly been overtaken by Parademons only to encounter Superman, who is apparently evil. This sequence, which occurs much earlier in the original movie than in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, where it’s the final scene, is a remnant of some presumably very defunct plans to make Justice League a two-parter. Batman’s “Knightmare,” as the vision is called, sets up a possible Justice League sequel in which Darkseid has won.
The Knightmare in Zack Snyder’s Justice League is almost entirely different (it’s reportedly the only newly shot footage in the whole movie) and even more overtly sets up a sequel that won’t happen. Superman is evil, presumably because Lois Lane has died and Darkseid was able to draw the Man of Steel under his influence as a result. Batman, the Flash (looking as he did in his brief Batman v Superman cameo), Mera, Deathstroke, and, yes, Jared Leto’s Joker, have apparently formed an alliance in an attempt to save the day. It seems doubtful that we’ll ever see a feature-length version of this dark future, so the Snyder cut’s Knightmare will have to suffice for now. That said … it seemed doubtful that we would ever see the Snyder cut itself, and having achieved that goal, the people who championed the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag could easily move on to #RestoreTheSnyderVerse. Who knows what dark power fandom has in this brave new world of entertainment?
No Post-Credit Scenes!
Instead of post-credits scenes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has a pre-credits epilogue that runs just over 30 minutes. One scene in it, Deathstroke’s meeting with Lex Luthor, is a post-credits scene in the theatrical release. It plays out mostly the same way, except Luthor teases Deathstroke with information about Batman’s secret identity, rather than hinting at the formation of an Injustice League. The Knightmare vision and Batman’s subsequent meeting with the Martian Manhunter constitute what would normally be a post-credits scene in this sort of superhero blockbuster. (The theatrical release’s other post-credits scene, a race between Superman and the Flash, isn’t in the Snyder Cut at all.)
It’s Rated R
Oh yeah, the Snyder cut is rated R! Hell, yeah! There are more blood and violence, Cyborg says “fuck,” and the Joker makes a crack about giving Batman reach-arounds. Biff! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!