The Snyder Cut — an entity that was one of cinema’s most mythic objects in recent history — will soon be available to all when Zack Snyder’s Justice League premieres on HBO Max on Thursday, March 18. How do you prepare yourself when the seemingly impossible becomes a reality? (And, on a more practical note, how do you prepare yourself to watch a movie that’s four hours long?)
Just as it’s advisable to stretch before working out, you probably (read: definitely) should not go into Zack Snyder’s Justice League cold. This is us, trying to help you, so please consider these basic preparations before uniting the seven.
How to Understand What You’re Dealing With
Before watching the Snyder Cut, as it’s referred to by most, it’s important to understand that you’re not watching a “new” movie, like 2021’s other HBO Max releases, including Oscar contender Jesus and the Black Messiah, the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong, or, uh, Tom and Jerry (though you’d maybe be forgiven for being confused about that last title). Zack Snyder’s Justice League is simply (though there’s nothing simple about it) an alternate version of the 2017 movie Justice League. Snyder, a director known for earlier DC films like Man of Steel as well as other dark, largely self-serious comic adaptations like 300 and Watchmen, was set to direct Justice League as well. However, he and his wife Deborah Snyder — who also served as a producer for the movie — stepped away in March 2016 following the tragic death of their daughter, Autumn.
In the wake of this tragedy — perhaps combined with previous behind-the-scenes rumors and reporting that Warner Bros. was unhappy with the dark tone of the movie, especially compared to the breezier, more successful Marvel Cinematic Universe — the studio turned to a new director to finish the film. Enter Joss Whedon, then known primarily for helming Buffy the Vampire Slayer and directing Marvel’s first two Avengers movies. (Whedon’s stock has plummeted considerably since then in the wake of multiple allegations of workplace harassment on both the Buffy and the Justice League sets.) Snyder was officially credited as the 2017 release’s director, and while there are differing reports on exactly how much of his originally shot material Whedon used compared to new footage, it’s very clear that Justice League is a Frankenstein monster of a film. Parts are somber and dark, like a Snyder movie might be, and other parts are breezy, quip-heavy, and Whedon-esque. Regardless of which vision of the film you might end up preferring after next week, it’s hard to deny that the original Justice League’s identity crisis does not work. (Superman’s digitally removed mustache, a consequence of Henry Cavill being unable to shave the thing because of his work on Mission: Impossible — Fallout when he came back for reshoots, didn’t help either.)
After it was released, Justice League was considered a box office bomb with a lackluster (at best) critical reception. Future DC films like Shazam and Birds of Prey would be less beholden to the tight continuity and careful planning that led to Justice League — that might have been the end of things! Quickly, though, rumors spread suggesting that Snyder had all but finished his own version of the movie and that there was therefore a “Snyder Cut” that existed in a vault somewhere. Snyder, who has as many die-hard fans as he does haters, seemed to fuel this rumor. On Vero, a niche social-media platform that Snyder apparently swears by, the director began to periodically post pictures from scenes that didn’t make it into the theatrical release, and several Justice League actors (Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot among them) posted in late 2019 in support of seeing his original vision for the film. The fans grew bolder in their demands to “release the Snyder Cut,” perhaps most notably when they crowdfunded billboards and a flying banner promoting the movement around the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con. (The movement donated half of what they raised to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in honor of Snyder’s daughter.) The conversation around the Snyder Cut was, at times, toxic, as certain members of the community harassed DC employees and anybody who spoke ill of their goal (which both Snyder and his wife have spoken out against).
Still, despite the growing fervor, the Snyder Cut remained a myth. Industry experts went on the record time and time again to say that the movie did not exist in any finished, releasable form. However, when Warner, which was acquired by AT&T in 2018, launched its streaming service HBO Max, it became clear execs weren’t going to let something as simple as “a movie not existing” stop them from getting a buzzy title to draw new subscribers. In May 2020, Snyder and Warner Bros. announced that Zack Snyder’s Justice League would premiere on HBO Max the following year. Warner Bros. originally put down a reported $30 million to allow Snyder to finish his version of the movie with new editing and special effects, but the budget eventually ballooned to $70 million when he shot additional footage. The final run time is said to be four hours and two minutes long.
Thus, the Snyder Cut became Zack Snyder’s Justice League, an HBO Max Original (just, you know, with an implied asterisk after the word original).
What to Watch Beforehand
Justice League is the fourth film in the DC Extended Universe (which is not the franchise’s official name, but it’s the one that has stuck, so here we all are.) To prepare for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, you might be tempted to rewatch the movies that led up to this moment. (All DCEU movies, with the exception of Wonder Woman 1984, are streaming on HBO Max.) If that’s you, then start with Man of Steel, the 2013 Superman origin story that kicked things off. Snyder directed Man of Steel and its follow-up, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Why those to begin with? Because honestly, if you watch these two and decide they’re not for you, you might want to skip Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Completionists will want to make sure they stream Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition, rather than the theatrical version, which only has one puny colon in its title. The Ultimate Edition contains 31 minutes of new footage, a lot of which fleshes out the subplot involving Lex Luthor’s covert dealings in Africa and the specifics of how Superman got blamed for all those deaths we briefly see in the theatrical release’s early moments.
If you do decide to marathon the DC movies to prep for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, please pause BvS at the one hour and 41-minute mark (roughly when Jesse Eisenberg is letting his blood drip onto Michael Shannon’s clammy dead face). Assuming you watched all two hours and 28 minutes of Man of Steel, credits included, congratulations: You have now watched the length of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which, again, is four hours and two minutes long!
Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman both came out and take place before Justice League, but they’re less essential viewing. The Oscar-winning Suicide Squad does feature Jared Leto’s Joker, who will appear in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (a Snyder addition), but it appears as though he’ll pop up in a dream sequence. How much do you need to know about a dreamed-up version of the Joker other than that he’s tWiStEd? Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is Diana’s origin story, and it introduces viewers to the island of Themyscira, which features prominently in Justice League’s opening. You could probably fill in the blanks without watching or rewatching it, but it’s the best DC movie there is, so if you’ve got the time, fire it up.
Four DC movies came out after Justice League, all of which you can probably skip. Aquaman takes place after Justice League and gives, if we can take some bold strokes here, some more insight into what Aquaman’s whole deal is. Wonder Woman 1984 should probably be skipped because it’s tragically bad and it opens up some potential plot holes. (How did nobody know about Diana if she saved the world from Maxwell Lord and was fighting crime in D.C. malls?) Shazam and Birds of Prey are both very fun but it’s unclear if they’re even in the same canon as Justice League — the DCEU is getting pretty loosey-goosey with continuity, and that’s probably for the best.
If you wanted to, you could read the first arc of Geoff John’s 2011 Justice League comic series, as it’s probably the biggest single title the movie is based on (with a little bit of 1992’s Death of Superman tossed in there for good measure). You can read those on platforms like DC Universe Infinite or Comixology, but by no means do you need to do this homework in order to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Could help, though!
Should you watch the theatrically released Justice League before firing up 2021’s Justice League? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, a lot of it will be redundant. On the other hand, it seems like a lot more of it won’t be.
What Differences Should You Expect?
According to Snyder, his version of Justice League will not feature any footage that Whedon shot. In its place (and beyond, since the theatrical release runs a tight two hours while Snyder’s is, again, a hair over four) are tons of scenes that were left on the cutting-room floor and additional, newly shot or heavily altered scenes Without spoiling things or going into too much detail, here are some of the big changes to look out for.
The HBO Max release will go into a lot more depth about the DC Universe’s lore while providing more fleshed-out backstories for two heroes — in particular, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg and Ezra Miller’s Flash. Both are much more important characters in the Snyder Cut than they were in the original version. Actress Kiersey Clemons will appear as Iris West, the Flash’s eventual love interest, in a scene Snyder originally shot but Whedon cut from the theatrical release. Similarly, Chinese actor Zheng Kai will appear in a small role as Ryan Choi, a character who eventually becomes the shrinking superhero, Atom. Harry Lennix will reprise his Man of Steel and BvS role as Calvin Swanwick, only supposedly Zack Snyder’s Justice League will reveal he’s been the shape-shifting alien superhero Martian Manhunter this whole time. As we noted, the Joker’s in this movie, and he even says the line: “We live in a society.”
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will also feature a new villain. While the alien invader Steppenwolf will still be the heroes’ main foe, this version of the film will include scenes — both in flashbacks and in the present day — featuring Steppenwolf’s boss, Darkseid. Darkseid is an alien conqueror who some viewers might think seems like a Thanos rip-off, but the character actually predates his Marvel counterpart. The MCU just got to it first.
Pretty much everything involving Superman — especially his role in the climax — should be new to audiences. As evidenced by Cavill’s lip, many of his scenes in the theatrical release were reshoots, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t using any of that footage. Expect to see Superman wearing a black suit, one of the most famous alternate costumes in comics history.
Beyond that, expect tons of other changes, big and small. The tone will be different; the pacing will be different. Special effects and character designs were changed. The final battle, which has a red tint in the theatrical release, won’t have the color filter in Snyder’s version. Oh! And there aren’t any post-credit scenes.
Consider … Other Ways to Gird Yourself
Cannot stress this enough: Zack Snyder’s Justice League is four hours long. Before watching, make sure you’re stocked up on toilet paper and have whatever else you might need for bathroom breaks. Many studies have shown that sitting all day is bad for your health. Australian scientists recommend taking a little standing break once every hour, so prepare yourself to get up off the couch a couple of times during the film’s run time. If it’s nice out, wear a mask and go outside for some sun and fresh air before committing yourself to watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
You’re also going to want some snacks and perhaps adult beverages or whatever other substances you might need. There’s an official meal-delivery tie-in for Zack Snyder’s Justice League called “the Mother Box” that features delicacies like a “Big Belly Burger,” fish and chips called “the Ocean Trench,” and a Cyborg-branded energy drink called “Element X.” It costs $130 dollars and won’t be available for delivery until April, well after Zack Snyder’s Justice League premieres. Maybe support a struggling local restaurant instead and leave a generous tip for your takeout.
Regardless of whether or not Zack Snyder’s Justice League will be good or bad — or whether or not it’s good for movies as an art form or streaming as a viewing platform — it remains wild that, on March 18, you’ll actually be able to sit down and watch the Snyder Cut. It’s things like this that make me happy that the phrase “What a time to be alive” isn’t inherently judgmental one way or the other.