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After years of outstanding effort from passionate fans, Warner Bros. finally decided to give Zack Snyder the opportunity to finish his movie on his own terms. 2017's Justice League went through massive production issues - explained in my review of said film - and despite years of extremely tiresome, toxic discourse on social media, the famous Snyder Cut got a controversy-inducing budget to complete an undoubtedly unfinished cut. A crucial disclaimer: you'll see countless reviews based on wholly different approaches. Some people will review it as a standalone, regular movie, while others will look at it as an extended/alternate cut of a film previously released. I'm part of the latter group of reviewers.
I find it a bit unfair to criticize pacing issues or an overlong runtime when the purpose of this cut is precisely to show everything Snyder had in his hand. Director/Extended/Ultimate Cut, call it what you feel it's appropriate, but it's a four-hour movie, so many scenes will inevitably drag or feel unnecessary and irrelevant. The narrative is fundamentally the same, which means the audience knows what's coming from a general perspective. Still, I'm reviewing this version mostly on its own merits, but without forgetting that it's not a regular theatrical film and that it unquestionably builds upon what was already released.
Without getting into spoilers, I do have to write this: the heavy marketing was incredibly misleading, and I don't doubt for a second that many fans will feel disappointed regarding certain story points and particular characters. The whole "it's a totally distinct movie" or "Joss Whedon only used 10% of Snyder's footage" were nothing more than false publicity for a cut that honestly didn't need it. Out of the 119 minutes of the 2017's version, probably around 80/90 minutes are also in the Snyder Cut, which will be surprising for people who expected something entirely unique. The base of the narrative is identical, most scenes are just extended versions of the original, but there are a couple of significant new changes that ultimately make Zack Snyder's Justice League better than its "predecessor".
The most impactful modification that drastically changes the emotional core of the film is about Cyborg. Ray Fisher's character goes from barely having any remotely significant screentime in 2017 to being the heart and soul of the movie. From his backstory to the development across the runtime, Cyborg is undoubtedly the superhero that gains the most with this cut, leaving as a complete, compelling character who I genuinely cared for. On the other hand, Aquaman and The Flash receive similar introductory scenes with Batman, barely getting any sort of new individual growth besides more action sequences. However, once the League is assembled, the character interactions increase, improving their team spirit and deeply elevating the "Us United" storyline.
The humor and tone remain lighter than in other Snyder films, clearly something that the filmmaker always had in mind for his version (Whedon only added a couple of more jokes since most of them are present in this cut). The intimidating runtime does negatively affect the overall pacing, but the longer build-ups and extensive dialogue scenes make the full movie much more cohesive and coherent. Compared to the original's abrupt, awful editing work, the Snyder Cut has a tremendously better flow, giving time for information to sink in and characters to get used to each other. I rather watch an overlong film with a well-built story than the complete contrary. Some color changes and tone adjustments also improve the movie's consistency.
Story-wise, besides the fantastic arc given to Cyborg, there are a couple of changes that heavily affect either a particular character or a secondary storyline, but when it comes to the main narrative, it's more or less about the same. Every action sequence with pre-existent footage is visually improved and extended with scenes not seen before, but the new VFX are as hit-and-miss as Junkie XL's score. The latter mixes up so many different types of tracks and music that it genuinely becomes a tad confusing. While some scenes get an absolutely perfect, epic soundtrack, others receive weird, out-of-place music distracting the scene itself.
There's only one change I definitely dislike: the R rating brings horribly artificial, forced blood splashes and out-of-nowhere cursing that simply don't belong in the film. I know Snyder loves his gritty, bloody, gory action - as do I - but either the whole movie is consistent with this type of action, or some scenes will feel like they come from a wholly separate film. A few bloody sequences work well enough, but most just feel notably forced, while the cursing feels ridiculously out-of-character at points. It's by far the most incompatible aspect of the cut, but admittedly, one that doesn't heavily impact my opinion.
A common issue I have with extended cuts is that these mostly add and rarely remove. Snyder Cut partially breaks that rule, removing some scenes from the 2017's version, supposedly only Whedon's footage (which some people wrongly believe to be almost the entire movie). While most of the decisions regarding this process are efficient, there's a couple of them that not only don't improve the respective storylines but actually make them less powerful than the theatrical film. For example, in Snyder Cut, the "bringing Superman back" arc lacks an important character's take on the situation, having in mind that character's past. It actually feels a bit out-of-character that the viewers don't get to see what that person thinks about a potentially devastating action.
Regarding Steppenwolf, his design looks better than the terrible original, and his motivations are clearer, but unfortunately, he remains a generic CGI punching bag for our superheroes. His dynamic armor is packed with spikes, but it's really one of those designs with visual impact only since it has no effect whatsoever in battle. I can't get into spoilers about Darkseid or DeSaad, but I can safely write that these characters are nothing more than fan-service, just like Joker (Jared Leto). The ending is definitely the sequence that changes the most due to the addition of dozens of new/extended action scenes, and it does play out differently - though the conclusion is essentially the same - leaving the viewers with a menacing threat on the horizon.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is arguably a more cohesive, consistent, and emotionally compelling movie than the 2017's version. As expected, its four-hour runtime causes pacing issues and possesses dozens of unnecessary, irrelevant scenes, but criticizing these aspects in an admittedly non-theatrical cut is unfairly defeating its purpose. Despite most of the original Justice League being present in the Snyder Cut - something that might surprise a few fans - the main narrative is built and developed through a structure that flows tremendously better than the previous edition. Cyborg becoming the emotional core of the story and the increased character interactions are some of the best changes Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio did. The extended action sequences are more riveting, and pre-existent footage is definitely improved, but the new VFX are as erratic as Junkie XL's all-over-the-place score. The R-rating is the only straight-up negative aspect that damages the film with highly forced, fake-looking blood and rare yet cringe-worthy cursing. Highly anticipated characters and/or storylines are better described as unimpactful fan-service, but overall, most of the decisions made vastly improve upon what was already built. In the end, I sincerely expect a significant majority of the fandom to get their expectations fulfilled, and I hope that the DCEU continues with Snyder involved - just as long as the studios leave filmmakers to do their job without nonsensical restrictions.