When Justice League released in 2017, I hated it. As a fan of the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman and Man of Steel, it felt like a huge step back. For those prior movie’s faults, they were intriguing, perfectly casted, gorgeous cinematography and had an angelic OST attached.
I didn't campaign for the release of the Snyder Cut. I wanted to see it, but I didn't actively participate in the online fanfares. However, when it was announced, I was over the moon with happiness. That initial trailer showed so much new content; it looked like a wholly different movie! It was! When I finally watched it on release day, I loved it!
Now, almost five months later, I've watched both versions of Justice League back-to-back. Needless to say, it was an intriguing experience... and I'm pretty sure my housemate now hates me.
Revisiting The Josstice League
Watching Joss Whedon’s version of Justice League with the knowledge of the Snyder Cut’s content is bizarre. It's a confusing Mandela effect that happens right before your eyes. Scenes happen like they do in the extended version, but they're different, recontextualised and all around worse.
Warner Bros’ strict 2-hour mandate does significantly harm this version of the movie. Epic battles are cut to shreds with the flow and intensity removed. You’re given pieces of how these scenes are supposed to play out, like a memory you don't fully remember skipping forward bit-by-bit.
However, it's increasingly weird when Joss Whedon overstretches control of the original footage to reshoot scenes that are already fine. One scene involving Martha Kent and Lois Lane reconnecting after losing Clark is completely ruined. Instead of being set in Lois’ apartment with Martha essentially begging Lois to return to the world, Whedon’s version inserts a sexist pest badgering Lois for one of her sources. Snyder also goes onto ruin this scene, but we'll get onto it later.
Most infuriating is that Whedon reshoots scenes that were perfectly fine, but makes them worse. Exposition scenes are reshot with awful greenscreen and horrendous jokes to make the film more like the Avengers. There's a massive tonal dissonance between Whedon’s soap-opera look cut between Fabian Wagner’s stylish cinematography.
The heart of Snyder's original vision is also removed. Instead of the six heroes begrudgingly working together and becoming genuine teammates, Whedon makes time in an already cramped script for everyone to have at least one argument. That's without mentioning The Flash’s heartfelt time-travel finale or the replacement of Junkie XL’s perfect score for a nostalgia-bait Danny Elfman rush-job.
I didn't hate it
Weirdly enough, despite knowing everything the movie was supposed to be, that seething hatred I once had is gone. It’s not good, it’s an awful experience and a butchering of Snyder's Justice League. Joss Whedon’s version has a crap soundtrack, looks awful, reshoots worse versions of scenes that already have an equivalent in the Snyder Cut and adds meaningless fights and a Russian family for no reason.
Nevertheless, it does attempt to have a little bit of heart. Cavill’s Superman is a bit more jolly here, and Cavill plays it well! I've always felt that Cavill’s Supes wasn't very good at being angry, but he plays a winsome Golden Age hero extraordinarily well.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is far better
It goes without saying Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a better film, but it's not perfect. Firstly, it’s a more complete movie — double the running time guarantees that — but it also improves upon the theatrical cut in almost every way.
As a sequel to Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder's version feels like an appropriate follow-up. The death of Superman kicks off the entire narrative in a way that flows into the narrative that Whedon’s version doesn’t quite capture.
Zack Snyder's Justice League has themes, ones that Snyder — for once — doesn't obviously portray. Batman and Wonder Woman are both looking for redemption; Bruce Wayne finishes his BvS arc with newfound faith in Superman and mankind in general. Furthermore, the villain Steppenwolf is also looking for redemption for his betrayal against Darkseid. It feels like a movie that's been planned out and thought through. Actually, it just feels like a movie.
For as long as it is, Snyder's cut doesn't feel too overdrawn. It's balancing a lot of plates that don't always arrive pristine, but it doesn't feel like it's actively fighting itself. For example, the titular Justice League aren’t constantly caught up in petty squabbles. Aquaman has worries about Cyborg’s connection to the Mother Boxes, but he isn't actively ableist. Batman doesn’t taunt Diana Prince about her dead boyfriend.
Backed by a phenomenal score with character tracks and lemotifs and cinematography that isn't at odds with itself, it feels like a movie. With Whedon's version fresh in the brain, you're constantly finding the real, honest intentions between scenes. It feels correct. However, it's not perfect.
Zack Snyder's Justice League has issues
Man, this movie is long. Is it too long? Yes. Is it unwatchably long? No! The Snyder Cut does feel like viewers are being given every second of footage that Snyder has available in a way that does grate. Scenes like the Amazons’ firing a big, special arrow are minutes long when they could be seconds.
Of course, some of this is due to how much stuff needed to be crammed into Justice League. Warner Bros wanted their biggest characters together before having movies for Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash. The Snyder Cut’s need to introduce them does lead a couple of beautiful sequences — not so much with Aquaman — but it does bloat the film.
In a perfect world, Arthur Curry is already King of Atlantis, protecting the Mother Box because its his duty. Perhaps The Flash has already been introduced, even if it means losing his beautiful sequence where he rescues Iris West. Nevertheless, Snyder had to introduce them and their introductions don't lead to a bad movie, just a crammed one.
However, the movie’s biggest crime is Snyder not knowing when to stop. The aforementioned heartfelt Martha and Lois is ruined so Snyder can introduce a surprise Martian Manhunter. Even the end of the movie needs to show us a, frankly, crap scene so Batman and The Joker can interact on screen.
There's a fantastic movie hidden under this mess, but what's here is still pretty damn good. After seeing Whedon’s mess, it feels like a masterpiece, but a flawed masterpiece.
Should I watch both Justice League movies?
Absolutely not. While Joss Whedon's version of the movie does add an interesting lense to Snyder's full vision, it's definitely one step too far. It's an unenjoyable flick that takes scenes that were already fine and makes them grating. Outside of one or two cute Superman moments, it feels like a movie on fast-forward, jumping over any meaningful scenes that could've still made the cut. It also adds a stupid side plot with the one random family living near a nuclear reactor.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is the only version you should watch, unless there's a perfect fan edit out there. It's a movie that feels like a movie, it even feels like one that wanted to me made. Despite its hedonism, it’s enjoyable. Also, it has one of the best superhero scenes in cinematic history involving The Flash.