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In 2017, Warner Brothers released The Justice League, a long-anticipated but ultimately underwhelming superhero team-up film featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. What should have been a massive tentpole was instead a head-scratcher, and that was due in part to the exit of original director Zack Snyder after a family tragedy. In his stead, Joss Whedon finished the film, and tried to change its tone and storyline in his telling.
In the aftermath of the tentpole bomb, fans of Zack Snyder’s previous work began lobbying WB to release his version of the movie instead of the Frankenstein’s monster version audiences saw in theaters. For years, these cries went unheard until WB decided to indulge the fans as a ploy to bring attention to the HBO Max streaming platform.
At long last, fans can now watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max and the results are genuinely fascinating. Snyder’s version runs over 4 hours long, about double the original version’s runtime, and, while this new version isn’t a complete masterpiece, it is a far more interesting story that makes tonal sense and that I would say I genuinely did enjoy. Even more fascinating than its quality, though, is how it informs audiences on the post-production process. Almost all of the scenes in this 4 hour version were shot for the 2017 release, so looking at these two versions side-by-side reveals just how much a studio and a new director can change a movie via re-shoots and editing.
The 2017 and 2021 versions of Justice League are… entirely different movies with the same bones. Snyder’s version has an additional villain, much more backstory and a plot that actually makes sense. Whedon’s version cut a lot of those things out in favor of weird attempted-comedy pieces and a more upbeat narrative, even re-writing some scenes that exist in both versions to change their location and pepper in some new jokes.
If nothing else, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a fascinating insight into the mechanics of making modern blockbusters and how quickly a vision can lose focus when too many cooks are in the kitchen. It also helps that I found it to be pretty good to boot.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max.
I’m Evan Rook.