Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot are back for more in the Snyder Cut of DC super-flick Justice League.

Clay Enos

Weve been a bit short on superhero blockbusters these past 12 months. The Snyder Cut of Justice League is here to make up for that, with four hours of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League fighting the good fight. Did I mention the movies four hours long?

Streaming now on HBO Max, this new extended cut is a reedited version of 2017s Justice League from original director Zack Snyder, who stepped down midway through the production due to a personal tragedy and was replaced by Joss Whedon. Years later Snyder has dusted off the original footage, shot new bits and compiled the lot into a four-hour cut. Officially titled Zack Snyders Justice League, this much-anticipated epic version will be available on HBOs streaming service alongside other Warner Bros. blockbusters and DC Comics spin-offs.

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Like the earlier theatrical version, Snyders Justice League sees Batman recruiting superpowered chums Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash to seek out their fallen superfriend Superman and thwart an alien invader. Superpowers and soul-searching ensue.

The biggest strength of this and all DC movies is the casting of the heroes. Gal Gadots smoldering Wonder Woman, Henry Cavills square-jawed Superman and Ben Afflecks world-weary Batman all fill the comic book costumes perfectly. Alongside them, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller give standout performances, breathing life into lesser-known characters. Its entertaining to spend time with this league of heroes punching, posing and bouncing off each other.

The fun relationships between heroes formed a large part of Joss Whedons rewrites in the version of Justice League that made it to theaters. However, a section of fans quickly rallied to reinstate the original directors vision with an online campaign to #releasethesnydercut. Somewhere between a grassroots movement of comics fans and a flailing howl of harassment against critics and DC, the controversy around the Snyder Cut became a weird nexus in the online culture wars, recently complicated by allegations that Whedon engaged in on-set bullying.

This thing comes with a lot of baggage, but lifes too short to get into all that here. Im not going to comb through the differences between the two versions either. Instead, Im going to take a look at whether the Snyder Cut stands alone as a coherent storytelling experience.

Its no spoiler to say the new cut begins with a recap of an earlier film, 2016s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Which means you dont just have to cast your mind back to the Wonder Woman and Aquaman movies thatve come since; you have to think back five years to an even earlier film in the series. Look, I forgive you for not remembering the specifics of whats happening or why Lex Luthor is hanging in some kind of CGI paddling pool. In fact, Ill save you some trouble and tell you up front that Lex Luthor isnt mentioned again in the main plot of this film, so including him in the intro is just unnecessary and confusing. 

Ten seconds in and I already have that annoying feeling, all too common in todays continuity obsessed blockbusters, that I have to stop the film and check Wikipedia to figure out if Im missing something.

That murky prologue tells you very clearly, right from the jump, who this film is for. Are you intimately acquainted with the details of Zack Snyders films? Welcome aboard. Are you the other 99% of the moviegoing public, which kinda liked the Wonder Woman movies and just wants some superhero escapism while sitting at home with only streaming services for company? Screw you! Go watch Batman Forever, you poser!

The Snyder Cut isnt meant to be fun. Its full of serious people saying serious stuff. Admittedly, the theatrical cuts stream of self-aware quips skirted dangerously close to ridiculing us for taking this stuff even a little bit seriously, but there has to be some middle ground between Whedons goofiness and Snyders leaden approach. When the Snyder Cut takes a stab at humor, it plays like someone who heard a joke once but didnt really understand why everyone was laughing. In this version, Ezra Millers performance as the Flash is still a quirky highlight, but his dialogue often feels forced and weird rather than nerdy and endearing.

You can tell this is serious stuff from the ponderous textural touches, like Nordic villagers singing ominous songs, or stark black title cards, or flashbacks and dream sequences and multiple voiceovers from multiple dead dads. And sooo muuchhh slooo-moooo. Get into your feelings with a full minute of Lois Lane drinking coffee in slow motion in the rain while Nick Cave plays, or get into your feelings again during a full minute of Aquaman drinking whiskey in slow motion in the rain to more Nick Cave.

All this adds to the inflated run time. I, for one, am happy to spend time fighting crime with each and every one of the caped crusaders. But the film is also bloated with countless fripperies any responsible editor would trim without a moments hesitation. We probably didnt need Commissioner Gordon in a subplot about Batman being a suspected kidnapper thats then completely forgotten, or a recurring theme about poverty and eviction that connects to absolutely nothing (especially incongruous when one of the heroes is literal billionaire Bruce Wayne). And we really didnt need a scene thats just Alfred showing Wonder Woman how to make tea.

Zack Snyder in the early stages of directing Justice League.

Warner Bros.

Yet, despite its length, the Snyder Cut presents nothing meaningful or significantly new. For an example of how a reedited version can deepen a story, look at Blade Runner. The fabled Directors Cut added fascinating nuance and ambiguity to the question of whether the hero was human, genuinely adding an extra dimension to the film even if youd seen it before.

But the four-hour Snyder Cut of Justice League feels like essentially the same movie as the two-hour theatrical version, just longer. At times it feels less like a story and more like a free-roaming video game where you wander about the DC universe interacting with nonplayable characters.

And dont even get me started on the tacked-on mini-movies designed to set up sequels that will never come. These throw a bunch of fan-pleasing DC characters at the wall and look cool but are, frankly, incoherent nonsense.

A couple of plot strands are broadened through the film, with varying degrees of success. The expanded story leans heavily on Cyborg, which is good because he has an intriguingly conflicted relationship with his superpowers that make him hands-down the most interesting character on the team.

We also learn that villain Steppenwolf is an underling to a cosmic conqueror named Darkseid. In theory, this could add some fun nuance: The Marvel movies have shown how villains can be developed as personalities with relatable conflicts mirroring the dilemmas faced by the good guys. In practice, it just means Justice Leagues existing over-CG-ed gray beast guy now reports to a different CG gray beast guy who in turn reports into yet another CG gray beast guy.

And Ill save you some Googling here: Youre not mishearing the dialogue, its just that one of those gray CG baddies is called DeSaad and the other is called Darkseid. Ridiculously similar names like that are the kind of clutter you take out of a movie, not deliberately add back in. 

By the way, are you impressed we made it this far before mentioning the M-word? Like it or not, Marvel sets the bar for superhero blockbusters, and DC has been playing catch-up for a decade. Justice League tried to do in one film what the Avengers series unfolded over several years, and it just isnt the same. But Snyder, Warner Bros. and DC also do themselves no favors by telling a story thats so similar to the goings-on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The bickering heroes collecting magical alien artifacts is basically the same as Infinity War and Endgame, and Darkseid is essentially Thanos without the character development. Hell, Snyder even throws in a moment that seems to lift the Hulks signature line (Im always angry) from the first Avengers film -- written and directed by one Joss Whedon, ironically.

So at least after all the fuss and online battles, we can finally compare Snyders and Whedons versions. And we can officially confirm that no matter how great it seemed in fandoms fevered imagination, the Snyder Cut is every bit as much of a mess as the theatrical edit. Which version you prefer is entirely up to you -- Im not going to make a judgment on whether the two-hour or four-hour version is better.

But I will say this: At least one is over sooner.

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