For some, it was a miracle of creative preservation. For others, a plague upon pop culture that would not die. But whatever you felt as you turned on HBO Max and observed Zack Snyder's 4-hour long version of Justice League, you cannot deny the sheer scope and improvement over the 2017 theatrical cut. Unlike that version, which saw Joss Whedon cut down and reshoot most of Snyder's original work into a more Avengers-like affair, Snyder's vision is far more clear, if not incredibly long. Though, I suppose that's part of the point.
Snyder was given carte blanche (And a $75 million plus budget) to finish his original vision of the film. And, as a result, he was also allowed to do some reshoots that helped him address various fan hopes in small ways. By doing so, what he offers here is an unrestrained cut purely created in the sense of offering what might have been in the DCEU's future along with what he had hoped to accomplish. In a strange way, the film is as much the fans' vision as well as Snyder's. Especially noted in the tone which unlike his previous two DCEU films (Man of Steel and Batman v Superman) actually has a layered nature to it's characters' dimensions. It's a 4-hour cut that takes advantage of it's run time to address various characters' larger motivations. While it can debated one way or another whether Snyder should have released the film as a six-part miniseries, the point is that Snyder offers a canvas of characters and storylines that are restrained not by a runtime (Like the theatrical cut) but by creative endeavors. And it works most of the time!
The characters are all given adequate spotlight to be afforded development that is welcome and often ties into the larger plot with surprising nuance. Despite how you may feel towards his comments on production issues, Ray Fisher's performance as Cyborg is without a doubt the biggest improvement along with Ben Affleck given a more focused story that allows him to explore Bruce Wayne's crisis of conscience following his actions from Batman v Superman. But everyone benefits from the longer runtime including Henry Cavill's more redeemed take on Clark Kent/Superman along with Gadot's Wonder Woman being allowed to have more than action in her arc. Ezra Miller's Barry Allen is still a somewhat off-putting take on The Flash, but is nonetheless more intriguing as an insecure man motivated by the heroes around him yet afraid he's not up to the task. While Jason Momoa allowed some edge to his surfer-dude style Aquaman, his character is perhaps given the short end of the stick, though he's perhaps more to be a constant than explored beyond what seemingly was the original set-up for his solo film. However, the character who most benefits from this recut is the villain Steppenwolf (Played by Ciarán Hinds) who not only gets a more sinister look (Armor that essentially reacts to emotions) but is also more sculpted in his intentions. It helps that Snyder adds in his boss, the architect of the film's threat, Darkseid (Played by Ray Porter) and connects that to Steppenwolf to feed his motivations. In other words, every character is given more depth and thus you care more what happens to all of them. Hindsight also pays off greatly here.
Due to Snyder having years to consider his film, he properly adds in more of Darkseid as a looming threat, giving stakes and darkness to contrast the growing light that the JL are trying to bring about in a new "age of heroes" (Thus, fulfilling the promises Snyder made that the heroes were meant to bring about light in the dark world seen in his first two films). Snyder also adds in the fan theory of Harry Lennix's character being Martian Manhunter in disguise along with a surprisingly improved Joker (Played by Jared Leto) appearing in the final scenes that offers Batman further growth in the Knightmare sequences (Which is what Justice League 2 would have focused on). So, in other words, Snyder took advantage of seeing reception to the theatrical cut and added more based off that reception.
That's not to say that the story isn't unyielding. It is sprawling and goes off on so many tangents, that it's a wonder the film flows as well as it does, though most likely this is lent to cinematographer Fabian Wagner and editor David Brenner who know how to contain each scene's concepts with a fully realized capturing of sequences and finding ways to bring the tangents back to the main plot. It's surprising with that in mind how few action scenes they are, but in place of that is breadth and exploration into the warriors you're rooting for. The film is also afforded the scope and more epic tone thanks to Junkie XL's score with there being an intent with each track that no longer leans on nostalgic droppings of old themes that Danny Elfman's score gave. A score that gives the film something it didn't have before...a soul.
The idea here is that Snyder got to tell all the parts of the story he wanted to and no doubt had footage added that wasn't necessary so as to let fans feel they got their money's worth after waiting four years to see the version they should have seen before. A version with far superior effects and creative designs, intricate and more their own ideas than lent to by Whedon's Marvel experience guiding every choice in the film. A version that knows it won't lead to more films and it perhaps is that that the film's greatest sin lies. Despite how much Snyder accomplishes here and the victory of getting to make his version, the film ends on cliffhangers that will never be given an answer. Well...for now. Stranger things have happened.
But, if anything, Snyder proves he had something to offer DCEU fans and even seemingly adjusted for complaints he had before as characters are given moments of hope, humor, and strength as they suit up and save the day. This film is meant to be preserved not as a conclusion, but rather a look into what might have been. The purest joy for many cinephiles to study relics of filmmaking and deconstruct it to it's very core. If Snyder really did leave the film's production due to his daughter's death, than he indeed has honored her (The film is dedicated to her after all!) and as Allison Crowe's rendition of Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" plays over the credits (Becoming a sort of unofficial theme for the movie and it's production journey to completion), you feel the somberness that Snyder felt as he finished his vision. This is not a film made as much out of ego as it is having closure. Both creative and personal. And that desire to have closure seems to have allowed Snyder to offer the most delicately crafted of his DCEU efforts. Disjointed at times, without a doubt one of the most expensive efforts ever (Totaling over $400 million when you include the original budget, the post-production reshoots, and Snyder finishing his version), but all-in-all, a worthwhile venture for those who defend creative vision guiding a film over studio mandates. That's a victory to, I suppose.
Performances (Namely Affleck and Fisher)
Depth of the story.
Loose-hanging story threads.