For years, Marvel Studios has dominated the blockbuster landscape with countless feature films debuting superheroes, building team-ups and raking in cash.

Its natural comic book rival, DC Comics, has always been behind the curve, attempting to play catch up by fast-tracking their way through Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman films to get to Justice League, their answer to The Avengers, a Joss Whedon movie that propelled Marvel into the cinematic stratosphere financially.

Director Zack Snyder had been given the reigns to the DC cinematic universe and after semi-successful turns with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, took the helm on Justice League only to cede control – ironically enough to Whedon – after the death of his teenage daughter during post-production.

A revitalized, extended version of the film Zack Snyder’s Justice League, better known to comic book fans as the Snyder Cut dropped on HBO Max Thursday four years after Whedon’s version was reviled by ardent fans of the series begging to see Snyder’s vision carried through.

The plot is largely the same. Bruce Wayne’s Batman has to assemble a team of heroes to attempt to stop an alien invasion from destroying the planet.

How direction influences everything about a film has never been clearer than examining the differences between Snyder and Whedon’s versions of Justice League. If events in both films didn’t unfold in essentially the same way with the same characters, it would be nearly impossible to see similarities between the two versions.

Whedon brightens the frame, shrinks action to its core and plays up the comic book nature of his heroes in a PG-13 wonderland that tries to Marvel-ify a DC property. In his eyes, it’s a commercial property.

Snyder’s voice shines through in the four hour 2021 edition, ramping up the length and brutality of the action sequences and pushing audiences to their absolute limit in a grounded meta-textual commentary on dramatic themes. The Snyder Cut is a somber elegy that happens to be about super heroes, striving for something closer to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.

The main performances aren’t altered significantly. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne maintains a gravel texture to his cadence and the added scenes only enhance Batman’s faith in others that stems from events in Batman v Superman.

The same could be said of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill’s Superman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, larger versions of characters that are already carved in stone.

But Snyder also extends the film to place newer heroes like The Flash and Cyborg on par with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman with enhanced character development. 

Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen (aka The Flash) has the same signature naivety and wit from the 2017 edition, but his motivations for joining the team are more layered and full-fledged.

Ray Fisher’s Cyborg becomes the lynchpin of the film rather than a hanger-on, giving Fisher the opportunity to infuse his character with a brooding anger that softens subtlety over the course of the film.

The best performance in the revised cut comes from six-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams, whose Lois Lane carries a major section of the 2021 edition with a deeply stoic melancholia that far exceeds everyone around her. 

The Snyder Cut is an exceptionally remastered, wholly original version of the framework of “Justice League” that breathes life into the 2017 disaster and gives the film an identity as a film about family, redemption and teamwork that the original simply didn’t have.

Visually, Snyder makes his version distinctive in two key ways: changing the aspect ratio from widescreen to the virtually square 4:3 and removing the shine off Whedon’s version and replacing it with Snyder’s signature haze that places a weathered texture on the picture.

Clocking in at just over four hours and nearly double the original version’s run time, the Snyder Cut is really for hardcore comic book movie fans who also devour the extended versions of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and won’t hold up as well for casual moviegoers. It is broken into six segments that almost make the Snyder Cut into a television miniseries capable of binging in one sitting or taking in piecemeal.

Whether this Snyder Cut will have a major impact on the future of the DC cinematic universe is somewhat unclear. Warner Brothers has not reached back out to the director since splitting in 2017.

But the same fans who sparked the online movement #ReleaseTheSnyderCut to get the film finalized and into the public could use this massive improvement to reinvigorate the franchise further and make the Snyder Cut a significant moment in cinema history deserving of wider audiences.

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