The DCEU has had its fair share of controversy since launching in 2013. And while there's been dozens of canceled movies and a fair few critical duds, the most controversial release has no doubt been the theatrical cut of Justice League. After taking over from Zack Snyder throughout the reshoots, Joss Whedon cut huge chunks of the movie, heavily reducing Cyborg's role, and changing Superman and Batman's story arcs. With the release of Zack Snyder's Justice League, however, many of these characters have finally been redeemed, thanks to the director finally being allowed to show his true vision for these superheroes.
Among the criticisms leveled at Man of Steel was Superman's characterization. Henry Cavill's hero was not the sunny Superman many might have expected, and he became even more downcast in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But Snyder's Justice League gave us the version of the character we've been waiting for. This Clark Kent is comfortable with being a hero, has a smile on his face as he helps the League fight Steppenwolf, and even has a one-liner prepared.
Superman hasn't seemed so joyful since he first took flight in Man of Steel. Is this a complete 180, then? Not really – it's the culmination of a character arc that began with that first movie. It's no surprise that a Superman, struggling to find his place in the world in Man of Steel, then having that world turn on him in Batman v Superman, might not be so carefree. In the Snyder Cut, the situation is easier to deal with – there’s an intergalactic threat and not an ethical consideration in sight when he cheerfully punches the villain into the path of Wonder Woman’s sword.
Likewise, Zack Snyder's Justice League caps off Batman’s journey. The Bruce Wayne we meet in Batman v Superman, played by Ben Affleck, is darker than usual, savagely beating his foes and branding them. He's also beyond cynical. Superman's sacrifice, though, changes something in him – Bruce tells Wonder Woman at the hero's funeral that "men are still good," and, in the Snyder Cut, we see that belief in action. The death of Superman drives him to unite the League, and even when Supes comes back from the dead not quite right, this new Batman tells Alfred he has "faith" that he'll return to help them anyway. Towards the end of the movie, he has criminals tied up rather than beaten to a pulp. His former brutality was a point of contention, but Batman had to start at rock bottom so he had room to grow – his arc seems intended to be one of redemption, and thanks to comments from Snyder on Justice League 2, we know his story would have eventually ended with the requisite heroic sacrifice, too.
Then there's everything the Snyder Cut improved on from the theatrical Justice League. Of its missteps (Henry Cavill's upper lip, anyone?), one of the most egregious was how much Ray Fisher's Cyborg was side-lined. The Snyder Cut restored the character to his rightful place at the heart of the movie. Cyborg can be seen coming to terms with his traumatic car crash, and saves the world thanks to that acceptance – a journey entirely excised from 2017's Justice League. This introduction of a new, Black hero with such a powerful arc of self-belief completely overwrites the Cyborg of 2017, who, all in all, was just kind of... there.
Finally, the Snyder Cut made time for one last character. Criticism of Suicide Squad's Joker targeted his unusual look, including the "damaged" tattoo on his forehead, as well as Leto's acting style. In Zack Snyder's Justice League, Joker looks completely different, with longer hair, no grill, and no tattoos. His conversation with Batman alludes to their shared past, fleshing out this incarnation of one of pop culture's most iconic hero/villain relationships in a matter of minutes. Fans reacted incredibly positively, which seemed unthinkable back in 2016 when Suicide Squad first graced the big screen (though, it should be noted that director David Ayer has claimed "terrifying" Joker scenes with "incredible acting" were cut from the movie). Now we know that Leto can more than deliver, and the snapshot of his Joker glimpsed in the Snyder Cut definitely justifies his casting.
Zack Snyder's Justice League places a satisfying bow on Snyder's DCEU trilogy, while still leaving a few tantalizing glimpses at what we might get if Warner Bros. does decide to continue the Snyder-verse, which seem highly unlikely. Time will tell if we ever see these newly developed characters again, but, if not, at least the Snyder Cut offers a satisfying conclusion to their paths.
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