The release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t just a triumph for Snyder’s vision almost four years after its theatrical release; it’s also an implicit condemnation of Joss Whedon, who completed — and substantially altered — the movie after Snyder originally left the project.
Now that audiences have the chance to compare the two different versions of the movie, it’s a chance to see just what Whedon did — and why almost every change made the theatrical Justice League worse.
Let’s ignore, for now, the obvious visual differences between the two versions — the color grading, which turned Snyder’s purposefully grim aesthetic into something more garish, or the different versions of Steppenwolf, who became more human-like and, as a result, less interesting in the Whedon cut — and concentrate on some of the other choices that created a significantly weaker theatrical version.
4. Whedon’s Justice League sidelines the Justice League
Snyder’s Justice League takes great pains to give screentime to the newer members of the team, with Cyborg and The Flash, significantly, being the heroes who ultimately save the day and resolve their emotional arcs in the process. That’s not true in Joss Whedon’s version of the movie, which all but removes the storylines for both characters.
Similarly, in Whedon’s cut, the conflict over whether or not to resurrect Superman is entirely reframed as a debate between Batman and Wonder Woman — even though in Snyder’s original, it’s Aquaman that has the greater problem with the idea. The drama of the movie in Whedon’s eyes belongs to the big names; everyone else is there to provide colorful background, distraction, and support.
3. Joss Whedon highlights the wrong hero
In the Snyder Cut, Justice League’s center is Bruce Wayne; in Joss Whedon’s version, though, Justice League is entirely about Superman.
Whedon’s opening montage shows a world in mourning for Superman, and much of the movie is dedicated to the existential loss suffered in the wake of his death — not only that the world has collectively lost hope, but that humanity’s subsequent depression is what has drawn Steppenwolf to attack. Batman even gives a speech in a Whedon-added scene about how Superman is inherently better than him, to the point where he even announces that Superman is more human than he is.
It’s an odd swerve that isn’t supported by what came before. Didn’t most of the world distrust Superman already? When did Batman have such hero worship for Superman, considering what we all saw in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice? It plays out unconvincingly as a result.
2. Joss Whedon’s final battle comes up empty
Quickly: try and remember what happens at the end of the theatrical cut of Justice League. You probably can’t, because it’s impressively unmemorable — and even more so in the wake of Zack Snyder’s version.
Snyder has the League physically overpower Steppenwolf while Darkseid looks on, with Cyborg managing to overcome his emotional disconnection and separate the Mother Boxes before Wonder Woman beheads the villain as he travels back through the Boom Tube… and all of this happens after the Flash has turned back time for a do-over, because originally the team had failed and Darkseid had transformed Earth into a literal apocalypse.
In the Whedon version, Cyborg and Superman separate the Mother Boxes by simply pulling them apart really hard, which makes Steppenwolf afraid, causing the Parademons to turn on him, so he retreats in a Boom Tube. To say that it’s anti-climactic in contrast with what was originally planned — and now widely available thanks to HBO Max — is an understatement.
1. Joss Whedon cuts out the actual final boss
Of course, the climactic battle has to play out differently because Darkseid doesn’t even exist in the theatrical version of the movie at all.
It’s unclear why Darkseid is entirely absent from Whedon’s version of the movie, given that he could have easily replaced Steppenwolf with Darkseid with minimal fuss, since both are CGI characters. But it’s a change that leaves Steppenwolf without clear motivation. He wants to conquer the Earth because… he didn’t manage to do so earlier?
“Generic.” That might be the best way to describe Whedon’s Justice League, and the changes made to Snyder’s original vision. Whedon’s most extended addition to the project may be the unnamed Russian family saved by the Flash during the climactic battle, a subplot that added nothing to the movie beyond reminding people that superheroes save regular people even while fighting bad guys — clearly a theme close to Whedon’s heart, given that it also appears in his two Avengers movies.
But almost every change made to bring Justice League to theaters make the movie less ambitious and unique, transforming it into something smaller, more timid, and more boring as a result. Justice League’s theatrical cut might have managed to hit that two-hour target, but what was sacrificed to get there was the overindulgence and ambition that made Snyder’s story worth telling in the first place.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max.