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The Snyder Cut: What’s New, What’s Gone (and More About That Ending)

 Aquaman (Jason Momoa), left, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) in the new version.Credit...HBO Max, via Associated Press

Here’s a guide to just how different “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is from the version Joss Whedon finished in 2017.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” out now on HBO Max, bears very little resemblance to the version of “Justice League” released by Warner Bros. in 2017.

It’s well known at this point that the theatrical version was released after much behind-the-scenes drama: Zack Snyder found himself fighting over the creative direction of the movie with the studio, which was anxious for an “Avengers”-style hit that would be the beginning of a billion-dollar franchise. Fed up and grieving the recent loss of his daughter, Snyder walked away during postproduction; Joss Whedon, who’d already been brought in to add touches of humor to the screenplay, finished the job. Although the resulting movie earned more than $650 million worldwide, it was lambasted by critics and disappointed fans. Their vocal campaign to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut persuaded HBO Max, an arm of WarnerMedia, to let Snyder do just that.

It took him four years, $70 million, and hundreds of hours of shooting and editing to finally realize his vision. This isn’t simply a director’s cut. It’s an altogether different movie.

Free of cringe-inducing gags about podcasts and alien probes, the movie feels liberated from a certain brand of popular mainstream filmmaking and more like the work of one artist: Snyder, who clearly takes this superhero stuff very seriously. It emphasizes big emotion and earnest, heart-on-sleeve displays of masculine feeling.

Snyder has said he never saw the version of “Justice League” that Warner Bros. released, but he is aware that most of what he’d intended to put in the film was changed or discarded. Although the broad outline — Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa), among other comic book heroes, band together to defend the earth from the evil alien Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) — remained the same, Snyder’s distinctive style was made unrecognizable.

Whether you love Snyder’s style or hate it, it’s clear that this version, divided into six chapters and an epilogue, is all Snyder, uncut and uncompromised.

What Has Been Added

ImageThe new villain Darkseid is trying to enslave the planet. 

The new villain Darkseid is trying to enslave the planet. Credit...HBO Max

The director’s love of balletic action and big, slow motion set pieces is on display in a number of new sequences, including a striking, snow-dappled high school football match that sets up Victor Stone, a.k.a. Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and an alternate introduction to the Flash (Ezra Miller), whom we now meet using his super speed to save the would-be victims of a car crash. (In the Whedon cut, he’s drawing on a bully’s face with a pen.) An entirely new villain called Darkseid, meanwhile, is depicted with menacing grandeur, smoldering extravagantly before towers of flame as he conspires to enslave the planet.

Some of the most immediately noticeable changes are essentially amendments or corrections. Whedon’s reshoots with Cavill, for instance, were ridiculed at the time for some incredibly wonky C.G.I. mustache removal, which made his chin look like Plasticine. The actor’s face, in the Snyder Cut, has been restored to its ordinary flesh-and-blood glory.

There are new cameos from, among others, Vulko (Willem Dafoe), the Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Some of the Whedon version’s less convincing visual effects shots have been redesigned or fine-tuned, and the aspect ratio in which the movie is presented has been altered from a conventional wide-screen format to a the boxier, eye-catching “academy” ratio, which, Snyder said in an interview last week, he had always wanted “from the start.”

Snyder is known for staging scenes to popular music, and his cut is littered with new needle drops. A moment in which Aquaman chugs a bottle of whisky and struts from a dock into the roiling sea strikes a forlorn note with a Nick Cave song, where it formerly had the trailer-friendly rock jam “Icky Thump.” Another moment is set to a plaintive cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren.”

The Snyder Cut’s four-hour running time greatly expands on a plot that in the theatrical version felt cursory and rushed. Much more context is provided to explain the origins of the Mother Boxes (all-powerful devices with distinctly Freudian undertones whose theft imperils the world and sets this story in motion), as well to clarify the motivations of Darkseid and his horned minion, Steppenwolf, whose efforts now have an added dimension of centuries-old vengeance. There’s also an in-depth flashback revealing former battles between the forces of good and evil, and two extended dream sequences showing the fate that might befall the world should the bad guys prevail.

The film now also has time to elaborate on character back stories that the Whedon cut was forced to sketch faintly, if at all. The greatest beneficiaries are Cyborg and the Flash: neither made much of an impression previously, but together they are the heart of the Snyder Cut. Fisher’s performance, as a broken young man trying to hold on to a glimpse of hope, is sensitive and surprisingly nuanced, and Cyborg in particular is compelling now that the character has room to breathe.

In the Whedon version, Victor is a teenager who transforms into a human-robot hybrid more or less spontaneously. We don’t learn all that much about him, and his powers are never well-defined and don’t make much sense. In the Snyder Cut, we see him in flashbacks losing his mother in fatal traffic accident. He’s estranged from his father (Joe Morton), a top scientist specializing in alien technology, who uses one of the Mother Boxes to turn Victor into Cyborg after the crash.

Even his father has been fleshed out and now feels fully three-dimensional — a change that pays off at the end of the second act, when he sacrifices himself to help his son. “The mothers played a big part in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,’ and we had it in our mind that this one would be about fathers,” Snyder said in the interview. “The sacrifice of the father is the thing we wanted to come through.”

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