Spoilers are ahead. The Snyder Cut of Warner Bros.’ Justice League is a stupefying journey. The four-hour runtime and mercilessly detailed storyline involving not one villain, but six all contribute to the sensation. Yet it’s what Zack Snyder’s Justice League is notably missing that left me feeling disoriented.
When I first saw 2017’s Justice League in theaters, I was a newly converted DC Universe fan, eager to see more of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in action after falling in love with her in Patti Jenkins’ 2017 masterpiece. I walked in blind — opting out of reading the scathing reviews and social media reactions in hope of enjoying a big, cheesy popcorn movie co-starring my new favourite superhero. Instead, as we now know, watching the original Justice League meant sitting uncomfortably through two hours of messy, lazy storytelling, anchored by the use of Diana Prince as a sexual carrot for Ben Affleck’s lonely Batman and his newly recruited super-minions. Gone was the powerful leader from Themyscira; in her place was a flirtatious woman whose main goals were making the Bat Man feel virile and convincing the men around her to do their jobs. But throughout Snyder’s 2021 cut of the film, the reverence for Diana is palpable — to the extent that the original sexist nightmare feels like some weird fever dream. Watching the Snyder Cut almost felt like being gaslit, as if I had only imagined the first version of the multi-million dollar studio film that set the fandom world ablaze.
The issues surrounding 2017’s Justice League are famously not limited to a sexist storyline — as most fans now know, behind-the-scenes drama plagued the film. Snyder worked tirelessly on his version of Justice League as the film’s director and the story’s co-writer, but the studio pushed back on his vision as he was also weathering personal tragedy: the death of his daughter. Depending on who tells the story, Snyder was either forced out, or willingly relinquished the film to studio executives at Warner Bros. and a new, uncredited director: Joss Whedon, who earned his superhero stripes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Avengers and Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Snyder has said that grief guided his decision to eventually let go and Whedon went on to finish the project. Whedon, who has since been repeatedly accused of misconduct on Justice League and on his star-making series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, also infamously wrote a rejected script for Wonder Woman that was leaked back in 2017. In it, Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazons were described by their physical attributes, called “girls” instead of women and warriors, and Diana’s sexual desirability was a guiding light for the plot.
When confronted about the controversy around that script on the red carpet for Marvel’s Infinity War in 2018 — just months after the release of Justice League — Whedon stood by his work, telling Variety, “I don’t know which parts people didn’t like, but I went and reread the script after I heard there was a backlash. I think it’s great. People say that it’s not woke enough, but they’re not looking at the whole picture.”
So it’s rather curious that the Whedon cut of 2017’s Justice League, when compared directly to Snyder’s version, is so blatantly sexist. Snyder promised his cut would feature none of the footage shot by another director, and wouldn’t you know it: The Snyder cut is missing the scene in which Diana toes the line between motherly affection and flirtation to convince Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg to risk his sanity and his life to wrest the dangerous Mother Boxes from the villain, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). There are no unnecessary closeups of Diana’s skirt and bloomers; instead we spend that screen time on Diana taking a minute to inspire a young girl, who positively glows upon meeting her hero.
The new cut is also missing the moment in which Aquaman (Jason Momoa) begins listing the strengths of his Justice League colleagues, only to tell Diana she’s gorgeous before lasciviously looking her up and down while grunting. Snyder’s new version most certainly doesn’t include the romantic (see also: manipulative) subplot in which Alfred (Jeremy Irons) drops hints to Diana that Bruce Wayne is just so lonely, before Bruce shames Diana for mourning the loss of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and tells her she’s not a good leader. In that version, Diana then chooses to check on Bruce as he’s undressing and brandishing his bruises in order to forgive him for his cruelty, massage his strained shoulders, and softly tell him he was right to criticize her. The Snyder Cut’s Diana is a leader from start to finish — the first to unravel Steppenwolf’s plan and the one person capable of holding him at bay until Superman (Henry Cavill) arrives to take the team’s combined strength over the edge. You don’t say.
Curiouser still are the myriad ways that detestable scenes from 2017’s Justice League closely mirror the issues with another film on Whedon’s roster: 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. That film has long been despised by women MCU fans because it turned the only woman in the Avengers, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, into a lovesick schoolgirl, following her beloved Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) around begging him to notice her affections. Ultron also includes a scene in which Natasha belittles herself — picking up on a pattern yet? — and says she’s “a monster” because she was sterilized and cannot have children. She then spends the majority of the film’s climax in a cage waiting to be rescued by Banner. Minutes before that, she utters the cringeworthy line, “I’m always picking up after you boys,” which carries the exact same energy as the moment when Wonder Woman shakes her head at the end of 2017’s Justice League and says, “Children. I work with children.”
This is not to say that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the perfect blueprint for future representations of women in superhero narratives. For one, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is still a vessel for Superman’s humanity, and the mere sight of her still brings the newly-resurrected supe down from his rabid fit of rage just in time for him to save the day. But at least in Snyder’s version, Lois isn’t a woman who’s given up on life, spending her workdays gabbing with her dead lover’s mom and relinquishing plumb assignments to her less deserving colleagues. She’s not a tool, expertly wielded by Batman, who in the Whedon cut keeps Lois in a car with Alfred as a secret weapon to calm Superman down. Instead, she’s a woman in the throes of grief — a role far more worthy of Adams’ talents. She’s on a leave of absence from her job so she can fully process what it means to lose the love of her life while still guarding his greatest secret, his identity. She visits his memorial every day, with a cup of coffee for the police officer standing guard, and in Snyder’s version it’s this routine that brings her face to face with her resurrected lover — not callous manipulation at the hands of Superman’s greatest frenemy.
Snyder’s cut is still a ridiculously indulgent superhero movie, with a story so far-flung that average viewers may struggle to keep up. It’s not perfect. It’s definitely too long. But it’s a film that fully respects and understands its characters. Fisher’s Victor Stone finally gets the rich, emotional backstory he deserves; Kiersey Clemons’ Iris West is no longer left to waste away on the cutting room floor; and Wonder Woman is a leader, not a sex object. So, yes, the Snyder Cut raised the bar — but let's not forget that 2017's Justice League all but buried it.