Zack Snyder’s Justice League was the DCEU’s last hope

Sam Comrie
zack snyder's justice league cast

Zack Snyder gave Warner Brothers the foundation for a DCEU trilogy that would have beat Marvel to the multiverse punch. Now, amid the release of Black Adam and a string of delayed movies, it’s clear Zack Snyder’s Justice League was the DCEU’s last shot at redemption.

We’re gathered here today, November 16, a day before the five-year anniversary of Justice League. Yes, the original theatrical cut with CGI lips, a bumbling Batman, and a total disregard for cohesion.

The failure of the Joss Whedon-altered version of Justice League is well documented, but there was a brief window for absolution for Warner Brothers: the four-hour extravaganza, Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Promises of a new DCEU with a returning Henry Cavill are on the horizon, but has the ship already sailed to course correct a once-promising universe? It certainly feels that way.

Zack Snyder nearly beat the MCU at their own game

The road to Zack Snyder’s Justice League is one of the most controversial campaigns in movie history. Though many of its supporters were full of good intentions, another cell inadvertently concocted a negative image that would plague DCEU fans to this day. Not even the demand for Richard Donner’s original Superman II could match the primal need to see the Snyder Cut reach the light of day. Despite its toxic detractors, it’s still a miracle that something of this magnitude exists.

We have to remember that the Snyder Cut would have pre-dated the grandiose Infinity War, if it had been released as intended in 2017. Would The Flash still be a multiversal tale, intended to soft-reboot the DCEU, if the original plan had gone ahead? Well, hindsight is a funny concept, but I firmly believe we’d be living in a different era for DC Comics if it had.

Ezra Miller as The Flash
The Flash movie uses the basis of the famous Flashpoint story to travel the DCEU multiverse.

The Flash shouldn’t bear this weight – Marvel’s solo movies understand that. Infinity War and Endgame used a well-earned, decade-long approach to pull off its universe-bending tale. While the DCEU has always been accused of playing catch up, Justice League’s sequels could have been the opposite. Darkseid and the ravenous army of Apokolips were intended for far greater plans, but more on that later.

Man of Steel was the birth of a hope paragon. Dawn of Justice was the confirmation of Superman’s unmatched commitment to humanity in the face of severe adversity. Zack Snyder’s Justice League was the rebirth of not just an icon, but the notion of what comic book movies could achieve. Complaints that Snyder doesn’t “understand” characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, or more importantly, Superman, have always been baffling.

Understanding the pathos of the Justice League

Now, don’t get me wrong. Seeing the Blue Boy Scout embrace the ideals of hope will always be an element to desire in any incarnation of Superman. Yet, Snyder’s version excelled from day one by accentuating the difficulty of harnessing dangerous abilities, morally and physically, in a modern world. Superman has always faced the labeling of “boring” but Man of Steel and BvS deconstructed just how it feels to have the burden of the world on your shoulders. This same creative ethos is applied to all of Snyder’s Justice League members.

That’s where the Snyder Cut excels – and it’s only enhanced through the somber tone of its predecessor, Batman v Superman. It’d be naive to deny that Snyder’s direction here isn’t pulsating with a Marvel-like optimism. Even with a devastating alien threat looming, Snyder’s Justice League is ultimately a tale of healing and putting aside our demons to ensure a better tomorrow. We’ve seen that same manner come to light in Man of Steel’s gorgeous first flight scene or Dawn of Justice’s monument to the concept of Superman himself.

DC movie Superman
Superman’s arc over the course of Snyder’s trilogy is nothing short of epic.

And that dedication to framing the DCEU’s only trilogy as a Superman-led endeavor is what takes the Snyder Cut one step further. Sure, the Snyder Cut is not without its faults. It’s self-indulgent and is weakened by a stuffed epilogue, but it’s that same self-indulgence that works in Snyder’s favor, especially for a story of this behemoth size. Enormous set pieces of intergalactic war or the Justice League facing down Kal-El stand tall alongside even the best MCU moments.

So, what exactly did Zack Snyder have planned for the DCEU? If there is one thing to know about the ‘Maestro’, it’s that preparation and world-building are Snyder’s bread and butter. Justice League 2 and 3 had already been outlined during the first installment’s production. Brace yourselves.

The Darkseid Saga would have been an event for the ages

Dawn of Justice teased the ‘Knightmare’ future, where Superman had succumbed to the Anti-Life Equation – a deadly mathematical formula used by Darkseid to force humanity to embrace its darkest thoughts. Backed by an army of dedicated followers, Superman had wiped most of the Justice League out, including the likes of Green Lantern and Aquaman.

Batman is captured by Superman’s forces and brutally murdered. However, this grim future is revealed to be a vision of forthcoming events, as Ezra Miller’s The Flash travels back in time to warn Bruce of this fate. With this in mind, the events of Justice League are put into motion, as Darkseid’s arrival brings the Knightmare closer to fruition.

The movie’s prologue digs deeper into this with a new vision of the future. An unlikely partnership has been forged between The Joker, Deathstroke, and Batman alongside The Flash, Cyborg, and Mera. But that’s where the story ends – at least officially.

green lantern in zack snyder's justice league
Wayne T. Carr was set to play John Stewart aka Green Lantern in future movies.

“Darkseid comes to Earth. Lex Luthor has found the Anti-Life Equation. He has teamed up with The Riddler, who has deciphered the anti-life equation, and Batman’s on their trail,” Snyder told GQ in March 2021.

“The Riddler tells him, ‘I thought it was a riddle, but it turns out to be the end of the world,'” Snyder continues. More importantly, killing a pregnant Lois Lane would make Superman vulnerable to persuasion.

Snyder planned to expand on his Knightmare teases: “Their plan in the future is to find one of the Mother Boxes that still remains and, using Cyborg’s genius and the power of the Mother Box, jump Flash back in time to the Batcave to give Bruce an advantage in the fight against Darkseid, so that he could save Lois.”

Batman’s hatred for The Joker would have been fleshed out, diving into the story of how Robin was murdered in the DCEU. But surprisingly, The Joker’s hidden stash of Kryptonite would have a uniting goal to take down evil Superman.

However, Snyder confirmed they would “fail” and The Flash would be sent back in time via the “Cosmic Treadmill” to a universe where “Bruce sacrifices himself to save Lois and that gives Superman enough time to get there, and Darkseid retreats.”

Naturally, a huge conflict would ensue, bringing every united force from Atlanteans to Themysicarans together to battle Darkseid and his Parademons once and for all. Think Return of The King, but undoubtedly with more slow motion. Snyder had even drafted these plans on whiteboards during the pre-production of Justice League, saving them for his own keeping.

Some elements probably wouldn’t have worked, like the subplot of Bruce Wayne sleeping with Lois Lane during Superman’s absence, leading to the emergence of a new Batman at the end of Justice League 3. But hey, points for trying something different. Nonetheless, it is clear these Justice League sequels would paint a tapestry of rich lore for both comic purists and DC newcomers to explore. In the wake of Darkseid’s defeat, maybe the DCEU would have been gearing up for a fight with deep-cut villains like Perpetua or Anti-Monitor.

Warner Brothers destroyed the DCEU’s potential

We will never know what the DCEU could have been and it all stemmed from one issue: confidence. However, it wasn’t a lack of faith in Snyder’s Justice League.

This problem appeared with Batman v Superman and the need to trim its runtime down to fill more theatre showing slots. In doing so, not only did it sacrifice key plot details and character beats, but set a precedent for Warner Brothers’ attitude toward Snyder’s direction.

It may be divisive, but there’s no denying that Snyder’s ideas aren’t half-hearted. For better or worse, the ironclad reaffirmation of his aesthetic and moral paradigms gave the DCEU a unique tone that offered something fresh outside of the MCU.

Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam
Dwayne Johnson’s attempt to shift the hierarchy of power is woefully dated.

These days, the DCEU’s lackluster run from Birds of Prey to Black Adam doesn’t exactly promise an exciting time. Success found in James Wan’s Aquaman or Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman wouldn’t be possible without Zack Snyder’s instinct to cast Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot.

Netting itself over $1 billion at the box office, Momoa’s Aquaman didn’t just win over new fans – it made existing ones see Arthur Curry as “cool” again. That isn’t to say Wan’s kinetic talents weren’t responsible for that glowing aspect, but without Snyder, these wins for Warner Brothers simply wouldn’t exist. The DCEU exists because of Zack Snyder, yet, Warner Brothers are desperate to strike his name from its future.

“There was a time above… a time before… there were perfect things… diamond absolutes. But things fall… things on earth. And what falls… is fallen.”

Bruce Wayne, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Black Adam features the villainous Intergang, which wields weapons of an alien origin, supplied by none other than Darkseid on the pages of DC Comics. Sadly, the movie never commits to this fact. Seeing Henry Cavill back in the Superman suit is amazing, but at what cost? It’s difficult to imagine the consistencies between the proposed DCEU future, but the jury is still out on that one.

We shouldn’t have to suffer through repetitive notions of a “hierarchy” and “change” from Dwayne Johnson. Descents into mediocrity found in Black Adam or the soulless The Suicide Squad serve only to remind us what should have been.

The Darkseid Saga will likely never be completed. The time has passed for the DCEU to match Marvel’s ‘event cinema’ reputation. Where’s the justice in that?

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