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Director Zack Snyder’s 4 hour version of “Justice League” Great storytelling or bloated action picture?

Call it a “Directors Cut” on steroids. In mid-March 2021, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service will premiere writer/director Zack Snyder’s four-hour version of the 2017 superhero feature “Justice League,” to the delight of fans who had been clamoring for it ever since they had heard rumors of its existence. But why this new version with a running time double that of the theatrical version?

Given the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and their Avengers movies, it was just a matter of time before cross town comic book rival DC, along with its parent company, Warner Bros., would want to get into that market with a superhero super-teaming of their own. As a comic book series, DC’s Justice League debuted with the March, 1960 issue of “The Brave and the Bold,” so, in terms of print history, it actually pre-dates the Avengers by three years. Flash forward over 50 years with the introduction of the MCU as a teaser at the very end of the first “Iron Man” movie when the Marvel Studios team knew they had a financial goldmine on their hands.

DC parent company Warner Bros. eventually hired writer/director Zack Snyder to both create the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) as a counterpart to Marvel’s MCU and to introduce an ensemble superhero movie based on their iconic Justice League property after nearly a decade of off and on development and a cinematic prelude in the form of “Batman v Superman,” which Snyder also directed. Conflicts arose between Snyder and the studio, as well as the death of Snyder’s daughter, leading to the director leaving the project during post-production. Writer/director Joss Whedon was hired to take the reins and Whedon did two months worth of re-shoots, adding a reported $25 million to the budget.

Although Snyder got sole directing credit for the movie, which was ultimately released in 2017, according to interviews, he estimated that only about a quarter of the material he shot was ultimately used for the two hour theatrical release.  Snyder completed his cut before the studio turned over the completion process to Whedon. He confirmed the existence of the cut in March 2019 and in May 2020, had come to an agreement with WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service to release his version of the movie, which required a reported additional $70 million to complete the visual effects, music and editing. Several members of the cast returned to the set for reshoots so Snyder could finish the movie the way he envisioned it.

With a 240 minute running time, the Snyder cut is precisely twice as long as the Whedon version. The additional footage is reported to contain more backstory, new characters and even teasers for upcoming films in Snyder’s version of the DCEU. In addition, as the trailer indicates, Snyder’s version will be shown in an “open matte” aspect ration of 1.33:1 (aka the original TV aspect ration of 4:3) instead of any type of widescreen format. He’s also expressed a desire for his version of the movie to be released to IMAX theatres once the pandemic is under control enough for cinemas worldwide to reopen.

So, again, the question remains, how well will Snyder’s version at double the running time work? Will it meet or even beat the expectation of fans who had clamored for this version to come out? As of the time I’m writing this, the HBO Max release is still a month away and there have been no reviews of the Snyder version. But I’ll be keeping an eye out for it and probably doing back to back screenings of both versions. Stay tuned. This is going to be very interesting.

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