Zack Snyder's much-anticipated cut of Justice League landed on HBO Max in 2021, bringing the director's original vision for the DC superheroes to the streaming service. The film, which is now available to buy digitally, came out more than three years after Joss Whedon's 2017 theatrical cut disappointed fans and sparked a massive, intense fan campaign (reportedly partially driven by bots) demanding the release of the Snyder Cut.
It's also four hours long, so you'd better be sitting comfortably with plenty of snacks before you dive into Batman and company's epic adventure. I can save you a little time by telling you there are no mid- or post-credits scenes as we've been conditioned to expect in superhero movies. Instead, the last 20 minutes or so act as an epilogue.
Let's take a look at what happens at the end of the film and mull over what it might mean for the future of the DC Extended Universe. Be warned, full SPOILERS lurk ahead like a creepy clown.
Scene 1: Deja vu on Lex's lovely yacht
This scene might look familiar if you saw the theatrical cut. After stopping Steppenwolf from bringing Darkseid and the armies of the planet Apokolips to Earth, our heroes go back to their lives and generally get happy endings. However, a guard at Arkham Asylum discovers some bald guy has taken the place of Lex Luthor (who was arrested at the end of Batman v Superman), giving the supervillain a chance to escape.
We find Lex (Jesse Eisenberg) on a yacht, where he's joined by Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello). The mercenary has a grudge against Batman -- it seems the Bat was responsible for Deathstroke losing an eye -- and Lex reveals that the Caped Crusader's real name is Bruce Wayne so Deathstroke can kill the hero.
What does it mean?
This one is pretty straightforward: Batman and Deathstroke's battle is about to get more personal. Alfred had better watch out. Lex also says he has "more important things" to do -- possibly linked to the fact that he knows Darkseid is coming. What a scamp.
The scene is also linked to the scrapped Ben Affleck solo Batman movie, which would have featured Deathstroke as the main villain. It's a little odd to get a reference to a canceled project (which has since been replaced by the Robert Pattinson movie), but this plot thread could be picked up somewhere down the line.
A shorter, worse version of this scene played during the credits of Whedon's theatrical version -- Lex suggests he and Deathstroke form a "league of our own" to counter the Justice League. The new one sends Deathstroke on a more focused, Batman-murdering path rather than just having him join a team of baddies (or manage an all-female baseball team).
There's still no explanation for Lex suddenly dressing like the Gene Hackman version of the character, though.
New Movies Coming in 2023 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and MoreSee all photos
Scene 2: A trip to the post-Apokolips
The final scene jumps into a dark, yucky future (which Snyder previously teased in BvS) in which Darkseid's forces have laid waste to Earth. However, there's still hope -- Batman, Cyborg, the Atlantean Mera, a mohawked Deathstroke (it seems he and Bats buried the hatchet) and Flash have formed a resistance group.
And there's one more person: Joker (Jared Leto), who's got an excellently creepy laugh that sounds like a creaky door. There's a ball of tension between him and the Dark Knight, as he taunts Bats about the loved ones he's lost -- his parents and his "adopted son." When Batman warns Joker to be careful, the clown adds a little more dramatic spice.
"You need me, to help you undo this world you created by letting her die," he says. "Poor Lois, how she suffered so."
Joker also wonders about the number of alternate timelines in which Batman has let the world be destroyed because he lacks "the cojones" to die himself. The clown gives Batman a Joker playing card that signifies a truce between them. If Bats wants to renew their beef, he just needs to tear up the card.
Batman counters by revealing that Harley Quinn (the Joker's sometimes girlfriend) died in his arms, but begged Batman to give the Joker a slow death when he kills him. Batman also drops the F-bomb here, because this post-apocalyptic scene about death and vengeance needed to be extra hardcore.
Their plans, threats and profanity all seem to be rendered moot by the arrival of Superman (back in his red and blue costume), whose eyes glow a sinister red as he prepares to get his laser on. Hope someone has a lump of kryptonite handy (they don't).
Bruce wakes up from this apparent nightmare in his sweet lakeside pad in the present, pre-apocalyptic world and finds Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix) outside. The alien hero warns Bruce that Darkseid will be back looking for the Anti-Life Equation, and pretty much offers to join the Justice League.
What does it mean?
Lots to unpack here, but it sure does seem like a setup for some awesome sequels (I love seeing realities where the bad guys won). The Joker scene was the only new one shot for the Snyder Cut -- everything else was preexisting footage.
"After I realized there would be no more Zack Snyder DC movies, my biggest regret was that there was no Batman/Joker confrontation scene," the director said in production notes. "They both went through a series of films and never ran into each other. It didn't make sense to me. So, I thought maybe I could remedy that."
The dark future scene implies Darkseid returned to Earth in his hunt for the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical formula that would allow him to dominate all life, and took over. You might remember allusions to this around an hour and 40 minutes earlier in the movie, when the Kryptonian ship warned Cyborg against activating the Mother Box.
At that point, we got a glimpse of a reality in which a dead Wonder Woman was being burned on a funeral pyre, Aquaman had been impaled by Darkseid and Superman was cradling a charred corpse, with Darkseid looming over him.
We get confirmation that Lois Lane was the corpse, and her death left Superman emotionally devastated enough for the big baddie to dominate his will. It sure looks like Lois was killed by Darkseid's Omega Beam laser eye move too, which makes Supes joining him extra nasty -- he really should just punch Darkseid into the sun. We also don't know what role Batman played in Lois' death.
Making the situation even worse is the fact that Lois is pregnant -- we see a positive test in her nightstand during the movie. The situation is pretty similar to the one seen in the Injustice games, in which Superman becomes a ruthless dictator after Joker tricks him into killing a pregnant Lois and blowing up Metropolis.
This epilogue also links to two moments in BvS: the Flash's warning, where future Flash uses his powers to jump back through time and warns Bruce to fear Superman, and the "Knightmare" sequence, in which Bruce dreams of a dark future in which Superman has gone bad. The events seen in the Knightmare presumably take place after the JL scene, since Batman is alone, gets captured and is ultimately murdered by Superman.
It's not clear why Superman is wearing his red and blue suit again in the dark future -- surely the moody black outfit he wore after getting resurrected would have been a better option? In the comics, Superman wore a black suit specifically designed to help him absorb more solar radiation after returning from the dead. If that's the case in the movies, he didn't need it by the time of the dark future events. It also acts as visual differentiator between the Snyder Cut and theatrical versions of Justice League.
In the years since the theatrical version filled fans with disappointment, Snyder has confirmed some plot details around the Knightmare future. Flash used a Cosmic Treadmill -- a time machine he activates with his powers -- to travel back in an effort to avert the dark future. When he sees BvS Bruce, he realizes he's gone back too far in the timeline (since Bruce hadn't met Flash at that point).
The scene at the end of Justice League presumably takes place before Flash goes back, and the team is likely preparing for his journey through time. Flash also appears to be wearing the armor from the Justice League epilogue when he warns BvS Bruce.
Snyder told Vanity Fair his original plan was for the dark future timeline to be reversed, but Batman would die. The mantle would have been taken by Bruce Kent, the powerless son of Lois and Clark.
It's unclear why Joker is necessary to undo this crappy future or how Harley died, but it's entirely believable that this version of Batman would end the clown as soon as he can -- he has no major issue with killing at any point in the timeline.
The "adopted son" line alludes to Robin's death at Joker's hands. You might remember seeing a graffitied Robin costume in BvS -- this was intended to be the Dick Grayson version of the character. In the comics, Joker killed Jason Todd (the second Robin).
Since there are no plans for more Snyder-led DC movies, it's possible this plotline will never continue or it'll play out in next year's Flash movie. It'll see Affleck as Batman again, along with Michael Keaton's Batman returning to the version of the character from the Tim Burton series and Pattinson playing a completely new one in Matt Reeves' The Batman. We might also see Martian Manhunter show up in The Flash.
My brain is sleepy now; too much time travel and alternate realities. Wake me up when Flash is out.