Justice League's Epilogue Is Its Messiest, Most Dangerous Indulgence

Batman finds himself in dire straights in the very last moments of Justice League.
Batman finds himself in dire straights in the very last moments of Justice League.
Screenshot: HBO Max

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is, in ways good and bad, an exercise in indulgence. After all, it is Snyder’s unleashed vision for what his Justice League movie could have been, in some form, writ large: literally, given that the film is a four-hour undertaking. But for all its extensions and additions, its most peculiar indulgence is one that, in the context of its road to release, is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.

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By the time Justice League is actually wrapping up—the day has been saved, the Mother Boxes separated, Steppenwolf’s (Ciaran Hinds) head separated from his body and sent packing back to Apokolips and under the heel of his master Darkseid (Ray Porter)—you might be surprised to discover that there is still somehow roughly 30 minutes of the film left. What follows, simply titled “Epilogue” (unlike the six named “parts” the film is divided into), is at once fascinating, viscerally exciting, and yet somehow also oddly chilling.

Justice League’s epilogue is, essentially, three post-credit sequences that, instead of being a couple of minutes, are stretched out to present an alternate world where it’s early 2017 and despite a few critical lumps, Zack Snyder is still the guiding architect of Warner Bros.’ DC Comics theatrical slate. The first and shortest of the threads Snyder tugs on is simple enough: a drowsy Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is roused from bed by the arrival of a surprising guest, a green-skinned alien who calls himself the Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix, who makes a baffling appearance halfway through Snyder’s movie before disappearing until this very moment). The Manhunter promises Bruce that there will be threats that require the Justice League, who mostly go their own ways by the film’s proper end, to come together once more—and that he’ll be willing to lend a hand.

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Screenshot: HBO Max

If Justice League’s epilogue ended there, it’d be fair enough, a small little post-credits tease in the style of the genre, a farewell to this version of the DC movieverse while also leaving a small window to fans that doesn’t entirely close the loop. But, it keeps going, and things only get weirder.

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What follows that moment is another we’d kind of already seen as the post-credits scene of the 2017 Justice League from Joss Whedon: Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, now free from Arkham Asylum, offering the vigilante assassin Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) an alliance and a tempting tidbit of information in the form of Batman’s true identity. Another door thought closed now ponderously opened, but this is an altogether more peculiar addition on top of the Martian Manhunter scene; Affleck’s career as Batman since the 2017 film first released has paradoxically ended and continued anew because Batman truly is forever.

But it’s in its final moments that Justice League’s epilogue throws wide the gates into something that goes beyond an oddity. The largest sequence of the three—and one of the few entirely-new additions Snyder shot after being approached by Warner Bros. to actually finish his Justice League cut last year—is more than a wistful imagining of what could’ve been. It is Snyder revealing his future vision to a legion of fans who, having spent the past four years marshaling campaigns good and ill to see this movie through, now have the impetus to go “Well, it worked last time. Why not more?”

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Screenshot: HBO Max

This extended sequence is set in the “Knightmare” alternate timeline briefly glimpsed in Batman v Superman, and what would’ve been, according to new interviews the director conducted last week, the major focal point of two more Justice League films. The scene quickly establishes that the Batman of this alternate timeline (an apocalyptic Earth, ravaged by Darkseid’s invasion) has formed a tag-team with some unlikely friends and unlikelier foes: Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, Ezra Miller’s Flash, and Amber Heard’s Mera, the aforementioned Manganiello’s Deathstroke...and Jared Leto’s Joker. The team plans their attempts to get past Darkseid’s patrols undetected, the Joker ribs Batman the way the Joker so often does, but then it’s revealed that the team has been spotted by Darkseid’s agent: a mind-controlled Superman.

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The scene is more than the wonder Snyder had when he first publicly revealed his plans to recruit Leto for new footage—the idea of getting to see Affleck’s Batman confront what was, in one timeline, meant to be “his” Joker. It’s more than calling back to the apocalyptic sequences of Batman v Superman to truly tie the bow on Snyder’s era of DC storytelling. It takes a movie that was, in a lot of ways, largely done—plenty of small doors left askance, sure, but it still with a sense of finality—and shunts it into a now awkward state of un-doneness. All this potential energy is suddenly blasted in your face after you’ve been lulled into four hours of blockbuster superheroics and makes for an awkward endcap—how did Batman unite these people, how did Superman fall, what was meant to happen to undo all this? But the scene is also, in some ways, a promise. There could always be more, if only there were someone to ask for it.

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Screenshot: HBO Max

In the few days since Justice League’s release, Snyder has played a paradoxical game with the press—to Vanity Fair, he essentially shotgunned his entire hypothetical movie roadmap to spin out of this scene, to trades like Variety and Deadline, he’s seemingly tried to make it clear that he is very much done with the prospect of making more DC movies (for now, at least). But in sidestepping Justice League’s finality by throwing a realm of messy possibilities on the table, the director has, whether he intended to or not, left another rallying call to his most diehard fans, just as he did years ago with snapshots of the film reels his unfinished Justice League assembly cut.

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The “Snyder Cut” is a project that cannot be discussed without the context of its road to a surprising existence. Like the final film itself, it’s a long journey that encompasses highs and lows—as Snyder has regularly liked to note in his the press tour running up to Justice League’s debut, many of his fans have rallied to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities dealing with suicide and mental health issues. But there’s also the other corner of Snyder’s fandom that has also spent the four years in the run-up to the movie harassing critics, harassing Warner Bros. executives, and seeking out naysayers on social media at any ill-mention of the director, benign or otherwise, in a virulent, toxic manner. They too have been emboldened to keep doing so as the movie came closer and closer to fruition.

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Screenshot: HBO Max
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It’s a segment of support that Snyder is only just now beginning to wrestle with, even as he’s previously denied it. Last Thursday, the director made a wave amongst reactionary groups while appearing on a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He pushed back on any association with the toxic right-wing YouTube channel Geeks + Gamers—myriad videos discussing the perceived “culture war” around large pop culture franchises such as DC, Star Wars, and Marvel, known as a hub for expressing bigoted, racist, and sexist “anti-woke” views—an act that was perceived by certain Snyder fans as a betrayal of their support.

To these two very different audiences then, Justice League’s epilogue offers a similar siren call. Instead of bringing a sense of closure, there’s this underlying concern that this potential energy raised by the road to the “Snyder Cut” has to go somewhere, now especially bolstered by something all fans can turn to and ask for more of. As the director and his fans alike find themselves reckoning with the toxic aspects of their fellow supporters in the “Snyder Cut” movement, the opulence of its final bow might become a dangerous tool indeed.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

DISCUSSION

angriergeek
Angrier Geek

Okay, let’s get into it.

First off let me say it’s unfair to compare the two versions. Whedon had two hours to try and make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. We have no idea what he would have could have done with as much time. Every director living would love to release 3-4 hour movies if they could. But they can’t and honestly we’re the better for it. Also, I didn’t think Joss Whedon’s version was awful; just painfully mediocre and limited by the two shitstorms that came before it. Finally, I’ve nothing against a long movie. I’m perfectly willing to throw it on me like a warm blanket and immerse myself in details and the type of fully shaded characterization I wouldn’t get otherwise. This is not that movie.

I mean, my expectations were low and this was still a sad experience. In retrospect it’s understandable why Whedon felt he had to reshoot as much as he did and leave the rest of this on the floor. It’s better by the sole virtue of being shorter. Well, that and The Flash scene, but we’ll get to that. This is not to say it’s wholly without merit. Here are some good things:

1) Seeing Darkseid and fleshing out Steppenwolf.

2) Seeing The Amazons give Steppenwolf much more of a fight. It was troublesome they were dispatched so easily in the Whedon cut. Here it’s made clear they almost stopped him in the temple and the incoming calvary would certainly have put him down (though you’d think after their last encounter with guns The Amazons would realize they needed to upgrade) so the “keep it moving” when you’re on a finite space makes sense now.

3) That there’s no real debate over bringing Superman back. That whole Diana Bruce argument was cringe-worthy For the most part they all know they have to do this. Also, I prefer Lois making a daily pilgrimage in her grief than her waiting in a limo somewhere, because honestly, Martha would have been a much better choice if you’re trying to calm a raging Superman.

4) Speaking of a raging Superman, his battle with the JL is better, especially his fixation on justifiably wanting to kill Bruce (and losing “something’s bleeding” was a mercy). Similarly, the assault on Steppenwolf’s headquarters is MUCH better. What Bruce does actually makes sense this time and the team assault complete with a freeze-frame straight out of a comic is pretty nice. Similarly, the battle inside. If the team weren’t divided between separating the Motherboxes and fighting Steppenwolf they could have easily have handed him his ass.

5) Obviously the fleshing out (no pun intended of Cyborg’s character) and the geek joy of seeing Ryan Choi.

And…that’s about it. The rest is a nonsensical slog. It still doesn’t make sense the Mother Box wakes up after Superman’s death when it’s had a millennia. Four hours and there’s no better reasoning. They keep vacillating between them being amoral and evil. Which is it? The scene with Iris adds nothing and makes Barry needless weird. The Martian Manhunter/Martha Kent scene is RIDICULOUS. In fact, revealing him at all is ridiculous! All it does is bring up the question: WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WAITING FOR!?! THIS IS TWICE THE WORLD HAS ALMOST BEEN DESTROYED WHILE HE. DID. NOTHING! This is the “Jimmy Olsen” of this movie. Snyder thinks the simple fact that he’s there is enough.

Seeing Darkseid was great. Seeing Darkseid as someone who can be beaten by Ares? Not so much. This means Diana could probably take him and with Superman and the rest of the league it’d be no contest so how exactly is he taking the world?

You know that joke we’ve been making for years that Snyder’s movies would be an hour shorter if he took out the slow-motion? Well, it’s not a joke. Soooo much useless slo-mo. Slow motion is normally used to convey the importance of scene or increase the tension. But if every other goddamn scene has it, how are we supposed to take any of it seriously? Not to mention when it’s accompanied by a nail-on-the-head soundtrack. Arthur drinks while the lyrics about a “King and a kingom” blare out. You could have cut that crap and restored all of his cut lines from the Whedon version which better defined his character. Even the lasso-monologue. Everyone is rightfully pointing out of the people of color were cut, but failing to notice that the other POC lost dialogue upon their return.

While the Russia assault was improved, the Gotham Bay scene in comparison was made worse. It moved like pudding. And someone should explain to both Whedon and Snyder why the superhero landing exists. If you have regular actors try and land on two feet, they wind up in an odd squat so they don’t destroy their spines, which means this movie is filled with moments where practically everyone looks like they’re taking a dump which isn’t very heroic. Also, it removed the single best thing about this entire movie: “Just save one.” That is a great scene between Barry and Bruce and underscores the idea that Batman is actually about more than vengeance. But of course Captain Edgelord couldn’t have it because he’s so locked in on Barry killing people if he moves them at super-speed as if actual physics applies to his powers! So you just get him just running around telling people to move faster.

It’s sad and horrifying that some truly talented directors can’t get one big-budget chance while this guy got a second chance and millions more and accomplished nothing. Snyder had an opportunity to see what did and didn’t work in the theatrical release and make adjustments to make this best possible film he could. It was never going to be good, but it could have been better. Instead he decided to include every. single. thing. Simply because he could. The whole “Knightmare Future” plotline should have been abandoned completely. It serves no purpose. And it’s the exact kind of garbage you’d get from a man who understands nothing of characters. Not just these characters, but any characters. Where ever would you ever see a woman begin a relationship with a man she saw trying to brutally murder than man she loved!?! Which in fact contributed to his death! The more he tells you of it the worse it gets but he clearly thinks it’s some kind of epic the world has been denied so he included it here (am I the only person who thought that was a CGI Ben Affleck because he looks so different?).