How Zack Snyder’s Justice League Leaves the Door Open to Restore the Snyder Verse

We explore how Zack Snyder’s Justice League restores discarded elements from a planned Justice League trilogy--and how that future could still happen.

Ben Affleck as Batman in Zack Snyder's Justice League
Photo: Warner Bros. / HBO Max

This article contains Zack Snyder’s Justice League spoilers.

Let it be said that to the very end, Zack Snyder did it his way. In an era where superhero entertainment, and all other branded media, is shaped by what conference rooms think fans want, Snyder somehow pushed through a transgressive view of DC icons like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman that was brooding, unsettling… and memorable. Fans certainly haven’t forgotten Snyder’s self-described “deconstructionist” Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or that it was meant to carry onward into Justice League.

It’s that diehard loyalty among true believers which did the seeming impossible: It made a media conglomerate walk back its decision to lighten and truncate a director’s vision. Almost four years after Joss Whedon dramatically changed the tone and tenor of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the Snyder Cut has debuted on HBO Max. And whatever you might think of it as a whole, it remains a pensive and superior work to what came before… and a seeming course correction from the direction the DC Extended Universe took after Snyder’s departure.

The marked improvement in Zack Snyder’s Justice League has left some fans demanding WarnerMedia “#RestoreTheSnyderVerse.” It’s certainly a loaded idea. But then folks said the same thing about releasing a Snyder Cut once upon a time. And the damndest thing about the four hour version of Justice League we now have is that it leaves breadcrumbs for everything Snyder originally had planned as a five-film saga—from Man of Steel through his original vision for a Justice League trilogy. Could it yet all come to pass?

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Darkseid and an Anti-Life Superman

If you’ve watched the Snyder Cut, you got plenty of glimpses of the masterplan. It’s there when Cyborg has a vision of a world in ruins, with Wonder Woman dead on an Amazonian funeral pyre and DC’s ultimate space baddie, Darkseid, now on Earth, slaughtering Aquaman. Perhaps more chilling though is Snyder’s epilogue, created by reshoots, in which he returns to the Knightmare iconography from Batman v Superman. Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight is again in road warrior attire, and no less than Amber Heard’s Mera, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, and Jared Leto’s Joker are his traveling companions. Meanwhile Henry Cavill’s Superman looms large as a force of evil coming to annihilate them all.

If you are unfamiliar with the backstory of Snyder’s original plan for the DCEU, this might be head-scratching. However, these are just fragments of the road not taken from Snyder’s original Justice League trilogy outline, as well as a possible backdoor in how to restore it. Snyder recently confirmed as much to The New York Times.

“It’s the fall of Earth,” Snyder said, “when Superman succumbs to anti-life… When Darkseid comes to Earth, in the movie that you’ll never see, the armies of Earth all unite again, as they did before. This time there would be aircraft carriers and Special Forces guys, all the armies of the world would come together, as well as Atlanteans rising out of the ocean and the Themyscirans coming off their island. That was our big finale.”

This vision for the future restored by the Snyder Cut is entirely in keeping with what we’ve previously learned about the arc of the DC cinematic universe under Snyder’s stewardship. As originally conceived, the climax of a Justice League trilogy was always intended to involve several things: Darkseid killing Lois Lane; Superman’s free will being destroyed by the Anti-Life Equation; and Batman and Flash using time travel to reverse this Mad Max apocalypse.

Now in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we see hints of this with Superman cradling a dead, scorched body, crying in a way that implies it can only be Lois Lane. It’s part of Cyborg’s vision. That waking nightmare also shows Darkseid come and place his hand on Superman’s shoulder. Think Emperor Palpatine claiming ownership of Anakin Skywalker’s soul after the young Jedi helped kill Mace Windu in Star Wars.

It’s why Superman is evil in the final “Knightmare” sequence of the Snyder Cut’s epilogue. This sequence is also almost entirely added by reshoots filmed in 2020, with Affleck, Leto, Fisher, Heard, and Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke coming back for additional photography with Snyder.

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Joker even lays out the endgame of Snyder’s Justice League trilogy when he asks how many universes exist where billions die because Batman doesn’t have the backbone to die himself? That’s because Snyder’s whole five film arc is supposed to lead up to the Dark Knight sacrificing himself for Lois Lane (and thereby Superman) thanks to the miracle of time travel.

For context, Snyder has personally revealed the “Knightmare” sequence in Batman v Superman—where Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen wakes Bruce from a nightmare to say, “It’s Lois Lane, she’s the key!”—was never a nightmare at all, but a vision the Flash implanted in Batman’s head.

“Flash travels from the [Batcave] in the future to the Cave in the past,” Snyder wrote on social media in 2018, “but he is ‘too soon,’ meaning he went too far back, also meaning he will have to step off the ‘cosmic treadmill’ one more time.”

The cosmic treadmill is a DC Comics device which allows the Flash to travel through time and to even commandeer another character’s consciousness. Bruce Wayne’s visions in both Batman v Superman and the Snyder Cut are not dream sequences, but actual events which will happen in Batman and the Flash’s future. Interestingly, the full breadth of this plot point was so radical that it likely played a role in Warner Bros. losing faith in Snyder’s vision.

“The original Justice League that Chris [Terrio] and I wrote, we didn’t even shoot,” Snyder said during a Q&A last year. “There’s a lot of it that we shot [but] the actual idea, the hard, hard idea, the scary idea, we never filmed because the studio was like, ‘That’s crazy.’ And we were so insecure at the time… we were just like, ‘I guess it is crazy. We’re fuckin’ nuts. There’s gonna be mass hysteria in the streets if we film this.’”

Batman, Lois Lane, and a Pregnancy Test

Zack Snyder’s Justice League leaves hints of how to restore that “hard idea.” The broad strokes are that the second Justice League movie would’ve been about the League versus the Legion of Doom (hence the scene of Lex Luthor revealing Bruce Wayne’s secret identity to Deathstroke in the Snyder Cut), and the third would be Lois Lane dying and Superman going evil. Batman and his crew of allies would then warn his past self through time travel, leading Batman to throw himself in front of the Omega Beams used to kill Lois… and there would be a radical added incentive to do so:

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In the third film, Bruce Wayne and Barry were also meant to learn that Lois was pregnant with Batman’s child. Yes, Snyder’s original vision was for there to be a secret love triangle between Batman, Superman, and Lois Lane, and for the saga to end with Superman raising Batman’s son.

Snyder partially confirmed this as well in a new interview with Vanity Fair when he said about the first Justice League movie, “The intention was that Bruce fell in love with Lois and then realized that the only way to save the world was to bring Superman back to life. So he had this insane conflict, because Lois, of course, was still in love with Superman.”

That appears to be the hard idea jettisoned before the Snyder Cut was even filmed. But was it entirely thrown away? For eagle eyed fans watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League, there is a new scene where Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is making the decision to let go of her grief over the then-dead Superman and she rummages through her nightstand. If you look closely, there’s a pregnancy test sitting in her drawer.

The implication is Lois might be pregnant with Superman’s child. However, there is more than enough ambiguity for fans to see that the larger story threads for Snyder and Terrio’s original Justice League trilogy could still come to pass. Thanks to leaked outlines for Snyder’s trilogy making the rounds on the internet, we know Bruce Wayne was only meant to learn Lois was pregnant with his child in the third Justice League movie. It could still be so.

While we never see Affleck or Adams share a single scene together in the Snyder Cut’s four hours, it doesn’t mean a future sequel could not have added this detail, revealing in a moment of grief and loneliness between films, a mistake might’ve been made. It might be a queasy idea for fans of how the characters are typically depicted in the comics, but then that was originally Snyder’s intent before BvS disappointed. Who’s to say it didn’t happen off-screen… just like Superman’s Anti-Life corruption that we don’t see in the Snyder Cut, but which is heavily implied happens thanks to the Knightmare sequences.

In all honesty, it seems each of Snyder’s original key points for a five-film arc live on in the Snyder Cut. So could these elements be fully explored down the road like the “Restore the Snyder Verse” hashtag demands? In theory, yes. Technically Snyder’s version of Justice League isn’t canon; Whedon’s is. And there are already elements that indicate they’d be impossible to seriously reconcile. For instance, the Atlanteans in Zack Snyder’s Justice League can only speak in air bubbles (not underwater), and they all have proper English accents, including Mera.

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In 2018’s Aquaman, by contrast, the Atlanteans have American accents and a decidedly less dour underwater kingdom. Still, there is no hard narrative reason why there couldn’t be two timelines. After all, Heard returned for 2020 reshoots with Snyder, reprising Mera’s posh Londoner accent, which was abandoned by Whedon and James Wan.

And honestly, continuity is overrated. There’s no narrative reason Snyder could paint his own proverbial universe away from other movies, just as Todd Phillips did with Joker.

Of course the larger issue is DC Films’ current leadership has rejected the Snyderverse as a future for their characters they’d like to invest in. Batman v Superman failed to gross $1 billion as the studio expected, but the more colorful Aquaman reached that number handily. Affleck, meanwhile, walked away from Batman. Walter Hamada, head of DC Films, even called the Snyder Cut a cul-de-sac just last December. And in his own recent NY Times profile, Snyder said, “This was going to be the last movie I make for the DCU.”

So actually discovering what happens when evil Superman descends from the heavens to threaten Batman, Joker, Cyborg, and the rest—and learning if Lois might be pregnant with Clark or Bruce’s child—will likely forever remain the province of fans’ headcanon. But hey, Snyder fans have a precedent now of making their headcanon a reality.