What's Up with That Final Dream Sequence in 'Zack Snyder's Justice League'?

We have a lot of questions.

zack snyder's justice league

This article contains major spoilers for Zack Snyder's Justice League.

Zack Snyder's Justice League is long. Really long. Four hours and two minutes long, to be exact. That's a long time for six superheroes—Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and, eventually, Superman (Henry Cavill)—to go jetting around the globe hunting for Mother Boxes and fighting a villain, Steppenwolf (CGI, voiced by Ciarán Hinds), who looks like a piece of fancy outdoor furniture.

The much hyped, fan-requested movie from director Zack Snyder, now streaming on HBO Max, has been reconstructed as a sort of "what if?" project: What if this so-called Snyder cut had come out in 2017 instead of the much reviled and much shorter original, which was completely overhauled by Josh Whedon? Assembled largely from footage that wasn't used in the 2017 version, plus a few newly shot sequences, the Snyder cut tells a far more coherent story and offers up some tantalizing ending scenes that indicate where Snyder would have liked the DC Extended Universe to go.

Especially for casual fans, these ending scenes may be a little confusing. What do Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello), who only briefly appears in an ending tease with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) in the Whedon version, and the Joker (Jared Leto), who didn't appear in the original version at all, have to do with anything we just saw? Why does Justice League end with these cliffhangers—including the one involving the newly introduced shapeshifter Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix)—when we know those ideas are probably not going to go anywhere?

There has been speculation and hints over the years that Snyder had planned Justice League as multiple movies, and, more recently, that the Snyder cut might come to HBO Max as a mini-series that resolved the open-ended threads. Instead, we're likely left with this single movie separated into seven chapters and a lot of questions. Had the director been given a second feature length film or a limited series, as Snyder himself said recently in a New York Times interview, he had a bold vision for where he wanted to take the story. "It’s the fall of Earth, when Superman succumbs to anti-life," he said. "And then sending Flash back in time to change one element so that doesn’t happen. And then the big battle where we beat him. When [the villain] 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 [Aquaman’s fellow] Atlanteans rising out of the ocean and [Wonder Woman’s compatriots] the Themyscirans coming off their island. That was our big finale. But it’s a long drum roll and guitar solo to get there."

While a continuation of his Justice League is almost certainly never going to happen (the fans would have to buy at least ten more Comic Con airplane banners for that), the bits and pieces of this big idea that remain in the Snyder cut are both intriguing and bewildering. When the newly formed Justice League assembles in the Kryptonian spaceship to resurrect Superman using a Mother Box, Cyborg, who is wired in to the ship's A.I., has a vision of what could happen if they bring Superman back from the dead: Steppenwolf, using Superman as a weapon, wins, transforming the Earth into the hellish desert landscape Darkseid wants. Cyborg even says, "No!!!!!" which the Flash takes to mean "Go!!!" and they bring Supes back to life anyway, which ends up working out fine, thanks to the restorative powers of Lois Lane and cornfields.

Later, following the big battle with Steppenwolf and his Parademons, during which a portal to Darkseid is opened and our heroes nearly lose, until the Flash runs back in time and fixes everything, we're treated to an epilogue whose ending scenes rival The Return of the King's bajillion finales. After an inspirational montage that sees our heroes being, well, heroic, with a voiceover from Cyborg's father, we get a longer version of the scene that closed Whedon's movie: Lex Luthor, sprung from prison and living on a gigantic yacht, recruits Deathstroke to kill Batman. Then, we cut to an apocalyptic sequence that is eventually revealed to be a bad dream, in which Batman, Cyborg, the Flash, and Mera (Amber Heard) are working alongside Deathstroke and the Joker to fix what they say is an alternate timeline, one with an evil Superman, created when Batman let Lois Lane die. Then Bruce Wayne wakes up from the nightmare and meets Martian Manhunter.

That's a lot of unresolved stuff to tack on to the end of your movie, and it works pretty much only as a final goodbye to Snyder's ambitious Justice League ideas. Even in this movie, you can kind of see where dangling threads he introduced would have connected. I wouldn't be surprised if the team had been meant to lose in this movie (a la the finale of Avengers: Infinity War), pick back up again once the world has been razed of nearly all life, settle into the alternate timeline we see in Bruce Wayne's dream, get the Flash to do his backwards time travel sprint, and then come together with all the other fighting nations of the world against Darkseid and his Anti-Life Equation. Remember that dream sequence in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, when the Flash appears to tell Bruce Wayne that "Lois is the key," and then says, "I'm too soon," and disappears again? That scene would have actually made sense retroactively if Snyder had been allowed to complete his vision.

We know by now how plagued with trouble the production of Justice League was, how Snyder's script was constantly in rewrites, and that tons of his ideas were left on the cutting room floor when he left the project. Will he ever get to finish his superhero saga the way he wanted to? Probably not. Would it be any good? Who knows! Do we want to see it? Before the release of the Snyder cut—not really. Now? Kinda!

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.