Does 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' Even Tie in with the DCEU?
The short answer: It's complicated.
This article contains major spoilers for Zack Snyder's Justice League, out now on HBO Max.
It's fitting that a movie as long as Zack Snyder's Justice League—four hours—would have multiple endings. There's the conclusion to the big battle against Steppenwolf and the Parademons; Darkseid's threat to continue on toward Earth the old-fashioned way via spaceship armada; the various resolutions for all the members of the team, done largely via a montage; a strange, apocalyptic dream sequence featuring Deathstroke and the Joker; and finally, a tease for what director Zack Snyder possibly envisioned coming next. The existence of the Snyder Cut alone is already pretty bold, but the ballsiest move of all is teasing a sequel that will probably never happen. Or will it? After all, stranger things have happened.
One of the biggest changes Snyder made to the central conflict versus the Joss Whedon-edited version that Warner Bros. released in 2017 was to make Steppenwolf's galactic overlord Darkseid (Ray Porter) a large part of the narrative. In the Snyder cut, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) is constantly discussing his plans with his chonky and villainous boss directly or via Darkseid's dastardly deputy DeSaad (Peter Guinness), with his motivation for seeking the three Mother Boxes to restore his tarnished reputation in the big bad's eyes. When Steppenwolf is defeated by the Justice League and his headless body is sent through the interstellar portal, Darkseid vows to continue waging his quest to claim Earth, despite the destruction of the Mother Boxes, which would have presumably been the easiest way to will our world into submission. His new path to domination? The Anti-Life Equation.
The Anti-Life Equation is a concept first introduced in the comics by Jack Kirby, and is indeed a math-style formula that Darkseid can use to prove that life is meaningless and use as a rationale to control Earth's population. So Darkseid is now on his way toward Earth to locate this powerful tool while the Justice League goes about their lives—and unlike the theatrical Joss Whedon cut, the conclusion to Zack Snyder's Justice League is not entirely cheery.
In the 2017 film, an optimistic Lois Lane narrates over a monologue about heroes triumphing over darkness, but here, Batman in particular is plagued by a nightmare that plunges him into a timeline where the ragtag remnants of the Justice League have teamed up with the supervillains Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) and the Joker (Jared Leto, of course) in a dystopian world in which a malevolent Superman is hunting them down.
After Bruce Wayne wakes up, he receives a surprise visit at his lakeside compound from J'onn J'onzz, otherwise known as the Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix). He flies up to tell Batman that Darkseid is indeed a continued threat thanks to his desire to find the Anti-Life Equation. "There's a war coming and I am here to help," he says, suggesting that he'll join the Justice League, before taking off.
The Martian Manhunter, a canonical part of the Justice League, has long been rumored to be a part of Snyder's vision for the franchise. Even before it was confirmed that Lennix's General Swanwick, who appeared in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, there was chatter that he was just an alias being used by the shapeshifting Martian Manhunter. When Snyder left Justice League initially, plans for the character's superheroic debut were scrapped. (The Martian Manhunter appears one other time in the film, shapeshifting into the body of Martha Kent to try to convince Lois Lane to return to work. According to an interview with Lennix in Variety, the parts of that sequence that feature Amy Adams as Lois and Diane Lane as Martha were shot for, but not included in, the 2017 release; Lennix, however, was only involved when the Snyder Cut came into play.)
So the question is: What's next? If this were a normal theatrical release, we would be predicting a sequel on the way where the Martian Manhunter becomes a member of the Justice League to help prevent Darkseid from doing the math that could end the world. But the DC Extended Universe has already veered off in a different direction that doesn't seem to include the character, and there are currently no plans to follow up either Justice League or Zack Snyder's Justice League with a direct sequel. James Wan's Aquaman took the Jason Momoa character and the world of Atlantis in a wildly different direction than the one Snyder presents on screen (shout out to the Brine King), and a direct sequel is set for 2022 (a spin-off sequel, The Trench, also in development). The Wonder Woman movies have, so far, been stand-alones set in different eras; it's unclear what the third movie in development would involve.
Elsewhere, the DCEU standalone movie about Shazam, its 2023 sequel, and the related upcoming Black Adam movie starring Dwayne Johnson aren't tied into the Darkseid mishegoss, nor do the three Suicide Squad-related movies. Superman is being rebooted entirely. As for Batman, well, he's now going to be played by Robert Pattinson in a movie (The Batman) that originally was supposed to be a direct continuation of the Deathstroke assassination storyline in Justice League but that no longer even ties in with the DCEU at all—except the Dark Knight is also set to be played by reigning Batman Ben Affleck and old-school Batman Michael Keaton in The Flash movie, which purportedly reboots the DCEU via the multiverse trope.
In this sense, the ending of Zack Snyder's Justice League feels like a pitch for Warner Bros. to reinvest in Snyder's vision for this universe, which would presumably exist adjacent to the DCEU. The fans quote-unquote won in demanding that the Snyder cut be released. If they clamor hard enough for more, maybe the studio will relent.
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