The 2017 movie Justice League was positioned as the pinnacle of Warner Brothers’ extended universe of DC comics blockbusters, uniting Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash et al for a superhero team-up extravaganza to rival the Avengers films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe . But after original director Zack Snyder, the franchise’s primary architect up to that point, left the project during post-production following a family tragedy, his dark and brooding vision was deemed too downbeat, and Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to oversee a comprehensive rewrite and reshoot. What emerged was a Frankenstein-like hodgepodge of goofy humour, sanitised violence, and digitally removed moustaches that was widely rejected by fans and audiences alike. Following a prolonged, fanatical and occasionally even toxic fan campaign to “Release the Snyder Cut”, Warner Brothers acquiesced and Snyder was allowed to complete his original version, at an additional cost of US$70 million, according to industry reports. This week, Snyder’s four-hour director’s cut of Justice League will start streaming exclusively on HBO Max in the United States (and on HBO Go in a range of Asian territories). So how does it differ from the version you saw – or quite possibly did not see, judging by its relatively poor box office performance – back in 2017? Put simply, a lot. Whedon appears to have used only about an hour of Snyder’s original footage for his two-hour movie, meaning that at least three quarters of this epic new version is seeing the light of day for the first time. Right off the bat (no pun intended), Snyder’s film looks very different. It is presented in the open matt 1.43:1 aspect ratio, used in IMAX cinemas, and gives the image more height than does a traditional widescreen format. Running 242 minutes, his Justice League is also epic in length as well as vision. But if 2020 taught audiences anything, it was how to binge entire seasons of television in a single sitting. Divided into seven parts – six chapters and an epilogue – Justice League is now perfect to be binge-watched from the comfort of your couch. The film picks up immediately following the events of Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice , and the death of the Man of Steel at the hands of Doomsday. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) are shell-shocked by this blow, but while Whedon insisted on showing us a world in mourning, Snyder keeps the grieving intimate and personal. Judging by the changes made, the tone and pacing of Snyder’s cut were considered problematic. Now these moments are given time, and hang ominously in the air. His heroes are lost and broken, uncertain of how to proceed without their strongest member. When Bruce and Diana resolve to seek out other gifted individuals – thankfully without the awkward flirting added by Whedon – Snyder’s approach is markedly different. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is surrounded by a community that worships him with a Nordic reverence. Below the surface, we see more of Atlantis and its inhabitants, notably Willem Dafoe’s Vulko and Amber Heard’s Mera, who, curiously, now has a British-inflected accent. Ezra Miller’s Flash remains the twitchy, wisecracking youngster we have seen previously, but his neurotic ramblings are reined in, while his strained relationship with his father is further explored. It is Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, however, who benefits most from this restored version of the film. The tragic fate of his college football star Victor Stone is now the film’s most clearly defined character arc, while his technologically enhanced powers prove integral to the League’s success. Another major difference is the revelation that Steppenwolf, the film’s primary adversary, is merely a foot-soldier, serving at the bidding of Darkseid, an all-powerful intergalactic being who bears more than a passing resemblance – both in appearance and pursuit – to Marvel’s main villain, Thanos. Snyder’s design for Steppenwolf is also far more visually satisfying than the half-finished look he was shouldered with in the theatrical release. Action sequences throughout the film remain largely intact, but in almost every instance, their context is now markedly different. Whether it be Atlantians or Amazons defending their Mother Boxes from swarms of para-demons, an opening terror attack in London, or the Justice League’s climactic assault on Steppenwolf’s Russian lair, all now play out longer, more viscerally, and with a greater threat of violence. There is even the occasional F-bomb. No one who saw the film on its theatrical release will forget the sight of Henry Cavill’s digitally shaved upper lip. Whedon’s reshoots clashed with the filming of Mission: Impossible – Fallout , in which Cavill sports an impressive soup strainer that his employers forbid him to shave off. The digital removal of the moustache was clearly a challenge too far for Justice League ’s effects department, but it did serve as a helpful visual indicator of which scenes had been shot later. Of course, those sequences are absent from Snyder’s cut, and so is, for much of the runtime, Superman. Lest we forget, the Son of Krypton is dead, which in turn prompts the creation of the Justice League. It is hardly a spoiler to reveal that he does make an appearance for the film’s climactic showdown, but his absence for the vast majority of the runtime clearly had studio bean counters sweating. Similarly, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has a markedly different role, while Bruce Wayne does not don Batman’s cowl until two hours into Snyder’s version. Tellingly, the first two scenes in Whedon’s version feature Superman, in flashback, and Batman fighting bad guys on a rooftop. Apparently it’s what the people wanted. There are brief appearances from new, previously unseen DC characters, while Junkie XL’s moody, atmospheric score has been reinstated to further heighten the tone of Snyder’s gritty, doom-laden aesthetic. And then there is the epilogue, a vision of a post-apocalyptic future previously teased in Batman v Superman . Originally, Snyder had planned a trilogy of Justice League films – a plan all concerned have repeatedly stated is now dead. These tantalising hints of a saga that will never be are sure to baffle and enrage as many viewers as they delight. Relentlessly dour and brooding to a fault, Snyder’s director’s cut of Justice League is far from the masterpiece that fan boys were convinced had been denied them, even if it is no doubt a meticulously constructed epic in service of a very specific cinematic vision. It is easy to see why Warner Brothers panicked back then, as what we can now see is far removed from the brightly coloured, family-friendly spectacle that defines the hugely successful MCU. But for the fans who demanded it, and anyone else even remotely interested in how a film can be made, and remade, in the editing room, Justice League is compellingly binge-worthy. Zack Snyder’s Justice League will start streaming on HBO Go in Asian territories that include Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan, on March 18.