Now that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is out in the universe, DC fans can spend weeks analyzing the changes that were made to his unique vision back in 2017, when the filmmaker had to step away from his blockbuster and the “keys” to the franchise were handed to Joss Whedon. In Whedon’s defense, he was facing a studio mandate to reduce a four-hour epic to a tight, two-hour superhero thriller. This meant massive cuts (and weird additions), none more significant than during the “History Lesson” sequence that explains the first time the Age of Heroes occurred.
Shortly before the Snyder Cut of Justice League opened on HBO Max, CinemaBlend interviewed Weta Digital’s visual effects supervisors Kevin Andrew Smith and Anders Langlands about the work they did on the four-hour opus. This team did an insane number of visual effects in the short amount of time when HBO Max confirmed the cut, and the moment it was released. Some of it was restoring work that they had done back in 2017, based off of Zack Snyder’s original storyboards. When it came time to work on the “History Lesson,” Langlands told CinemaBlend:
The history lesson, in particular, was a scene that was cut down dramatically in the 2017 version from Zack's original vision for it. It was changed a huge amount. In the 2017 version of the history lesson, you have Steppenwolf coming and fighting against the combined armies of humans and Atlanteans and (Amazons). … I can't obviously elucidate on what the intention was there, but you imagine it’s because he's trying to set up a single villain, and so he switched out -- originally in that scene, it was setting up Darkseid and (Diana) was telling the story of Darkseid being the big bad.
One of the first things that Weta Digital was tasked with completing was a restoration of the “History Lesson” to Zack Snyder’s full grandeur. Kevin Andrew Smith and Anders Langlands discussed how in some scenes, they replaced Steppenwolf with Darkseid and polished the images to bring them up to date. In other places, the swap was far more complicated than you might have imagined, lending to visual obstacles that had to be overcome. But the duo seemed thrilled that all of the cool elements Snyder wanted to get into this sequence were being returned.
Weta Digital Visual Effects Supervisor Anders Langlands told CinemaBlend:
It was just telling like a much grander story of a much bigger scope. That gave us the opportunity to expand that scene as well. It’s much longer. There are a whole bunch more cool action beats, Things like Green Lantern plays a part, and he was basically completely cut out of the 2017 version. As well as getting to do a lot more development with Darkseid as a character. He was sort of worked up to a certain level and then dropped in the previous version. So we had to resurrect him and do a whole batch of work to get him up to standard, and then let our teams go wild with filling out action beats and things. So there's a lot of fun in those scenes and sort of expanding on those moments, getting into the Darkseid character and what (he) means for the universe.
Yes, it’s understandable why the 2017 version of Justice League removed Darkseid… sort of. In an effort to streamline an expansive story, Joss Whedon removed references that would have expanded out the universe. But Darkseid is such a massive DC villain, the studio had to know how much fans would have enjoyed seeing even a tease of his existence.
This is why the Snyder Cut community fought so hard for Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It wasn’t just about getting a singular movie. It was about restoring a vision and honoring the work that was done by creatives behind the scenes, like the wizards at Weta Digital who worked really hard on all of the elements of the History Lesson, and are now able to see it in all of its glory on HBO Max.