If you sat through the four-hour runtime of Zack Snyder’s Justice League and thought to yourself, “Huh, we really live in a society that let this happen,” congratulations! I too agree. And that also means that you sat through the film’s 20-minute-or-so Epilogue, which includes new footage shot specifically for the Snyder Cut and is also really confusing if you don’t remember a random scene from Snyder’s 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Do you need an explainer? Well, here you go! Let’s get into some explaining!
SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE, AS DO SOME SPOILERY MUSINGS FOR POTENTIAL FILMS IN THE DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE, SO IF YOU ARE AVERSE TO THAT SORT OF THING, STOP READING
It all begins with Desert Batman. When the trailers for Batman v Superman were released, they featured two important images: a malevolent-looking Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) being bowed to as if he were a god, and a desert commando version of Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) who seemed to be living in an post-apocalypse version of Gotham.
When the film came out, those two moments were contextualized in one scene: the Knightmare. Nobody in Batman v Superman uses this term; Batman just refers to his dream as some sort of evil premonition. In it, the world has gone to shit. Batman leads insurgents in trying to find kryptonite to defeat Superman, who is evil now. When Superman captures Batman and reveals that he’s already destroyed the LexCorp kryptonite Batman thought he could use against him, he also reveals that Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is now dead. “She was my world, and you took her from me,” Superman says, and then he rips out Batman’s heart. It’s wild shit! Here is the extended scene, from Snyder’s Ultimate Edition of the film:
That nightmare vision, in which Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), and Lois are dead, and Superman has aligned himself with the interstellar baddie Darkseid, is what helps propel Batman to move against Superman in Batman v Superman in the first place. As does the warning from Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), whose journey back in time wakes Bruce up: “It’s Lois. It’s Lois Lane! She’s the key! Am I too soon? I’m too soon! You’re right about him. You’ve always been right about him. Fear him! Find us, Bruce! You have to find us!”
Batman takes the “him” to mean Superman, and we all remember how this ends: with a lot of haranguing about moms named Martha and some real dick-wagging fights and eventually with Superman dead at the end of Batman v Superman. But in Joss Whedon’s 2017 Justice League, the Knightmare doesn’t come up again. The Parademons appear, and the overall threat of Steppenwolf/Darkseid returns, but there’s no real incorporation of Superman going bad. The Snyder Cut, however, explicitly adds all this stuff back in. Once Superman is brought back to life by the Motherbox and flies away with Lois, and the Justice League members are figuring out their next move, Diana and Bruce briefly chat about how Lois “is the key” “to Superman” and “every heart has one.” But Bruce’s dour, “I think it’s something more. Something darker” then directly aligns with the Epilogue.
The Epilogue is just jampacked with fan-service stuff: Aquaman says he’s going home to see his father (leading into his standalone film). After Victor’s dad Silas (Joe Morton) sacrifices himself against Steppenwolf, the running of Star Labs passes to his protege Ryan Choi (Zheng Kai), who comics readers will recognize as Atom. People somehow still don’t seem to realize that Clark Kent is Superman, and don’t question how the former came back from the dead. The 2017 Justice League post-credits scene is rearranged a bit here: Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has escaped Arkham and is now baldly chilling on a yacht. On that yacht, he receives Deathstroke/Slade Wilson (Joe Manganiello), to whom Lex gives Batman’s real name: Bruce Wayne. There’s obviously beef there, and maybe some revenge lust. And then, with Lex’s “His name is Bruce Wayne,” we go back into the Knightmare.
In this version of the Knightmare, Batman isn’t alone. Deathstroke, who was just introduced as being Batman’s enemy, here is an ally (with a new mohawk!). Cyborg is there, Flash is there, as is Amber Heard’s Mera, who we learn is mourning Aquaman: “I’ll stab this through his heart for what he did to Arthur. I want to make him pay,” she says while wielding Aquaman’s trident. And, most importantly or infuriatingly, however you choose to look at it, their rag-tag group also includes Jared Leto’s Joker, whose taunting of Batman reveals some other info: There is an “adopted son” and “boy wonder” (Robin) in this reality who has died (to be fair, we knew this from Batman v Superman), as did Harley Quinn, who died in Batman’s arms. Uh, I don’t even know what to say about this other dialogue, so:
“How many dead eyes can you look into before you die inside yourself? You’ll what, Bruce, kill me? You won’t kill me. I’m your best frend. Besides, who’s going to give you a reach around? Anyway. You need me. You. Need. Me. To help you undo this world you created by letting her die. Poor Lois. How she suffered so.”
So yeah! Lois is dead, somehow. Wonder Woman is … somewhere? (It’s unclear to me whether the Joker’s taunts about people dying around Batman also include Diana, but regardless, she’s not in this rag-tag group in the Knightmare.) Superman is aligned with Darkseid. And they used the Anti-Life Equation to really fuck some stuff up.
This vision turns out to be another Knightmare from which Bruce wakes up in another beautiful mansion, so, who really knows how much of this will be true? But Darkseid coming back to Earth is a guaranteed sequel storyline, since the very last minutes of the Epilogue introduce another character: the Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix), who meets Bruce outside of his palatial property and confirms, “There’s a war coming. And I’m here to help.” Martin Manhunter is canonically one of the Justice League’s original members: In 1959, this lineup from the comic The Brave and the Bold (Vol. 1) included Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
So, wild assumption time: I’m assuming Ava DuVernay’s New Gods addresses Darkseid, since he is one of the primary baddies, and maybe in that film we see the Justice League searching for the Anti-Life Equation, hoping to find it before Darkseid’s minions do. Maybe in Snyder’s planned Justice League 2, which might never happen, Lois is back to investigating—we learn in the Snyder Cut that she hasn’t been back to work since Clark’s death, she just spends all day grieving at his public memorial site—and she finds out where or what form the equation is in. Maybe Batman is tasked with protecting her while Superman fights Darkseid or something, and maybe Batman fails and Lois dies, and that’s how Superman turns dark. The Justice League perhaps tried to fix things by sending Flash back in time to warn Bruce, but he went back “too soon.” So: When Flash went back, was the Batman in his timeline already dead? Or are there two Batmans walking around in this future Knightmare reality? OH DAMN — is this how we get a movie with both Affleck as Batman and Robert Pattinson’s Batman?!
I don’t know what Joker has to do with any of this, or why there was a need to incorporate his character here. But goddammit, if Justice League 2 actually ever gets made, and is another four hours of my life without the R. Pattz Batman, I will have some complaints!
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is streaming on HBO Max as of March 18, 2021.
Header Image Source: Warner Bros./HBO Max