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The Steppenwolf redesign in Zack Snyder’s Justice League was part of an ultimatum

Leave no Mother Box unturned

Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is full of subtle changes to the 2017 theatrical original — as the director insisted for years it would. While much of the action on screen in the original cut was reworked from material that now exists in full in the “Snyder Cut,” certain scenes were completely redone with new effects and designs, thanks to a reported $70 million given to Snyder to complete the four-hour film. Heck, the movie is now an in an entirely different aspect ratio. Whatever Snyder saw in his head the first time was going in his cut of the movie.

That includes a complete reworking of Justice League’s villain. Steppenwolf, the puffy grunt from Apokolips, carries over from the theatrical version of the movie, but with a whole new set of motivations. In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, he’s been banished from his planet by the overlord Darkseid, and hopes to gather the Mother Boxes and uncover the Anti-Life Equation in order to win back the esteem of his Big Bad Daddy (who, in comics, is his nephew). Along with the enhanced plot, Steppenwolf steps out with a new lewk: Spikes, spikes, spikes, a squishier face, and more spikes.

Steppenwolf in Justice League (2017)
Steppenwolf in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2020)
Steppenwolf in Justice League (2017) and Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures/HBO Max

Played by Ciarán Hinds behind layers of pixels, the resurrected Steppenwolf doesn’t combat the Justice League or unleash hell on Earth in any particularly new ways in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. So why redesign the character? Producer Deborah Snyder says the reason is because they weren’t redesigning — Zack and his effects team were implementing the original plans, and that was the initiative, workload be damned.

“At the time, the studio didn’t like the way he looked,” Snyder says. “I don’t know if it was too menacing or scary, but we redesigned him. So when we had this opportunity to come back, one of the things Zack said was, ‘If this is my my vision of the film, I want to put back the things that got changed — even the things that got changed along the way.’ So it really could be a true vision of the film.”

While Hinds’ motion-capture performance was all completed back in 2016, the sequences involving Steppenwolf had to be completely redone. VFX houses Weta Digital and Scanline were involved with bringing Spikywolf to life, from his fighting movements to facial animation, and the job was done on a nearly unprecedented timeline.

“In order to have that many shots delivered [for the final edit], you have to have artists constantly working,” Snyder says. “So even when [Zack] was tweaking the edit, we were turning over shots and saying, ‘Okay, I know this scene works well and we’ve got to get it going.’ We started in June, when we went through the movie and saw where the shots were, and we delivered the bulk of the shots before Christmas in order to finish the movie.” Snyder adds that the movie’s post-script, a post-apocalyptic Knightmare featuring the Joker, was dropped in last minute in January.

“So it’s been a sprint to get it done. I couldn’t be more grateful Zack and I to our whole crew that really worked so hard to make this a reality. It took a lot of people to pull this off.”

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