The DC megavillain Darkseid was entirely cut from the theatrical version of Justice League, making the movie worse in the process. Zack Snyder has finally revealed an image of Darkseid from his original version of the movie, confirming a major part of the character's intended role in Justice League, and while the movie was plagued by many other issues, removing Darkseid hurt the film on a number of levels.
Zack Snyder was well into post-production of Justice League before he was replaced by Joss Whedon, who conducted significant rewrites and reshoots, fundamentally changing the movie, but it's not clear exactly how far along Snyder was with his cut, other than the fact that he got all the footage he needed during principal photography, and a significant amount of VFX work had also been completed.
Part of that original plan included several Darkseid appearances throughout the film, making the threat against the Justice League and the rest of the world more menacing than just Steppenwolf, as well as setting up for Justice League 2. Without that major component, the movie is almost completely lacking in significance, with no gravity to the threat posed by Steppenwolf, and no clear path forward for the franchise.
- This Page: Justice League Isn't Too Soon to Introduce Darkseid
- Page 2: Steppenwolf Doesn't Matter Without Darkseid
Justice League Isn't Too Soon to Introduce Darkseid
It's common for people to compare the course of the DC Extended Universe to the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe developed, so the idea of Darkseid appearing in the first Justice League has caused many to think it's "too soon" for Darkseid because it took the MCU 19 movies to introduce Thanos, but that's not a fair comparison and Darkseid is more than appropriate for the Justice League's first outing.
First, the thing people don't realize about Thanos' introduction is just because it happened in the 19th movie doesn't mean there were 19 movies of setup. Thanos only had a post-credits tease at the end of the Avengers movies and an actual small role in Guardians of the Galaxy. The Avengers tease merely acknowledged that he existed, the Avengers: Age of Ultron tease was outright retconned by Avengers: Infinity War, as was much of his Guardians of the Galaxy appearance. In fact, most of Thanos' character development happened in Avengers: Infinity War itself, not any of the movies leading up to it.
Second, Darkseid's introduction is of a totally different nature than Thanos'. Snyder's Justice League's plot was extremely similar to Geoff Johns' Justice League: Origin comic run and Jay Oliva's Justice League: War animated movie, which told an origin story for the Justice League where they come together to fight against Darkseid. So, while Darkseid is one of the biggest DC villains, he's also been integral to the origin of the Justice League in recent comic book canon.
Zack Snyder wasn't trying to make the DCEU into a DC version of the MCU. The way he was developing his 5-part Superman/Justice League story actually has far more in common with The Lord of the Rings than it does with the way the MCU is structured. In the Lord of the Rings movies, the immediate threat is the Nazgul, under the command of an even larger looming threat of Sauron, and each member of the nine-person fellowship that forms in opposition to Sauron are all introduced in the first movie, which is around 3 hours long, and it's not lacking for character development. Gandalf is even killed off in the first movie, and the absence of a solo origin movie for him doesn't make that death any less tragic.
The MCU has been massively successful and serves as a great example of how a large universe can be formed over a long period of time, but franchises like The Lord of the Rings also exist to show there's another way to tell massively epic mythical stories with large casts and a looming villain.
What Was Darkseid's Role in Justice League?
Similar to The Lord of the Rings' "looming villain" approach with Sauron, Darkseid's role in Justice League wouldn't make him the main villain or the most immediate threat, but his would have a fair amount of backstory, and it would have been clear that Steppenwolf and the parademons were all acting on his behalf, unlike the theatrical cut, where he was relegated to an obscure reference.
Like Sauron in The Fellowship of the Ring, Darkseid was supposed to be introduced in a flashback battle (he was replaced by Steppenwolf in the theatrical cut), where he would have fought Ares before being driven back. He would have appeared again in Justice League's continuation of the Knightmare scene where more it would establish more context for the apocalyptic (or Apokoliptian) future first teased in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, before an appearance at the end of the third act where he would reveal himself to the Justice League after the defeat of Steppenwolf.
It's not clear if he was intended to have any dialogue, or just be a menacing presence, explained by dialogue from other characters like Wonder Woman and Steppenwolf, but he was planned to have at least three separate appearances in the film and it would have set him up to be the main villain in Justice League 2.
Steppenwolf Doesn't Matter Without Darkseid
Of the many criticisms against Justice League's theatrical cut, its weak villain was one of the most prominent. Not only was his CGI lacking, but his motivation wasn't clear, his plan was simplistic, and he barely had any screen time for character development. Part of this was a result of the hamstrung production, intensive reshoots, and a two-hour runtime mandate, but the biggest impact was the removal of Darkseid.
Steppenwolf is Darkseid's lieutenant. While he is a threat in his own right, the truly menacing thing about him is that he's the tip of Darkseid's spear. He was able to give the Justice League a run for their money, and he's not even as powerful as Darkseid. That should be scary. But when you remove the second half of that equation, you just have a mid-tier villain occupying the role of a movie's big bad all by himself.
The Fellowship of the Ring managed to make the faceless Nazgul with no dialogue threatening because of Sauron, so it's not hard to imagine how much more a character like Steppenwolf could do with a little more of a menacing force behind him.
Set-Up for Justice League 2
The fact that Justice League failed to properly set up Darkseid as a threat for Justice League 2 might not be a big deal since Justice League 2 (at least Snyder's version, possibly any) isn't happening anymore, but with the original Darkseid setup planned by Zack Snyder would have left audiences far more interesting in finding out what happens next.
As it was left, Steppenwolf was defeated, there was barely a hint of anything bigger than him, there's no natural hook for the next installment, and the largest contingent of people interested in a Justice League 2 appear to be people that want to see the Snyder Cut and its sequel, not a sequel to the theatrical cut.
As it is, Justice League instead teased a Legion of Doom story that may or may not actually happen and the DCEU is going to focus on stand-alone solo movies. As for Darkseid, Ava DuVernay is planning on making a New Gods movie that may or may not include the Lord of Apokolips, but its not clear if that will even take place in DCEU continuity, or if it does, how it could impact the chances of Darkseid in Justice League 2.
Justice League had a plethora of problems to solve before it can be considered a good movie. From its inconsistent tone, out of place humor, glaringly obvious reshoot inserts, bland story, lack of character development, poor CGI, and more, so who's to say if Joss Whedon leaving in Zack Snyder's Darkseid plans on its own would have been the difference between Justice League being good and bad, but having an actual villain motivation, establishing a looming threat, and setting up a sequel certainly wouldn't hurt.