How Zack Snyder’s Justice League improves the LEGO sets

Zack Snyder’s Justice League makes for a more immersive and better film, and as a result, greatly improves the LEGO Justice League sets.

It was an unfortunate series of events that led to Zack Snyder leaving his Justice League film during post-production in mid-2017, and it was certainly unusual circumstances under which he has been able to revisit it, finish it and even add a little extra to it. And in finding the opportunity to realise his full vision in 2021, so too has this four-hour version of Justice League presented new context and meaning to the three LEGO sets originally released four years ago, as well as a fourth previously-unrelated LEGO set.

Just as rare as it is for a director to get a second chance to work on a film, it is the same that any LEGO set, least of all those tied into a franchise, get a second chance at life too. Yet, during the most unusual of times that we find ourselves in – which most likely facilitated Warner Bros.’ willingness to revisit the Snyder Cut – we can look at three DC Comics Super Heroes sets originally released in 2017 in a brand new and certainly more favourable light.

What went wrong in 2017

76085 Battle of Atlantis, 76086 Knightcrawler Tunnel Attack and 76087 Flying Fox: Batmobile Airlift Attack came out four years ago ahead of the theatrical release of Justice League, and that is when most reviews of the trio of LEGO sets were made, including our own on Brick Fanatics. Box office return for the film was low, and reviews were generally critical of tone, plot, character and story, so it’s fair to say that there were just as equal a number of LEGO fans experiencing these sets in the same context, namely with indifference to and disconnection from the source material.

That was off the back of some unusual, dark and frankly miserable versions of Superman and Batman in the DCEU. We’d had a couple of great LEGO sets released to tie in with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just the year before, but what did that matter? The film was a miserable, bloated mess. Expectations around the theatrical cut of Justice League were equally low, reviews were subsequently poor, and the sets were viewed very much as their own thing. At least two of the three sets – 76086 Knightcrawler Tunnel Attack and 76087 Flying Fox: Batmobile Airlift Attack – held interest as genuinely different models. But without a solid and popular film as the central marketing device to drive sales and generate awareness of character or story, these were LEGO creations left to fend for themselves on shelves.

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Which didn’t go well. Not only were they following on so closely from the Batman v Superman sets, the LEGO Justice League sets were also released in 2017, The Year of The Batman, when The LEGO Batman Movie went madly overboard with Dark Knight-themed LEGO sets. In that flood of black and very, very dark grey bricks, and tied to a dying franchise, the Justice League trio largely faded into obscurity and seemed destined to be forgotten as an out-of-place mini-collection of unusual-looking sets.

Yet here we are in 2021, with fresh eyes to consider all three, and – thanks to the story opportunities afforded to Zack Snyder in his lengthy four-hour cut of Justice League – a whole lot more character and context for each set to be considered within. Snyder’s version is by no means a perfect film, but it does a great deal well, and a few things great, and could act as a course correction for the DCEU, should Warner Bros. bring it into canon. Indeed, with everything that the Snyder Cut improves from the 2017 theatrical cut, it breathes new life into the franchise – and with that, the LEGO sets too. And that’s even including 76085 Battle of Atlantis, the set infamous in late 2017 and throughout 2018 for sitting on shelves at 33% off and still not selling.

The below does include specific and non-specific references to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, so, spoilers may follow.

A more rounded Aquaman

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Don’t worry, Jason Momoa remains as chiselled as ever in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but his Arthur Curry character benefits from further development (in a time set before his solo Aquaman film). The same can even be said for the Atlanteans tasked with defending one of the three Mother Boxes, as they also have more screen time during a couple of encounters with Steppenwolf. They even have a few lines, delivered in an ‘English-sounding accent’, which notably Amber Heard’s Mera adopts for the Snyder Cut too.

76085 Battle of Atlantis is still no classic LEGO set (there’s not a lot to build), but it is improved simply for just including minifigures that 2021’s Justice League gives far more depth and meaning to.

The 2017 theatrical cut also included a version of the sequence where Steppenwolf retrieves the Mother Box from those guarding it, but the overall additional scenes for Aquaman and the Atlanteans – as well as that certainly more pronounced final scene when Steppenwolf engages them – gives 76085 Battle of Atlantis at least a little bit more credit than it had before. How many copies of that set should you have bought at a third off? Well, still just one.

A kinder Batman and less annoying Flash

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76086 Knightcrawler Tunnel Attack was an interesting set when it came out four years ago (and a great example of one that never photographs as well as it looks), but the Knightcrawler’s introduction and use within the theatrical version of Justice League in 2017 disappointed – you barely saw it and it barely did anything. Unfortunately, that’s still arguably the case with the vehicle’s use in the 2021 Snyder Cut of Justice League. Batman lives in the shadows, but the darker colour palette that Snyder prefers is to the detriment of his lead character’s array of toys – how do any of the Justice League see the door to get in?

That being said, the vehicle still plays a key role as part of a large and extended battle sequence at exactly two hours into the latest version of the film. It’s a sequence that is far more memorable for the additional footage, for the fact that the vehicle is in it and for each character’s role within the action.

And as cynical as it sounds to say (but is usually the case with Super Heroes sets, both DC and Marvel), it is the characters that are just as important with consideration to 76086 Knightcrawler Tunnel Attack now. Included in this set are Batman and The Flash and within this latest version of Justice League, both come out looking better. We have a kinder, more charming Bruce Wayne/Batman who talks to those he recruits to the Justice League far more warmly and respectfully. Meanwhile, Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/Flash remains the film’s comic relief, but a little less annoyingly so (for instance, the jarring tangent about brunch is gone) and his relationship with Ben Affleck’s Batman is more appropriate.

Both characters are truer to what’s expected of them and in their ways they contribute to the story much better – The Flash has a great introduction and a significant moment at the 2021 film’s climax, whilst Batman dispenses with the out-of-character jokes and is generally just less of a jerk to the others. His role of bringing everyone together actually feels like it’s because he sees it as his purpose, rather than a huge inconvenience as was portrayed in the 2017 theatrical cut. These improvements in character for both translates into the greater appreciation you feel when looking at their minifigure forms.

Steppen’ out of the shadows

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The same can certainly be said for the characters included in the clumsily-named 76087 Flying Fox: Batmobile Airlift Attack, particularly the antagonist of the film. Alongside the rest of the Justice League line-up in this largest of the three sets is the big bad, Steppenwolf, whose LEGO forms benefits greatly from his character’s far more developed arc, which now has key traits like motivation and meaning, as well as the redesign of his on-screen appearance. There’s greater menace felt in his overbearing size, whilst his LEGO design feels more accurate to the 2021 version, albeit with room to still improve.

As the film’s main villain, he is given far more reason for what he does and much more action to handle too. You still don’t want him to win, but after watching Zack Snyder’s version of him, you’ll understand his relevance and far more easily apply that to the sets too. And these are sets that are also brought together by his inclusion in 76087 – he’s more interestingly central to the scenes that each LEGO set is linked to and in memorable ways. That’s testament to the storytelling in the 2021 film, and key to creating a stronger link to and identity within the accompanying LEGO sets.

Cyborg rebooted

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The same rings true for Cyborg, too. Most of the positive reviews for the 2021 version of Justice League focus on the deeper and more critical role that Cyborg plays. His backstory is fleshed out with heart, whilst the abilities he discovers he now has are way better explained too. He is at the core of the entire film and has a crucial role to play at its climax. Where 2017’s Cyborg made no sense and was very much a peripheral player, 2021’s Cyborg is front and centre. Taking this new version of the character in, you can’t help but start to admire more of the detail that has gone into his LEGO minifigure form, as his place within 76087 carries greater meaning and relevance.

Also included in 76087 Flying Fox: Batmobile Airlift Attack, the less vexing version of Batfleck has a second design accurate to his appearance in the third (or is that sixth?) act of Snyder’s Justice League, whilst Wonder Woman remains the most heroic and well-formulated character of the whole team, which is perhaps why her role was the least further developed in this 2021 film and she was tasked with exposition. That being said, the part that she plays remains central to the story and to the action at hand, and that sword and shield her LEGO minifigure comes with are more than handy in facing down Steppenwolf.

But not so Super, man

In the end, it is LEGO Superman that lets the team down, built as he is in blue and red, accurate to his appearance in the 2017 theatrical cut of Justice League. Everything else about 76087 Flying Fox: Batmobile Airlift Attack (and indeed 76085 Battle of Atlantis and 76086 Knightcrawler Tunnel Attack), from the characters to the gigantic, whale-shaped vehicle they fly around, is remarkably true to how it appears on film in the new cut of Justice League. Superman, however, is the only aspect that sticks out, where 2021 suited him in his black and white/silver outfit.

It’s a shame, because this is another character that benefits a whole lot from undoing the inappropriate re-writes of Joss Whedon (what was it like when you were dead, Superman? ‘Itchy’. Sigh). Now, there is further depth and clarity given to his story arc and he has a significant role to play at the end, and crucially without stealing all the action. The LEGO Group wouldn’t go wrong releasing a black-suited Superman to tie things together. We’ve had #ReleasetheSnyderCut, how about #ReleasetheBlackSuitedLEGOSuperman?

Another Knightmare

When Zack Snyder knew he was returning to finish his version of Justice League, there was also the opportunity to add an additional couple of scenes at the end, one of which revisits Batman’s ‘knightmare’ vision of a post-apocalyptic world. In creating this scene, the 2021 Justice League inadvertently and quite remarkably pulls a fourth LEGO set into its orbit – 2018’s 853744 Knightmare Batman Accessory Set.

Whilst this was primarily based on Batman’s original vision in Batman v Superman (in spite of bizarrely coming out in 2018), it’s the detail of that Joker card that pulls the set well and truly into the alternate future reality of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. That printed 1×1 tile may be something based on concept art or just a fun inclusion by the LEGO Group that’s a wild coincidence, but it gives the three-minifigure pack new, unexpected relevance by directly tying it into the 2021 story.

Better film, better sets

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It should be pretty clear to anyone taking in Zack Snyder’s Justice League that it dramatically improves a lot of what went wrong in 2017, and in doing so, gives detail and depth to the accompanying LEGO sets. 

The three that released in 2017 – 76085 Battle of Atlantis, 76086 Knightcrawler Tunnel Attack and 76087 Flying Fox: Batmobile Airlift Attack – and the fourth set that finds itself a part of this new version of the story in 2021, 853744 Knightmare Batman Accessory Set, are all given further credibility in character and story thanks to this new version of Justice League.

Whilst the film remains far from perfect, it delivers on a lot more than its 2017 outing and pulls all the key elements together far more cohesively. In particular, the opportunity to explore each character further and the increased screen time offered to the action sequences has given the corresponding LEGO sets the relevance and context that they did not get with the theatrical cut of the film back in 2017.

The connection a much stronger story can create with its tie-in LEGO sets is what pulls at every LEGO fan’s desire to collect, play or display. It is an effect wildly amplified for each of the LEGO Justice League sets in 2021, in comparison to how they looked in 2017. Lucky they are all (at least for the time-being) reasonably cheap on the secondary market.

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Rob Paton

As one half of Tiro Media Ltd, I mix a passion for print and digital media production with a deep love of LEGO and can often be found on these pages eulogising about LEGO Batman, digging deeper into the LEGO Group’s inner workings, or just complaining about the price of the latest LEGO Star Wars set. Make a great impression when you meet me in person by praising EXO-FORCE as the greatest LEGO theme of all time. Follow me on Twitter @RobPaton or drop me an email at [email protected]

Rob Paton

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