Director: Zack Snyder
Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons
On a normal day, I would start my review for a film with context, perhaps my expectations, a bit of history, or an angle to address the “world” that this film was watched in. When it comes to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, most of our readers already have a strong opinion of the events that have led to the resulting decision by Warner Bros. in allowing this new version of the film to exist. There are certainly arguments to be made on both sides of its existence, the right for an auteur director to have their vision is one stance that I usually subscribe to, but Zack Snyder’s Justice League is one that comes with a price attached to it - more than the reported $70 million that WB forked up to allow Snyder to “finish” his intended version. However, this is a review of the film and not an analysis of the problematic lingering effects of it- although I will drop this link to an article that aptly describes my feelings on the matter: LINK.
Instead, let’s focus on the film itself, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a four-hour epic opus of the now mostly defunct DCEU meant to culminate the scattered and often insanely problematic universe that Zack Snyder was spearheading. Released on HBO Max, as a way to drive viewership to the service, the newly minted Zack Snyder’s Justice League is certainly an improvement over the theatrical version that Joss Whedon had worked on. It’s also a marked improvement over the other two Snyder DC films, Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not that it means much as both of those as tragically flawed.
The comparisons between the two cuts of the film are inescapable. Normally, intentions of clarification are necessary when discussing a different cut, but what makes Zack Snyder’s Justice League fascinating is that it’s not like there were cuts to the film prior to audience consumption. This is a film where significant portions were shot, reshot, edited, and redesigned years after the release. This is not just a different cut; this is a film directly addressing complaints and choices made in the theatrical cut of Justice League and the DCEU films released afterwards. On top of being Zack Snyder’s “original” vision. Keep that in mind while watching.
For those clamoring for it, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is indeed a return to the more forlorn and serious tones of his other films. Most of the humor that was jackknifed into the theatrical cut is missing from this one. It should be noted that Barry Allen, played still with a heartwarming charm by Ezra Miller, remains the quippy one of the bunch and serves as the comedic relief. However, Snyder takes it back in terms of those brighter moments. It is, thankfully, not as perplexingly bleak as BvS, but the film does play under the darkened clouds of characters terrified of failure rather than hopeful for success. Tonally, this is the aim of the film and it’s caked in gravitas whether or not it works. Sometimes it does, the expanded back story for Cyborg is a wholly welcome addition even if the spectacle around his final football game and explanation of his Cyborg powers is - ugh, overzealous. Sometimes the tone doesn’t work, as is the case of weepy Louis Lane going through the motions after the events of BvS which either needed more plot or less. Not to mention, Snyder gets to really show off his ability to hammer in a sappy needle drop in the score when it’s wholly unnecessary or heavy-handed.
This leads to the biggest and perhaps most double-edged aspect of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The film is four hours long. On one hand, it’s a welcome change to the muddled and rushed tone of the theatrical cut. Snyder takes his time developing the multitude of new members in the film and he’s able to pace out some of the narrative emotion. The villain Steppenwolf gets actual motivation. Getting the heroic team to work together is a process and the film digs into that a bit more. It’s also quite evident that Snyder loves fat on his films. Does Bruce Wayne traipsing over the mountains need to be that long? Do we need that Icelandic song of love to Aquaman? Do we need an excessive explanation on why Diana (Wonder Woman) knows the story of Darkseid? The answer is often no and while it’s fun to see some of those moments, they ultimately add on a lot of material that simply feels overwrought.
Snyder also revels in the fact that he gets to tease out a lot of threads that he knows will never come to fruition. The addition of a possible new Justice League member in two scenes feels generic and fan-baity while the relentless drag of the film’s epilogue is certainly fan service for the sake of fan service. Editing most of that out would make for a more finely tuned machine.
As for the rest, most of the criticisms and praise of the theatrical cut still stand. Justice League has some incredible casting and it's on the strength of their screen presence that many moments still fly. Batfleck represents the main driving character in the plot, Aquaman is less charming and more brooding - which I guess is a thing, and Superman is justifiably a means to an end in the overall plot. It’s now a proven fact that Gal Gadot holds her own on the screen in the role of Diana, although I would argue that Snyder inherently doesn’t know how to handle the character in a deeper way which is so blatantly obvious in the finale of her opening fight sequence - which is littered with enough slow motion to make John Woo jealous. Snyder also loves to tease a lot of comic book characters in name or appearance for the fans.
The action of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is also sharply shot. Snyder’s true talents lie in his visual fortitude for spectacle and he delivers here. Most of the major action set pieces from the theatrical cut remain, although the dynamics are changed up a bit and the length are a tad longer here and there. If anything, this is the part that was still the best of the original and remains the most memorable aspect of this one.
All in all, yes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an improvement. If anything, lengthening the film to give the characters more time to develop, clarifying the plot, and working with the pace makes it a superior film. It’s not nearly as dragged down by mixed metaphors as Man of Steel nor is it too overstuffed with plot like Batman V Superman. The problem still remains that the film is often too long, a half hour to 45 minutes trimmed would have done it wonders, and Snyder’s Sad Bois and Sad Gurls tonality can be almost too ridiculous for its own good. His own messages and artfulness gets lost in his need to make things darker, more violent, and dropping the F-Bomb occasionally. Levity is a concept that this film simply does not comprehend.
Still, for the DCEU, it’s a solid effort. Hopefully, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is everything his fans screamed for since he had the time, money, and ego to actually accomplish the task and deliver the film of his (and their) dreams. For me, it’s a pleasant surprise, even with the problems that come with his artistic decisions and tone.