Zack Snyder’s Justice League, 2021.
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Ray Porter, Jesse Eisenberg, Jared Leto, Joe Manganiello, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Kiersey Clemons, Peter Guinness, Harry Lennix, Billy Crudup, Karen Bryson, Marc McClure, Sergi Constance, Michael McElhatton, Ryan Zheng Kai, David Thewlis, Samantha Jo, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Doutzen Kroes, Brooke Ence, Hari James, and Ann Ogbomo.
Zack Snyder’s definitive director’s cut of Justice League. Determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions.
Before we begin, a mea culpa. Four years ago when Justice League first arrived in theatres I reviewed it pretty positively, rating it four and four stars in our rating system, finding it to be an entertaining, if somewhat rushed, film. Even with all the behind-the-scenes drama with Zack Snyder’s exit from the director’s chair, Avengers director Joss Whedon stepping in and the massive rewrites and reshoots the film underwent – months before its release – I still liked it a lot. I even – stupidly – wrote the words “ultimately Justice League feels like a Zack Snyder film” in my review. It wasn’t until subsequent viewings I realized I had very rose-coloured glasses on as I noticed more and more of the flaws, how glaring the film was as a Frankenstein of two director’s opposing visions with plenty of studio meddling.
I wrote in a later piece how I would have dropped that film down to two and three stars instead as it is still somewhat entertaining in a turn-your-brain-off way if you ignore the jarring tone and how forcefully it ignores Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now, flash forward nearly four years later and fans have an almost unprecedented film as Zack Snyder and HBO Max have delivered his vision of Justice League to the streaming service after a massive (and often abusive) social media campaign to bring his version to light. What results is a film far superior t0 2017’s theatrical cut in its character depth and emotional weight, but still suffers a little from some story decisions and editing.
Those expecting a completely new experience to what came out in 2017 may get a mixed result. There is plenty here in this cut that is new as 2017’s version only used roughly 30 minutes of Snyder’s footage. Zack Snyder’s Justice League gives fresh context to many of the character’s development and emotional journeys, particularly when it comes to Flash and especially Cyborg, but it still follows the story almost beat for beat to the theatrical cut.
Many may balk at the 4-hour runtime of Snyder’s cut but, despite it being double the length of 2017’s, it ironically is much better paced. Rather than rush from scene to scene to get from Point A to B, Snyder’s Justice League instead lets things build naturally and gives them much more breathing room for the characters to develop. It also really does not feel like it’s 4-hours long as many of the sequences are well paced with Snyder knowing when to inject an action scene to make things more exciting or slow things down either with exposition or a character scene.
When it comes to the characters, they are much better rounded. Gone are many of the most eyebrow-raising changes Whedon included such as Flash’s awkwardness, the forced humour or inappropriate jokes about sex and blowjobs in the middle of a scene. While Flash is still a bit socially awkward, he’s not nearly as much as before with Ezra Miller delivering a performance that is both light-hearted and serious, especially toward the film’s climax. Ray Fisher benefits the most as we finally see just how much of Cyborg was cut or altered.
Cyborg’s arc is much clearer and given way more emotional heft as he struggles with who he is now and what he can do, finding a balance between the anger he feels at his circumstances and acceptance in his new place in the world. Fisher is quite good in the role and is very emotive through his facial expressions, an aspect that is incredibly important given his face is pretty much the only part remaining of his original body. Even Steppenwolf, the film’s main villain, is given more gravitas as Snyder acknowledges he’s just another slave at the end of the day, adding a layer of tragedy to the character that was previously left unseen. It helps too that Steppenwolf is much more intimidating both in Ciarán Hinds’ performance and the character’s physical look.
As for the rest of the cast, they again do well together as they each have great chemistry amongst the team. Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill and Jason Momoa all give great performances in the restored scenes. Cavill’s Superman even gets some extra time after his resurrection to interact with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, reaffirming their relationship and stepping more toward the traditional Superman most fans know and love while Affleck’s Batman is much closer to the original spirit of the character. Their dynamic as a team is fleshed out further to the point where it is easier to see why they formed such bonds and fought together. One of Snyder’s strongest talents is casting his characters and Zack Snyder’s Justice League definitely puts that talent on display as it shows why he thought this group could represent many of these iconic heroes while introducing lesser-known heroes and villains to the larger mainstream audience.
Where the film’s weaknesses come from are the story and editing of the film. Chris Terrio’s script is pretty well written, but there are a couple long stretches of exposition that bog the film down. These are at least presented in visually interesting and different ways to make the audience more engaged, but they still tend to go on a bit too long. There are also some scenes that could have been trimmed if not cut entirely altogether. It feels like since Snyder had the chance to restore his vision to the film, he decided to stitch together everything he shot instead of picking and choosing what felt most significant for a cohesive story. A lot of it is good, but even with the pacing and editing being far improved to 2017 it still feels a little bloated.
Even the newly shot scenes that include Jared Leto reprising his Suicide Squad role as The Joker feel tacked on and unnecessary. It is also interesting that Snyder goes pretty light on the themes of the film, presenting a fairly straight-forward team-up instead of the more thought-provoking issues Batman v Superman offered. That’s not necessarily a bad thing mind you as this is arguably his most accessible DC film out of the three he’s directed, allowing for a fun and entertaining but still character driven ride.
When it comes to the action, Snyder does very much deliver in the way only Snyder can. The action sequences are well choreographed, exciting and visually stunning as the characters pull off some very cool moves in easy-to-follow set pieces, though Snyder does rely a little more than usual on his love for slow-motion during much of the action. There is a fair amount of blood, but nothing to really garner the film’s R-rating as it’s nothing more bloody than an Avengers film, leaving it to the couple of f-bombs to earn that rating. Junkie XL’s score is also a huge improvement over the bland music of 2017, adding much needed emotion and tension to many of the scenes.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a vast improvement that gives fans the director’s (mostly true) vision and a pretty decent closure to his trilogy of DC films. The runtime actually benefits the story and the characters, though some scenes still could have been trimmed and used less slow-mo. His cut also emphasizes the strength of the cast, especially that of Fisher and Miller, giving them proper depth. Whatever comes from the Snyder Cut now that it is finally out in the world, it is at least gratifying to see the Justice League together as they were meant to be seen.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.