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.
On principle, no superhero film (let alone most movies) has a justifiable reason to balloon up to four hours long (broken up into chapters for easier digesting or not). Zack Snyder’s Justice League is something I once rejected based on the notion that the framework of the story was already a mess, and that altered and new material would only be able to plug up a few holes rather than stop the ship from sinking. However, I eventually came around with cautious optimism due to the admirable outright passion the blockbuster filmmaker has for the project and what it meant to him getting the green light and finally being able to recut the DC team-up epic on his terms, as both a gift to the fans and something to honor his late daughter Autumn by (I was touched when a graphic showed up paying respect to her while a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song with great sentimental value to Zack Snyder’s family, played over the ending credits).
Normally a cynic, maybe I’m just uncharacteristically optimistic for once that something is more than a Hollywood cash grab. For Warner Bros., it’s obviously a play at boosting HBO Max subscriptions, but for Zack Snyder, it is a passion project that fans, no matter what you think of them, have rallied behind as if the director was King Leonidas from his popular adaptation of the graphic novel 300. The point is I went into Zack Snyder’s Justice League with an open mind, throwing out every negative comment I have ever made about how the whole endeavor was pointless, and genuinely wanted to like this new version.
I sort of liked it. Yes, it’s new and improved, but now comes with a different set of flaws that are all set to the same overstuffed narrative that has the task of following up on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, telling its own story of a global threat, introducing new superheroes, all while giving everyone their own arc. This continues to be about seven different movies in one that’s also clearly establishing the groundwork for a sequel (originally Zack Snyder planned Justice League as more than one film so technically that does make sense) even though this is supposedly a one and done. Then again, maybe it will over-perform and in a few years, we will be watching a 7-hour-long Justice League Part II.
Regardless of what the future holds, at least Zack Snyder’s Justice League has a consistent tone. It may be an overly serious one that occasionally goes too far and becomes unintentionally comedic with montages of Icelandic women singing hymns or minutes-long sequences of Amy Adams’ Lois Lane grieving the death of Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman to overboard melodramatic music, but at least you know what you’re getting from scene to scene. At one point, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman removes his shirt and walks towards a body of water with waves rising up and crashing into him all in slow motion for what feels like goes on for at least five minutes. Hell, even the opening credits are nearly 10 minutes long. Forget go big or go home, this movie is attempting to be a superhero epic of astronomical proportions that it shouldn’t be and probably doesn’t need to be.
In some regards, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a self-aggrandizing laughingstock of the genre that’s treating what is still a very generic narrative (sure, this version of Steppenwolf, still voiced by Ciarán Hinds, is a badass that dishes out brutality in style and actually looks intimidating this time, but all the exposition in the world regarding his connection to the even deadlier Darkseid and purpose for gathering the Mother Boxes can’t make this guy the most important thing required to be a fascinating villain; interesting with some degree of moral complexity).
Also, there’s really no need to reiterate the general plot of Zack Snyder’s Justice League; not only is it the same concept but I’m not even sure why someone would read a review of this mammoth-sized film if they had no experience with the original cut. Superman is dead and Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman joins forces with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman to recruit some new heroes to take on Earth’s most dangerous threat yet. These superheroes happen to be the powerful but reluctant Aquaman (a much more serious Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller is still allowed to grace the character with a comedic touch and excels in the role), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher has plenty of additional scenes documenting his struggle to accept his powers and the responsibility thrust on him, complete with a slow-motion football scene before his injury that goes on for about three minutes because Zack Snyder, and altered dialogue such as “fuck Earth” because, and once again, Zack Snyder), all of whom should still not be having their own backstories inside this particular movie.
With that said, some of that extra time allotted is used wisely so that once we reach all-out war during the third hour, there is some emotion which is also boosted by the impressive staging of this chaos. There’s definitely a sense that every section now has more room to breathe which allows the multiple plot points to resonate slightly more. It’s also pleasant that there is blood this time around whenever our heroes impale Parademons, but ironically one of the worst additions involves a flashback to a different united-against-a-greater-enemy battle that is filled with some out-of-left-field character inclusions, beheadings, and an abundance of gore that feels too much compared to everything else in the movie. It also speaks to a greater issue that no story needs this much exposition; every single thing does not need to be shown, doubly so when Zack Snyder still doesn’t have the budget for some of these ambitious scenes that just end up looking embarrassing in terms of CGI. If you had a hearty laugh at Superman’s mustache, you have seen nothing yet when it comes to a few battles and environments here and there.
The first three hours of Zack Snyder’s Justice League are mixed; yes, it’s better than it was but now it’s bogged down by another set of confounding creative decisions. This won’t be a surprise to anyone that has seen Watchmen (which I still consider one of the greatest comic book movies ever made), but this version frequently feels like a long and drawn-out music video. There are countless scenes you could chop out while still maintaining something coherent and exciting with a normal running time (even three hours wouldn’t be so bad although something closer to 2 hours and 30 minutes would be preferable) that carries a grand scale. Granted, the same complaint could be lobbed at Watchmen which I just praised (which also has its own absurdly long Ultimate Cut with an animated film spliced up and peppered in) but it’s also a more grounded and human story that, outside of one CGI character, doesn’t really go crazy with special effects until the end.
As for the final hour, that’s where something clicks; Zack Snyder is clearly gifted when it comes to action settings with all of these characters and is nonetheless making use of all three hours that came before to give the extended battle stakes and dramatic heft. There are plenty of visceral kills, slow-motion style, deadly combos involving teamwork, and a general rush of thrills. Even outside the climax, Zack Snyder is talented at presenting these superheroes in combat like the gods and demigods they are with brutality and bodies flying across battle arenas like bowling pins
The spectacle is there but even as someone that had a blast with the final hour and some parts over the first three hours, the bulk is still bloated, disjointed, and sometimes excessive even when it does work. I’m also glad it exists because, while flawed, it still rises above the quippy annoyances Joss Whedon can never resist going for, and Zack Snyder’s vision for DC and graphic novel adaptations remains compelling and intriguing. He just still hasn’t quite found a way to pull it off yet, and it’s not entirely his fault given how rushed Warner Bros. put the whole DCEU together, although he does need someone to pull him aside and keep him in check when things grow out of proportion or the dialogue gets edgy rather than thoughtfully adult-oriented). If there’s more to come Zack Snyder should be at the front of the universe so long as he wants to, as somewhere buried in all the excess here is a satisfyingly darker breed of superhero tales that function as the perfect counterprogramming to Marvel’s family fun.
As for grading Zack Snyder’s Justice League, it almost feels like an impossible assignment but after reading my review of the original cut, most of my issues were addressed. Steppenwolf is now a mighty foe to be taken seriously, we get to know the new heroes more, the pacing is stronger although there are a number of scenes that need to be trimmed or cut, and it now has a singular vision. It’s also broken up into seven chapters for those that deem the running time to be too much, which is probably most people. There is also no unnecessary cheap sexual humor that I called out Joss Whedon for. It’s now a decent movie that would be even better with some more edits, proving that Zack Snyder is moving in the right direction with these unfiltered extravaganzas.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com