ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE Review
Here we go again.
Production issues of Justice League (The Theatrical Cut) are infamous, and sparked incessant and constant campaigning from die hard Zack Snyder fans, who demanded the release of the original, 3-hour cut of the film that Snyder promised prior to the film’s release. Now, that version (or a version of that version) is finally here. Has it changed the landscape of superhero movies as we know it? Or is it further justification for Snyder stepping away from the DC franchise?
Well, neither because this is, somehow, after all the shit that is went through, a good superhero movie.
Disclaimer though, if you don’t like Snyder’s style (excessive slow motion, sincere melodrama, off putting song choices) this isn’t going to win you over. If you haven’t liked DC movies since The Dark Knight, this isn’t going to convince you otherwise. But, if you liked or enjoyed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, or other Snyder films like 300 and Watchmen then you will like this.
This is a weird review to write since I have already reviewed a version of this film when I reviewed Justice League (2017), but the two cuts are night and day when compared to one another. This is, for better or worse depending on what you think on Zack Snyder, 100% his film, with no studio interference.
All the changes are welcome improvements upon the 2017 release, and highlight both the flaws with that version and the extent of the reshoots Whedon made. The tone is more consistent, with Snyder’s reverent tone no longer clashing with Joss Whedon’s crowd pleasing, quippy, MCU-style. Most notably and welcome, is a more consistent visual aesthetic. The 2017 version looks flat and brightened to the point that the film looks cheap, and the visual look incomplete, not to mention the infamous Moustache-gate, which required Henry Cavil’s mouth to be CGI-ed to remove a moustache, resulting in nightmarish images.
The effects are much better here, but still not up to scratch for a blockbuster film, but that can be given a pass as this cut is using a budget of, supposedly, $80 million to finish off test footage effects. But, from the redesign of Steppenwolf, to the final act battle, this is a more appealing film to watch and shows off Snyder’s strength as a cinematographer.
The story is also more coherent, with Snyder not constrained by a 2-hour runtime like Whedon was, and meaning scenes don’t end abruptly or feel rushed. Even with the mammoth 4-hour runtime, Snyder’s JL doesn’t feel like it and moves at a better pace than even Batman v Superman which ran for 3 hours and was more convoluted and drawn out. Snyder’s JL is streamlined and focused compared to BVS, and handles the universe expanding details better than BVS did.
Snyder also has a better handling of the characters, giving them each an emotional arc and a more likeable team bond. The character most hard-done by the Joss Whedon reshoots/re-edit is Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher who has been very vocal about the controversy on set involving Joss Whedon’s behaviour, as well as executive’s inaction to it.
Here, we can see why he would be pissed, as he has an actual character this time, and acts more like the audience’s surrogate instead of a plot device. He has a very uplifting story that feels personal to Snyder about a father’s kid who feels alone learning to accept themselves and finding their place in the world. Snyder has spoken passionately about his story for Cyborg, and it’s clear why as this feels like Snyder speaking to his daughter Autumn, who sadly passed away early 2017 after losing her fight with depression, and who the film is dedicated to.
Another character given better treatment is The Flash who is less of the ‘funny one’ on the team and more optimistic and naïve. Despite a bizarre and unintentionally creepy introduction scene involving hot dogs, The Flash’s character is more serious, with a gut punching scene involving his father and humanising moments in the final fight when he feels he has failed. It makes him a more relatable and likeable character, who doesn’t whinge about brunch or reference Stephen King’s Pet Semetary.
Ben Affleck seems to be enjoying himself as Batman which was rare in BVS or the theatrical cut of JL; Gal Gadot still embodies Wonder Woman perfectly, but this time without the cringy sexualisation that Whedon did to the character; and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman gives off the same surfer bro vibe, just with a harder edge to him.
Even though we know for a certainty that Snyder will not be returning to DC Universe for the foreseeable future, this is still a fitting conclusion to his original DC film plan that still leaves hints towards what Snyder’s planned Justice League Part 2 would have been. One way this can be encapsulated comes in the handling of Superman, and is why this movie resonated with me so much.
Much like in the theatrical cut, the League resurrect Superman to help stop Steppenwolf. But this time, it feels more earned than obligatory, with more importance placed on Superman’s inspiration to others and fear in the villains. His return sets him on the path that would see him become the hopeful, boy scout Superman we know. Snyder was criticised for his brooding Superman take in his previous DC films, but that was all apart of Superman’s arc, with this being the pay-off for fans of the DC films, especially Man of Steel.
Sadly, the film’s villain is still very one-dimensional. Steppenwolf is better looking here, and given a better motivation but I still found myself tuning out whenever his scenes came on. He acts only in service of setting up the villain in the sequel we’ll never seen, which is Darkseid. His inclusion is fun fan service, with a cool teased showdown between him and the League, but all of this set up for something that will never happen feels either unnecessary or like Snyder trying to goad his followers into pressuring Warner Bros into giving him another film. This is especially evident in the film’s epilogue which is a fun concept to see, but frustrating at the same time because of how we know it won’t go anywhere, and was clearly reshoot when Snyder was given the green light to finish his film in 2020.
If you can get past certain stylish quirks, like copious amounts of slow motion or a bombastic score by JunkieXL, and have an interest in the DC franchise then this movie is worth the wait. Both its epic runtime, and tumultuous journey to the screen.
With more stable directing, better handling of characters and entertaining action, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous version that wraps up Snyder’s time in the DC Universe while leaving the door open, and finds the balance between emotion and spectacle necessary to make a good superhero movie. Maybe just set aside a day to watch it.