Zack Snyder's Justice League (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 242 Minutes
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot
In 2017, under the pressure of Warner Brothers executives to create a similar, yet wildly lighter take on the DC pantheon with his big sequel to Batman V Superman, Zack Snyder called it quits on his take on Justice League. In his place, following his departure of the project midway through post-production due to a family tragedy, Joss Whedon stepped in, taking his initial vision for the project and arguably altering it for the worse. Reshooting sequences to add unnecessary comedy, re-contextualising many aspects of the story and featuring the pitifully bad CGI upper lip of a moustached Henry Cavill, Justice League released in the November of 2017 to a critical panning and box office failure. Given how far this franchise has come since Justice League, mostly with a focus on telling standalone stories and even branching out of the DCEU to focus on telling ambitious new tales with the iconic DC cast, what makes Zack Snyder’s Justice League so remarkably interesting is how it’s essentially Warner Bros, and especially Snyder being able to revisit a forbidden past and trying to rewrite the wrongs. Fans have been begging to see a Director’s Cut that takes Joss Whedon’s disaster of a theatrical cut and brings into a new light through Snyder’s unfiltered sense which is why the mere existence of this is very exciting. With this film dropping on HBO Max, and several other outlets in international markets, was Zack Snyder’s Justice League a good enough excuse to revisit an initially abysmal attempt of bringing DC’s iconic heroes to the big screen, or was there a reason the film was dead on arrival in 2017?
Despite the massive plethora of unique takes and interpretations that differ between each version of the film, Zack Snyder’s Justice League’s story is fairly unchanged. Much like last time, it follows where Batman V Superman left off. Following Superman’s death, Bruce Wayne feels inclined to bring a team of heroes together to fight any potential wars with the absence of the Man of Steel. Coincidentally, a parademon known as Steppenwolf, under the leadership of Darkseid and his minions, have returned to Earth after thousands of years to retrieve the Mother Boxes that are the key to taking over the planet, igniting the big superhero team up that has the titular Justice League forming to save the world.
While the story on a basic level remains mostly the same, it is absolutely nothing compared to the absurd amount of structural and writing changes that were most likely part of the original script that Chris Terrio provided alongside Zack Snyder’s original vision of this story. This movie is to put it simply a no-holds-barred director’s cut of the original film with zero studio interference placed upon Zack Snyder or his team. With a whopping 242 minute runtime spanning over 6 individual chapters made to help provide people with their preferred viewing experience either in instalments or in a single sitting, this film is a meaty watch. Despite any similarities in storylines that both versions of this film provide, Zack Snyder’s Justice League uses its unfiltered running time and structure to create something that feels a lot more character driven. Much of this film’s first two hours is spent less on the overall conflict of Steppenwolf and his evil plot and more about building up this cast, both with its returning heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman, and with its new players like Cyborg and The Flash. In fact, in terms of the latter, what this film is able to provide in terms of character driven moments and arcs is what makes this film worth watching, ESPECIALLY in the case of Cyborg. In the theatrical cut, much of his backstory was removed leading to a stilted and underwhelming take on the character, but in this cut, not only is it awesome to see all of his backstory placed into this film, but it leads to many revelations that make him the true highlight of the film. The same can apply for the rest of the cast since so much of the added depth to each of them help make for a way more coherent and artistically consistent piece. Even Steppenwolf, perhaps the DCEU’s most forgettable and bland villain actually has a character in this movie as more time is put in place to explain his motivation and why he’s committed to Darkseid’s army.
It isn’t perfect though, far from it in fact. Like the theatrical version, even though it’s so evident from the new scenes and reworked original versions that this is a much better piece, it still has some of the same trappings that Whedon himself failed to avoid. Some scenes remain untouched from before and they can be just as laughable from time to time, and despite the massive improvements in character writing and focus, it is very long. The added runtime does benefit many aspects of this movie, but it is a commitment to say the least. A lot happens within what is otherwise a fairly simple team-up superhero plot, and if you aren’t already fully invested in this universe, it might be hard to get through. For the most part given the slower pace it establishes early on, Zack Snyder’s Justice League does feel structured well enough to not feel like a drag. You can just go along throughout this carefully paced ride and get through it without getting bored, but it is an exhausting experience. There’s so much expository world building in this movie, and given the amount of things sprinkled in its duration to link to future film entries that likely won’t even come to exist anymore, at least 30 minutes of this film could be left on the cutting room floor and nothing would change on a storytelling or thematic level.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League from beginning to end is Snyder in his element and depending on how you view him as a filmmaker, that of course does come across a bit as a double edge sword. Like most of his backlog of work, this film features pretty much all of this directorial style warts and all, whether it be excessive slow motion footage, desaturated colour schemes, moments of stylised violence or the occasional hint of style over substance. Many of the film’s action sequences can be damn beautiful to watch at points with the re-contextualised action sequence on Diana’s home world being a true highlight, but in a lot of ways, much of this film will depend on how you feel toward Snyder when he’s most in his element. This movie feels like an artist in his most unsupervised light but much like any artist, it will mean you get everything you love and dislike about his filmography in spades.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is far from the best superhero offering that can be found in many other places even in the DC universe, but given the disaster that was Joss Whedon’s mess of a theatrical version, it’s just a miracle that this movie managed to come out and also prove to be a surprisingly rewarding watch. If anything, this new take on this movie is going to become a true masterclass in how sometimes it can just be a simple filmmaker’s unique vision and trust in the story that can save a disaster and turn it into a decent piece of cinema. This movie might differ from viewer to viewer depending on how they might feel about Snyder as an artist, but one thing that is for certain is that his version of the film is leaps and bounds better than that 2017 travesty. If this film does spark a new wave of films that are closer linked to the director’s vision very much like Ridley Scott’s versions of Blade Runner, Zack Snyder’s Justice League could very well show how there is a benefit to what streaming services can provide for true, unfiltered directorial visions. It’s exciting to see this come together, and though it’s easier to respect than like, it’s still a fairly enjoyable albeit exhausting ride nonetheless.
FINAL RATING:- 6/10 (OKAY)