Film Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

DIRECTED BY: Zack Snyder

STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Ciarán Hinds, Connie Nielsen, Joe Morton, J.K Simmons, Willem Dafoe, Amber Heard, Zhang Kai, Jesse Eisenberg, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Karen Bryson, Kiersey Clemons, Peter Guinness, Harry Lennix, Jared Leto, Billy Crudup, Joe Manganiello and Ray Porter

 

SYNOPSIS

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.

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. The task proves more difficult than Bruce imagined, as each of the recruits must face the demons of their own pasts to transcend that which has held them back, allowing them to come together, finally forming an unprecedented league of heroes. Now united, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash may be too late to save the planet from Steppenwolf’s dreadful intentions.

In November 2017, the theatrical version of Justice League was released worldwide, with highly documented production halts and reshoots and with the tragic passing of his daughter, Zack Snyder stepped down from post-production duties, with Joss Whedon being brought onboard to carry out directing duties for the remainder of the production, which then also included reshoots a few months before the films theatrical release. So with pretty low expectations, overall I remember initially finding the theatrical cut to be fine, though it definitely felt like I was giving it a pass knowing of the troubled production it had and was more than happy to see the Justice League on the big screen and interacting with one another. While it had its moments, I haven’t revisited that version since that opening weekend and since then, a lot of articles and reports have come out about the behind-the-scenes fiasco that could almost serve as its own four-hour documentary cut, from then Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara’s alleged reluctance to budge the release date so that executives would receive cash bonuses before the AT&T merger, to the WarnerMedia investigation into the production a few laters year after when Ray Fisher claimed that “Joss Whedon’s on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional and completely unacceptable”. Also during that period, there was belief within the fandom that Snyder had shot enough material to have his vision restored, leading to the ‘Release The Snyder Cut’ movement that relentlessly campaigned for Snyder’s vision to be brought forward. After much debate over whether a Snyder Cut existed or not, despite Zack and even Momoa early on stating publicly that such a cut existed, in May 2020 Zack confirmed during a Man of Steel Q&A watchparty on Vero that he would be working on completing his vision of the Justice League and that it would be coming out in 2021. Now, finally, the wait is over and, it’s fair to say that the film works remarkably better than its 2017 theatrical counterpart.

 

In terms of this version, Steppenwolf is definitely more imposing a villain as well as being more sympathetic than I ever expected him to be. Steppenwolf has a humungous debt to pay (fifty-thousand worlds, what the hell did he do!?), yet he yearns to return home but ultimately he will never get that until his pays his debt in order to obtain the redemption he seeks. Even Darkseid’s other follower, DeSaad, exists serve as the middle man in Steppenwolf’s interactions and to belittle Steppenwolf as much as possible for having betrayed Darkseid. I also liked seeing Steppenwolf and the parademons actually trying to put the work in as they attempt to locate the mother boxes rather than just simply teleport near them as the script demands in, particularly in the sequence involving Steppenwolf interrogating one of the Atlantean soldiers on land after they’re captured by parademons. Vocally I found Ciarán Hinds’ performance to be more intimidating here than the theatrical cut. Also in this version we get the conclusion of other members of the New Gods, Granny Goodness in a non-speaking role (but gets a fanboy pop for standing next to Darkseid), DeSaad, and last but certainly not least, the big bad of the DC universe Darkseid. Whereas in the theatrical cut it spent its focus on Steppenwolf, here we learn he’s doing Darkseid’s bidding, who looks to obtain the mother boxes and their location is triggered when Superman’s death reactivates them. Steppenwolf also gets a different look visually from his facial expressions to his armour, looking a lot better than his theatrical counterpart and in terms of the action sequences involving him trying to recover the mother box from the Amazons at Themyscira, to the climatic battle with the Justice League, he’s definitely more imposing than what he was portrayed originally.

 

With this being a four hour long cut of what Snyder intended to put onto the big screen as well as moving forward with the intended sequels, the story has more room to breathe and bring depth and flesh out certain characters, ideally that of newcomers (at the time) Arthur Curry, Barry Allen and Victor Stone. Out of everybody in the theatrical cut, it was obvious that Victor Stone aka Cyborg, was given the short end of the stick and after seeing his character arc in this version, I’m amazed at some of the stuff they left in the cutting room floor, but with Cyborg they stripped almost everything from him. His arc surrounding his complicated relationship with his father, to his tragic origins how he becomes Victor Stone the high school quarterback to Cyborg, Ray Fisher gives a great performance as the character. Another character that felt improved upon was The Flash, who in the theatrical cut seem to exist to provide ‘jokes’ and I found him to be much less annoying here. What the film really benefits though is in the climatic final act, their scenes are pivotal to not just the mission, but the emotional journey for each characters and their big moments are some of my favourite from the film.

 

The issue with the film being a four hour cut is that, in theory, there’s a lot of fat that could’ve been trimmed here. It’s universally known that Zack Snyder is found of a slow-motion sequence here and there, and if you were to remove at least half of them here, that would trim at least fifteen-minutes. Some sequences didn’t work for me, two involving Aquaman (one felt out of left-field with the women singing and one sniffing his jumper, and the other being the rather lengthy slow-motion sequence of returning to the ocean after saving the fisherman), the introductory scene of The Flash and using the speed force didn’t really gel with I believe with the song choice. Trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, another newcomer emerges in this cut and while I did enjoy that reveal, in the context of the scene that took place prior, it kind of diminished the weight and effectiveness of that scene for me. But, then again this is Zack Snyder throwing everything including the kitchen sink into this, overall I still have to commend him and everyone involved for powering through and completing his vision, especially when we get the nuggets of what could’ve been with the future Justice League (Snyderverse) installments in the future with the epilogue, I know a few can say they were unnecessary but I enjoyed them.

 

VERDICT

I’m glad that Zack Snyder’s Justice League exists and that he got to have his vision brought forth to the general public and, considering I found some of the films prior to be hit-and-miss, here the callbacks and character arcs for the Justice League worked for me, particularly Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. Not without its issues, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is for me his best film from his DC directed films. 

½