Zack Snyder's Justice League

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Zack Snyder's Justice League.
Zack Snyder's Justice League.
Photo: HBO Max/Facebook


Zack Snyder's Justice League




3/5 Stars


With Superman (Henry Cavill) dead and otherworldly forces assembling to bring the earth to its knees, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) begin an earnest recruitment drive of other super-powered heroes to try and quell the threat. Even if they are able to convince Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to join them, will even their combined might be enough to stop the hellish forces of Apokolips and its feared leader, Darkseid?

A remixed, recut, restored and greatly expanded director's cut of 2017's Justice League.


In retrospect, giving the original version of Justice League, a far-too-high three-star grade was, perhaps, rather charitable on my part. Clearly, my relief at seeing a halfway decent representation of Superman (weird CGI shave aside, of course) after the disastrous double-punch of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman was enough for me to give it a passing grade despite it being a total hodgepodge of a movie.

I didn't precisely lavish it with praise and in an age where Marvel had been knocking it out of the park consistently with their two to three films a year and with even DC finally starting to up the game with the terrific, first Wonder Woman flick, three stars was still a pretty low grade for a major superhero movie. Here's the problem, though: we now have two versions of Justice League with the same grade on this site by the same reviewer – but one version is clearly significantly worse than the other.   

Do try to keep this in mind because though there is absolutely no way in hell that I'm going to give Zac Snyder's Justice League any more than the same three stars I gave the original release, it is unquestionably a real improvement over the theatrical cut.

And, speaking of which, for the sake of all who have been living under a particularly large rock for the past few months, it's probably a good idea to explain just what Zack Snyder's Justice League actually is and how it's different from the theatrical version that was released in 2017.

The theatrical version, now often called (wrongly) the Whedon cut – more on that in a second – was basically a rush release by the head honchos of Warner Media at the time to try and pit the nascent and already controversial DC Extended Universe (consisting, at the time, only of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and its sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, David Ayer's atrocious Suicide Squad, and – the only bright spark in the pack – Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman) against the ludicrously successful Marvel Cinematic Universe by offering up its own version of the Avengers. Despite the, shall we say, mixed reaction to his first two films in the DCEU by both fans and critics, Zack Snyder was again brought on to bring DC's premier superhero team to the big screen.

What happened next, though, is a real-life soap opera that is actually way more interesting than either version of the film. The short version is that after the enthusiastic critical response to Wonder Woman and the general antagonism/ antipathy that met the previous "grim and gritty" vision of the DCEU that Snyder had set as a template in Man of Steel, the suits at Warner Brothers were extremely unhappy with the "grim and gritty" route that Justice League was taking, but before they could fire Snyder and have Joss Whedon – who was still seen as one of the gods of Geek Culture - come in and reshoot and rewrite vast sections of the film, Snyder's daughter tragically committed suicide. He stepped down from the project of his own accord.   

What we were left with was a deeply compromised film that had less than nothing to do with Whedon's very distinct artistic voice and only a fun-house mirror version of what Snyder originally intended, and enough behind the scenes drama to fill thousands of gossip columns. Even before the allegations were brought against Joss Whedon for being an abusive bully on not just the Justice League set but all the way back to his days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, public opinion quickly turned on Whedon for "ruining" Snyder's vision and calls for the "Snyder Cut" by a rabid – and, let's be honest, sometimes unhinged – fanbase.

Regardless of whether Whedon is a nightmare to work with or not (and it looks like he sometimes is and sometimes isn't), the theatrical cut of Justice League was less his fault than the inevitable result of interference by greedy studio heads who cared even less about the working conditions of their cast, crew, and, yes, director than they did about producing a quality film.

After years of calling for the Snyder Cut, the new head honchos at Warner Brothers finally caved when they needed a calling card for their struggling streaming service, HBO Max, and they brought back Zack Snyder, gave him an extra $70 million to complete his film and allowed him free rein to make exactly the Justice League film he wanted to make. The result, despite being far, far better than I could ever have hoped for, is every bit as indulgent as that sounds.

First, and there's really no getting past this, Zack Snyder's Justice League is four hours long. Four. Hours! That makes it literally twice the length of the theatrical cut and a full hour longer than Avengers: Endgame. It has also been released in a televisual 4:3 aspect ratio, which is great for the few who have seen or will see it in IMAX theatres (where taller is better) but for the 99% who are watching it on their widescreen televisions, laptops, or, heaven help us, mobile screens, it simply looks wrong. And, yes, there is a black and white version with a slightly altered Joker scene coming in the next few weeks because, of course, there bloody is!

With all that preamble out of the way, we are left with a film that is actually pretty damn coherent while also being – and I don't know how he managed this – a mess of parts good, bad and ugly. It's also undoubtedly true that for people who are committed Snyder fans, the bad and the ugly will be far less noticeable than for us Snyder sceptics, who will, at least, be pleasantly surprised by the good.

In reverse order, then, let's start with the ugly. Removed of all the hasty, red-tinged colour correction, this once again looks purely like a Zack Snyder film, but just because it looks better than the previous abomination doesn't change that you're either going to like Snyder's vision or you're not. I hate it. Not only are the dull sepia tones an awful fit for DC's brightly coloured superheroes, his films always look completely unnatural to me, giving a fuzzy CGI sheen even to things that are, presumably, not generated by computers.

And speaking of CGI, it may be slightly better than the theatrical cut, but the effects work is still awful – befitting a Playstation 2 cut scene rather than a major, mega-budgeted superhero film from 2017/ 2021 – with the fully CGI renderings of the film's middle-management baddie, Steppenwolf (now redesigned to look crap in a wholly new way!), and the newly introduced denizens of Apokolips (Darkseid! Desaad! Even Granny Goodness!) looking particularly ghastly. Squeezing all this into a 4:3 ratio only makes it all look even worse.

Also, though the score is largely pretty decent, this piece of a-melodic, vaguely middle-eastern chanting/warbling is played every single time that Wonder Woman does literally anything. Every. Single. Time. Words cannot possibly describe how annoying it is – especially since WW has the best musical theme in the DCEU! 

As for the bad, I still barely even know where to start. The plot is as threadbare as ever, but it now lasts a punishing four hours. The dialogue is frequently terrible, and the acting is frequently stiff. And Snyder still doesn't really get these characters, even if he does give much-needed fleshing out to both Miller's "Barry Allen" (he's fun and all but bares no relation to any other versions of the Flash, let alone Barry Allen) and, most especially, Fisher's still bland Cyborg who is now less of a cypher but even more of an "angry black man with daddy issues" stereotype than ever. I'm especially glad that Ava DuVernay's New Gods film (co-written with comics scribe Tom King) won't be following Snyder's lead because #notmydarkseid #notmymotherboxes.

His stylistic ticks are, of course, on full display to the point that it's hard to believe that he's not being self-parodic. I doubt it, of course, because even Snyder's best films tend to lack in self-awareness and intelligence. Still, the endless slow-motion and laughably obvious needle drops are worse than ever, combining into an unintentionally hilarious crescendo when we have Aquaman stripping off his shirt (I mean, fair enough) in slow motion as he approaches the ocean (ya know, his kingdom) to the sounds of Nick Cave's – wait for it – There is a Kingdom! Brilliant song but oy vey...

As for the good, well, very simply, this is easily Snyder's best DCEU movie, his best depiction of Superman (still not great, but I'm now actually interested to see what Cavill can do with the part under a better writer) and possibly his best film since 300.

There are loads of obvious improvements here – a coherent tone, storytelling that has (a bit too much) space to breathe, better characterisation, slightly improved CGI, more fun Easter eggs for DC fans – but the main thing here is that's it actually, genuinely fun at times. It may be long and boring, but unlike MoS and BvS:DoJ, it's not a dirge. There some honest-to-goodness entertaining superheroics on display here and – again defying logic - even though the final superhero battle when the League finally comes together probably has the most in common with the theatrical cut, it is the biggest improvement here by far. It's actually, dare I say it, gripping, inventive, even thrilling.  

Of course, it ends on a lengthy epilogue (the whole thing is divided into six parts and an epilogue, by the way, for those who want to take their time with it) that consists entirely of cliffhangers for films that will, fortunately, probably never happen because Warner has already moved on past Snyder's vision and have a whole slate of films lined up with new, promising creative teams (including the recently announced, Zatanna, by Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell!). For a once-off event, though, Snyder fans still have tons to celebrate, and even non-fans may finally be pleasantly surprised by a Zack Snyder DC film. And that's certainly not nothing.


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