Review: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

There’s a lot of baggage and mixed feelings associated with the so-called Snyder Cut of the 2017 film “Justice League” for me. On the one hand, it’s nice that director Snyder, who stepped away from the production following the death of his daughter Autumn, gets the opportunity to finish a project he is obviously quite passionate about. On the other hand, it’s rather alarming to think that the #SnyderCut movement was brought about by fans—some of whom have been engaged in trolling and other toxic behavior online—pressuring a studio to get what they want, and the precedent that sets (HBO Max CEO Tony Goncalves has stated that this has nothing to do with fans pressuring studios, and that they listen to their consumers as a business). But there is one thing that cannot be denied: that “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is superior to the 2017 theatrical cut (which was completed by Joss Whedon, who gave the film a lighter tone and cut much of the footage Snyder shot to meet a studio-mandated runtime) in almost every way. The film still follows the same storyline—following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) at the end of Snyder’s “Batman v. Superman,” a trio of monster boxes hidden in different places on Earth are awakened, attracting Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a servant of big DC baddie Darkseid, and legions of parademons to gather the boxes together and remake Earth in the likeness of their planet, Apokolips. Guilty over his role in Superman’s demise, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) enlists Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to help him recruit members for a new team of heroes to take down Steppenwolf. Among them are Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen, aka the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

The film’s runtime (four hours, divided into six parts plus an epilogue), is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve never had an issue with long movies as long as they justify their runtime, and for the most part, “Justice League” does. But it also makes it apparent just how much Warner Brothers has bungled their rollout of their DCEU (DC Extended Universe), especially compared to Disney and Marvel. It’s great to have more buildup of Cyborg and the Flash’s characters, since, unlike the other heroes, they haven’t received a solo movie yet. Actually, it’s not just great, but essential; unlike the original cut of “Justice League,” we now understand how and why Victor was made into a cybernetic being, and how his relationship with his father (played by Joe Morton) and to the mother boxes play into that (his backstory is perhaps my favorite part of this movie). Most viewers are likely a bit more familiar with the Flash, but we still get to spend more time with him and get to know his personality and his relationship with his father (wrongfully jailed for supposedly killing Barry’s mom, and played by an uncredited Billy Crudup) before he joins up with Batman. But this all also makes us realize just how dirty WB did these characters by introducing them in a movie with about ten billion other things going on.

Ray Fisher as Victor Stone, aka Cyborg, in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

As much more fleshed out as some of the characters in this movie are, others still don’t really get their due, particularly the women. Wonder Woman’s first appearance in this movie is in a cringey action sequence that has an overt girl power moment shoehorned into it, and her character lacks the same level of compassion that we see in her solo movies. Amy Adams is a good Lois Lane, but in this movie, her character is primarily present to serve Superman; first to mourn him, then to bring him back to his normal self. There is an additional scene in this cut that suggests that Lois has so much more to offer the world even when Superman is not around, but then he returns and every scene with her goes back to being about him; overall this film doesn’t provide a good reading of her character.

The first half of “Justice League,” which takes its time introducing the conflict and the heroes and villains, is the strongest. After about the halfway point (when Superman comes back into the picture), the film turns into a series of splashy, CGI fueled action sequences and takes on some moral dilemmas that it never really solves or explores in depth. Of course, action scenes are part of what makes superhero movies so fun, and some of these are an improvement over the original cut—especially the climax, which relies on all the heroes to work together to take down Steppenwolf (whose character design, might I add, is vastly improved over his appearance in the first version), as opposed to Superman doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

But some of these scenes feel like a lot, and it’s much easier to zone out a bit in the middle of them as opposed to the more engaging first parts of the film. A lot of that is likely due to the fact that this movie is Zack Snyder at his most Zack Snyder, which, again, is both a blessing and a curse (depending on your opinion of Zack Snyder). His signature slow motion sequences are employed to the fullest effect, but in this case, they are way overused. An occasional slo mo moment in the midst of an otherwise fast-paced action scene, allowing us to fully absorb the hero in action? Cool. But do we need Aquaman strolling on a dock in slow motion? The Flash taking his dear sweet time to stare at a woman he’s supposed to be pulling from a car wreck? It fast turns into not so much a neat novelty as an eye-roll inducing flaw.

The film’s most unnecessary part is its epilogue, which explores one of Batman’s post-apocalyptic dreams and seems to set up a future sequel; but I say this feels unnecessary because I’m not sure that that next installment is going to happen (it also feels like Snyder just wanted to opportunity to throw in Jared Leto’s atrocious portrayal of the Joker). But after seeing his cut of the movie, I wouldn’t hate it as long as Snyder got to realize his full vision next time. The Snyder Cut isn’t as thought-provoking as it seems to think it is, but it is at least thoughtful as it constructs this new superhero myth, and is pretty fun to boot. But I also think a tiny part of the back of my brain will always nag at me, wondering if I truly enjoyed this movie on its own merits, or only because I know how bad the original cut was.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is now streaming on HBO Max, as is the original theatrical cut of “Justice League.” You can also read my 2017 review of the “Justice League” theatrical cut here. Runtime: 242 minutes. Rated R.

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