There's...TOO much to talk about here, so let's lay out some good old-fashioned, hyper-condensed background, shall we?
- In the aftermath of his 2013 Superman reboot, 'Man of Steel,' Zack Snyder, along with co-writer Chris Terrio, mapped out a five-film plan for their vision of the DC films going forward (now known as the DC Extended Universe). 2016's sequel, 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice' doubled down on Snyder's hyper-stylized, darker versions of the popular superheroes, but resulted in some behind-the-scenes doubt from Warner Bros. executives.
- Enter the third film, 'Justice League,' the majority of which was filmed with cast, crew and story set-up from the previous two films before WB brought on 'The Avengers' Joss Whedon to re-write and re-direct several scenes aiming for a lighter, more appealing tone. But in May of 2017, Snyder announced he and his wife, producer Deborah Snyder, would be stepping down from 'Justice League' after the sudden suicide of their daughter, Autumn.
- Whedon, in accordance with WB, retrofitted the film into what audiences would see in the theaters in 2017, and the results were immediately noticeable. The film lost money, failed to gain widespread appeal from audiences, and launched the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, a subset of fans determined to see the "true version" of the film Snyder was never able to complete.
- That movement is a whole other entity to explore (for interesting and infuriating reasons), but the point is that Warner Bros. eventually blinked. Recognizing a need for exclusive content for HBO Max, as well as the audience that would come with it, Warner Bros. greenlit the Snyder Cut as 'Zack Snyder's Justice League,' funneling in millions for pandemic-safe reshoots to bring Snyder's four-hour long vision to life.
(breathes heavy sigh) That's just scratching the surface. Personally, the discussions around the Snyder Cut and its completion fascinated me more than whatever the final product was going to be, but I did it. I sat through the entire four hours of 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' in one sitting, combing over every detail and story thread Snyder and his team tried to weave in, so what was the result?
The good news: I would argue that 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' is better in nearly every way from Joss Whedon's version. The vision is more consistent, the characters and mythology are more fleshed out and even its pacing feels more rewarding. But for all of it's ambition (and it has plenty of it), it still feels jumbled, barely framed, beyond overcrowded, and, if the seven years since 'Man of Steel' have shown anything, won't convert mass audiences to Snyder's grand vision. In other words, it's more of everything the theatrical version was and it's up for debate how much that elevates the final product.
In the aftermath of 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice' (and the death of Superman (played by Henry Cavill) looming over the world), billionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck) and Amazon warrior Diana Prince (played by Gal Gadot) are attempting to unite a team of metahumans to defend the world.
Utilizing files from the now-incarcerated Lex Luthor (played by Jesse Eisenberg), they attempt to recruit the half-human, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry (played by Jason Momoa), the speedster Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller), and the living cyborg Victor Stone (played by Ray Fisher).The separate doubts of the team are put aside when a global crisis presents itself in the form of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), a New God from the planet Apokolips bent on conquering the Earth for his master, Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter).
In order to do this, Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons scour the world for the three Mother Boxes, ancient technology from Apokolips that was left on Earth thousands of years ago and protected by the humans, the Atlanteans and the Amazons. As the team race against time to stop the incoming invasion, they call on their allies for help, including Bruce's butler, Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jeremy Irons), Victor's scientist father, Silas (played by Joe Morton) and journalist/widow of Superman, Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams).
Without padding this review out too much, I like this movie, but with a giant asterisk. As I mentioned, there's a lot I like more than the theatrical cut and a lot of it has to do with more focus on the characters. Credit where it's due, Zack Snyder knows what he wants from these characters (whether he knows how to pull them out of the actors is a different story, but still).
The amount of tiny details the Snyder Cut adds here are staggering, only making the Whedon additions all the more stark in hindsight. A lot of those details translate into "oh" moments, where the characters arcs throughout the movie are improved just by a quick scene or two.
Oh, THAT'S how Barry finds his confidence as a member of the team, or THAT'S how Diana and Arthur feel about being representatives of long-warring societies, or especially THAT'S how Victor feels about, not just being reborn, but essentially having the weight of the world on his shoulders. That extends to the villains as well because, all of a sudden, Steppenwolf isn't just a grumbling CGI brute, but a threat who actually has plausible beliefs and stakes in the coming battle.
It also helps from a technical perspective as well, and yes, this is where we have to talk about Zack Snyder's style and, yes, you can skip to the next paragraph to avoid that conversation. Look, Snyder's style has been well-documented: excessive slow motion sequences, muted color schemes, and using any and every portion of a shot to make things seem huge.
That style is not going to work for everyone, certainly not for the juggernaut of this film, but if nothing else it's consistent. There's nothing that feels out of place here, all stemming from a distinct vision that does feel set apart from other comic book movie counterparts and, after a while, I'll admit I was liking a lot of Snyder's ideas.
However, as I thought about how the movie ends, the potential benefits of this as a miniseries over a film slowly set in. That's not meant to be a bash against the movie's four hours of runtime (although it is WAY too long), but more a comment of how it flows along much like a comic book arc would.
You would think that would be a good thing for a comic book movie and yet it builds to a larger issue with Snyder's directing. There's a lot of reasons I think 'Man of Steel' is excellent, but one of them is that it felt consistent, mostly focused on Clark Kent's journey of self--discovery and slowly building up to what the modern equivalent of Superman might look like. But when Zack Snyder has the opportunity here to really expand the universe, he does so in a way that is certainly exciting, but rarely focused.
His own ambition gets the better of him, both visually and empathetically, and if you're not an absolute nerd for his content or willing to stay with it, he doesn't make it easy for you to latch onto it. When you boil it all down, it's not thematically resonant and, when it is fun, it feels obliged to fit in more stuff just because it can.
(Among the questions I have for Zack Snyder is the back half of that epilogue, which boils down to "WHY WAS THIS HERE?")
The bottom line is this: if you have been at all engaged in the DCEU up to this point, and specifically the portions Zack Snyder has had a substantial role in creating, 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' will be everything you want and then some. If you're not a fan (or you've just been pushed away by the social media noise), you still might enjoy the spectacle of it all, but go about it at your own risk.
Personally, I found myself wanting to talk about and dissect way more of this than I thought I would. Zack Snyder doesn't always get me invested, but here, I respect a lot of it: the scale, the sense of weight that feels clearly defined, and interpretations of characters that get their due, even if the result is a bonified mess. I'm glad Zack, Deborah and their team were able to put this together (in 2021 no less) and just go all in with it. We probably won't see whatever was supposed to come next with this version of the DCEU, but for this moment, just barely, it won me over.
Overall, I give 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' 7/10
'Zack Snyder's Justice League' is currently available on HBO Max.
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