Director: Zack Snyder | Screenwriter: Chris Terrio | Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Willem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons | Distributor: HBO Max | Running Time: 242 min. | MPAA Rating: R
Fittingly titled, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the most Snydery film he’s ever made. All of his usual hallmarks are ramped up to absurd degrees. The colors are extra washed out. The aspect ratio is 4:3, per Snyder’s vision according to the pre-movie advisory. The slow-motion sequences proceed for so long they become complete music videos. The pretentiousness swells in every scene. And the Christ allegories are cranked up to such a level that it honestly didn’t surprise that one of the promotional photos for the film was Jared Leto’s Joker dressed up as Jesus. While his cut of Justice League is certainly a more cohesive version of the sloppy 2017 release, this film still has all the familiar problems that define a Zack Snyder movie.
The Snyder style is set right from the first scene; a prologue/recap of the events in Batman v. Superman. Superman’s scream upon his death in his battle against Doomsday was apparently the key event that sets off the Mother Boxes on Earth, alerting the sinister forces of Darkseid to return. However, in this lengthy prologue, we have to watch how Superman’s scream carried all over the world. We see how it echoed from the mountains of Themyscira to the depths of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. The whole sequence is in slow-motion and there’s way more where that came from.
The story remains relatively the same with some more cohesive elements. The superheroes of Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are all trying to find a way to save Earth from being destroyed by Steppenwolf, the errand boy of Darkseid’s empire since it seems Snyder felt there was one more League movie in his future. There are a few key scene changes that make the film resonate a bit more and give the characters better depth. The clear winner of this cut is Cyborg, having a more pronounced pathos, an emotional arc, and a real sense of angst that goes far beyond being bitter that his scientist father plopped him in some life-saving tech. Even characters who felt they had little to contribute, as with the babbling Flash, feel as though they play bigger roles and have more at stake. The ending even does a better job at wrapping these characters together for making critical choices amid dire straights.
As someone who thought 2017’s Justice League was an okay movie, I’m still of the same opinion that this Justice League is a decent movie that is still riddled with glaring problems and better ideas than implementation. I think the one scene that encapsulates these problems is the opening sequence of Wonder Woman foiling some reactionary terrorists. This scene is longer in Snyder’s cut in that we get more of an introduction to the terrorists as they burst into the building and immediately start killing people, eventually working their way up to the top floor where they hold a school hostage as they ready a bomb. Wonder Woman eventually comes to the rescue by brutally being down on the terrorists, complete with CG blood as the bad guys are knocked against the wall, just in case you had any doubt that they could survive such a blow.
The scene ends with Wonder Woman killing the leader by detonating an explosion that takes out a chunk of the building. She then checks on the hostages and says with a smile to one girl that she can be anything she wants to be. This scene is quite similar to Snyder’s Batman v. Superman where Batman goes from recognizing that Superman is a person with a family and that he shouldn’t resort to such killings, followed immediately by Batman viciously killing a dozen henchmen. It’s a clash of mixed messages.
Snyder’s cut runs about four hours long and it’s fair to say a good chunk of that time is reserved for slow-motion sequences. Scenes where Aquaman takes a stroll out onto a wet pier and The Flash saves a woman from a car crash are shot so slow that the film has time to play an entire lyrical song, making these sequences feel more like music videos that grind the film to a halt. For as much personality as the film gives to Flash, his introduction remains one of the worst of the film, instigating an auto accident with a falling sesame seed. Aside from a scene showcasing Flash’s powers, everything about this scene feels off, from his affections towards saving a victim (who we never see again) to his snagging of a hot dog during the wreck that will apparently land him a job at a dog care facility.
We do get to see a whole lot more of Darkseid and his world of Apokolips in this picture, as well as revealing more of the intent behind Steppenwolf’s coming to Earth. While Steppenwolf has a better look in this cut to be more expressive and detailed, his character still feels lacking with his motivations. In the first theatrical cut, Steppenwolf felt like the generic bad guy of the week, merely doing his bidding of destroying worlds. We learn in this film that his coming to Earth is part of paying off a debt, where he apparently owes Darkseid 50,000 worlds for his misdeeds. When making reports to Darkseid and his advisor of DeSaad, Steppenwolf looks desperate and terrified for his life that he’ll fail in his mission. So we have more answers as to why Steppenwolf is working for Darkseid but also more questions. Namely, how badly did this guy screw up that he owes 50,000 conquered worlds? And if he’s that lacking at serving his dark leader, why should we be all that invested in whether or not he succeeds?
And, yes, the film is built to be more suited for an R rating. Characters are killed in bloody fights, some are ripped to shreds, and Batman says the F word. But as with a lot of the DC Comics reference peppering, it almost feels like the film is trying too hard to make itself R-rated. Batman’s profanity doesn’t add much considering where it pops up and the brutality is mostly relegated to scenes of some extra blood here and an extra wound there. Considering there have been two DC Comics movies previously released with R ratings that were more deserving, Justice League feels like it so badly wants to be that more adult superhero movie but can’t quite make the leap.
Everything else tacked onto this film for reshoots feels as though Warner Bros gave Snyder another 10 minutes to rummage through the DC Comics vaults. He adds in the character of the Martian Manhunter but reveals him in one of the worst ways and uses him more like a preview character for another film that will never come. And speaking of the epilogue, Snyder is back to showcase more of that apocalyptic vision from Batman v. Superman, where Superman has turned on the world and Darkseid wins. As with a lot of scenes in this film, this dream goes on for far too long and merely reiterates the visions that were posed at a better pace no less than an hour ago in the same film. In the climax, Snyder manages to get the point across without dialogue and less than a minute that the future leads to Lois dying and Darkseid convincing Superman to work for him. So why do we need this spelled out for us in a soggy scene where Batman and Joker deliver exposition while antagonizing each other?
We get a little more of everything in this film. There’s more Darkseid, more Green Lanterns scenes, more backstories, more characters, and more cinematic universe connections that exist for little more than for continuity sake. As a big Green Lantern fan, I was pleased to see the brief sequence that conveys the mechanics of being a Lantern with the powers of the ring and what happens on that warrior’s death. But all of this just feels like fanservice, placing bells and whistles of familiar comic book references to make DC Comics fans gush. I’ll admit, there’s a pleasing element to finally seeing the Justice League together staring down Darkseid in the film’s climax.
But so much of this film just doesn’t work. Consider how one of the scenes removed from this film is where Bruce and Diana have a quiet moment, meant to imply that there may be some sexual tension between the two heroes. Their connection didn’t work in that film. But, then again, what does? The chemistry always feels off, as though every character is in their own world for this film. We get to know more about these characters but their connection just doesn’t feel as palpable. The joking of The Flash only garners a handful of smiles, the machismo of Aquaman is more present in his body than his demeanor, and Batman’s straight-man approach to the eccentric heroes can only go so far with interesting conversations.
Finally, there’s the color. It honestly doesn’t surprise me that there’s a black-and-white version of this film on the way considering how lacking in color this film is. While the hues have certainly been toned down from the more visually assaulting color-grading of the theatrical cut, the washed out approach creates a conflicting tone. Just look at the epilogue scene where Batman and Wonder Woman take a tour of the dillapidated Wayne manor, intending to set up this building to be the home of the Justice League. This should be an inspiring moment of hope. In the theatrical cut, this scene has coloring that feels warm and inviting. In Synder’s cut, it’s the same muted pallete he’s had throughout, making the scene seem more like a funeral than a bright vision for the future of superheroes. I’m not saying Snyder needs to make this scene pop with primaries but he doesn’t do much to differentiate this scene from the myriad of others oozing with muddy grays.
Is the Snyder Cut better than the version that Joss Whedon had to dice up for theaters? Cohesively, yeah, more scenes connect better and there are some strong moments of character. But the overall film remains the same slushy mash of Snyder toying with DC Comics ideas rather than bringing them together for a film that resonates as more than just a comics lore showcase. There’s something to be said of Snyder’s ambition to make his superhero epic crossover more based on mythology than just being a standard bout of superheroes versus villains. But unlike every DC Comics entry without Snyder’s name as the director, this film is so earnest and serious with the material that it almost turns into parody for being so unquestioning of its pretentious prattlings. There’s a lot of corrections that improve the film but also a lot of aggravating issues that merely bring it right back down to the same level of Whedon’s cut, being a superhero film that almost feels like the epic crossover event it should be.