Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film which shouldn’t exist – but here it is. For years it was a cinematic myth, an unfinished film that would never see the light of day and nothing but a future trivia quiz question for comics fans and movie nerds. However, online campaigning and the launch of HBO Max and COVID-19 created the prefect storm which would finally see the completion and release of Snyder’s vision. What we get is a tougher version of the story, which is much more epic in scope. It’s a film which finally gives the DC Comics characters a big screen team-up which is deserving of their legacy. Not a bad achievement.
Please note that this review contains some spoilers
The disappointment and ultimate failure of Justice League in November 2017 (read the Movies In Focus review) led to the launch of the now infamous #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag as well as a change.org petition which garnered 100,000 signatures. If truth be told, it never seemed like a reality that Snyder’s vision for Justice League would ever be seen outside a cabal of friends and colleagues. Snyder delivered his first 4-hour rough cut of the Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice follow-up in January 2017, however Warner Bros. wanted a cut of the film somewhere in the two-hour range. Snyder delivered another version running 2 hour 20-minutes but that cut needed finessed. Snyder was unable to complete this after the death of his daughter and Joss Whedon was brought in to reshoot and recut the film. This led to a myriad of inconsistencies and imperfections – the biggest of which was Moustachegate (Henry Cavill needed to reshoot scenes as Superman during the production of Mission: Impossible – Fallout. However his character had a moustache in that film and so the facial hair was digitally removed for the DC Comics pic at a cost of millions).
However, the questions stands: Is Zack Snyder’s Justice League better than the compromised film which limped into cinemas back in 2017 under Joss Whedon?
Yes it is.
In Zack Snyder’s film the tone is much more consistent and there’s a conviction throughout which feels like it comes from one vision and not a series of studio chiefs eager to play catch-up with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The film might have a four hour running time, but it never really feels long (although a few segments could have done with a trim) and it has a much better pace than the 2017 incarnation. Many of the narrative beats may be the same, but the overall film has much more consistency. Whedon’s shoe-horned humour is gone, replaced with more drama and a lot more heart. Though the main improvement is the story arc of Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. He’s at the centre of this new and improved cut and we get to learn a lot more about the character and his reasoning. It’s very easy to see why Fisher felt sidelined and angered by his treatment in the Whedon version. His role and his function in the two films is very, very different.
Henry Cavill’s plot-thread as the resurrected Clark Kent/Superman is also different. It’s monumentally improved by a lack of CGI to Cavill’s face, but we also get to see him have much more characterisation and inter-play with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. The character also gets to finally wear the much-teased black Superman costume. Aquaman also gets a weightier narrative, adding more depth to the deep sea king, making Jason Momoa seem more like a brooding superhero and less like a surfer dude with a habit of misplacing his shirt.
Ben Affleck’s Batman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Ezra Miller’s The Flash largely remain unchanged, but their scenes are again played much straighter. Whedon’s jokey humour has been discarded and replaced by dialogue which (dare I say it) is more meaningful and dramatic. That’s not to say that there isn’t humour – this has a much lighter tone on display here than in Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. However, Wonder Woman killing bad guys and Batman dropping the ‘F’ word would likely never have featured in any cinematic release – even under Snyder.
There are huge differences to the plot of the film too. The Snyder Cut features Ray Porter’s Darkseid – a character who wasn’t even in Whedon’s version of the film. The inclusion of Darkseid means that Ciaran Hinds’ Steppenwolf is more of a henchman than the villain, adding a whole new angle to his motivation and drive. Another improvement is the removal of the wholly stupid plot-line following the besieged Russian family in the last act of Whedon’s version. Just having the entire planet in peril is more than enough.
Justice League isn’t without its faults. There’s an over-reliance on Snyder’s beloved slow motion and a few too many on-the-nose music cues littered throughout the film’s running time. The plethora of multiple CGI-driven action set pieces also means that it often feels like a video game at times – but that’s a crime that can be placed at the door of all modern blockbusters.
What’s curious about this new Snyder Cut is the new material that the director has shot and added into the film’s ‘Epilogue’. Featuring Jared Leto’s Joker and Joe Manganiello’s Deathstroke, the new scenes clearly set-up a potential sequel – an oddity considering that this film has been described as a cinematic ‘cul-de-ac’. That and the inclusion of another DC Comics character in the final scene implies that we might not have seen the last of Ben Affleck‘s Batman – and I’m not talking about his role in the forthcoming Flashpoint movie.
A truly epic comic book movie, which features a tremendous amount for fans to chew over, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the film which should have hit screens back in 2017. This cut from Snyder has been freed-up from having to launch the franchise and gross a $1 billion at the box office and that means it feels like the director’s truly unified vision. Some will take that as a blessing and others a curse, but at least it doesn’t feel like a compromise – and that needs to be applauded.