In my review of the original 2017 Joss Whedon-credited Justice League I wrote:
As flawed as the Zack Snyder DCEU movies have been so far, one thing they must be applauded for is ambition.
I and most of the general public may look negatively on both of these films – with last year’s Batman v. Superman being the worse of the two – but there are those who passionately defend both of them.
Frankly, these characters deserve better.
Four years later, I see that there are some elements of that original review which remain true of this newly remade version of Justice League. As with the film itself, it is possible to cut-and-paste, or cut-slightly-alter-and-paste, pieces of that movie’s review into this new review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
The primary thing that must be acknowledged is that this version is much, much better than the original. While that’s not praiseworthy on its own, this remake is better made, better told, better envisioned, and overall a very well put together film. It is the vision of a singular filmmaker with an aesthetic and sensibility uniquely his own. In this sense, Zack Synder’s Justice League is a definitive continuation of the world created in Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman – Dawn of Justice, even Suicide Squad, and, ostensibly, Wonder Woman. The look and feel are more authentic to those films, the style is consistent, and the characters, while still off from their comic book inspirations, are directly in line with those previous DC Snyderverse offerings. If you’re a fan of what Synder’s done in the past, then this remake of Justice League is four hours of what you loved. However, if you were not a fan of previous Snyderverse films, this one is four hours of what you did not enjoy the first time.
It’s fitting that the film’s official title is Zack Snyder’s Justice League rather than “The Snyder Cut” as not only is newly filmed footage not a “cut” but this is the most Zack Snyder of Zack Snyder films. From the very opening scene the audience is thrown into the Zack Snyder aesthetic of spectacular imagery set to dramatic music. Once again, the world is in a depression since its hero, Superman, sacrificed himself in the battle with Doomsday. Also once again we’re supposed to believe that the entire world is mourning the loss of someone who in the previous films has been held responsible for destroying half of Metropolis and blamed for the bombing of a congressional hearing, killing hundreds more. And, once again, this is never addressed. We are, as we were before, meant to assume that everyone in world views Superman as the savior, with his death casting a literal black shroud over all of Earth while also opening it up to outside aggressors.
While this glaring inconsistency from the previous films remains, there are many ways in which Zack Snyder’s Justice League cleans up the mess that was 2017’s Justice League. Where Justice League jumped from scene to scene with little development, this four-hour long odyssey lingers on long moments of silence and slow motion (more on that later). Where Justice League felt so light as to be inconsequential, Zack Snyder’s Justice League assumes gravitas in every moment. Where Justice League was far too short, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is far too long (again, more on that later). Where Justice League was an overcorrection for the joyless slog that was Batman v. Superman, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an overcorrection for the joyless vacuity that was Justice League. Yet, most importantly, where Justice League treated Cyborg as an afterthought, Flash as a neurotic reject from an early 2000’s teen sitcom, and Aquaman as a general dude-bro, Zack Synder’s Justice League gives Cyborg a plot, tones down Flash’s quips, and turns Aquaman from general dude-bro to general solemn a**hole. It’s honestly in these characters, at least the first two, that Zack Snyder’s Justice League finds its greatest success.
Putting aside controversies and accusations, we see in this film how different the intended version of Cyborg was from the one we first saw on screen. Cyborg, along with fellow “newcomer” Flash, forms the heart of the story. In fact, the Cyborg material, including his origin and most heroic moments, are the heft of the new material added to this version of Justice League. If nothing else, Cyborg’s journey justifies the existence of this “Snyder Cut” if only to finally give the character the on-screen debut he deserves. Meanwhile both Flash and Aquaman don’t fare quite as well. While toned down, Flash can still be a bit too much for the somber tone of the Snyderverse, and while it comes nowhere near the infamous moment of Flash inadvertently groping Wonder Woman, he still takes time away from saving a woman to creepily stroke her hair. The most interesting change, from a character standpoint, is Aquaman as he doesn’t so much have material added as altered. Arthur Curry becomes a very different character not by taking different actions, but by reacting and responding to the same situations in different ways. Yet, even with this new interpretation, and after his solo film, Aquaman still doesn’t feel like a weighty character. He could be cut completely and nothing would be lost beyond one deus ex machina moment. Jason Mamoa clearly loves playing the character, but here, perhaps even less so than the original version, we don’t see that love come through. It needs to be said as well that this version of Batman is perhaps the weakest version of the character. Not in terms of acting, but because Batman himself spends most of the action sequences only showing up after the fight is over, or throwing a couple of punches and then relying on guns and tanks to do the rest. He’s more of the team’s sponsor than an active member. Guess it’s really true that his only superpower is being rich.
However, the biggest change to this film is obviously the filmmaker behind it. Snyder, like all known directors, clearly has fans, people who will love and defend his work, so much so that they spent four years rallying for this version of the film to be made. The curious thing here is that while the change in director provides Zack Snyder’s Justice League with its greatest improvements – and its entire identity really – it also proves the greatest detriment. In being such a distinctive filmmaker, Snyder has also shown himself to be incredibly limited. Justice League, like the DC films before it, wants every second to be so important, so epic, so grand and so so so very spectacular. Nearly every scene during the first two hours includes slow motion, even when there is no reason for it to be in slow motion. While Flash using the Speed Force, or Superman reacting to Flash using the Speed Force, justifies using slow motion, Aquaman walking into water or the Amazons watching a box do not need to be in super slow motion. Other sequences, like Wonder Woman’s introduction, could be a better showcase of the individual’s power if done in full speed, but instead we get even more slow motion. Combined with long, lingering establishment shots the film often becomes painfully dull, even numbing, equating to upwards of 30 minutes that could have been trimmed from the film’s runtime. Similarly, the soundtrack, fluctuating from epic orchestral numbers to austere Nick Cave dirges, is quickly laughable. Not every frame in a four-hour film can be the most important image ever in the history of cinema, nor does every Wonder Woman moment need to be accompanied by a jarring chorus of voices. It’s clear that these elements are used to create a mood, but that mood is lost when Cyborg looking at a tape recorder is done in slow motion with ominous music overpowering the scene. Slow motion and dramatic music make a scene “epic” as much as black and white makes a photograph “artistic” or wearing glasses makes someone “smart.” Rather than providing grandeur, reliance on the same tricks over and over makes look it Snyder hasn’t developed any new ideas since 2007’s 300.
Yet, perhaps worst of all, the one thing Snyder’s DC films could always be applauded for, is completely absent. In treading the exact same plot as the original version, Justice League loses all intensity. There is nothing that happens in this film, beyond three separate epilogues that could easily be trimmed, that we didn’t already see in the original. Between the new and old material there is maybe two-and-a-half hours of story stretched over four hours. Sure the plot is better explained, but some of that explanation is unnecessary, individual scenes often continue far longer than needed, and not just because of the slow motion and epic lingering, and unlike both Snyder DC films before it there is never any danger in the outcome. We know everything that is going to happen. Even the epilogues, rather than feeling like anything vital or exciting, come off Snyder trying to justify his own tropes and service for very few fans. It doesn’t help that while Steppenwolf looks much better, and there is none of Henry Cavil’s covered-up ‘stache, the film is loaded with absolutely terrible green screen. Rarely do the characters ever appear to exist in the same dimension as the scenery around them. It’s truly baffling that in a time when films can speed up and slow down as they please, spin around one central point, and have characters with living plate armor, putting a person over a fake background, something that’s been done since the 1940’s, can still look so bad.
In my review of the original Justice League in 2017 I wrote:
It’s long been my belief that the worst movies aren’t those which are merely bad, but those which have the ability to be great.
In closing, I must admit that while I appreciate Zack Snyder’s Justice League as a cultural anomaly, I very much don’t want it to become precedent. It’s clear that Snyder benefited from the hindsight of seeing what audiences reacted to in the 2017 original and could use that material to make his film better. Anyone can do that. Cinema is filled with movies that could have been, should have been, would have been. Ishtar could have been a great film, Fantastic Four (the 2015 version) could have been a great film, The Room could have been a great film, if these filmmakers were given years, millions of dollars, and years of criticism to work with. But general audiences should not have to pay to beta test your movie. That’s what test screenings are for. Get it right the first time. If you can’t, if the studio interferes, if they refuse to release your movie, then take your name off it, give it to another director, make it an Alan Smithee production, and work on something that better fits your artistic vision. There was a reason the original Justice League came out the way it did. It’s because Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman came out the way they did. If the Snyderverse had worked the first time, then a second try wouldn’t be necessary.
This new Justice League is a very well put together film yet it is just as, if not even more, frustrating than the original. It’s a very good – not great – but very good movie that I did not enjoy watching and can’t recommend if only because the people who are interested in it loved it before it existed, and those who aren’t interested won’t waste time watching four hours of a movie they didn’t like the first time.