Zach Synder’s Justice League Review: Flawed Epic But Vast Improvement over Theatrical Cut
There are superhero epic ensembles. And then, there are superhero epic ensembles directed by Zack Snyder. Though the latter may lack substance, it completely makes up for it with impressive visuals. However, when Snyder was forced to step back from Justice League to address the tragic loss of his daughter. That’s when WB decided Joss Whedon would take his place, which seemed like a good idea at the time, given his experience working with superhero ensembles. However, the finished product resembled something that Snyder had directed, and Whedon put through a blender and hoped whatever came out would be acceptable.
But the “Justice League” theatrical cut was poorly received. As a result, it started the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. For almost four years, fans believed WB was hiding a true cut away from them and that the studio was doing everything in its power to deny its existence. Well, after years of campaigning – and perhaps a well-devised plot to boost HBOMax subscribership– fans are getting what they deserved. And it’s pretty much the epic that Snyder had intended to release, even if it is a bit of a tonal jumbled mess.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” may feel bloated due to all the additional footage gives necessary exposition and fills in the plot holes left behind by the theatrical version. That’s the substance. Stylistically, the film would have been something else, and unlike any other superhero epic, we’ve seen in the past. That’s not hyperbole. This version was intended to be released back in 2017 and had everything gone as originally planned. It would have given us an epic ensemble that not only was bloody and gritty. Also, it would have been humorous and coherent.
The film is much more than an improvement over the theatrical cut. It is large and sprawling and explores the mythology of the world that Snyder created. Relics and temples give us a preview of the past. Flashbacks give us a sense of how long the battle between all Earth’s inhabitants and Darkseid’s forces has been going on. We see gods, Amazonians, Atlantians, humans, and even Green Lanterns rally together to oppose the alien tyranny. And you start to see how this could have been a two-parter rather than just one large epic. Although, the four-hour cut is fine.
That being said, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is just an elongated and improved version of the theatrical cut.
Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) have been taking on the world for their own personal reasons for far too long. Batman, who feels guilty for misjudging Superman, atones for his sins by assembling a team. However, some are more reluctant to join his cause despite the looming danger that awaits them. An apathetic Aquaman sees Batman’s warning as a lost cause. Cyborg hides away because he sees his newfound technological powers as more like a curse than a gift. And The Flash is the only one who is eager to join because he has no friends.
That’s because Steppenwolf is coming. The large menacing villain, whose armor looks like living blades, seeks to fix his reputation after Darkseid banished him from Apocalypse. His entire motivation comes off as a needy child who is desperate for a parent’s approval. So he goes from one world to the next, just destroying one after the other, hoping that Darkseid can be pleased with the number. And since we don’t have enough world-conquering villains in either of the major comic book movie universes, Steppenwolf is nothing more than just a boring and generic villain.
On the other hand, we don’t get to see nearly enough of Darkseid, who, along with his faithful servant DeSaad, appear to Steppenwolf through intergalactic melting slabs of metal. Though it may look cool and planted the seeds for the future, it The plot of the overall film remains the same, though, with Steppenwolf seeking to collect all three mother boxes – cubes of living technology – to form ‘The Unity’ – a cataclysmic event that will scorch the Earth and welcome Darkseid. Additionally, it is also revealed that the Anti-life equation – the very thing that Darkseid has been looking for – is on Earth. And so, if Steppenwolf wants to redeem himself, he will complete his task of collecting the three boxes to form the Unity.
Big baddies grunt and growl, with a few, added snarls, and make a few kills to stress their menacing attitudes. But just because they do bad things doesn’t mean it gives them complexity or depth, far from it. Snyder is merely set dressing for these baddies to destroy. There is no time for world-building as the film takes us from Amazon to Atlantis to Man’s world. There is no chance to explore it or get to know it. It just keeps on moving without giving any time to let these worlds or some of the characters the room to brood.
But “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has either deservedly expanded or, unfortunately, reduced roles. It’s the former for Cyborg, who gets more screentime and does a lot of the heavy exposition in regard to how the Mother Boxes operate. They are tools in which they are the grey between black and white. Dead isn’t dead for these things. They can reinstate what was lost or on the brink of losing. Which explains Victor being a Cyborg, as his body was on the verge of death until his father, Silas Stone (actor), used the living technology to bring his son back to the living. Watching him being charitable
Sadly, Wonder Woman’s role takes more of a back seat. Even with the additional footage, she either comes to recruit Victor to join her team or is standing around or swinging her sword. There is a moment from the theatrical cut where she signal-handily defeats a group of armed terrorists on a suicide mission. The thrilling sequence sees her defending the victims by deflecting bullets while also being a voice of inspiration to a little girl who asks if she can be like her. ANd Wonder Woman has no problem blasting these terrorists away as she smashes her two gauntlets together.
Likewise, for both Batman and Aquaman, who seem to lack that stoic and bad boy grit, respectively, that was more prevalent in the theatrical cut because of the shorter runtime. Though they get their moments in the film, it’s all very familiar if you watched the theatrical cut. Still, Flash and Superman help give the film some much-needed levity through humor and excitement. While Superman’s return is fleeting in the grand scheme of things, it gives his fans a sense of relief that his final appearance is an honorable one.
But that levity and light are dimmed due to the lack of a color palette and dark and brooding characters. These films are meant to distance themselves from their comic book studio rivals, so they have to up the serious tone. Everything about it is bleak and cold. Characters are pessimistic or flat-out apathetic as they don’t care what happens to the world despite the impending Apocalypse. Again, there are some humorous moments, but not enough to lighten things up or at least give tonal balance.
And it is hard to take some of it seriously or see that balance. As visually striking as Snyder’s films are, a lot of the newer additional footage hinders the tone. As Cyborg explores his unique powers, his father explains to him that he can manipulate stock markets or launch nuclear warheads with a simple thought. Seeing a bear fight a bull in front of a stock exchange while also stopping those nuclear warheads dead in its tracks is a sight to see.
On the other hand, when the visuals look good, they look good. The complicated task of bringing back Superman by having the Flash use his Speedforce energy to touch a Mother Box as it hits a pool of Kryptonian water is nothing short of stunning. And the frightening future that bringing back Superman holds is even more stunning as it reveals what Snyder was willing to do to set up new stakes for potential sequels.
And that is what is so disappointing about all of this. It is that, despite these narrative flaws, its clear Snyder had some very big plans for the DCEU. His “Justice League” was setting up the stage for even more visually epic stories. “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” had a style that was different from any superhero film ever released, and because of that, it set itself apart from its rivals. Sure, the heroes that fill the frame are may be a billionaire, or is an Amazonian, or has super speed, or is half a cyborg, or is half Atlantian, but they still have humanistic qualities to them. Even if they don’t get to express it that often.
Regardless of whatever flaws the superhero epic may have, fans should be proud that their persistence and rallying made the release of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” happen.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” debuts exclusively on HBOMax on March 18, 2021.