The fact this film even exists in the first place is impressive, but that it is arguably the best installment of its series is all the more remarkable.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is the director’s cut of the 2017 theatrical version of the DC Comics team-up movie of the same name. It stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, and Ezra Miller as the titular group of superheroes, as original director Zack Snyder and screenwriter Chris Terrio envisioned before the Warner Bros. executives brought in Joss Whedon to rewrite and reshoot much of the film.
The backstory to “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” getting released is more dramatic and interesting than a lot of films, including the 2017 “Justice League” itself. For the uninitiated, after Snyder left production due to the death of his daughter, Warner Bros. thought the film he had shot was too big (first cut ran five hours) and too deep in mythos (following the mixed response to “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman”) to attract general audiences. So they brought in Joss Whedon, writer-director of “The Avengers,” to make the movie more funny and colorful, like the Marvel movies. Over the next three years, after “Justice League” received meh reviews and was a box office bomb, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut occasionally showed up on social media, including from members of the cast itself, in an effort to get Warner Bros. to release the original film. Last year Snyder announced he had been given the greenlight to finish the film, and now we finally have it. It is baffling not only that we got to this point, where fans and actors willed a film into existence through sheer determination (and a little bit of cyber peer pressure), but that Warner Bros. thought this film wasn’t good enough to release into theaters. Because while its runtime and certain moments are a bit much, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a grand, epic superhero film that is clearly a singular vision.
If you liked “Man of the Steel” and “Batman v Superman” and were upset the 2017 film didn’t follow the same world-building and semi-serious approach those films took, then “The Snyder Cut” fixes all that. One of the reasons this runs four hours is we get proper backstories for the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Moomoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), with the latter’s scenes literally having all been cut in 2017. You empathize with all of them much more, and they aren’t just people who suddenly showed up and joined the team. Did this have to run 242 minutes? No, not even Martin Scorsese is so excessive, but since this on HBO Max I see no real problem with it. Snyder even gave the film title cards, so if you wanted to watch it as a miniseries then it’s easily broken up.
The special effects here are hit-and-miss, with some clearly not being fully finished and looking like a PS2 cutscene. I was willing to overlook most of these given the circumstances of the release and how Snyder was essentially finishing the film from his house. That being said, it still manages to look better than the $300 million version, especially the main bad guy Steppenworlf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds). In 2017, Steppenwolf looked like someone colored him in with crayon and he just seemed whiny. I’m not saying Snyder suddenly transformed him into the Thanos of the DCEU, but his design is much more menacing and his interactions with non-CGI characters look far less awkward.
The stakes in this film just feel existent and real, and the team isn’t stopping Steppenwolf simply for something to do. You feel the lack of Superman in the first half of the film, and really see the struggle the team has trying to figure out how to bring him back. There are just tiny things that were tweaked or cut from this film for the 2017 version that make a world of difference, and it’s baffling that Warner Bros. executives managed to keep their jobs after doing it for a second time (the director’s cut of “Batman v Superman” is also far more coherent than what was dropped into theaters).
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will not win many converts who weren’t already sold on Snyder’s self-serious approach to the superhero genre, but for those of us who felt betrayed that we never got a completion to his trilogy of films can now rest easy. I have no (genuine) complaints about this film, and think that anyone who was looking forward to this movie will be overjoyed by the results. For the casual fan I still think there is so much to enjoy, and since it’s on a streaming service there is no real risk. Where the DCEU goes from here will be interesting, but right now this is a film that Zack Snyder and DC fans can be proud of, and given everything we’ve all been through in the last year, a little bit of hope and reward aren’t bad things.
Critics Rating: 8/10