Image via HBO Max
After years of hashtags and online campaigning, the public finally got to see for themselves what director Zack Snyder’s take on “Justice League” would have been, and it is exactly what someone would have expected Snyder’s take on “Justice League” to be.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” might be more interesting for the story of how it came to be than the film itself, to be honest. After directing “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Snyder was originally slated to direct “Justice League,” but left the project after a personal tragedy and was subsequently replaced with Joss Whedon.
The theatrical release in 2017 was received poorly by fans and critics and financially dwarfed by the release of rival film “Avengers: Infinity War.” But #ReleaseTheSnyderCut started to gain traction in online circles as fans grew curious about what Snyder’s vision for the movie would have looked like.
With the release of HBO Max, Warner Bros. gave Snyder $70 million to bring to life his vision for the film, which was released on March 18. It’s really interesting to see two different takes on the same film, and what each director chose to focus on — though since the Snyder Cut is just more than four hours, it might be understandable that he has more time to flesh out the characters.
The Snyder Cut follows the same broad-strokes plot of the theatrical cut of “Justice League.” An alien named Steppenwolf comes to Earth searching for three Mother Boxes that will allow him to kill everyone on the planet and conquer it. In response, Ben Affleck’s Batman teams up with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman to put together a team of exceptional people to stop the threat.
Compared to the theatrical version, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s The Flash and especially Ray Fisher’s Cyborg get more time to develop and shine. Cyborg and his relationship with his father (Joe Morton) even becomes the emotional heart of the film. Steppenwolf is also fleshed out in this version, giving him a clearer motivation for why he’s trying to conquer Earth — beyond just “is evil and likes fighting” — which makes him more compelling than other big, tough CGI villains.
Eventually, the team decides to bring Henry Cavill’s Superman, who died at the end of “Batman v Superman,” back to life to help combat the threat as well, which doesn’t go exactly as planned, but works out in time for the big final battle anyway.
While I appreciate the extra time to flesh out certain characters, I’m not sure the Snyder Cut needed to be four hours long. The last 30 minutes or so are just setup for future films, and there are several moments of repeated exposition that producers could have streamlined to make the movie sharper. Snyder’s stylistic use of slow motion tends to slow down fight scenes more than make them epic, and bloats the run time. When it’s used to show off The Flash’s powers, Snyder does some interesting stuff, but there are other moments where it’s gratuitous, like in Wonder Woman’s introductory fight scene.
The film is divided into six parts and an epilogue, with Snyder himself recommending that viewers take a break at the end of part four. Structurally, the film feels more like a TV miniseries, which is unsurprising given that’s what it was originally going to be. I think that would have been the better move and helped with the pacing. Superman’s subplot especially feels separated from the rest of the film, like it’s its own episode of a TV show. As is, the film really slows down in parts, which can make watching feel tedious.
I’m not fond of the film’s muted and dreary color palette, another staple of Snyder’s works. Superman even trades in his usual red and blue for an all-black uniform, which makes the group less visually distinct. This film is at least less cynical and centers the humanity of these characters over their god-like status, as compared to Snyder’s previous installments in the DC Extended Universe.
I think at its core, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is really Zack Snyder’s “Justice League.” It’s a completely self-indulgent film, filled to the brim with Snyder’s directorial quirks, and if you’re a fan of his filmography, I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s my personal favorite of the three DCEU movies he’s directed.
If you’re more on the fence with regards to the DCEU and prefer the tone of superhero movies such as “Aquaman,” “Shazam” and “Birds of Prey,” this film might not be for you. But if you’re looking for something to do with your friends after you’ve gotten vaccinated and can hang out in person, I think this might be a fun film to kick back, watch and joke about.