The superior director’s cut of a superhero flop
A review of "Zack Snyder's Justice League"
April 8, 2021
If I’m being completely honest with everyone reading, this is not a review that I ever imagined I would be writing. However, the past year has taught me that literally anything is possible, and I’m thankful that it’s happened.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is the long-awaited director’s cut of the 2017 film “Justice League”, and it just so happens to be my most anticipated film of all time. For those who don’t know, “Justice League” had one of the most troubled productions of any film out there. Just after filming had been completed, and post-production had just begun, director Zack Snyder’s (“300”, “Man of Steel”) daughter tragically committed suicide. He decided to depart the project in order to be with his family, as he was under heavy stress from Warner Bros. to make the film much shorter and much funnier. After he left, the film changed drastically. Warner Bros. mandated a two-hour runtime for the film, and hired “The Avengers” director Joss Whedon to reshoot and rewrite substantial parts of the film in order to add more comedic lines. This led to the infamous CGI mustache, as Henry Cavill was currently shooting “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”. Upon its release, the theatrical cut of “Justice League” became the most disappointing movie I’ve ever seen, and one of the worst theater experiences I, and many others, had ever had. Soon after, audience members began clamoring for Warner Bros. to release the “Snyder Cut”, an unfinished version of Snyder’s original vision for the film. Thanks to an incredibly passionate fanbase, as well as stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa and Snyder himself deciding to join in, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has finally been released and is dedicated to Snyder’s late daughter. This is incredibly inspiring, but here’s the $70-million-question: is the film worth it? Is it actually any good?
To make a long story short, this film is better than good. This is, without a doubt, one of the best comic book films of all time, and it makes the originally baffling decision of reshooting the film even stranger. It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking that the hack-job we got in theaters was anywhere near as good as the version we have now. In fact, in retrospect, the best scenes in the theatrical cut were all directed by Snyder. That small handful, as well as the basic plot, are the only things “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has in common with its theatrical counterpart.
Before I move on to the laundry list of positives for this film, I have to talk about what may stop many from watching this film: its four-hour runtime. Not only does the film move at a breakneck pace, thanks to some atypically great editing from David Brenner, it’s also split up into six parts and an epilogue, which means anyone watching can pause it whenever they want. That being said, this film doesn’t need to be four hours long. There are definitely some scenes that, although entertaining, don’t need to be in the movie. That’s it. That’s my one negative, and it’s a bit of a nitpick. As for everything else, I loved it.
In order to adequately explain just how much of a gargantuan improvement “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is over the theatrical cut, let’s go over what this film does right. The four-hour runtime isn’t meant to one-up “Avengers: Endgame”, as some seem to think. Instead, a large portion of the runtime goes towards creating remarkably strong characters, something the theatrical cut clearly lacks. All six of the Justice League members are fleshed out very well, and they all feel like regular people with regular problems despite their godlike powers, a staple of any Snyder-directed superhero movie. However, most of the characterization goes towards Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher in what might be the best performance in the entire film. Unlike the theatrical cut, in which Cyborg’s involvement and purpose was almost nonexistent, he is, without a doubt, the most important character in the Snyder Cut, and he’s definitely the most human. There’s a ten-minute scene involving his creation and what goes on in his mind that I found to be one of the best sequences in the film. Another major improvement over the theatrical cut is centered around The Flash, played by Ezra Miller, and the overwhelming amount of terrible jokes he provided. Miller’s performance is much better in this version, but what surprised me is how much funnier he was. The humor has been toned down drastically from the theatrical cut, but it’s still funnier than the vast majority of Snyder’s films. Some of the jokes used in the theatrical cut are still present as well, but even they work better because the tone is far more balanced than before. But, the biggest surprise of the film is how the villainous characters are handled. Despite being one of the weakest villains I’ve ever seen in the theatrical cut, Steppenwolf, voiced by Ciaran Hinds, is a far better developed character here. I won’t get into his motivation in the Snyder Cut, but when it was discussed, I was quite surprised to find how sympathetic he became. Despite clearly being a bad guy, he feels just as human as the heroes.
As usual, the film also looks gorgeous. Say what you will about Snyder, but there’s no denying that he is incredibly talented when it comes to visuals and action, and both of them are very impressive. Despite many complaints online about the film’s 4:3 aspect ratio, which was utilized to match the IMAX aspect ratio, I couldn’t get enough of it, and Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is beautiful to behold. That being said, if you don’t like Snyder’s past films, you’ll most likely hate “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”. It’s filled with a lot of things that his critics have a disdain for: a (mostly) dark tone, lots of slow-mo shots and desaturated colors. These are all things to be expected. However, why would anyone want to spend their time tearing this movie apart? The fact that this film exists is something to be celebrated. The fans got the film they’ve been asking about for 40 months. Snyder got to complete his vision and find closure after his own personal tragedy, and if this is indeed his last film in the DC Extended Universe, at least he went out with the best DC film since “The Dark Knight”.