Zack Snyder’s complete, FOUR-HOUR brainchild is released at last and it’s… not bad actually.
That may sound like an overly simple, cynical way of looking at this film, but if you’ve seen the original Joss Whedon cut, or have friends who like superhero movies, or spend more than an hour in a cinema every year, you’ll know that a lot of people weren’t expecting too much here. The original was fraught with reshoots, director changes, and abhorrent CGI, (see left), and it left a bad aftertaste in the mouths of most DC fans that have been waiting for a fair, direct comparison to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe for well over a decade. I know I’m not here to talk about the original cut, but comparing the two is the best way to see how and why this is actually a release that would’ve pleased a lot more fans.
First, let me just say; if you don’t like Snyder’s directing style or the way he portrays these beloved characters, you’re probably still not going to have much luck with this film. I’m personally not a fan of the changes he made to Batman or Superman in his first two DCEU films, not to mention the lack of representation for some of those characters added in the original Justice League, (from now on referred to as OGJL). There’s still a lot of slow-motion action and music montages, and most scenes still look like they’ve been dragged through a muddy puddle before release.
That being said, I definitely did not give Snyder enough credit for how his own take would shape the future of the DCEU. Honestly, I think we’d still be getting more of these movies if we had seen this release instead of the shortened, less thoughtful, and quip-filled Whedon version back in 2017.
That’s actually a great segway into one of the bigger improvements in this release; the writing. No longer do our main characters barely interact with one another in any meaningful way, or stand around making awkward, Marvel-style jokes while innocent people are killed in the next room, and they instead leap into action and manage to save every single person in the room. You’d think it would be obvious to have scenes of superheroes saving people in their films, but we need far more of them, especially on the DC side of the spectrum. This feels like a complete version of the script, which I guess makes sense ’cause it is, and it hasn’t been butchered and strung together with the work of a director that obviously opposes everything the original wanted. Our main six characters talk to each other and develop relationships; Aquaman now shows sympathy for Cyborg’s recent tragedies instead of accusing and verbally assaulting him as he did before, Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne FINALLY gets a real opportunity to show remorse for being a frankly terrible person in Batman v Superman, and Barry Allen is less of a dumb quip machine and more of a central part of the story, while retaining his status as the comic relief. Who knew you could be important to the plot AND enjoyable to watch in a DCEU film, what a world we live in. These things may seem small, but showing us these heroes actually BEING heroes and, perhaps more importantly, humans, brings them down to earth and gives us a story to care about.
The plot itself has actually improved a lot too in my opinion. Now, again, it’s still a Zack Snyder film, so the first third of the movie, (that’s roughly AN HOUR AND A HALF for this beast), is slow, pretty dull, and takes itself way too seriously. There are just a few too many scenes of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman giving us lore exposition, and if Wonder Woman 1984 has taught us anything it’s that, as good of a job as Gadot does as this character when exploring her own arc, she simply isn’t up to the task of carrying a film with little-to-no point of existence alone. So many things that we had to complain about from OGJL have been remedied though, at least to an extent. Cyborg gets a real backstory this time for one, with MULTIPLE flashbacks and explanations of exactly what his powers are, and instead of being what essentially boiled down to “a moody teenager along for the ride because he had to” in OGJL, Victor Stone now has personality and a reason to fight Steppenwolf.
Speaking of the main villain and his plans, not much has changed. Well, his face has. The admittedly terrible CGI for our not-so-big baddie from OGJL has been improved considerably, and his design has been updated so that he no longer looks like he got lost on the way to the office costume party. Snyder’s design has a few too many spikes for my liking, but it’s still an improvement. His plan is the same as it was before, so if you’ve seen OGJL you likely rolled your eyes at the second or third time Steppy was explaining his pretty simple plan to his masters, but it culminates in a very different way. I won’t fully spoil the whole final battle, but it’s not quite as cut and dry as it was before, and punching the big bad mocap man very hard is no longer the only thing our heroes have to worry about. I will say though, it was nice to see the whole team of six given actual useful things to do, instead of relegating some of our favourite characters to the sidelines while we wait for Superman to show up and generally be indestructible.
I’m sure a lot of people are asking, “Should you watch this film if you haven’t seen OGJL? Is it worth the insanely long four-hour runtime?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. The best I can do is say something along the lines of, “What have you got to lose?” This film sits in a very weird spot, being just on the level of quality that four hours could be considered bearable. If OGJL was four hours long, and someone said “Hey should I watch this?”, I would advise them to avoid it like Covid and do something better with their lives. You like superhero films, even if it’s just Marvel in the past few years? Yeah, watch it. you like 300, or any of the other Snyder-style movies? Go ahead. Even if you only like ape-brain dumb action films, there’s enough good choreography and cinematography in this film to hopefully keep you entertained. If you’re looking for a groundbreaking story and heart-wrenching character development though, probably best to keep looking. This cut of the film only exists SPECIFICALLY for the people who clamoured for it when OGJL came out, so there is a definite target audience to consider. If you feel you fall too far from meeting the surprisingly high standards of this rabid fanbase, maybe keep walking.
Overall I found Zack “Not Joss Whedon” Snyder’s Justice League to be a pleasant surprise, especially when compared to the original. From an outsider’s perspective, the main cast is reasonably well written, with good motivations and interactions with one another. The film practically oozes the traditional Zack Snyder style, but for some, that’s a good thing. The runtime is egregious even to long-time fans, but if you can stomach that you’ll likely come out of your home cinema feeling better about the DCEU as a whole. And then a little worse when you realise that none of the sequels teased in this movie will ever arrive, but hey, I consider it a win that we got an undeniably “decent” film to see us off.
All pictures credited to Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.