REVIEW: Zack Snyder’s Justice League – A Fitting End To This Chapter of the DCEU

The long-awaited Snyder Cut has finally arrived and it serves as a fitting end to Zack Snyder’s trilogy of films, a launch point for a new era of DC Films, and a cathartic experience for the fans and creators.

The road to get here sure has been something. It has been four years since the theatrical release of Justice League, and seven years since Warner Bros. announced a Justice League movie in the first place. In the four years since the theatrical release of Justice League, Warner Bros. has taken the DC films in a different direction. They’ve kept a loose sense of continuity and instead favored individual solo films and franchises with very drastic stylistic choices. But due to the launch of HBO Max, the COVID-19 pandemic putting a halt on a number of productions meaning new material was needed, and a ravenous fanbase the stars aligned for Zack Snyder to finally finish his cut of Justice League after he was forced to step down from the project in 2017 due to an unimaginable family tragedy. The studio hired Joss Whedon to direct the reshoots which ballooned the film’s budget, and when finally released was seen by fans and critics as a Frankenstein of a film. It bombed at the box office. In recent years the behind-the-scenes turmoil and inappropriate behavior of those behind the scenes of the reshoots including Joss Whedon, Geoff Johns, and Jon Berg were revealed thanks to the voice of Ray Fisher. Side note: watching the original cut of Justice League it is shocking just how much it seems the filmmakers went out of their way to cut out not just Cyborg’s story arc but also most of the characters of color, including Cyborg’s mother, Iris West, and Ryan Choi. It really does seem intentional.

Reviewing Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a difficult thing because it is more than just a movie. So much real-world tragedy and behind-the-scenes conflict shapes the whole narrative of the film itself, as well as the audience reaction to it. A movie is obviously a movie and should be judged on its terms, and most audiences will want to have a good time. Yet even with that, it feels wrong to ignore the outside sources that influence and shape it. Nothing exists in a vacuum and sometimes what makes a movie is the world in which it is released. Zack Snyder’s Justice League now carries a lot of additional weight and context it wouldn’t have had back in 2017. A lot has happened in the four years since for the audience and for Zack Snyder as a filmmaker. That is why watching the film now comes off as Snyder’s most personal movie in ways I don’t think could have been anticipated when it was being planned.

The plot of Zack Snyder’s Justice League shares the same skeleton as the 2017 theatrical cut. Batman (Bruce Wayne) recruits a team of superheroes including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to fight off the villainous Steppenwolf who has come to Earth searching for three Mother Boxes. The team decides to bring Superman (Henry Cavill) back to life to fend off this alien threat and save the planet. While the skeleton is there, the addition of a number of scenes flesh out the world and the mythology of this film’s universe that make for a stronger experience than the theatrical cut and a marked improvement over Snyder’s previous two DCEU entries.

Zack Snyder’s trilogy of films in the DCEU can now be all laid out together and the overall arc of this planned trilogy (which at some point was going to be five films) becomes clear. Man of Steel is a reimagining of the Superman mythos, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a deconstruction of the concepts of Batman and Superman. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the reaffirmation of those heroes. If Batman V Superman was breaking the toys, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is rebuilding them. Does that make Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice better? No, not at all. It is still a long overly complicated but also rather simple movie that felt like nobody was having a good time making or watching it. But now in the wider context, one understands more what they were going for, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League succeeds on the ambitions it sets out for itself as a movie. Justice League shows these characters as larger-than-life heroes who can save the world; they fully become the icons fans know them to be.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is four hours long, but it feels like there is a point to it. There is a scope and weight that, while hinted at in his previous two entries, rang hollow before. Here it all fits and Snyder feels more at home in this world of aliens, underwater cities, and vast superpowers that fit within the wheelhouse of Watchmen and 300 than he did in his past two entries where he felt constrained. The action here is impressive, the character moments are sweet, and really it makes you want to see more of these heroes. Snyder had a real eye for casting and all six members of the Justice League are people he cast and all fit their roles spectacularly as individuals but also within a group dynamic. While one could make an argument the film is bogged down by having to set up three new heroes who, if the audience knew them already wouldn’t have to affect this runtime, but the individual moments for Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman are some of the best that really help establish them as people. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are the trinity and they are meant to inspire, so it makes sense the three members they recruit aren’t quite ready to be heroes but under their influence, they grow to be legends.

Now there are certainly issues with the film, but critiquing some of them feels off just because of the circumstances around the release. Critiquing elements here would be different if this was a theatrical experience instead of a one-off passion project that is being uploaded on a streaming service. The one most people will talk about is the length of the film. WB famously mandated Justice League be two hours long (as opposed to Batman V Superman which had its theatrical cut run at 2 hours and 40 minutes) and obviously the point of the cut on HBO Max is that Snyder has complete creative freedom over the project and the release on a streaming platform means it doesn’t have to fit a typical run time to accommodate numerous screens. That being said, when watching the film there is plenty that could be trimmed to bring it down to at least three hours that the studio could have released in 2017. While three hours is still a long runtime, Snyder’s positioned this film as his Lord of the Rings, and that epic scope could warrant a three-hour runtime. One could cut a lot of shots of people praying and chanting, which hammers in the idea of these heroes as mythic figures, but doesn’t add much to the overall narrative.

The film features a lot of Snyder’s famous slow-motion and while those scenes work great in the service of showcasing characters with super-speed like The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Superman, when used for dramatic scenes it muddies the effectiveness of those super moments. That sense of muddying the point your film is trying to make is more prevalent in the scenes involving Superman’s black suit. This film is the third act in Superman’s arc that began in Man of Steel. This is the culmination of his arc. He has finally risen as Superman, which would be great if he was wearing the classic blue and red suit. But it is instead passed over in favor of the black suit, which does nothing more than work as a comic book reference (or make John Peters happy after all this time). That amazing Hans Zimmer Superman music swells and the voice-overs of Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe play as Superman flies off to help the Justice League, but he is wearing a suit that doesn’t feel like Superman. The image conflicts with what the script and score are telling us.

In the group shots that are supposed to showcase the Justice League in their might, Superman just rocks the same color scheme as Batman and it takes away from the iconic feel of ‘This is the Justice League finally together.’ It would feel just as odd if in The Avengers the final group shot included a grey Hulk or a Red Hulk that blended in with Iron Man’s armor. It would be slightly less of an issue if, when they show the supposed ‘evil Superman’ in the Knightmare future he was wearing the black suit as a symbol of this being an inversion of the Superman image, but there he is shown in his traditional suit. So the message the film gives off is “Superman’s classic look is bad, the black look is awesome.’

Speaking of the Knightmare sequence, every scene in the epilogue after the monologue should be cut from the film entirely. Because they don’t serve this film, but more so set up future films which at this point will never happen. In the context of this release, it is fascinating to see what might have been. On the other hand, if one was editing this film back in 2017 for release, two of these would be after credit moments and the third…technically wouldn’t exist because it was the only new piece shot for this film. But I’m sure it would have happened to set up the proposed Justice League sequels. Seeing Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker meet at least once, probably for the only time, is something in and of itself, but the scene itself goes on a little too long and the restrictions of filming during COVID and remotely become obvious given that every scene is shot so close to the characters.

Yet despite all that in the end I found myself enjoying the film quite a bit; it felt sort of cathartic for myself – as someone who was very let down and disappointed by Batman V Superman – to feel major excitement for Snyder’s vision of this world. While I may have been critical of some of Snyder’s choices, in the grand scheme I’m glad that they exist because where some people see the various tones and shifts in the DC Universe as a weakness I see it as a strength. These different directors’ visions make the world seem larger and nuanced. The comics comics these characters spring from are rewarding due to experiencing various writers and artists reimagine them. Seeing different corners of these worlds makes the overall one feel richer. How Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint of Doom Patrol could co-exist in the same world as what Liam Sharp was doing with Wonder Woman. While this big massive R rated Justice League adventure is happening with these larger than life heroes, just a few blocks over in Gotham City Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey can be saving a kid from a crime boss like Black Mask, while at the same time a magical wizard gives a young boy superpowers to become Shazam. Wonder Woman can be a non-violent peaceful person preaching for understanding in Wonder Woman 1984 and here a more violent fighter. Different artists give different takes on these characters that add to their rich history.

1 2