WARNING: The following review has spoilers about the movie, so if you haven’t watched it, please consider this before you keep reading.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a very interesting case in the world of superhero films. Originally planned to be the director’s vision of the DC Universe he was building through the live action movies, it was stopped after Snyder’s daughter sadly passed away and director Joss Whedon, of Avengers fame, took over in 2017 to finish the job, altering various parts of the film and making it shorter to appease his superiors at Warner Bros. and a fandom that really wasn’t fully onboard with Snyder’s dark and deconstructed DC Universe.
But after a group of Snyder fans started a movement online a desire grew to see the Watchmen director’s vision of his Justice League storyline, Warner finally decided to release the now famous Snyder Cut, which was dubbed Zack Snyder’s Justice League on its HBO Max release this March.
A lot has been said, argued and debated about Zack Snyder, his vision of the DC characters he handled in movies like Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman, so it was always going to be interesting to see this movie and see how everything connects. So here you have my thoughts about Zack Snyder’s Justice League in all its grayish glory.
The first major difference to the Whedon version is the length of this film. Snyder’s movie is almost four hours long and I would argue that is already a disservice to this story. I would even go as far as saying that there are no films that can last this long and still be enjoyable. Let alone a superhero film that had so much ground to cover like this Justice League movie.
And therein lays one problem from the get-go: this movie is playing catch-up and this is the natural consequence of the aftermath of the previous film, Batman v. Superman. We’re talking about dealing with the death of Superman, progress from where characters like Batman, Wonder Woman and Lois Lane stood at the end of the previous film, introduce and develop new characters like Cyborg, Aquaman and Flash while doing the same thing with the movie’s villain, Steppenwolf, and all the New Gods world-building that comes with it.
All of this in one movie.
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A common criticism that Snyder got with his movies was that he wanted to cram too much in a couple of movies and it felt that he wanted to quickly catch up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was a big problem with Batman v. Superman: he wanted to do too much and ended up shorthanded for the most part. And it’s the same problem here.
Fans of Snyder have always argued that the man is not trying to replicate the Marvel formula and fair play to them in that regard, but that doesn’t mean that basic storytelling elements shouldn’t be applied in this situation.
Let’s be honest for a second: a lot of people wanted to watch the Zack Snyder’s Justice League because of its context and that made it a lot more appealing from a marketing standpoint. But if this were yet another superhero film, with none of this background, would you watch it? Maybe, but I’m pretty sure that your opinion would be quite different if you didn’t have the outside influence.
It’s simply too much. You have many different characters that need to be introduced and you don’t have the other movies to fall back on, which is something the original Avengers did have. This film goes to great lengths to explain Cyborg’s origin and makes him one of the key players in the story, which overall works (although I feel he is way too powerful to make sense, but that’s a minor gripe of mine), but you still have the likes of Aquaman, Wonder Woman (more on her later) and Flash that feel underdeveloped by the end of the film.
The pace of the film is quite slow and at times painful, making you feel that perhaps a stronger editor would have cut the unnecessary fat from this story. I understand Snyder’s background comes from music videos, but there are a lot of slow-motion scenes with music in the background that simply don’t work and become a little bit annoying as the movie progresses. He has his own style and I respect that, but I don’t think those scenes add too much to the story.
As far as the story itself goes, it is essentially the same as Whedon’s version: Steppenwolf comes to Earth and he wants to take the three Mother Boxes for Darkseid, leading Batman and Wonder Woman to gather the planet’s superheroes to save humanity and in the process they manage to bring back Superman as well. If you watched Whedon’s Justice League, then you know by and large how that goes.
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“Okay, Kevin, I get your point, but is it better than the Whedon version?” Yeah, it is. Whedon was playing with Snyder’s toys, if you want to look at it that way, so it was always going to be a bad combination in terms of styles. On the other hand, Snyder’s Justice League feels more in tone with what came before and it has a bit more coherence with previous films.
Now, that doesn’t make it a good film, either.
The film suffers from trying to explain too many things and doing a lot of expository content because they have a lot of different characters to develop at the same time, which ends up with none of them getting fair treatment. We go from the Amazons to Aquaman, then to Flash and then to Cyborg, with Bruce Wayne in the middle of the whole thing. It’s too much and it lacks focus and discipline to the story, overwhelming the viewer but not giving them much in the process.
And at the same time, you have the issue of the characters themselves. Snyder is a very talented director when it comes to visuals–you can say what you want about him, but the man knows how to make good scenes from a visual perspective. But he often lacks in characterization and that is fundamentally true when you are handling such rich characters that have such a long history in the world of comics.
That’s how you end up with his often criticized version of Superman that has to go through a journey of self-discovery just to find a very simple motivation: that people deserve to be protected and saved. Seems like a very simple reasoning that didn’t need three whole movies, which included him dying, but what do I know?
You cannot turn a flawed character into aspirational. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t turn Punisher into Captain America or vice versa and expect it to work. Characters work because they have a set of traits that resonate with the audience and when you take away those core values, you end up with an empty husk. And that empty husk is Zack Snyder’s Superman.
Now, I don’t put the blame on Henry Cavil. The man does the best he can with what he has and I’m pretty sure he could be a great Superman with the right material, but there is a reason that his version of the character has never been fully accepted: because it doesn’t hit the right notes. But I already discussed that topic at length before, so I’m not going to detour that much from the main subject, which is this movie.
We see a lot of that with Snyder’s interpretation of the Flash and Aquaman. I fully understand a director taking some liberties because the transition from comics to film always requires a certain degree of changes, but when you change the character’s ethos, personality and even part of their motivation, then you start to wonder what they are doing.
And to be fair, I see a bit more of this with Flash than with Aquaman. Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry is simply Jason Momoa, but at least you get a somewhat faithful representation of the character’s origin and that’s me being a bit too kind.
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On the other hand, Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is simply not Barry Allen. From his personality, his appearance and his mannerisms, not to mention his motivation, you are not getting Barry Allen, but rather a whole new character that is simply designed to be the comic relief of the film and the deus ex machina to resolve the conflict, which is a bit disrespectful to a character with such a tremendous legacy and relevance in the DC Universe.
I also find it interesting how Snyder decided to turn Barry into a comic relief when he has never relied so much on humor. It seems like an odd fit and it definitely feels out of place with the kind of story that he wants to tell here, which is dark and almost borderline apocalyptic at times.
It’s not all bad, though. The fight scenes are well-done, there is a lot more consistency to what came before in the previous movies and I overall liked Snyder’s handle of the New Gods elements, although it has to be said that he didn’t do much with it beyond Steppenwolf and his actions on Earth. His Darkseid seemed interesting, but he didn’t do much with him.
The big issue with this Justice League movie is that it simply had too much to do and it is that overwhelming nature what makes it hard to be a compelling story. Add to that the already-existing problems that Snyder had with a couple of characters and, ironically, the lack of time to develop them and you end up with a movie that simply doesn’t have a lot of replay value.
Sit down for a second after watching the movie and think of characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman or Batman. What have they learned? How have they grown? Superman apparently learned from the experience of dying, but that doesn’t make sense. Batman apparently has learned from the experience of almost killing Superman, but you didn’t see growth from him in this movie (or any actual repentance from the people he has murdered, but that’s a whole different article). Wonder Woman doesn’t go through any meaningful growth in this story and Aquaman is just… there.
It’s hard to feel connected with these characters when the experience they have gone through hasn’t had any meaningful impact on them. If it didn’t have any impact on them, why should it have on us? Why should we care?
And to me, the ending plays a bit on that, with the Flash going back in time to save the day. I get that is a power that Barry has in the comics, but there is no real setup for him to do that in the movie and the way it was executed makes it look like a very clear cop-out, which it is. And again, I find it interesting that Snyder, who is often in favor of a more realistic take on superheroes in his movies, did a move like this that is a deus ex machina.
We finally have an issue that really bothered me for a couple of different reasons:
I like Martian Manhunter. I think he is a wonderful character and I was glad to see him in this movie, but the very few minutes that he had were not handled correctly.
I liked the fact that he was shown in previous films in a human disguise because it was a smart way for Snyder to introduce him–I’ll give him credit in that regard. But the fact he only shows up to introduce himself to Batman after the battle with Steppenwolf was over left a bad taste in my mouth. You would think that Martian Manhunter would have liked to help the Justice League fight against this threat; it would have made a lot more sense and it would have been a cool moment to see in the film.
Instead, we have this scene that feels like fanservice, but it is fanservice without any real substance. The character showed up, but didn’t really contribute in any meaningful manner. Much like a lot of different parts of the movie, it has some interesting superficial elements, but once you analyze it, you realize that it really doesn’t work.
If people were expecting this film to be a grand redemption for Zack Snyder and his interpretation of the DC Universe, I have a bridge to sell you. But the situation surrounding this film’s release has really surprised me: here we have a director that made a cinematic universe that by and large was rejected when other films were released and that never truly managed to capture the hearts of longtime DC fans, but the second this film was announced, it was a Zack Snyder love fest by the media. The same media that utterly destroyed him. I’m honestly surprised by that.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League has all the same tropes, traits and storytelling elements that you can come to expect from the man that did Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. If you were a fan of those movies, then you are going to like this one a lot. If you are one of those guys or gals that didn’t like those movies, you are going to borderline hate this one.
It’s not a masterpiece and it is not an absolute dross. It is a divisive movie made by a divisive director that steers away from the characters’ core unities and that dwells too much into making self-serving content.
So, your typical DCEU movie.