By George Bate
It has arrived. And by it I mean what is easily one of the most anticipated projects in recent years, a film fans have been clamoring for for so long, and a film that (we are so thankful to be able to say this) does not disappoint whatsoever. Arriving on HBO Max, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the raw, unadulterated vision of the renowned director and the true follow-up to its predecessors Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film picks up where the criminally underrated BvS left off, with the world reeling over the death of Superman. In his absence, the sinister Steppenwolf and his legion of parademons arrive to conquer Earth, forcing the hardened Bruce Wayne to assemble a team capable of withstanding this threat.
To say that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a mere director’s cut of a film we’ve already seen couldn’t be further from the truth. The cut that arrived in theaters in 2017 was entertaining for what it was worth, but the compliments really stop there. It was a far cry from the polished films that came before it, a jarring patchwork of competing visions that, ultimately, felt awkward and flat. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an entirely different film and this is evident within seconds of its kickoff. The tonally mismatched, underwhelming non-event that was the theatrical cut is replaced by this gargantuan, grand, and deeply intimate portrayal of loss, faith, and doom. The barebones plot structure mirrors that of the theatrical cut, but the differences really stop there. These are two wholly unique films.
At an astonishing 4 hours and 2 minutes (this is the longest superhero film ever made), it’s dumbfounding just how quickly the Snyder Cut seems to go by. This is largely a testament to the film’s brilliant pacing, a byproduct of intelligent scene construction and flow by Snyder and screenwriter Chris Terrio. Every scene has a clear-cut purpose and adds something unique to the film overall – not a moment is wasted, which is a massive compliment given how lengthy the film is. It is nicely split into six parts and an epilogue, each of which feel like meaty chapters in an epic novel. The extended length with its different parts really allow each scene to breathe. Unlike Batman v Superman, which was marred at times by some convoluted plotting, especially evident in its theatrical cut, few such issues exist with Zack Snyder’s Justice League. There are few, if any, points of unintentional confusion, characters’ motives are clear to the viewer, and there is plenty of time to digest what happens scene after scene. Yes, there is plenty of brutal, fast-paced, CGI-heavy action, but there are also many moments of emotional weight and intimacy that balance the entire project out.
Perhaps the most commendable things about the Snyder Cut is the extent to which it feels like the completely realized, unfiltered vision of its director. This is the most Zack Snyder movie Zack Snyder has ever made. Every frame looks like a meticulously developed painting. The epic feel that permeates every scene of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman emerges once again. The booming score is a character unto itself. And it contains more slow-motion than any film of all time (I’m not positive about the validity of that statistic, but I highly suspect it’s true). In this sense, the film is highly unlikely to convert viewers who had a distaste for similar films, like the aforementioned DC films, Watchmen, or 300. And, ultimately, that’s okay. This film will not be for everyone. A 4 hour film of any kind, never mind a superhero film, is not for everyone. But, regardless, there is so much to love about the Snyder Cut.
One of these things to love is the tone. Although the stakes are higher than ever in this film, Zack Snyder’s Justice League also includes more humor and moments of levity than both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman combined. And yet the humor never feels forced or out of place. The film is still brilliantly mammoth and epic with every scene filled to the brim with a sense of impending doom and threat. But the humor adds a nice, little edge to the movie throughout. This isn’t to say the movie is light in the slightest. The Snyder Cut most certainly earns its R-rating. Blood splatters, heads roll, f-bombs are dropped. The film is brutal in a really beautiful way.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League lives up to its name in showcasing the league at its finest. While the theatrical cut spent little time with each character, such that their ultimate coming together felt underwhelming, each character is now given ample time to be fleshed out. The additional scenes with Barry Allen, for instance, add so much to his character beyond the glorified comedic relief he was in the 2017 version (the same can probably be said for the much improved Steppenwolf). Gal Gadot is fantastic and Ben Affleck once again feels like the Batman we all fell in love with in Batman v Superman. He is dark and weary, but clearly changed and motivated following Superman’s sacrifice. We won’t spoil how this version of Superman differs from the character as depicted in the theatrical cut, but this is a massive improvement. It was somewhat surprising to see how Superman’s journey, ultimately, panned out very similarly across versions though, as it was to see Arthur Curry somewhat short-changed in terms of screen-time and character development relative to his fellow team members. But, perhaps the biggest change in terms of characters comes with Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. Zack Snyder once described Cyborg as the “heart” of the film and this is truly the case.
And, for a film that began production five years ago and has since been spoken out about extensively, there are still plenty of unexpected, jaw-dropping moments in Justice League. Let’s just say the last 20 minutes of the movie are some of our favorite moments from a comic book / superhero film of all time.
More than just a director’s cut, Zack Snyder’s Justice League excels in virtually every department. Epic, dark, and grand, yet intimate, funny, and heartfelt, the 262 minute epic flies by in spectacular fashion. This is not only a great sequel, but expertly sets up what is (hopefully) to come. Needless to say, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the best DCEU film yet.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League arrives on HBO Max on March 18.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment and HBO Max