Zack Snyder’s Justice League review: A redeeming spectacle more worthy of its heroes

Justice League. Image Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment, HBO Max
Justice League. Image Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment, HBO Max /

Zack Snyder’s Justice League exceeds where its predecessor failed, bringing together DC’s greatest heroes in a larger-than-life epic that is finally worthy of them. 

Justice League was among the most disappointing films of all time. If you ask this writer, it was the most disappointing comic book film of all time. Though there are worse movies out there, few fell short of expectations in the way that the DCEU film did. No, Justice League‘s biggest sin wasn’t that it was awful or unwatchable because the truth is that it was neither. The problem was that it just existed, fizzling for a moment in its own mediocrity before it burned out altogether and was quickly forgotten about by all who were eager to move on from it. An unfortunate fate for the heroes it was depicting.

This was also a fate that Zack Snyder himself did not want for the movie that was once his, nor did the fans who championed his vision. And so, two years of impassioned campaigning to release the “Snyder Cut” began, all of which led to this very moment: The release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

A long, darker and detailed to a fault (and did we mention long?) recut of the movie submerged in more Snyder than perhaps any of the epic filmmaker’s productions could ever dream of, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a vivid experience, that’s for sure. And that’s all it really had to do to beat the 2017 theatrical cut. Thankfully, it does a little bit more too.

 Is Zack Snyder’s Justice League better than the 2017 theatrical cut?

The primary reason that Zack Snyder’s Justice League succeeds when the theatrical cut did not is that, for all its faults (and yes, there are some), it actually feels like the larger-than-life spectacle audiences were promised in 2017.

The story is, at its heart, the same, as a guilt-ridden Bruce Wayne sets out to align a team of heroes to inspire the world as they battle a great evil from another. But while the original film was inherently flat in its execution of, well, everything, Snyder’s edition intricately sets up the story in a way that simply can’t be anything but larger-than-life. It effectively sets itself up for failure, but this time, Justice League doesn’t fail.

The storytelling is meticulous, the pacing slow and the result of that is a first hour that you really feel the seconds and minutes pass by in, but this writer would be lying if he said he didn’t feel like it was worth it in the end. The conviction is there and that’s clear from its tone – which is not only much more consistent that the mish-mash we saw in the theatrical cut but more in-line with what we’ve come to expect from Snyder’s DCEU offerings. It is more hopeful than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and that makes it an easier watch, which is impressive considering that it’s a four-hour watch.

A redemption for the League and its heroes

The really impressive thing about this one is how well it juggles the characters (and which ones benefit from it as a result). Again, the runtime obviously allows for that and there are some indulgences along the way, but it’s easy to overlook that because of the character work. In fact, the ones that benefit most are two that never really got a chance to stand out before: Cyborg and Steppenwolf.

Let’s start with the latter. Steppenwolf’s new look is obviously an improvement – the shiny new spiky armor goes a long way in making him look the part – but it’s his characterization that actually allows him to stand out as a solid villain. Before he was just a bland CGI monster without any purpose other than that which the plot required of him; here, he’s a monstrous beast with surprisingly strong motivations that desperately drive him towards his goal. And suddenly, he’s a believable threat that, in spite of a narrative that constantly reminds us he’s not the threat to be worried about, feels like he’s worthy of uniting the mighty Justice League.

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On the other hand we have Cyborg who really stands out among his fellow heroes. One might even go as far as to say that he is the film’s MVP as Snyder’s vision illustrates just how much of an asset Victor Stone is to the team and it goes a great deal further in highlighting how rich a character he can be – two things that the original film sorely overlooked, robbing Ray Fisher of the chance to showcase the potential that he does here.

The same could be said – albeit to a lesser extent – for Ezra Miller’s Flash because he gets more standout moments than he had in the theatrical cut and I can say with certainty that I’m far more excited for Barry Allen’s solo adventure now that we’ve seen what this Scarlet Speedster is truly capable of.

Ben Affleck’s Batman is more consistent too while Jason Momoa’s cool reinvention of Aquaman feels much more well-rounded here. And then there is Gal Gadot – who once again radiates star quality as she brings Wonder Woman to life and reminds audiences why the character has become the backbone of the DCEU.

There are flaws, of course, with the runtime resulting in multiple lengthy scenes. It does occasionally feel disjointed, as if some of the plot threads are out-of-place, once again taking us back to that infamous DCEU question as to whether the film is still tackling too much at once. By the end, it thoroughly attempts to dispel those concerns and even though it doesn’t entirely, it produces a far more satisfactory product in those attempts.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not a perfect movie, but it is a truly extraordinary watch that is, at times, haunting, indulgent and ridiculously ambitious and, most important of all, it says far more than its predecessor ever did. Moreover, in a way it almost feels like the antithesis of modern day superhero movies as it forgoes the typically theatrical and triumphant presentation in favor of a more serious Lord of the Rings-like tale about gods and man warring throughout the ages. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it does make for a fascinating watch.

It may be long, but if you love and appreciate these characters, you probably won’t mind that, especially when it finally brings some of DC’s greatest heroes together in a grandiose spectacle worthy of their legacy. This is what Justice League should have been all along and, regardless of its strengths and its shortcomings, it is, without question, a significant improvement over the previous version.

Grade: 4/5

Zack Snyder’s Justice League streams on HBO Max on March 18, 2021.

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