Well, the long awaited Snyder Cut of “Justice League” has finally arrived on HBO Max, taxing viewers with a 4 hour experience that many of us powered through in the dead of night. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has put me in a rather precarious position as a reviewer, mainly because I’m not sure where to place it, what to do with it, and how to really tackle it. For the sake of cohesion, and I will attempt to review it in two ways: one, how it compares to its predecessor and two how it stands alone as its own film. Both have pros and cons, things that work and things that do not.
For both, I would say that “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a vast improvement over the original and a rather enjoyable standalone, but only in the context of the larger DCEU. Much like “Avengers: Endgame” is inseparable from its 10 year set up, this very long experience requires you to remember everything that Snyder has done prior, including “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” That’s not to say you can’t enjoy the Snyder Cut without them, just that it relies so heavily on it that ones experience changes drastically depending on where you fall on his overall vision of things. Furthermore, HOW you feel about that overall vision and aesthetic will greatly determine how you experience this film. Make no mistake; this is a fully realized, complete and unencumbered vision from a single director. It is wholly unique in that regard, too. This IS Zack Snyder’s vision come to life, and how you feel about that vision prior will have a profound effect on whether or not you can get through 4 straight hours of it.
Before I dive into the review of film, I want to be very clear: I will not apologize for my preconceived notions or statements made prior to viewing it. Just because I enjoyed myself more than anticipated does not invalidate my hesitations going into it. There is no gotcha moment here for fanboys and I stand by every single disparaging word I said leading up to this viewing. I am no more wrong in my lack of interest for a film I didn’t ask for in the first place than you are for touting it as a masterpiece before seeing it for yourself. Blindly loving something without seeing it is also a prejudice, and you are not a better person than anyone who is skeptical of the same content. So before you start in with your “I told you so” please kindly get off your high horse.
Since this is a spoiler free review, I am not going to pour over the details or individual nitpicks. Although, I don’t really know how you spoil something that was already made and released 5 years ago, but hey, that’s the world we live in now. To answer the first question of how does “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” fair against its predecessor, I can say emphatically that is a vast improvement in just about every way. It is not without faults, of course, but Joss Whedon really did a number on “Justice League” and now that Snyder’s true vision has been released in full, it is apparent that most if not all of it were contributing factors to making it as disappointing as it was. I will apologize to Snyder for that one, as I originally believed that Whedon was the savior. He most certainly was not, and that’s coming from someone who really doesn’t enjoy MOST of what Snyder brings to the DC Superheroes.
With room to breath, however, it turns out “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” truly had a vision and wanted to bring each character to life in a way that makes them much more accessible and interesting throughout the film. Particularly Cyborg, who has very publicly lambasted his treatment both in front of and behind the camera in “Justice League” gets his due here. Ray Fisher delivers a solid performance, one that kind of makes you hate Whedon more and give much more levity to Fisher’s claims of mistreatment. While I would argue that it’s still too much too fast (as is pretty much everything trying to play MCU catchup), this attempt is perhaps the closest you can get. In world where the DCEU attempts build a universe without even starting with a planet, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is easily the best foot forward in trying to make something out of nothing.
The Snyder Cut is also a new movie. Sure, the framework of the original is all there, and the basic formula for superheroes coming together to face down a world ending threat trying to retrieve the doohickies remains unchanged. But again, Snyder being given full autonomy to actually flesh that out and build individual character narratives gives much more motivations for both heroes and villains alive. While Steppenwolf may look like a gigantic metal porcupine, he is much more threatening and complete as a character. While none of his motivations are outside any typical superhero narrative, he actually HAS them, which is more than anyone can say for the original “Justice League.”
Hell, even the effects are better, which they should be since the prevailing claim among producers is that all the extra budget went to the digital effects. They aren’t great, but they are a helluva lot more watchable than what we got before it. Most of what I would criticize this new version for would somewhat spoilery and are also the same for how the film stands on it own. For this part, the answer is yes. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a vast improvement over “Justice League” in just about every way. Even the things that deserve criticism and feel unnecessary are still better than the faults of the 2017 version. Joss Whedon being absent is a blessing, and even if you aren’t a Snyder fan, ONE visionary instead of two competing visions is always the way to go.
On its own, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is still pretty enjoyable. As previously stated, it does require a lot of its viewers, not just in their commitment to the time but also to understanding what the hell is going on. Relying on films prior isn’t really a big deal since this is the culmination of all if it, but it is attempting to put pieces together that really don’t belong sometimes. Strangely, as brooding and darkly lit as the film is, it’s surprisingly fun overall. It’s not quite as pretentious or nonsensical as “Batman v Superman,” not as self indulgent and hopeless as “Man of Steel” and not an absolute clusterfuck as “Wonder Woman 1984.” It is, for better or worse, its own film, and firmly stands on its merits.
That doesn’t mean its great, just that it functions as a standalone film. I know a lot of people have claimed that film whizzes by and doesn’t feel like 4 hours, but I did not find that to be the case. It wasn’t even like I was losing interest or that the film dragged for long periods of time, just that its too long for its own good overall. There’s no one scene that needs to go, it’s ALL scenes that need to be 30 seconds less. I understand the need for better, longer, narrative composition, and the desire to develop a multitude of characters and give them purpose. But all of that could be done in 3 hours instead of 4. There is at least an hour and half that could disappear from “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” and nothing would really be lost. All the characters and their stories would still be intact, all the story would still be there, and even all of the unnecessary setups for the future would all still exist (much to the frustration of just about everyone).
There is a reason things end up on the cutting room floor, and while the original “Justice League” left way too much on it, The Snyder Cut leaves one too many in. The film should have been released in the parts it’s comprised of, which was the original plan anyway. Asking anyone, fan or not to commit to 4 hours is a big ask, and even bigger when you realize that even by design it’s unnecessary. This is a six part mini series, not an IMAX theatrical event.
Side note: there’s nothing wrong with your television. The 4:3 aspect ration is on purpose and the movie is meant to look like its trapped in a box.
I definitely have other complaints aside from its length. Like, what does Amber Heard suddenly have a british accent? Do we really need 45 seconds of village yodeling? Why is this epilogue 35 minutes? There’s a laundry list of things, big and small, but in a spoiler free review I’m not going to get into them all. Overall, if you have the time and it interests you I’d say give it a shot. Even if you’re a naysayer, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” does get a lot more right than it gets wrong. It was surprisingly fun and interesting, and speaking as someone who lamented the fact that I would have to watch it, I don’t regret that I did.
One last thing because I absolutely HAVE to address this: stop with the Knightmare shit. You’re never, ever going to make that film, and I don’t care how cool it looks on paper, it is completely irrelevant to the current narrative. I felt that way about it when it showed up in “Batman v Superman” and I feel the exact same way when it shows up here, too. Cut it out. Warner Bros. will never, ever make an “Injustice” film or a “Dark Superman” film, so stop adding it to the DCEU.
So, what do we do with “Zack Snyder’s Justice League?” However you split it, it is an experience. One that some will most certainly enjoy more than others. The problem is, I don’t think it does enough to settle the debate that surrounded it prior to its release now that it’s out. The people that championed it will probably continue to do so and those that resented it will probably continue to do so as well. There’s probably very few like myself who turned out to enjoy it more than expected. It’s a film that is better than its predecessor and one that might be too long and too overblown to be enjoyed over and over again.
But it’s not a BAD film, and for that I will give hats off to Snyder for literally doing the impossible. I don’t want or need more of it, but I’m perfectly fine with The Snyder Cut, fault and all.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is good enough, which is about as much as we could ever ask it to be. It is currently streaming on HBO Max.