Let’s get it right out of the way. This is for the fans. The so-called “Snyder Cut” of Justice League was at one point a myth. The turmoil behind the scenes at DC and Warner Bros was on full display. Zack Snyder had a family emergency and his control of the film was taken. Joss Whedon stepped in, reshot some portions of the movie, and gave us the 2017 mess of Justice League. Fans of Snyder remained adamant that there was a better version of the film out there. Somewhere there was the version of the film that would prove that Snyder’s DC Universe of films was worth all the trouble.
Fan petitions and media campaigns contributed to it, but at the end of the day it was the will of Warner Bros. With HBO Max coming soon (at that point), they wanted a killer app for the streaming service. What would draw millions of paying subscribers to the service? First, it was the promise of the DC Universe of films. But finally, it was Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
This bit of backstory is important, because there are going to be comparisons to the original version of Justice League at points. Originally, this was supposed to be cut into parts and released episodically. I’ll get to why or why not that might have been a better idea later in the review, but if you’re noticing that it’s in parts, that could be why. Let’s get the first big point out of the way though.
The Film Is Four Hours Long
That’s right, you’re sitting here for the length of probably two normal sized superhero films. I watched it all in one sitting minus a bathroom/snack break. Some might not have the mental fortitude for that, so luckily the film has breaks built in. There are six parts, plus an epilogue for the film. These part breaks would seemingly destroy the pace of any other film, but here they work really well. This is a long story that needs some breaks, even short ones. You see a lot on this journey, you’re battered with battle scenes, emotion, character work, and more, across the totality of the film.
Does the length of the film work against it? Yes and no. This cut was meant for the fans, not the suits at WB headquarters. Fans of this film are going to treat this like the extended versions of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Others might not be so kind. But now that we have that out of the way, let’s start with the best of the best.
Zack Snyder’s Vision On Full Display
This film is a triumph of the vision of a director. If you wanted to see what would happen if director’s were given carte-blanche on any of their films, all of them would be like this. Zack Snyder got the full playground to work with on this cut of his film, and he used every inch. From the script to all the characters on display, every part of the film adds to the overall scope. For a director to get this kind of freedom is almost never seen these days. For it to happen to a four year old film that was a disappointment for the studio and critically, should have been impossible.
Snyder took everything that he filmed and put it into this cut. He even reshot or shot new footage, adding colors and editing it differently than before to make something new out of the old. Taking everything in the toybox and throwing it on the floor is both a blessing and a curse however.
The Flipside Of That Vision
With everything on display, you can see just what didn’t need to be there in the first place. There are probably 15 too many landscape shots that hang around for too long. Audiences proved that they would sit through the three hour runtime for Avengers: Endgame over and over again. People even accepted The Irishman‘s three and a half hour runtime. Four hours might be a bridge too far. Since no one was there to reign in Zack Snyder, everything made it into this film. Including a bit of the overindulgent side.
Part By Part, You See The Full Scope Of What Justice League Should Have Been
If we’re going strictly part by part, or for me, hour by hour, the first and the last hour are the standouts. The second hour is still also great, but the film sags during the third hour. Luckily it picks up the pace heading into the fourth. The first hour is filled with action and emotion when Steppenwolf makes his arrival on Themyscira. The resulting scenes with his parademons and the Amazonian warriors are breath-taking. These scenes showed that Zack Snyder can capture someone else’s vision (Patty Jenkins) and use it for his own film’s gain.
The other scenes in the first two hours involving Darkseid and his previous stint on Earth are among some of the best battle scenes I’ve seen in a film since The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. They’re captivating and feel real in a way that not many can. Even if most of the combatants are digital, they all feel real.
In addition to this, the fight scenes involving our Justice League are all convincing and weighty. Whether it’s Watchmen or Dawn of the Dead, Snyder knows how to make his action pack weight and feel like you’re right there. All the punches, sword slashes, trident stabs, and explosions feel great and I cannot imagine watching this cut of the film in the theater or on a kick ass stereo system.
Ray Fisher Had This Taken Away From Him
Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is the star of the show here. In the original version of Justice League, he’s relegated to the background or for plot purposes. The greatest triumph of this cut of the film is that it restores it to being Cyborg’s movie. In team-up films like this, it’s impossibly difficult to give equal time around to all the characters. The writers just have to do their best to give focus and attention in bursts. One does have to stand above the rest as the focal point, though. Cyborg is front, center, and arguably the most important character here. His power and weight in the DC universe is on full display.
Ray Fisher was done absolutely dirty by Warner Brothers, Joss Whedon, and whoever else saw his narrative in this film and decided to cut out as much as possible for it. They should be ashamed of what their original cut did to his character.
A Strikingly Different Tone And Feel To Other Superhero Films
Obviously, this film is going to be compared to the likes of Marvel’s. It’s inevitable. Marvel’s team-up films, especially the Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War work so well because they have that Marvel feel with comedy, character, and emotional weight. Zack Snyder’s Justice League being compared to those films isn’t quite fair. Warner Bros could have easily copied Marvel’s formula for making films and no one would have bat an eye. Why not copy the success of the highest grossing company ever? Instead they chose to be impatient and went full bore into teaming up characters that hadn’t been together before on screen.
So when you think of this film in the scope of 2017, instead of 2021, you can see why it’s so damn long. You have to introduce The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. That’s three major characters that audiences might not be familiar with, and you have to flesh them out. There is a lot of that in this cut of the film. You get much more intimate with each character and learn who they are and what their faults and wounds are. This version of Justice League had to make up for lost time. In a perfect world, we would have gotten Aquaman and The Flash in films before this and Cyborg could have been introduced here with all the emotional weight he packs in this cut.
Look at how it worked for WB with Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Those films are considered among the best they’ve made because they give the characters time to introduce themselves and grow.
Does All The Additional Non-Character Building Content Work In Justice League?
After we’re fully introduced to the characters at hand, and they’re built out fully, we get to the real meat of the action. The action at all points in the film, especially the climax, works incredibly well. From each Amazon swinging a sword, to Steppenwolf’s beefy heft, everything feels strong. Speaking shortly about the redesign of Steppenwolf, it’s like night and day. It makes you think, “how in the hell did WB mess this up so horribly?”. You look at the original design of the character up against this one, and it really seems like they just took a pre-alpha version of the CG and stuck it in the feature film. Snyder’s version is more lively, more menacing, and just flat out looks better.
The climax of part 6 is where all of it comes together. Instead of the limp noodle ending of Whedon’s version, we have a cohesive and more world shaking ending. Gone is the subplot with some strange Russian family, it’s not needed. You just have the heroes vs. Steppenwolf and his army. It crescendos with one of the more stellar action sequences with the villain and the heroes facing off that I’ve seen on screen.
The Biggest Question: Is It Better Than Whedon’s Justice League And Should It Get A Sequel?
If you couldn’t tell reading this, the 2017 version of Justice League was a mess. That mess is ALL on Warner Bros lap. They couldn’t wait for Zack Snyder to deal with his family issues and instead went to copy Marvel’s homework. I know I said that WB should have copied the formula for their universe, but do like they were already doing and set out with different directors. Joss Whedon took all that Snyder had planned for this film and stripped it away. He added his own cringe-inducing comedy, and took away the weight and what makes DC movies separate from Marvel. It was a DC movie made with the Marvel style. It did not work.
There’s a really fantastic 3 to 3 1/2 hour movie here. Four hours might be overkill and it might be overindulgent, but it’s watchable. I’m already looking forward to re-watching this to dig even deeper into it. For a four year old film, it felt like it was brand new. Which was weird, because we’ve already seen the introduction for Aquaman in his film, and we’re getting more from The Flash coming soon. Seeing Cyborg as the center of this film was disappointing knowing that Ray Fisher is being silenced and removed from the role. Like when a sports team chooses a coach over the star player, WB’s choice to continue with Walter Hamada and Co. might end up costing them.
This cut of the film is Zack Snyder at his absolute best but also his most indulgent. Shots hang on every second, sometimes for too long. The extra two hours we get is fantastic, but some of it could have been left out.
I have the feeling that WB are going to distance away from this universe that Snyder has created, and the loose ends of this film won’t be realized.
Finally, The Epilogue…
After you finish the film, there’s about twenty extra minutes that’s the epilogue. Here’s where a lot of the choices in the film don’t make much sense. Without delving into spoilers, for those that cry out “FAN SERVICE” at every Star Wars and Marvel movie, you’re going to have a fit. It’s simply, fan service.
So when we all get to see it, let’s not blow up over it’s content. There was clearly a much larger scope of the DC Universe that was planned from this, that we’ll likely never see. DC and WB are forging their own path forward that probably doesn’t include Snyder’s versions of characters.
The Verdict: It’s Not Revolutionary, It’s Not A Masterpiece, But It’s The Best That DC Can Offer
There’s going to be lots of people claiming this is the masterpiece that we’re all deserved from the atrocity that Joss Whedon committed. Now I’m not sure who to place the weight of that blame on, him, or WB? Were they both complicit? Who knows. But what I do know is that this was the film we were supposed to get. Zack Snyder is on full display here, the warts of his filmmaking style and all. You get everything and then some.
So you might want to schedule some bathroom breaks, but once you watch the full thing, it’s worth your time. Casual fans might be turned off by the length, but this is a dream come true for DC fans that have been waiting patiently for this.
As for a number rating, it’s difficult to hand one out. This film is going to be so many different things for many different people. DC Superfans are going to love it. Casual fans might be turned off by the length. The haters of DC films and Snyder are going to hate it. It’s overly long, but it’s a fantastic representation of what we could have with the “Snyder-Verse”.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League comes out on HBO Max, this Thursday, March 18th.
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