Synopsis – Zack Snyder’s definitive director’s cut of Justice League. Determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions.
My Take – I will be honest, I have never been a Zack Snyder partisan. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed his take on Superman in Man of Steel (2013), a unique take on a Boy Scout character who has been around for more than 80 years. Ably supported by a strong cast, especially a charming Henry Cavill in the lead role, and a soaring soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, Snyder delivered hard on the grand superhero origin story he promised. A story which he followed it up with a more sublime and darker tale which saw the last son of Krypton pair up with the Dark Knight for the first time on big screen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
However, a tedious screenplay and muddled plot line, which focused more on setting up the next film in the formerly DCEU, lead to its floundering. An issue fixed to a certain extent in the Ultimate Edition, with 31 minutes of additional footage. However, the disappointing critical and commercial response to the theatrical release provided a reason for Warner Bros. Pictures to course correct Snyder‘s already in-place vision, into an already in production, Justice League. And with Snyder and his producer wife, Deborah Snyder, exiting production following a family tragedy, it also paved the way for Joss Whedon, the director of The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), to take over to oversee re-shoots and additional works.
Whedon not only completely retooled the film by shooting additional scenes, and adding the much applauded lightness seen in Marvel films, he also succeeded in providing the apparently mandated two hour cut of a film, despite introducing three new superhero characters from DC Comics to join the trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman).
Hereby resulting in a film which felt like unsatisfactory mishmash of two different visions. Unsurprisingly, the film bombed hard, earning only $657.9 million on a reported $300 million budget, and garnered an avalanche of terrible reviews.
However, the most notable thing to come out of the doomed 2017 film was #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag, which began trending on social media, sparked by claims that the film Warner Bros. had put out was not the one that Snyder had made. A trend that got so massive that four years later, with an additional $70 million to finish his version, the original cut has landed on their streaming service HBO Max as a 242 minute long superhero event.
However, the most excellent part is that it quite delivers on the hype, in more ways than I actually expected it to. While it retains some scenes from the original film, the re-edit is practically an entirely new film, with an entirely different narrative, different beginning, different ending and wider scope, to give a glimpse of the larger story Snyder was driving towards. Where the original film was an empty-headed action movie that didn’t aspire to much, this highly anticipated Snyder cut couldn’t be more ambitious.
Admittedly, yes, like its predecessors it too ultimately devolves into a large-scale fight that is a little too dark to parse properly at times and has its set of flaws, but this film is ultimately Snyder’s attempt to create the greatest superhero movie ever made, which he does succeed to an extent, and for that he deserves praise with all integrity.
The plot is largely the same as in the original cut, and starts off immediately right from where Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ended, and follows Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who after being warned about an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions joins forces with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to recruit a team of meta-humans like Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller), in defending the planet.
The threat arrives in the form of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a powerful fallen warrior from the planet of Apokolips, who is on Earth in search of three Mother Boxes, which despite dormant for 5000 years, woke with the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) and his final scream, alerting Steppenwolf to their presence. Finding themselves in a race against time, the five must unite to stop Steppenwolf from uniting the Mother Boxes, and save the planet from his master, Darkseid (Ray Porter), the tyrannical New God from Apokolips from fulfilling his dreadful intentions.
As a DC fan myself, I can say the film is exactly what fans wanted from the start, the differences are clear. The movie is split into six chapters and an Epilogue, and while a lot of it familiar, there is a lot of it that is new, including a ton of heart. Even Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL’s score is leagues better than the one Danny Elfman created. Director Snyder‘s take is also an R-rated version. Gone is a lot of the hokey humor that Whedon seemed to insert to offset criticisms of director Snyder‘s relentlessly dark vision, and sees Wonder Woman straight-up liquidating a terrorist who tries to unload a rifle into a lineup of children. Batman and other characters use the F-word, and there is a scene where more than one hero actually murders a villain.
We also get bigger and better battle scenes, with the climax and the battle between Steppenwolf and the Amazonians clearly being the stand out. There are many new and longer scenes that allow for a much better, much more fleshed out story to be told. Plot holes are filled, and although some remain, this is a far superior film than we got originally. It gives more meaning to everything. But most importantly, the film fills the hole that was missing, the emotion and the heart of director Snyder‘s tale.
The individual stories allowed one to connect to each and every one of the members. Each characters motives including the antagonist are clearly portrayed and the story telling is so compelling that you feel for those characters. Steppenwolf, the big bad, is given a deadlier, less human look, and his mission to prepare Earth for Darkseid’s conquest is made clearer. There is also more time for human scenes, such as those with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), paralyzed with grief over losing Clark Kent.
However, the biggest win for the film are the expanded backstories of Barry Allen aka Flash and Victor Stone aka Cyborg; Ray Fisher as an actor in particular gets to shine as we learn more about why Cyborg hates his father, Silas Stone (Joe Morton) who used an alien machine to save his life after a horrific car accident, grafting unknown technology to his body.
Ezra Miller, though also a highlight of the original, is completely in form here, with not only his comic prowess but also his speed abilities displayed in full glory, especially in the breathtaking climax. The film is also devoid of the shocking quips and banter from Ben Affleck‘s Batman, instead his internal struggles and guilt throughout this film takes his story to a whole new level.
I have to admit, I was a bit annoyed when the aspect ratio details were first released, but watching the movie, that didn’t bother me. Within a few minutes, I even stopped noticing the black bars on the screen. I doubt anyone will be truly annoyed by this aspect ratio, especially once the film really gets going.
Then there’s the movie’s audacity, which is unexpected and admirable. A baffling dream sequence that occurs towards the end of the film, setting up a sequel that plainly isn’t coming. A sequence involving Batman, The Flash, Cyborg, Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello), Mera (Amber Heard) and Joker (Jared Leto). A sequence which allows Leto to fully display his take on the Clown Prince of Crime, which was robbed from him in Suicide Squad (2016). I cannot talk up this scene enough.
Even the post-credits scene from the original cut is spruced up and inserted into the actual film this time around, while another small but notable addition was based on a fan theory Snyder came across about a minor character from Man of Steel. It’s unabashed fan service, and reinforces the view that Zack Snyder’s film was always intended for the director and DC’s most ardent fans, rather than as a building block for whatever comes next.
Does the film have issues? Sure. Everyone will especially notice how the characters from Aquaman and the Wonder Woman films are moppier here, with Mera especially being an orphan. Yet, the film has a strong sense of the impact created from the previous movie and also how the world revolves around the impact is clearly shown very early itself. The pacing of the movie is excellent so much so that it doesn’t seem like a 4 hour movie. Is it too long? Absolutely. Does this cause it to drag on? In certain points, yes.
Yet, somehow, it feels like the right length for a film that has moved mountains, to reinvent one of the biggest superhero movie bombs in recent memory. On the whole, ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ is a dark, exhilarating, and epic superhero film of all proportions which serves its fans right. #RestoretheSynderverse
Directed – Zack Snyder
Rating – R
Run Time – 242 minutes