ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE ½
2021, R, 242 mins.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman / Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Superman / Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman / Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry / Aquaman / Ezra Miller as Barry Allen / The Flash / Ray Fisher as Victor Stone / Cyborg / Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf / Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor / Amy Adams as Lois Lane / Amber Heard as Mera / J.K. Simmons as Commissioner James Gordon / Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth / Diane Lane as Martha Kent / Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta / Billy Crudup as Henry Allen / Ray Porter as Uxas / Darkseid / Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor / Jared Leto as Joker / Joe Manganiello as Slade Wilson / Deathstroke / Willem Dafoe as Nudis Vulko / Robin Wright as Antiope / Kiersey Clemons as Iris West
Directed by Zack Snyder / Written by Chris Terrio
George Lucas once famously stated that movies are never finished, they're abandoned by their makers.
I think that has
an awful lot to do with the financial and bureaucratic
motivations of the corporate studios that fund and release said films.
By hook or by crook, major tentpole blockbusters have production
timelines and release dates that need to be met in order to turn hefty
profits, even if that means compromising a director's vision.
No more are
Lucas' words more applicable than when one considers the whole production
release debacle that typified JUSTICE
LEAGUE. And to say
that this major DCEU entry had a controversial history making it to the
silver screen is the grandest of understatements.
release of director Zack Snyder's MAN OF
STEEL and BATMAN
V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, JUSTICE LEAGUE was meant to be a massive
event film putting all of DC's mightiest heroes together as a jumping off
point for the greater DCEU. Snyder, by his own admission, had a vast and sprawling cut of
the film that may or may not have been split into two entries, but Warner
Brothers - after the lack of box office and critical success of BVS -
insisted on two things: a no longer than two hour running time and a much,
much lighter tone. Personal
tragedy struck Snyder with the death of his daughter, which forced him to
leave production before competition.
In a shocking move, Warner Brothers hired THE
AVENGERS director Joss Whedon to come in and "finish"
JUSTICE LEAGUE, and by finish that actually meant cutting Snyder's
running time down in half and rewriting/reshooting what has been reported
to be 80-90% of his footage. In
its remade and vastly re-edited form (and inexplicably with Snyder's name
still credited on-screen as its sole director), JUSTICE LEAGUE was
released in 2017 to a fairly vocal fan and critic backlash and massive box
As for ZACK
SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE? Bare
with me. I'm getting there. Context
A few years back
Snyder revealed that a four-hour plus version of his JUSTICE LEAGUE
was actually in the can, but would probably never see the light of day.
Fans responded in one of the largest movie-centric social media
movements ever to pressure Warner Brothers to "Release the Snyder
Cut." The studio caved
and in a completely unheard of move gave Snyder $70-80 million to finish
off his cut with complete creative autonomy.
Flash forward to last Thursday and the newly minted ZACK SNYDER'S
JUSTICE LEAGUE was unveiled via the streaming platform HBO MAX in the U.S.
(and via Crave TV in my own home and native land of Canada).
And, boy oh boy,
there's a lot of film to talk about here.
In terms of a
basic narrative, ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE is pretty much the same as
the "JOSSTICE LEAGUE", but with many large alterations in
execution (which I'll get to later).
As for a recap, this new edit follows up on the death of Superman
(Henry Cavill) at the end of BVS, which now means that Earth is severely
exposed to powerful extraterrestrial threats.
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) has had apocalyptic visions of an
invasion to potentially come for some time, so he and new ally in Diana
Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) attempt to recruit other "meta
humans" to form an alliance to thwart the still unveiled menace.
They manage to nab Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Barry
Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to
begin preparations for the arrival of a demonic alien army led by the
towering Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), who's coming to Earth in
search of three mystical "Mother Boxes" that - when combined -
will allow the holder to control the known universe.
As Steppenwolf unleashes hell on our planet and decimates his way
through the heroes, Batman discovers that they could use one of the Mother
Boxes to resurrect Superman, which becomes especially important when the
whole team realizes that Steppenwolf is actually just a servant to a more
powerfully terrifying threat.
Okay, let's talk
changes for this new iteration.
It cannot be
overstated how vastly different ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE is in every
conceivable manner (outside of its basic premise of the league gathering
together to thwart an unstoppable monstrous force from the cosmos).
Firstly, this new version preserves Snyder's 242 minute running
time versus the 120 minutes of the theatrical original, complete with
Blu-Ray-esque chapter titles and an epilogue (this gives the film the
feeling of a mini-series in feature length form).
Also, the screen aspect ratio here is also noticeably shifted, as
Snyder originally sought to release his film on the more boxy and
vertically tall IMAX screens around the world (meaning that this is
streamed with a square-like 4:3 "academy ratio" on your big
screen TVs at home, so don't adjust your sets, folks).
The tone has been completely altered here too; gone are all of the
Whedon's chirpiness, verbal gags, and overall brightening of the picture
and instead we get something more purposely somber and meditative.
That's not to say that ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE is without
humor, but gone are the beyond obvious attempts by Whedon to make it feel
tonally more like a part of the MCU versus the already established DCEU.
Related to this shift in tone is a surprising R-rating attached by
the MPAA; this cut contains more bloodshed (and shockingly a few F-bombs,
even one uttered by the Dark Knight himself) than its antecedent.
superficial alterations, ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE truly stands apart
in the avenue of storytelling real estate.
Afforded with much more time, Snyder is able to keep the basic
framework of what happened in the 2017 film while completely reconfiguring
his film's beginning, middle, and ending (the latter of which features a
wholly altered final confrontation between all of the heroes and
Steppenwolf). Speaking of
villains, this new edit does wonders as far as Steppenwolf is concerned.
Beforehand he was this garishly ugly looking CGI-beastie with no
personality, no back-story, and flimsy motivations.
Now, he has been granted a tremendously improved and more sinister
CGI makeover from Snyder and actually has a more fully fleshed out story
arc as far as his reason for being on Earth, which relates to troubled
relationship with his master, Darkseid.
And as opposed to being cryptically and vaguely name dropped in
dialogue in the 2017 JUSTICE LEAGUE, Darkseid here makes several tangible
appearances and is a far more satisfying and ominous presence this go
There's also a plethora
of wonderful universe and character building now as well, with multiple
characters getting additional scenes, origin details, and embellished
elements added in to make their inclusion to the roster of heroes feel
more meaningfully robust. Mamoa's Aquaman is given a lot more to do now, not to mention
that there are more cameos made by his fellow Atlantians.
Miller's Flash gets a whole new and visually exhilarating
introductory sequence featuring the jittery kid trying to get a job at a
pet store, only having to use his super speed to abruptly leave a save a
beautiful woman from being killed in a freak car accident (you can tell
where the film's added budget went in sequences like this). Perhaps the biggest character victory lap is taken by
Fisher's Cyborg, who was almost a non-entity in the original JUSTICE
LEAGUE. Now, Cyborg's whole
"Frankenstein" origin story is supremely expanded upon, as is
his tumultuous relationship with his scientist father who saved his life
and essentially created him (Joe Morton).
Cyborg becomes the emotional epicenter of dramatic interest here,
and his storyline reaches a point of painful tragedy that's not even
hinted at with what we got before. Considering
all of the publicity that has been generated as of late about Fisher's
accused mistreatment by Whedon on the reshoots, it's painfully hard to
overlook just how shamefully marginalized his hero was in hindsight.
In ZACK SYNDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE he's given full reign to fully (no
pun intended) shine as a member to this costume clad squad, and one that
is fundamentally integral to the overarching storyline altogether.
There are even
more changes abundant here, like how patient Snyder is with returning Kal-El
back from the dead, and with a sleek all new black costume (Cavill's Man
of Steel doesn't make a re-appearance here until nearly the two and a half
hour mark). The manner that
he factors into making a pitch perfectly timed appearance to save Batman
and the team in the final climatic act is different and builds towards one
other hero lending a universe saving assist that was fairly awe inspiring
(the final confrontations between everyone doesn't occur until nearly the
three and a half hour mark). All
of this is driven home by a propulsive and engaging score by Junkie XL,
who previously scored BVS for Snyder before getting the heave-ho from
Warner Brothers and Whedon as they opted to get Danny Elfman to totally
re-score the 2017 JUSTICE LEAGUE, to mostly flat and uninspired levels.
All of this builds towards an ending (or should I say multiple
endings) that unfortunately emphasizes some of the faults with ZACK
SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE, like suffering from RETURN OF THE KING-itus in
the ways it can't seem to simply...end.
There's also a very, very fan service-y epilogue scene set
in a nightmare apocalyptic future Earth that seems more hastily added on
than something that felt germane and required with what came before.
There are other
issues at play here too. The
running time sure seems like a sore point for most, which is
understandable. I've read of
some people labeling this ultra-long cut as crazily self-indulgent.
My response to that is to empathize with the maker: Imagine being a
director with a vision for a gargantuan scaled production that squashed
overused genre conventions and clichés that had to step down from said
production due to personal tragedy to then see almost all of his footage
re-shot by someone else and with a running time cut by fifty per cent to
be theatrically released. The
four hour running times does thankless wonders for JUSTICE LEAGUE on
multiple aforementioned levels, and in terms of pacing it's remarkably
nimble footed for such a long film. Still,
though, this begs looking into one of the central ironies of ZACK SNYDER'S
JUSTICE LEAGUE: This is such an empowered and unified avant garde super
hero blockbuster vision that commendably never tries to plagiarize the MCU
playbook and instead be its own unique entity...but this long, R-rated
version would have never been theatrically released by a studio.
Even I'll concede that Snyder was perhaps a few disciplined edits
away (with 20-30 minutes of fat trimmed) from securing a slightly shorter,
but exceedingly well rounded film ready for theatrical consumption and
success (and, yeah, there's no need for this film to be R, and only minor
snippets here and there could have garnered a more studio/box office
I'm glad that Snyder was able to finish his film as opposed to abandoning it to being a well-talked-about asterisk in one of the most troubled movie production stories ever.