“Release the Snyder Cut.”
This has been the cry of the DC Extended Universe fans for quite a while and it’s something that I do understand. Ever since Warner Bros. released the Joss Whedon cut of Justice League, a film that surprisingly underwhelmed everyone when you consider it assembles all of DC “big” heroes in one film, fans wanted to see Zack Snyder’s original vision of the film. I might not be a devoted follower of Zack Snyder’s “grimdark” feel but, because of how disappointing the 2017 version was, I definitely would be up for seeing what it should have been rather than what we did get.
Well, fans finally got their wish. HBO Max made Zack Snyder’s Justice League available for their subscribers and I did manage to see this four hour epic movie. What did I think of it? Read on to find out!
Oh, and since this was just released and some people are still setting up the required chunk of time to go see it, this will be a SPOILER FREE review. Additionally, as things aren’t reviewed in a vacuum, there will be times I’ll be comparing Zack Snyder’s version to the one Joss Whedon eventually did. Hopefully, these will be few and far between.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League takes place some time after the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The world is mourning the death of Superman and, learning that a new threat from outside the planet may be targeting Earth, Batman and Wonder Woman set out to recruit other heroes with special abilities to help fend off this impending attack. Meanwhile, an alien being known as Steppenwolf tracks down the legendary Mother Box devices left on Earth eons ago. These devices were left on the planet by his master, Darkseid, and Steppenwolf plans to reunite the Mother Boxes as penance for his previous failures and he will stop at nothing to do so.
I guess I’ll be starting out this review with some of the more technical aspects of Zack Snyder’s Justice League as these are the things that I did find the most problematic. The first thing is how the entire film is shown. It doesn’t use the standard 16:9 widescreen format we’re all used to when watching something at home. Instead, Zack Snyder insisted it be shown at a 4:3 aspect ratio. When I first saw this, I thought there was something terribly wrong. However, after a little research, I found out the smaller aspect ratio is intentional. It was to mimic the IMAX viewing experience or some nonsense like that.
Well, I’m watching Justice League on my widescreen television, Zack Snyder! Not my blocky old CRT television. I get that it was his vision to give the impression of the IMAX viewing experience (even though most of the film didn’t use the proprietary IMAX cameras) but, since this is on HBO Max and people are going to be watching it on their widescreen televisions at home, sometimes creative vision has to give way to a better consumer experience. To be fair, the black bars on the side of the screen eventually became unnoticeable as I got used to it. But once in a while, my eyes would just be drawn to the sides and think of what a huge waste of space it is.
Another issue I have with Zack Snyder’s Justice League is its length. Clocking in at just shy over four hours, this is a huge timesink. There are “chapters” that are kind of there to tell viewers you can take a break but… four hours? Granted, most of the time is filled with important stuff, such as character building and extensive fight scenes, so I can’t really think of anything I would cut out to make this a zippier three hour or so film. There isn’t much filler because everything in the film’s runtime does connect together to make a cohesive story. Yet there is a part of me that just thinks a smarter writer could have done a better job condensing it all together. I will say I was engrossed by the story so it may seem like complaining about its length is a nitpick. But this does mean you can’t just plop down to watch it on a whim. You kind of have to plan your day around watching this four hour monstrosity.
With that being said, the film does a decent job of juggling all of the heroes’ storylines. Every character feels much more fleshed out and you do get a better understanding of their motivations for what they’re doing. Even some of the smaller parts like Alfred gets time to shine here. However, this does mean the, shall we say, bit players become so uninteresting as they fall by the wayside. This is especially true for Lois Lane as, while she does have a character arc to follow, it never really grabs you because the heroes just have a better and more engrossing tale to tell.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League does a much better job on the superhero front than the Joss Whedon version. The 2017 film had the heroes teaming up but never really using their abilities in unique ways. Cyborg, Aquaman and even The Flash feels like they’re just tagging along for the ride in the Joss Whedon cut because, while they do have powers, they’re never used to show their individuality. The Snyder Cut does a much better job as Cyborg and The Flash become very necessary components in the battle plan against Steppenwolf’s campaign to conquer Earth with the Mother Boxes. Unfortunately, even Joss Whedon can’t save Aquaman for being fairly useless as he doesn’t really have anything much to offer in the final fight than just brute force, which Wonder Woman already fills that position.
Speaking of which, the fight scenes here are incredible. Say what you will about Zack Snyder and his way of telling a story, the man knows how to make a battle look visually stimulating! There is this feeling of desperation whenever Steppenwolf has a fight scene as, even though it may seem like the odds are supposed to be against him, he still manages to wreck everyone. This, in turn, makes him to be much more than a formidable foe. Additionally, the combat does come off as more chaotic than the 2017 release, making things look more like visceral. The fight scenes are definitely a highlight of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
You can also tell they put in a good chunk of change on the visual effects as they look oh, so much better. Of course, we don’t get the infamous CGI Superman Face because they used all of the old footage. The effects do look and feel integrated into the scenes much better as well. There are some moments when some of the movements do dip into the uncanny valley, for the most part, they do work seamlessly into the scenes.
Besides that, they did some neat little facelifts to Steppenwolf’s design. While I did kind of like his original design in the Joss Whedon cut, Zack Snyder’s metallic spiky armor looks so much better. I will say I wasn’t sold on it initially as I thought he looked like a glorified Michael Bay Transformer. But I was sold on it due to the neat little touches, like it folding upon itself at times to make it look like it’s a part of him as well as the armor fully reseeding into himself depending on who he’s talking to.
Despite me giving praise to the character development, I did find the way they’re told in a rather disjointed method. As there are so many characters, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has to bounce around between so many of them and it does get rather tiresome after a certain point. There were times when I was invested with what was happening on the screen only to cut to a different scene with a bunch of different characters. Some of them even seem like they were inserted into the film because they had to find a place for it to further the story down the line. This doesn’t happen by the final hour or so as everything has converged together more or less. But the first three hours feels like a weird, directionless roller coaster at times. Once again, this could have possibly be done with some more clever writing.
The music is pretty hit or miss all throughout as well. There is some cleverness involved as everyone does appear to have their own particular theme song but some of there are just unmemorable. Not only that, some of the really good songs are clouded by more complex arrangements. I get Wonder Woman’s theme song became something of a sleeper hit in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But you only hear a few strains of it and, most of the time, you just hear this chorale of Icelandic singers for her because they never get to the rip-roaring portion that the fans really like.
The biggest problem I do have with Justice League, be it the Snyder Cut or the Joss Whedon Cut, is that there isn’t a strong emotional current connecting these characters. The relationship between the heroes feel workman-like and I never felt them forming an emotional bond between themselves. This, in turn, didn’t allow me to grow an emotional bond to them. Sure, it was entertaining to watch them fight and all. But I was never emotionally invested in Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg or The Flash. So, even when they were in danger, I didn’t really care all that much.
Neither was there any real awesome comic book moment all throughout Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which is incredibly disappointing as I know Zack Snyder can produce images that anyone would be proud to make into your desktop wallpaper. There wasn’t a shot that really struck me as something that sent chills down my spine because of how cool it looked. There was never a moment wherein I felt the need to jump out of my seat in excitement because something really cool happened.
Now, I’m not saying I’m not happy I watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Fans were on the money when they said Warner Bros. had to release the Snyder Cut because it is leagues better (get it?) than the one we saw in the theaters so many years ago. As good as it is and should definitely be the de facto version you should see, I think you should taper your expectations a little before you take that four hour plunge. It’s definitely worth a watch and I can see it ranking up there when it comes to superhero movies. But I really don’t see it being at the very top of anyone’s list.
Have you seen Zack Snyder’s Justice League? Did it live up to your expectations? Let me know in the comments section below.