Zack Snyder's Justice League Movie Review

The most improved Director's Cut in the history of Hollywood

by Casimir Harlow

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Attempting to right a great deal of wrongs, this impossible fan dream finally materialises and is a hell of an experience - a visually striking epic of untold proportions that simply has to be seen to be believed.

The Warner plan to fast-track the DC Movie Universe in a desperate bid to catch up with the big billion dollar Box Office that Marvel's Infinity War / Endgame had spent over 20 films building towards, was foolish to say the least. They had some of the greatest characters in comic history - they weren't working magic with otherwise B-list superheroes (Ant-Man, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, even Doctor Strange and the now-iconic Iron Man were hardly A-list) - they were dealing with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The Holy Trinity. And the celebrated Justice League. But it required time they weren't willing to put in. Or were they?

 

Synder was planning on a trilogy of Justice League movies, with individual efforts in between, which would lead to a confrontation with DC's own Thanos-like galaxy-conquering Darkseid.

Zack Snyder gave the world the promising Man of Steel, absolutely nailing its first two acts (Crowe then Costner stealing the show) before ultimately going arguably too far for its punch-up finale BUT in the process cleverly setting the stage for Snyder's theatrically hobbled Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a stupidly-titled abridgement of too many stories which is considerably better - if still deeply flawed - in its extended form, and which in turn did some of the groundwork required for a rushed Death of Superman and subsequent birth of the Justice League. And the rumour was that this was something of an Avengers "Phase"-based initiative, at least for Synder, who wasn't just planning on just doing the three DC movies we saw from him, but doing a trilogy of Justice League movies, with individual efforts (Wonder Woman films, Aquaman films, Flash films, Batman films, etc.) in between to help fill in the gaps, all of which would eventually lead to a confrontation with DC's own Thanos-like galaxy-conquering Darkseid.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
No, no, I'm not Thanos. I do get that a lot, these days.

But tragedy struck, and Snyder left the project in the supposed 'safe' pair of hands (whatever that now means, given recent revelations) of Joss Whedon, who turned in a whopper of a mess. Tonally and visually at odds with the darker Snyder-verse before it, littered with Whedon-esque humour that simply felt out of place, as well as goofy physical comedy, silly flourishes and a very rushed approach to the subject matter which clearly - as is finally evident now - was never intended to be crammed into a mere two hours of movie, Whedon's Justice League wasn't the birth of the DC Movie Universe, but the death of it.

 

Whedon's Justice League wasn't the birth of the DC Movie Universe, but the death of it.

Snyder's Justice League is an entirely different animal. Not just a little bit. Not just a few extended scenes. It's a completely different movie, which happens to share the same basic plot but is wildly divergent in terms of build-up, characterisation, meticulous, well-paced story plotting, visuals, scoring, action and sheer R-rated impact. Whedon's version feels like a badly-edited pre-post-production extended test audience preview for this final product, by comparison. There's likely never been anything quite this staggeringly different in the history of cinema. Sure, Brian Helgeland returned to his Mel Gibson Payback thriller to deliver a very different version with an entirely new third act, Leone's Once Upon a Time in America is allowed room to breathe in its 4 hours form, Costner's messy Waterworld is gifted a tangibly epic scale in its 3 hour form, Ridley Scott's additional 45 minutes transformed the deeply flawed Kingdom of Heaven into something far closer to a master work, the 37-minute-longer Alien 3 'assembly cut' is a revelation that reintroduces an entirely new mid-section, and the Donner Cut of Superman II takes a very different turn (albeit more familiar due to the plot beats which were used for the end of Superman) but ultimately none of them can hold a candle to Zack Snyder's Justice League, which delivers a staggering THREE HOURS PLUS of new footage.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
Next time, one of you guys wield the kryptonite spear.

Zack Snyder's Justice League comes to UK shores exclusively on Sky / Now TV, framed in open matte 1.33:1 and IMAX 1.43:1, which is yet another bold choice by Snyder but absolutely stunning in realisation. Sure, many will balk at the idea of huge black bars on the side of their TV - and projector fans will be the ones truly undone by the inability to mask it (key sequences will lose entire characters from the top and bottom of the screen) - but it is absolutely worthwhile in action. Whether it's Wonder Woman's slinging the bomb into the sky, or Aquaman standing at the end of a pier being smashed by waves, these shots are perfectly framed, and there's a genuine sense of scale to the production. Sure, slo-mo is the name of the game for a lot of Snyder's work, but it is too gorgeous to complain about, and too effective. It is an engulfing, intoxicating event, with several strikingly-shot sequences that nod back to one of Snyder's best - Watchmen - perfectly framed and set to vastly improved scoring from Junkie XL that accomplishes some transcendent, genuinely rousing moments.

With such a huge canvass to play with, Snyder gives it his absolute all, nailing a devastating opening sequence that highlights the literal fallout of Superman's dying screams, before folding back in a much longer build-up for the villain whose actions are now writ large - seeking the approval of galaxy-consuming Darkseid, and drawn to Earth to reclaim Darkseid's mother boxes directly as a result of Superman's death. It's superior story construction, with Darkseid providing a weightier flashback sequence where we see the worlds of Man, the Atlantians and the Amazons forged together to deter Darkseid's plans of world domination, rather than merely showing this to be Steppenwolf's first attempts at an attack.

 

Steppenwolf himself has had a fabulous upgrade, now reminiscent of the terrifying, unstoppable, spike-laden, Shrike from Dan Simmons' Hyperion

Steppenwolf himself has had a fabulous upgrade, now reminiscent of the terrifying, unstoppable, spike-laden, Shrike from Dan Simmons' Hyperion. The spiked metal armour ripples with organic movement, prickling under threat and in times of rage, and proving resistant to almost any kind of attack. Free from signs of previous defeat at the hands of earlier Gods, Steppenwolf now gets a much better run at dominating as the powerful villain of the show, first torturing his way across the planet to find the locations of the boxes he seeks, before then confronting those protecting them. The Themyscira sequence alone is epic, reminiscent of Snyder's own 300, as it pits the formidable Amazon warrior women agains Steppenwolf and his considerably more menacing para-demons, with Connie Nielsen getting a welcome amount of extra screen time as Queen Hippolyta.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
If you've not read Dan Simmons' Hyperion, get to it, because this is what the Shrike will look like if they ever make a movie

We get substantial backstories for the newly introduced and previously wildly underserved characters of Flash and Cyborg. These were whopping flaws in Whedon's version, particularly for Cyborg, who actually gets the strongest character development this time around, gifted flashbacks to his football origins, the trauma he endured and the work his father did to 'heal' him (Joe "Terminator 2's Miles Dyson" Morton has a couple of genuinely powerful moments), as well as present-day segments detailing the extent of his powers both in terms of his weaponry and his software arsenal, which allows him to hack into almost any computer system in the world (the shot with the nukes is tremendous). This is all tied in perfectly to the mother boxes themselves. Ray Fisher's work is solid but, more importantly, Cyborg is suddenly an integral component of the Justice League - and new effects leave him looking the part too. As righted wrongs go, this was a big one.

 

There's likely never been anything quite this staggeringly different in the history of cinema

Flash enjoys a new, perfect, introduction with his future love, Iris, exquisitely staged, and Ezra Miller's enthusiastic performance is now more in-character, rather than setting the tone for the rest of it, also too given some excellent scenes opposite Billy Crudup, as his incarcerated father, and playing out a tremendous father/son theme for Flash and Cyborg that's far better than the mother/son theme that was bluntly handled in Dawn of Justice. There's also no 'Russian family' nonsense to distract Flash during the final act, where instead he gets a Flashpoint-esque moment of pivotal importance that - in context - fully explains why they would green light an adaptation of The Flashpoint Paradox. All of a sudden, it's patently obvious why they would centre a movie around this game changing character, and why he could yet still save the future of the Justice League in its currently broken Warner / DC format.

The Aquaman/Atlantis scenes integrate better with the subsequent solo movie, highlighting the bad blood the wayward son has with his water-based heritage, as Amber Heard's Queen Mera (her fight with Steppenwolf is still fantastically realised, even if Heard's new accent is now really jarring) and even Willem Dafoe's mentor get some new screen time to remind the grouchy Arthur of his duties. It seems poignant that, following the Whedon fallout, and announcement by Snyder that he accepts that his 'version' of Justice League will never be canon in the mess than is the official DC Movie Universe, both Aquaman star Jason Momoa and Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins have come forward to say that their films follow the Synder continuity. And now, seeing Snyder's final vision in all its glory, you can absolutely see why.

Zack Snyder's Justice League
New scenes shot October 2020. And they said Affleck had retired the cowl for good...

Ben Affleck's Batman always deserved - demanded - his own movie, but alas it was not meant to be. Nonetheless, despite not being in the same super-leagues as his companions, he's shown to be integral to their formation, key to rallying them together, and always prepared to do whatever it takes to get the job done. There's still more that they could have done on the action front, particularly with the man who went toe-to-toe with Superman, but arguably that could have distracted from the seminal return of the Man of Steel himself, now a real fist-punching moment that's not exactly "Portals" but - between that and the subsequent nod to Donner's Superman - a real emotional action beat that Snyder nails as he lands the climax.

A substantial epilogue (and the second appearance of a new character that JL fans will be very happy to see finally given some Big Screen limelight) tries its best to give satisfaction in spite of the fact that this was planned as a trilogy, as is clearly evident from the portentous future-nightmare sequences that follow on from those seen in Dawn of Justice. But nobody should worry about a cliffhanger of any sorts (and there's no stinger in the credits). This is basically like watching the first Avengers team-up in terms of closure. Sure, Loki was ultimately something of a teaser for the arrival of Thanos in Infinity War/Endgame, but that didn't stop it from being utterly epic at the time. And Jack Snyder's Justice League accomplishes just that.

 

It's far better than anybody could have possibly ever expected.

It's not perfect and, boy, it was never going to be. There was too much wrong from the start - from the mistakes made in previous DC entries, to the fact that all of these characters demanded their own solo movie first, not afterwards. Flash is still ultimately miscast, Batman still deserves his own movie and his own moment (c.f. Hulk in Endgame), and the lack of solo introductory films feels like an impossible obstacle to surmount. But the extended format works wonders for a lot of this and, unlike perhaps Snyder's Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (even in its considerably better longer form), there's less of a feeling of multiple stories being crammed into one movie this time around. Sure, it takes 4 hours to weave this damn tale, but it's still one long story at the end of the day, not a number of disparate ideas desperately glued together because nobody wanted to give this franchise room to breathe.

Now, Warners has given Synder the room to do whatever he wants. Take however long he wants. Go R-rated with brain's being cracked open on rocks, limbs and heads lopped off, headshots splattering the walls behind them, and F-bombs dropped liberally. New effects to bring Darkseid into the fold, to make Steppenwolf a worthy opponent, or Cyborg a formidable League member. Hell, even shoot a couple of new scenes if he wants, just to complete his vision. And it may not fix all the movies before it (his movies), those that arguably - even in their extended home formats - didn't have this kind of privilege. Nor will it fix the damage from the waves that those decisions made. But it's far better than anybody could have possibly ever expected. A proper director's labour of love, the likes of which we haven't really seen since the excessive days of the 70s but a clear example of where an auteur, unfettered by the influence of the studio, can deliver a work of art worthy of some substantial appreciation. Now if only we could travel to a multiverse where this version of the film gets a sequel...

Zack Snyder's Justice League is available exclusively on Sky / NowTV from 18th March 2021.


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