Zack Snyder’s Justice League Review (2021): The Age of Heroes Has Arrived!

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Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a vast improvement over the theatrical cut with better characterization and a more polished direction that made the superhero gathering more epic than ever, although the 4-hour running time could potentially hurt some viewers.
Source: HBO Max

What was supposed to be DC’s supremacy by gathering superheroes to defeat the world threat (as well as beating box office record and popularity of the world mightiest heroes ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’) became the downfall of the DCEU itself. It doesn’t deserve the spot in the worst films of all time yet for a film ticking in 120 minutes, (Whedon’s cut) Justice League is an overlong mess filled with tasteless humor and soulless character that made me check my digital watch every 5 minutes. Thanks to the pressure from fans and (surprisingly) genuine heart from Warner Bros, Snyder finally was able to complete his own cut that runs in 242 minutes. It’s definitely long (too long it is) but with a more consistent tone, rich character and a more sensible storyline, Zack Snyder Justice League definitely will worth your time.

It still follows the same storyline from Whedon’s cut: as Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, he and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) start to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world, all while Steppenwolf and the parademons are hunting the three Mother Boxes that could cause catastrophe to the entire universe. However, what makes the differences is the small details inserted (or changes) that made everything a whole lot of sense. Let me give a small example, the opening sequence itself. As Superman dies (in a very Snyder style), it triggers the Boxes’ reactivation that attracts Steppenwolf. In Whedon cut, this happens two years after Superman’s death. But here, the danger is real, and we could feel that they’re racing against time before the massive threat came to Earth. And so begin Bruce Wayne’s journey into the icy mountain to find the first metahuman on the list.

The film then cuts into a black screen, fading in a text “Part 1 Don’t Count on It, Batman.” It might be different for each but for me, I can’t deny there’s an indescribable feeling that this film would be an epic. More epic than Russo Brothers’ ‘Avengers: Endgame”. (2019) After all, this is Snyder Cut we are talking about. A true, raw, original vision from the director with almost no creative interference from any sites dedicated for the fans and the fans only. The result? A mythical, godlike story that could almost match Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of The Rings’ in terms of its epic sheerness that is better enjoyed cold (which unfortunately can’t be done due to the existence of Whedon’s cut). I shouldn’t talk more beyond this point, but for the sake of review I’ll express it as short as possible (if that’s possible).

Throughout the entire DCEU there’s not really much explanation about the Mother Boxes. We finally got it here, and it is as epic as hell. Sure, we have seen the bigger picture in Whedon’s Justice League but Snyder expands on it with his own unique stylistic visuals that arguably could be compared to Tolkien’s “The Lord of The Rings” worldbuilding. The fights are massive with few surprises to make it clear that this sets in the realm of DCEU. But the major improvement comes from the backstory of the overall villains on why should we be terrified with them. In short, an improvement of characterization that establishes the motive.

The same goes to Flash and Cyborg, where their honor had finally been restored in Snyder’s Justice League. The Whedon cut cuts their characters arc to a lot of extent that I can’t help to treat them more as extras rather than supporting characters. But here, they steal the spotlight and become the core of the film. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is still as quirky as ever with some of hit-and-miss jokes. But there’s an intention behind this and largely this depth could be seen the conversation he had with his dad (who was framed for the murder of Barry’s mother). There’s no doubt of his portrayal of The Flash, but the prison scene took me by surprise of how emotionally powerful the character of Barry Allen is and Miller was just able to knock it off into a dark, heartbreaking moment through simple dialogue. 

Yet the character-stealer should go to Cyborg, whose character arc was the most fully realized in this single film. Snyder himself had stated in interviews that he’s the heart of this film, and it’s a shame and disrespectful act for Whedon to just cut and made his character simply a robot with almost none of the human aspect. Here, we got a background that lays the foundation of Cyborg added with atmospheric slow-motion shots and sound design where Snyder at its meta. As the film progresses, so does the dynamic relationship between Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) and Victor’s father Silas Stone (Joe Morton). These characters might seem very distant with rare interactions but their chemistry nailed the required emotional weight and characterization to be one of the most beloved Justice League members in the film.

Aside from the main characters, Steppenwolf’s major characterization improvement also leads the film into a right direction that indirectly increases other stakes of the film aspect. I still remember the humanistic design that Whedon presented yet inside he’s just a hollow monster that only cares to destroy the world for no reason. Snyder did the opposite; giving him an alien, foreign (yet badass) design but a story that rooted back to human needs and wants. As most die hard fans had known (and this is not a spoiler as well for those being unknowledgeable), Steppenwolf just wanted to go back home and so does establish the motive to find the three Mother Boxes. It might not be as groundbreaking as Christopher Nolan’s Joker, but it still works in the most basic way possible that the Whedon cut can’t achieve. 

For a moment I have been talking mostly about the individuals. What about Justice League themselves as a team? I can’t really help but to compare with ‘The Avengers’, where their chemistry is built up with talky dialogue and comedic chemistry between the characters (something that Whedon – the director of The Avengers himself – tries to repeat the formula in Justice League into a catastrophic result). Snyder instead, removed a large portion of dialogue and replaced it with what he most excelled at: visuals. Some would argue that Snyder visuals felt lifeless, but it works in this context where chunks of dialogues isn’t necessary. There’s just warmth that is beyond words about this team, and Snyder reaches it through the tier of what a masterful filmmaker does: show, don’t tell.

Perhaps what makes Snyder’s Justice League so redeemable is the final act, where Whedon changes it into a more colorful and playful film rather than sticking with Snyder’s vision (which is obviously impossible since the only Zack Snyder is Zack Snyder himself). However, this version is darker, grittier, and makes more sense. It doesn’t feature any human characters to save, but the stakes are so high and I can’t help to keep my bones chilling due to how great the action sequences are. And what’s more, it had emotional moments within the fight itself that incredibly never turned into a one-chessy liner. Zack keeps the tone on a very consistent moment and lets every character shine through their superpower (especially The Flash and Cyborg. You know those moments if you already watch it). Overall, the pardon was granted.

My only complaint would be its 242 minute running time. I have to admit the film is finely paced even in its slow moments. But still, it’s just too long to follow where I just hope there’s an intermission for the film (which I did use when the title card “Part …” appeared and just pause it to use the toilet). Nevertheless, you just need to appreciate this work of an auteur where sweat and blood had been spent from the cast and crew to the fans and for fans only. The result is an epic that almost can’t be matched by other superheroes films with deep characterization and world-building established in a single film only; somehow giving Martin Scorsese a middle-finger for his complaint about superhero films. The direction, the performance, the cinematography alongside the sound design, as well as the electrifying soundtrack from Junkie XL that unify all the themes into one: a team.

I might have been very harsh to Joss Whedon cut (I seriously trashed it after watching it at the theaters in 2017), however without the Whedon cut I wonder if this level of hype and expectation could reach this level. After all, the film is made for the fans (which is the reason for its high audience rating on any film platforms). But overall, I was satisfied with the Snyder Cut and hope to rewatch it soon when it hits the (IMAX) theater after the Covid-19 pandemic has eased off.

Rating:
4/5

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Film Credits

Source: HBO Max

Zack Snyder's Justice League

Nationality: USA

Duration: 242 min.

Director

Zack Snyder

Cast

Ben Affleck
Henry Cavill
Amy Adams
Gal Gadot
Ray Fisher
Jason Momoa
Ezra Miller
Jeremy Irons
Ciarán Hinds
Joe Morton

Written by

Chris Terrio

Cinematographer

Fabian Wagner

Edited by

David Brenner

Composed by

Tom Holkenborg

Synopsis: 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.