By now most people are familiar with the rivalry between Marvel and DC’s cinematic universes. While Marvel’s was well crafted and is now 22 films deep, DC famously tried to shove its cinematic universe down our throats in only a handful of movies culminating in 2017’s “Justice League”. I hated this movie, especially in hindsight, and its failure led Warner Bros. to essentially cancel the DCEU as an entity of interconnected movies. However there was an odd history behind “Justice League”. Director Zack Snyder, who was a driving force behind the DCEU’s inception, famously had to leave the project early due to the death of his daughter resulting in Warner Bros. bringing in Joss Whedon, director of two “Avengers” movie for Marvel, to pick up the slack. His version of the film was lighter in tone and failed to live up to a lot of the promises that Snyder had teased. Warner Bros. also demanded a shorter movie cutting Snyder’s planned duology of “Justice League” movies to one rushed product. After a short time fans began to demand the “Snyder Cut” and Warner Bros. was eventually forced to listen green lighting Snyder’s original version of the movie for their new streaming service HBO Max. The four-hour experience is finally out and the question remains: does it live up to the hype? I’m here to say HELL YEAH IT DOES!!!!
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”, as this film is officially named, is a COMPLETELY different movie from the abomination we got in 2017. Sticking true to Snyder’s original vision, the new “Justice League” tells essentially the same kind of story as Whedon’s version but with much more depth, development, and fun. It once again embraces Snyder’s dark, gritty vision for the DCEU complete with blood, swearing, some pretty brutal acts by both heroes and villains and a true sense of the stakes at hand that give it some neat R-rated flair. Gone is the light-hearted, family friendly, toned down personality of the original and instead we get probably the best use of Snyder’s trademark cinematic stylings in a comic book movie since “Watchmen”. Snyder got his second chance and he made damn sure he was going to tell the story he wanted. Almost everything we were promised in teases leading up to the original movie is provided here with plenty of fan fair and hints at what the larger DCEU would have brought us if Warner Bros. decided to stick to Snyder’s original intent for the franchise. We even get some added surprises we didn’t see in the original movie, although many of them have also been spoiled by Snyder himself. Still, there’s so much payoff in this film it’s hard not to respect the final product.
Everything about this movie is improved, from the script to the visuals, and especially the music which features an amazing score from Junkie XL. The story is also very much improved. We again see the villain Steppenwolf, who sports a much more intimidating and eye-catching design, attempt to unite the three Mother Boxes, only this time we actually learn what these boxes really do and why he wants to bring them together. We understand his motivations much better as he seeks to impress the long-teased Darkseid who is featured in the movie albeit as a force in the shadows for much of the runtime. The pacing makes for a much more satisfying and patient experience as we see Batman try to recruit the rest of the League one by one with every character getting fully fleshed out introductions to THEIR motivations as well. While some of the finer details do create inconsistencies in DCEU properties that succeeded the original “Justice League”, specifically in regards to some of the smaller details with the Atlanteans, it’s truly a pleasure to see Snyder be able to bring what he envisioned to fruition. Yeah, it’s still dark and brooding and lacks a lot of color plus there’s a gratuitous amount of slow motion but that’s what we should expect from Snyder by this point and it’s honestly not his most annoying film by any means.
Some might initially gawk at the four-hour run time, which is split into six parts plus an epilogue, but it feels surprisingly seamless. Few moments feel wasted and much of the fat that could be trimmed feels cosmetic at best, although a good half hour could have probably been shaved off without the slow motion alone. The four hours also didn’t bother me because it feels like you could split it down the middle at the two-hour mark and make two separate feature length films which was Snyder’s original intent after all. In the same vein that you could watch “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame” back-to-back to get a complete experience, this movie works the same way except it really is all one big experience packaged together. Not everything is great though as there are numerous visual flaws present. You can really see where added CGI was placed into the film, especially in the epilogue, and the computer imagery isn’t always as smooth or defined as it should be. While that might be a product of the limited ability of Snyder and his crew to polish the movie under COVID quarantine it’s still worth pointing out.
I also felt the film lacked a certain amount of depth in terms of theming, but there’s still a good amount of heart hidden under all those dark undertones. Several characters like the Flash and especially Cyborg get some much needed development that makes them bigger parts of the overall story. What this movie lacks in a central emotional theme it makes up for with characters that feel human and relatable as people who just happen to have special skills going through some pretty chaotic experiences. They’re being thrust into a pretty dark realty to save the world and discover who they are on a whim and thankfully, unlike the first version, it doesn’t feel like a rush to the finish line to get to the final battle. I will say though Batman, as good as Ben Affleck is as Bruce Wayne, is kind of lame and takes a major back seat to his actually super-powered teammates a lot of times. Even he gets his chances to shine though. Other than that I don’t really have a lot of negatives to point out here. Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s such an improvement over the original, but it’s not just that. This is also a HUGE step up from “Batman v. Superman” and is much more memorable than “Man of Steel” if I’m really being honest. Recency bias or not, it was a lot of fun to watch and felt like the epic that Snyder truly wanted to make. There’s a lot of passion and careful planning put into is and I think that warrants a lot of respect.
As a longtime fan of Marvel and someone who genuinely thought we didn’t deserve the Snyder Cut, I have to say I’m eating my words after watching this movie. The scale, the character development, the story structure, the visuals, the music…it all adds up to this awesome experience that we were promised but never got. I realized watching it that while I don’t think Warner Bros. deserved to release this movie after all the crap they put Snyder through, Zack Snyder deserved to have this movie after all the work he put into trying to create something he and DC fans could be proud of. Hell, I’d even say if Warner Bros. had released THIS version before Marvel got to their epic conclusion I think the impact of “Infinity War” and “Endgame” would have been a lot different. While I still prefer those movies and find them to be a superior overall experience, Snyder has given us a superhero epic that offers up something that truly makes it stand out from the crowd in its own special way. I’d go so far as to call this one of Snyder’s best films as well as one of the most enjoyable superhero movies I’ve ever seen, including Marvel. I thought it was engaging, riveting and represented the full potential the DCEU had that Warner Bros. just refused to embrace for some reason. It’s a must see in my eyes for that reason alone and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I’m genuinely glad we have “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” and I can’t wait to watch it all over again.