‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ Better Late Than Never – Review
“They said the Age of Heroes would never come again.”
Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead, and the world has lost its beacon of hope and potentially much more as an ancient evil has been awakened. To honour the vow he made at Superman’s funeral and ensure that Superman’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain, Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman (Ben Affleck) sets out on a mission to bring a team together unlike any other to stop a danger that’s unlike anything they’ve ever faced. Acknowledging that he spent much of his time dividing himself from Superman, Batman looks to unite the Justice League to correct his mistake.
With the help of Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the duo enlists Barry Allen a.k.a. Flash (Ezra Miller)–who is too eager to join the team–and the more reluctant pair of Victor Stone a.k.a. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) into the League. The five must learn about each other’s personalities, strengths and weaknesses, to form a cohesive unit that faces off against the evil that is Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), who is not only a member of Darkseid’s (voiced by Ray Porter) family but a member of his Elite. With the fate of the world on their shoulders, DC’s finest must band together. But are they enough?
By now, you likely know at least some of the tale behind what happened both on and off-set as it pertains to the theatrical rendition of 2017’s Justice League and the fan-led campaign to bring Snyder’s original vision to life. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is something that many wrote off as fiction or said would never see the light of day. Sure it was more myth than reality at some point, however, thanks to HBO Max, it is now a film that will be seen around the world by eager fans, comic book movie aficionados and likely even some of those who thought the film would never be seen at all–I mean, there will likely be a few “hate watchers” in there too as we know how that goes (-insert eye roll here-).
It is clear that in Zack Snyder’s Justice League the audience will get a new experience. As I watched the 4-hour film I found myself both aggravated and annoyed that this was not the film that was released theatrically. Not only would this have been preferred by fans, but I also think it is something that would have been less maligned by critics. Ultimately, what this version proves is that a cohesive narrative with integral story beats and character development was cut or reshot to make a film that was entirely removed from what was intended. Those choices were reflected in the film that was released theatrically and was rightfully panned and disliked by critics and fans. Whether one likes this version or not it won’t be determined by the hack job audiences watched, but the merit of Snyder’s intended vision.
From the moment the film begins, it is clear that it is something much more cohesive with a specific plan of attack for all of the heroes in the film. The character development and growth throughout was cut from the theatrical version, but thankfully audiences will be able to see it here. We get to see more of the backstories that make our heroes who they are and the mythology that surrounds them (we get another great history lesson-type scene that viewers will love). The amount of dialogue between the characters that was axed and/or changed was staggering to see, and here they served to uplift the film. In this movie, we don’t just see the pleasantries and awkward moments between them, but we get to see them begin to know one another in a way that was missing from the theatrical cut. Snyder’s vision was very character-driven and dives into the differences that could serve to divide the team and taps into the likenesses and shared struggles that unite them instead.
Each character has their moment(s) to shine but the one constant scene-stealer is Fisher as Cyborg. After all that he has personally gone through it was amazing to finally see Fisher play this character as it was intended. His portrayal of Cyborg is one of the best performances that I’ve seen in a comic book film, bar none. He wholly inhabits Victor Stone with all of his being included in scenes regarding his relationship with his parents (played by Karen Bryson and Joe Morton). Tapping into a gamut of emotions including sadness, anger, hopelessness and hopefulness (among many others), Fisher nails his performance scene after scene. It was no exaggeration when Fisher’s Cyborg was described as “the heart of the film.” It is a performance that I believe Fisher and his fans can (and will) be proud of and revel in (rightly so). It is so easy to watch his scenes over and over, and continually be pulled in by his portrayal.
The film has a lot of smaller themes and character-driven moments that were also missing from the theatrical cut that added another layer of emotion to the story. For example, the theme of motherhood is seen throughout Snyder’s other DC films (Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice). It is present here, albeit not as much as Snyder’s previous films. Bryson as Dr. Elinore Stone, Diane Lane as Martha Kent and Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta are part of some of the film’s most emotional scenes where these actresses were in their acting bags. I would have liked to have seen more of these brilliant women, but alas, I am content with what we got (even if it was short-lived). Continuing to speak about wonderful women, there is a lot more Amazon and Diana Prince content for the Wonder Woman stans (like myself). We see them in all their glorious warrior ways and we see them in their sadness at the loss of their fellow Amazons after Steppenwolf’s attack on Themyscira. The scenes with the Amazons provide much more context than they did previously, which adds more clarity to the story as a whole.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is bold and epic in its grandeur, especially the third act where we have the heroes fighting alongside one another in a team-up fashioned to look like it was pulled directly from the pages of a comic book, but where it got me were in its intimate and emotional beats. There is no shortage of feeling throughout and both the score (courtesy of Junkie XL) and soundtrack are a big part of that. We get new instrumentals for our characters and songs to associate them with which only serve to add to the mythos attached to each of them.
Although a lot has been resurrected to bring back the original vision, a lot of which are good, the film is not without some inconsistencies or things that some might deem to be “flaws”. Personally, I didn’t mind the 4-hour runtime, however, I am sure it will be a source of contention for many, so it would be remiss not to mention it. Do I believe that maybe some things could have been cut further? Perhaps. But that being said, all of the scenes that remain in the film serve a purpose and don’t ever feel like filler. In fact, the runtime allowed for more dialogue to be shared between the heroes, something that was extremely lacking in the theatrical cut.
Another thing to note would be the continuity within the larger DCEU, particularly as it pertains to the Atlanteans. This is mostly based on some of the stylistic choices we see here versus what we saw in the Aquaman film. As we saw in Patty Jenkins’ take on Wonder Woman, and what we should expect in Andy Muschietti’s The Flash, other creatives will take these characters on different paths that will either coincide with Snyder’s vision or effectively retcon some choices. However, as it seems to be the case (for now), Snyder’s take will exist in its own bubble, and in it, there is its own set of rules. Regardless, the film remains very enjoyable and entertaining, but those who found faults with Snyder’s other DC films (Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman) are likely to find problems. However, just as cinema is subjective, folks can determine on their own whether these are things that they can overcome, or perhaps they don’t find them to be issues at all.
I went into watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League truly unsure of what to expect and did my best to curb any assumptions, preconceived notions, or enthusiasm about what may or may not transpire on-screen upon watching. Having said that, I am happy to report that the intended vision is miles better than what audiences were subjected to back in 2017 and it was great to see a fully-realized trilogy (MoS, BvS and now ZSJL) from Snyder that kept the tone of his vision and the world-building surrounding it. Kudos to Snyder and his team for pulling off something that was indeed epic in scale and mythos, which showcases the characters, heroes and villains alike, in all of their complexities in the way Snyder wanted them to be seen.
Full of heart and better late than never, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the film audiences deserved to see in theatres almost four long years ago.