The film that had reached almost mythical levels and the fan campaign that willed it into existence finally came. Snyder fans as well as film buffs who wanted to see justice done to a director’s vision without studio interference or conflicting visions were very happy last March when the Snyder cut of Justice League finally premiered. How did it fare? Well, it’s difficult to say, as streaming platforms generally don’t release ratings information, but there was certainly a huge buzz on social media and fan sites that suggested a very positive response. Reviews everywhere were glowing, although how much of that was weighed against Joss Whedon’s 2017 theatrical version or against the film itself, who knows. Either way, the film was big news, with #restorethesnyderverse trending on Twitter long after.
What did I think of the film (which admittedly, I just saw, finally)? Although it wasn’t perfect, I actually liked it! Let’s take a look at some specifics.
As one might expect, it was great to see new footage of Henry Cavill as Superman. I’m sure that sentiment is almost universally held, and we’ll see if it ever leads to anything more (more on that in a future post). But any review about this movie really does have to start with that. Love or hate the DCEU, we got more live action Superman in this movie. No matter how you slice it, that alone made this movie worthwhile for me. Henry Cavill is a great Superman and deserves a lot more time in the role. Period.As far as the film itself, it really isn’t a stretch to say this was Zack Snyder’s best movie. Snyder has always been fascinated by stories of heroism and mythology, and was clearly building on those themes with Justice League. Similar to how Grant Morrison once described his approach to writing JLA, he saw the characters as the pantheon of Olympian gods and wrote them as such- Superman is Zeus, Wonder Woman is Hera, Batman is Hades and so on. Snyder ratchets that up by several notches, to the point where each of the characters is larger than life and quasi-worshipped in this world that they inhabit. Superman is seen in BvS as a savior to many around the world already. Wonder Woman is the embodiment of everything good, as can be seen in the look of the young girl’s eyes she saves in the museum. Aquaman is literally worshipped by the Nordic people he protects, complete with hymns of thanks when he leaves their presence. Darkseid is pretty clearly Satan, and is even depicted in ancient Amazonian art in a motif of Byzantine iconography. With a four hour run time and $70 million more to work with, the director leans into that and has a fun time realizing his vision.This film is also far more cohesive, perhaps unsurprisingly, than 2017’s Justice League. Although quite long and virtually the same plot as the theatrical release, the pace is consistent throughout and each storyline is given more breathing room.
In some cases, a LOT more breathing room.
Nevertheless, despite its epic length, it does flow far better than the Whedon/Snyder amalgamation. There is a beginning, a middle and an end, and a crescendo with a final fight that feels more earned and less of a deus ex machina. As much as I love Danny Elfman, his score for Joss Whedon’s footage felt shoehorned into Snyder’s world, as well. This is thematically far more consistent in every way, making for a more cohesive viewing experience. The character who benefits the most from this new cut is Cyborg, and it’s not even close. There is so much more backstory included about the character, and an actual arc throughout the film that makes it feel like the character grows during the story, no easy feat for a member of the supporting cast in the midst of a universal threat. All the footage from the original trailer which fans were wondering about is included. In this new cut, one can see where plans or a Cyborg solo film came from, which previously felt almost impossible to do. Steppenwolf is the other character who benefits from an arc of his own and more screen time. Whereas before he seemed like a generic monster villain of the week, he is now given his own story about winning redemption in the eyes of Darkseid, his master, who he wants to please more than anything. Generic monster-y baddies never really bother me, since I’m mainly watching the film to see the heroes, and as long as they’re provided a credible threat to punch, I’m happy. Still, Steppenwolf’s plot adds another layer and more depth to the film. Finally, perhaps my favorite addition to the film is the nightmare world which Batman sees, harkening back to BvS, and this time complete with extensive Joker cameo. I would even go as far as saying that this cut of Justice League redeems the character’s inclusion in Suicide Squad as well, which was a more than pleasant surprise. This whole scene just plays beautifully to Snyder’s strength, not just because his strength is clearly visuals, but because in all his DCEU offerings, panels often look like they are extracted directly from graphic novels. If there is to be any restoration of the Snyderverse, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this world, even if Superman has become evil (more on that later). I haven’t even touched on the better visuals, streamlining of other arcs, the cool cameos and awesome Middle Earth sequences, but let’s just say that this film is clearly a lot stronger than the 2017 version of Justice League, and I say that as someone who didn’t mind Whedon’s cut as much as others.
Is this movie stronger? Yes. Is it a perfect film? Hardly.Although there is a lot to enjoy about Snyder’s DCEU, like its predecessors, this film has a lot of flaws as well. There are some basic plot holes- AGAIN- that come and go without any explanation. Although improved, Superman’s revival still makes little sense and is quite a stretch. The motherboxes seem to function as required for the plot, and not really much else. There are other little things as well, like how do Wonder Woman’s bracelets work? Things like this have basically become par for the course with Snyder’s films, as they are found in the previous two as well, so I didn’t really expect too much of a difference here. Zack Snyder clearly places a premium on visuals. The plot in his movies is secondary. Like previous Snyder works, his heroes also have moments where they do not act like heroes. In the Whedon version, Wonder Woman saves a class of children visiting a museum from terrorists by disarming them. In Snyder’s cut, she annihilates them- in front of the children- and the story resumes with a cute speech by her to a little girl, as if nothing happened. Is she a warrior? Yes. Does she take life? Yes, she has, but heroes must be measured about how and when they do so, otherwise they are simply something other than a hero. Finally, Superman. I loved seeing Henry Cavill in the role again, and hope we see a lot more of him in the future. Even so, despite his reappearance and sudden respect he has from the entire world, which seemingly hated him just yesterday, he still doesn’t act very Superman-ish when he does return. It seems as if he had far less dialogue than the 2017 cut, and what scenes he does have, he’s almost never smiling. One would think there would be a little more emotion out of him when he does reacquaint himself with his mother and Lois. Instead, he is stone faced pretty much all the way through, perhaps as a foreshadowing to his eventual “turn to the dark side.” Either way, it left me wanting more.The voices of Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner urging him on when he does return were a nice touch, but here again it seems like we are “skipping ahead” in the character’s transition. We go from Kevin Costner telling Clark to keep his powers a secret at all costs in Man of Steel, even to the point of dying, to now encouraging him to protect others. I fully understand that Snyder had intended to make Kal-El’s hero’s journey come full circle eventually, but even in Snyder’s Justice League, it felt like we were jumping to the finished product, in some ways. As weird as this is to say, Superman may have been the one part of Joss Whedon’s League that I preferred over this cut. It’s pretty obvious that someone made a conscious decision to change Superman to a brighter character when Snyder originally left the project, and although it didn’t fit the world Snyder had crafted, I actually kind of enjoyed it. Whether it was Whedon choosing it or the studio’s choice, I don’t know, but it was most welcome after two movies of miserable Superman.Oh, and Ezra Miller is still in this movie. That doesn’t help.
It’s hard for me to give this movie a grade, since it is a strong film with a clear vision. Like everybody else, I just don’t think it’s necessarily the best comic book or even Superman film, which is the lens through which I view it, mainly. Overall, if you enjoy Zack Snyder movies and the DCEU, you will very likely enjoy this. If not, there’s probably not a whole lot in this movie that would make you change your mind on where they were headed. All in all, an enjoyable experience, and great for Snyder, for whom I am genuinely happy. As a franchise, and as an artistic direction for the DC universe’s characters on the big screen, I’m still mixed.