Against all odds, this week is finally bringing Zack Snyder’s vision for Justice League to the masses. Wouldn’t you know, it’s actually pretty awesome.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the legendary “Snyder Cut”. For one thing, I wasn’t exactly his biggest supporter, even though I’ve been a fan of Snyder’s films for a long time . As we started to see more of the film coming together and got a more candid look at the behind-the-scenes shenanigans surrounding it, I felt the hype enter.
I enjoyed Man of Steel a lot , and had issues with Batman vs. Superman (although the Director’s Cut on that one REALLY goes a long way), but overall I found it to be was decent. Overall, the character approaches in these movies aren’t the “final” versions, and I’m not convinced they were ever meant to be. As such, if you watch the movies as more of “Esleworld Stories,” I think that makes them a lot more enjoyable.
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Written By: Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller
Release Date: March 18 via HBO Max
The Justice League that started in 2017 was… .something. I think there was some fun there (mostly related to the thrill of seeing all these characters together), but there’s no denying that it’s unpolished nature. Between the below average VFX work and the very obvious differences between the original footage and the newly shot stuff, it left a lot to be desired.
I won’t repeat the ups and downs of the foundations of the DC Cinematic Universe, but I think it’s important to know where I’m from in terms of Zack Snyder’s Justice League . Basically I had hoped it would be good, but kept my expectations to a reasonable level. Fortunately, the film is much better than I could have imagined. While far from perfect, it’s an awe-inspiring epic that left me wanting more.
A step beyond
I won’t delve too much into the story aspect of the film. For the most part, Zack Snyder’s basic Justice League story is essentially the same as we saw in 2017. Batman / Bruce Wayne, feeling the guilt of his clash with Superman and knowing a greater threat is coming, works with Diana Prince to assemble a team of other metahumans. Steppenwolf, a disciple of Darkseid, came to Earth in search of the Three Mother Boxes that would convert the planet into a wasteland, ideal for Darkseid to take control.
It doesn’t take long for them to realize that they are still outmatched and need Earth’s greatest protector, Superman, to return. It all culminates in an epic battle and race to stop Mother Boxes from destroying the planet.
Same basic idea, right? Well, other than the similar plot beats, there’s really no point in comparing the two Justice League movies together. The execution, pace, score, and characterizations are so different that you really feel like you’re watching a new movie. As such, there’s no point in trying to stack them, there’s really no comparison.
Hell, the team isn’t even fully together (or even THINKS of Superman) by the time we hit the full length of the first movie! While this might make the first two hours feel like a slow one, I think they are some of my favorite moments in the movie. Namely because it gives all these heroes room to shine and feel like real characters.
Heroes to encourage
Even in the first 20 minutes or so, I found myself caring more about the story / characters than the entirety of the previous movie. The elongated rhythm gives way to certain character moments that allow them to be more understandable and more engaging overall. In the opening, this is particularly valid for the despicable Steppenwolf.
While he’s been redesigned (frankly, he still looks like a cartoon character), his new look isn’t what makes him better this time around. Instead, you get a much better idea of his power, threat, and motivations, which made him infinitely more badass. I felt like he was a threat this time around, beyond being tall and monstrous, and that first characterization added a palpable level of tension to every encounter.
Likewise, you get a better impression for each of the heroes. Between Barry Allen’s goofy / naive approach to heroism, to Aquaman’s brooding antihero feel, each of them feels more distinctly fleshed out and interesting. Wonder Woman, who previously enjoyed a solo movie, is still extremely sympathetic. She was one of my favorite parts the first time around, and her dynamic between new members of the Justice League is the lifeblood of the whole group.
For those who didn’t care about Batman in the previous movie (s), I was surprised how much I loved him in the movie. Having learned from his mistakes while fighting Superman, this Batman is much more like the hero we know and love. He’s still dark and brooding, but there’s more optimism this time around, and a genuine feeling that he WANTS to be better. It’s much easier to understand and helps bring a level of grounding and gravity to many of the movie’s great moments.
There’s been a lot of talk about Ray Fisher’s Cyborg character, how Whedon treated him (both on-screen and off-screen), and I have to say he’s definitely been robbed. His role in this film is meaningful and serves as an emotional anchor for all of the great action. He’s new to his powers, and superheroes in general, so we can see him growing up in his role on the team while still being framed by these growing pains.
This effort to lay the groundwork for the characters helps set the stage for the story in a way that completely changes it. Rather than being / feeling like a Saturday morning cartoon, it feels more like a radical epic. Due to the stronger connection with the characters, I was much more invested in the action at hand.
Say whatever you want about Snyder’s storytelling (I’ve said the same thing a few times I’m sure), but there’s no denying that he does some pretty, lovely action sequences. In Justice League, he’s in great shape, bringing his normal stylistic flairs with a sense of “oomph” that was sorely lacking before.
There are a handful of big sets to admire (the revamped flashback of the first encounter with Darkseid is amazing and I need an entire movie dedicated), but even the smallest encounters feel heavier to me. It’s those moments when you get a feel for their individual skills and the real threat Steppenwolf brings to the table.
He’s also the most badass Superman has ever been on screen. He is not the hero uncertain of his Man of Steel powers , nor the conflicting hero of BvS. He’s a Superman confident in his abilities and his place in the world he loves.
What does not work
Snyder’s Justice League isn’t a perfect movie. It’s really fun, don’t get me wrong, but there are still a few minor issues to discuss.
It’s a long time – While I enjoyed the extra exposure from the start, you certainly feel every moment of the film’s four hours of shooting. There are a number of scenes, especially in the third act, that could have been completely thrown out and added little to the story.
Although I hate to say it, cool as it is, the entirely new footage that was filmed specifically for this release felt completely redundant to me. If anything, it seems to set the stage for a sequel, which seems even less likely to happen. I think the story could have been tighter at three o’clock. Even so, I can’t say I’ve ever been bored during my watch.
A certain scene with Lois – I won’t go into too much detail (I want to avoid spoilers for new stuff) but there’s a scene with Lois and Martha that’s just… well, that’s weird. It does create a strong emotional connection between the two, but there’s a certain reveal that completely calls the whole scene into question. It doesn’t make sense and it feels like it diminished a great moment between these two characters.
Some of the Curses – Everyone knows I’m pretty fond of the word “damn”. I never object to it and yes it does show up in the R-rated Justice League. That said, there are a few times when using it just felt… out of place. Most of the time, the curse that occurred (there isn’t a glut of it) penetrated the dialogue / natural scene well, but there were a couple of them that got me out of the moment; thrown in there just to be “pissed off.” Fuck is a good word with many uses and I hate to see it wasted.
VFX – Overall, the visual effects work by leaps and bounds better than the previous movie, but there are still plenty of times the VFX feels sketchy. As I mentioned, Steppenwolf still feels like a cartoon character with his redesign (although Darkseid is REALLY awesome).
There are a few moments, especially noticeable during the Themiscyra attack, where the backgrounds and live actors just don’t blend together well. It’s very obvious as you watch them interact on a stage with digitally added backgrounds.
More than planned
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is in a strange place. It kicks off with a number of expectations and detractors from fans, both made up of people who have already made up their minds on the film. That said, it looks like it defies expectations on both sides. It’s not a perfect ‘game-changer’ masterpiece, but it’s also nowhere near the disaster some feared / expected.
It’s a very, very good DC movie. It’s not perfect, but justifies the direction this universe was heading. As DC digs deeper into their multi-verse (allowing for multiple “canon” takes on these characters), this Justice League movie feels like it will fit in nicely. Hell, there are even a few hookups that you can see paying off in Aquaman (which he hadn’t hooked up to before) and The Flash .
I’m not sure there will be a sequel to this movie. I’m not even sure that’s possible at this point (just getting this group together for a full movie seems like a stretch). What I do know is that I’m suddenly anxious to see what happens next and the fallout for the threads of the story he leaves hanging. It’s not a place I expected but I’m so glad to walk out of this movie wanting more.