Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Review): Vindication of a Fanbase

Hello Interwebs! Well here we are. After 4 years of aggressive fan campaigns and controversies, the fabled “Snyder Cut” of 2017’s Justice League movie is upon us. Many said this film would never see the light of day; many are now eating their words. Snyder got to make his film. And for better or worse (but better by a landslide) this is 100% his movie.

For any film fans living under a rock, here’s a quick breakdown of the story behind this film: in 2017 Warner Bros released a Justice League movie which credited Zack Snyder as the sole director. Problems began before the film was even released, however, when Snyder stepped away from the production due to a family tragedy. WB hired Joss Whedon to finish the film. But Whedon re-shot/ retooled massive chunks of the story (and also chopped out half the plot). The movie which was released still had Snyder’s name on it but barely represented his work or vision for the project.

Snyder’s fanbase mobilized with a retaliatory campaign dubbed “#releasethesnydercut” which sought to restore Snyder’s original vision for the film. Miraculously, WB agreed to give Snyder a 70 million dollar budget to finish the movie as he saw fit (Snyder reportedly abstained from taking a paycheck in the interest of putting the money to better use). And that final product was released on HBO Max yesterday!

NOTE: Please forgive my comparisons of this movie (henceforth abbreviated to “ZSJL”) to the original 2017 version… I’m judging the film on its own merits but also can’t help noting the myriad of differences.

Snyder pointing out the approximate height of expectations people developed for this film

I wanna’ get my most negative thoughts out of the way before sharing what I liked. So let’s just rip off the bandage now: ZSJL left me slightly disappointed. I think this is due to a combination of 3 factors: 1) I built up the idea of it in my head too high over all these years, 2) I got pulled away from my viewing multiple times during key moments, 3) Enough footage remained from the theatrical cut that I didn’t get the entirely “new” experience I was looking for.

NOTE: As to that last point: the moments that were kept in from the theatrical version are all the best ones, but they were still the parts I enjoyed the least on this particular viewing (because I was more excited for fresh footage).

That 4 hour run-time is gonna be the hardest sell for typical film-watchers. I wish I could say it’s all worthwhile content but the film could have easily been half an hour shorter. And it probably would have been too, without all the slow-mo. But that’s a Snyder staple, so I should have seen that coming… Snyder clearly didn’t care to leave anything on the cutting room floor this time around. I guess he figured “It’s nearly 4 hours long anyway, and it’s a miracle this movie is even coming out, so who cares?” Don’t feel obligated to sit through the whole thing in one sitting though. ZSJL is handily divided into 7 chapters which you can use to pace your viewing.

Out of those 7 parts, my least favourites were easily the first and final. The first half hour in particular dragged by and left me unsure about the rest of the movie. There were too many grandiose landscape shots and drawn out scenes which left me somewhat bored. Thankfully, I was hooked from Part 2 onward. As to the last “Part”: Snyder exclusively uses it to tease new movies which may or may not ever get made. So that sucks (even though it was awesome for the fanboy in me).

Beautiful yet dour

I also took issue with the colour-grading. ZSJL would have been better served with different colour choices for both narrative reasons and audience engagement with the material. I know the dark palette is another Snyder trademark, but this particular film would have benefited from a lighter scheme. The plot is all about hope and teamwork, yet comes off dreary like Snyder’s other DC movies because of its visuals. It’s hard to FEEL the hopeful vibes Snyder clearly wants us to when the world of the movie appears so devoid of them (which is partially the point, but still). I’m not asking for over-saturation like the theatrical version: just a tad more colour.

A lot of people feel like the DCEU rushed its set-up in the beginning (2013-2016) to compete with the MCU. And it definitely did. ZSJL likely would have benefited from some pre-existing backstory on these characters (see– solo movies). This would have cut down the run-time considerably, I’m sure. There’d certainly have been a lot less to set up. But, also, I don’t think that line of reasoning really matters– at least not as much as some people would have you believe. DC is not Marvel. Why can’t they be allowed to build worlds differently?

There’s TONNES of epic lore-building to be found in ZSJL

Let’s face it: before the MCU, nobody knew who most of those characters were (except the X-Men, Spiderman, and the Fantastic 4). DC, on the other hand, has graced us with decades of adaptations and public exposure. Many film-goers have at least a passing knowledge of the Justice League already (especially Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, with Flash and Aquaman to a lesser degree). That’s not an excuse for any poor quality in DC’s films, but it is worth keeping in mind when considering why WB approached this universe the way they did.

​And I truly don’t think ZSJL is worse off simply because half the characters are introduced for the first time. Comparing to Marvel once again, we met all the Guardians of the Galaxy in one movie. Nobody ever complained that each of them needed a separate origin story. It’s the same thing here. Judge the film on its own merits, not what it “should” have done.

And how are those merits? I felt they were decent! Let’s assume we had absolutely no idea who these people were: I think the film explained the new characters really well. We got Barry (Flash) Allen and Arthur (Aquaman) Curry’s backstories within a couple scenes. They had clear motivations, power-sets, and “ordinary worlds” before they stepped into the larger story. And, of the new players, Cyborg is this movie’s MVP. The whole movie serves as his origin story, and he is the character who features the largest on-screen character developments. The only characters who weren’t too well explained were Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. But, if you’ve kept up with DC movies at all (or even DC as a larger brand at any point in your life) you already know everything about them.

The original 2017 cut royally messed up these three…

Branching off that last point, you’ll enjoy this story a lot more if you’ve seen Man of Steel and Batman v SupermanDawn of Justice. ZSJL is a great sequel to BvS (the Ultimate Cut of course, cause we don’t talk about the theatrical version…) and an even greater threequel to Man of Steel! This is really the third installment in a trilogy about Superman’s impact on the world– first how he saved it, then how he protected it, and finally how he inspired it to be better. ZSJL is easily the best part of the trilogy too!

I loved the overall story. Essentially, it’s about about a group of people from damaged or estranged families– powerful and competent but not in the habit of teamwork– finding and embracing a new family of like-minded people. This grouping of “super friends” allows these individuals to heal from personal traumas and emotional obstacles so that they might become an even more positive force in the world as a team. I found the message both organic in context and inspiring as a viewer.

I’m happy to report that every single character in ZSJL gets a chance to shine! Cyborg and Flash in particular get way better material to work with than the original cut. Aquaman’s story was also improved by a wide margin. And certain (spoiler-filled) character moments were so well handled that they even made me emotional. Batman and Wonder Woman probably changed the least from the theatrical version, but even they were better handled. WW actually had some agency in the plot, and Batman felt in-character (no dumb, off-brand one-liners). Steppenwolf also feels far more dangerous and gains some dimensions in character this time around. Is he Thanos-level good? No. Not even close. But he has more motivation than most comic-book movie villains.

NOTE: I thought it was interesting that Steppenwolf never seemed to kill anybody who wasn’t in his way. He wasn’t senselessly violent.

Try not to hurt yourself with that armor

Some other quick notes on character: almost everyone in this film had a solid arc and a good reason to be there; the character relationships and dynamics were well realized (and left me wanting to see more); and there were great set-ups for future spin-off movies: particularly Cyborg, Flash, and Aquaman (the last of which already came out).

Switching gears now… Junkie XL’s score was a massive standout to me– and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t usually notice scores. I thought he made fantastic use the character’s themes in particular. The music lent moments a strong emotional weight and made the movie feel epic. But one of the songs in particular (the sad-sounding-motif one which first shows up early in the movie) was WAY overused for my taste.

Zack Snyder has an unrivaled flair for iconography. From the way his heroes move, to their poses when simply standing, Snyder makes super-beings feel as awesome as they ought to be. Any still shot from the movie probably looks like it came straight out of a comic book. I particularly love the way Batman’s cape moves when he jumps. The 4:3 aspect ratio, while a strange choice, also serves to make the world and characters feel larger than life. Say what you will about Snyder’s DC universe, but I think he makes the best-looking superhero movies of all time.

Seems small to note, but ZSJL made me feel good while watching. It may be Snyder’s most emotionally satisfying film to date! It’s certainly his most overtly hopeful. These Justice League characters have inspired me since I was a little kid, and this film helps reminds me why I love superhero movies in the first place: they’re the ultimate power fantasy, but they’re also charming moral lessons on using great power responsibly (to paraphrase Uncle Ben). The characters are human and flawed, but they dedicate their lives to helping people. They’re an ideal which I hope to emulate in my own Earthly way. And Snyder captures the essence of heroism with this film like nobody else. I feel like there’s more scenes of the Justice League saving ordinary people than there’s been in any superhero movie for years.

The MCU has worked hard to ground their characters in a version of our reality, which has worked them wonders, but there’s something to be said for DC’s fantastical approach to the genre. Everything in the DC universe feels heightened and–dare I say– more super. That’s not to say DC is necessarily the best superhero brand, but their strongest characters are far more powerful than Marvel, so most of their stories tend to feel bigger and more surreal in scope.

The Justice League are comprised of mythic legends who metaphorically represent humanity’s greatest ideals (while also existing as characters) whereas The Avengers are characters first and foremost who happen to have great power (and occasionally represent something). I’ve personally always preferred DC’s brand of heroism (long before the MCU and DCEU were even a thing). I find the allegorical nature of their hero’s stories more uplifting than Marvel’s (ultimately) and their world more unique. But, for some reason, DC movies tend towards overt self-seriousness to their own detriment. I digress. The breakdown of differences between Marvel and DC is an article for another time… But suffice it to say: the genre requires multiple types of stories or else it will stagnate. I’d never want to live in a world where we had ONLY Marvel or DC. It’d be far more boring. 

I think your mileage on this movie may vary depending on your film-watching background, so I’m going to cheat and give ZSJL two scores:

If you’re a DC/ general superhero film fan Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a Must see!
If you’re a more casual film-watcher who just wants to see something decent, ZSJL is still Worth a watch.

What’s your favourite superhero film? Who’s the best superhero in movies? Please share your thoughts in the comments. If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

REVIEW METRIC: Don’t bother; If you’re bored; Worth a watch; Pretty darn good; Must see; Watch it A.S.A.P.

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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