[WARNING: Review contains minor spoilers]
If you’ve been on the internet in any way shape or form over the last few years, you’ll have seen at least some reference to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, a global internet movement demanding that Warner Bros. release Zac Snyder’s original cut of DC’s Justice League, their polarizing 2017 super hero epic.
Snyder’s daughter tragically committed suicide during the filming of the original movie, with the director stepping down and relinquishing creative control to the Warner Bros studio execs, and Joss Whedon being brought to direct a slew of hurried reshoots and brutal cuts. The result was a fairly unsatisfying movie for all concerned, but with the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement continuing to gain momentum, it was announced in early 2020 that the full original version would be finally released on HBO Max. Not only that, but over $70 million would be spent on filming new material in October 2020, as well as completing the visual effects and soundtrack.
Which brings us to the long-awaited release, and begs the question… was it all worth it?
Well, for me, the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Love him or hate him (indeed, there seems to be little in the way of middle ground), I’m genuinely happy that Snyder is able to finally share his original vision with his fans. And, while the online movement has frequently become aggressively toxic, piling onto anyone who dared to question Snyder’s abilities and mass spamming unrelated Warner Bros projects, this was still something I was personally looking forward to see.
Right from the get-go, the one thing that really shines through is Snyder’s clear enthusiasm for the project, and while fans can (and indeed do) squabble about his creative choices for some of DC’s most iconic heroes, there’s no denying that he came into this project with a hugely ambitious cinematic epic in mind. To that end, this four-hour marathon is split into no less than seven (count ‘em) chapters, each with their own subtitle, which perhaps feels a little unnecessary given its release as a single film rather than a series, but still serves as a cute nod to the comicbook source material, if nothing else.
Another thing this movie definitely has working for it is its broadly uniform tone, something which was sorely lacking from the original version. Unfortunately (depending on your outlook), that tone is almost relentlessly serious with the exception of Ezra Miller’s Flash, an approach which certainly has its pros and cons. On the one hand, it’s always nice to watch a comic book movie that doesn’t seem to be wilfully poking fun at itself (a disappointing trait which plagues a good percentage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe), but on the other, a little levity is always a good thing, particularly with such a hefty runtime.
On the visual side of things, this film looks the absolute business, as you might expect. Yes, it’s a little washed-out and murky at times, with a massive overreliance on slow-mo, but there’s no escaping Snyder’s flair for eye-popping cinematography, and that really manifests itself here during some truly memorable set-pieces. Honestly, there are some genuinely spectacular moments along the way – the expanded flashback to Darkseid’s first attempt to take over the Earth, for instance – which showcase Snyder at his absolute best, bringing a real sense of comic book dynamism to the action scenes.
One of the most interesting aspects of the new version for me was the promise of an increased role for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, who really shone in his limited role in the original version. Thankfully, Snyder more than delivers on these promises, giving a far broader and fleshed-out character arc for Victor Stone, packed with powerful character beats and plenty of meaningful dialogue. This should certainly be seen as some small form of validation for Fisher, whose criticism of Joss Whedon’s abusive, unprofessional behaviour on the JL set has been well documented.
Bruce Wayne is still perhaps a little too goofy and wide-eyed for my tastes (although definitely a lot less goofy than in Whedon’s hands), and feels a bit like Affleck playing Affleck at times rather than the Batman we all know and love. Jason Momoa is perhaps the most under-utilised of the League, which, given his sterling performance in the solo Aquaman movie, feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, and Gal Gadot continues to absolutely shine as Wonder Woman, regardless of what kind of material she’s given.
In terms of the villains, Snyder’s attempts to make Steppenwolf more of a rounded, three-dimensional character with some genuine internal conflict is certainly a welcome change, even if his outlandish original design isn’t (seriously, who thought that was a good idea?), and DeSaad’s increased involvement is a welcome addition, even if the trio’s master/servant/mouthpiece dynamic is almost identical to Thanos/Loki/The Other in the original Avengers movie.
Speaking of Darkseid, his increased involvement as an antagonist is certainly interesting, although again, not without its flaws. Introducing your multi-movie ‘big bad’ by having him getting his ass kicked in a few minutes by the “Golden Age of Heroes” is an interesting choice, and doesn’t exactly inspire much of a sense of impending threat for a foe who was so easily dispatched. Granted, that changes over the course of the run time as his real power and influence is unveiled, but it’s certainly an inauspicious start for such a bona fide bad-ass of a character.
Also on the negative side, some of the musical choices are more than little questionable, with several moments along the way where we seemingly depart from the main narrative to dip into short, slow-motion music videos (Lois in Metropolis, Aquaman entering the sea, the first meeting between Barry and Iris in all its slow-motion hot dog glory, etc.) before hopping back into the story. That said, those familiar with Snyder’s style should probably have been expecting this by now, and the overall effect isn’t too jarring. Oh, and Wonder Woman’s juiced-up theme is fantastic.
Thankfully, things remedy themselves fairly spectacularly in the second half, overcoming these relatively minor flaws as Superman is brought violently back into the land of the living and the League is finally united for the climactic showdown against Steppenwolf. Some tighter editing and a souped-up score makes this feel far more dramatic than the (admittedly already quite dramatic) version from the original movie, and the added wrinkle at the fight’s conclusion with Barry pushes things to a whole new level and ensures that The Flash is seen as a heck of a lot more than a mere comic foil moving forwards.
Oh, and the expanded epilogue throws up some exciting new ideas and teases for a sequel that now may or may not ever become a reality, even if a lot of it seems to be thrown in for little reason other than blatant internet fan service.
Undoubtedly better than the original, but still flawed in its own way, Zack Snyder’s Justice League will perhaps be more interesting to some for its cultural significance than its actual cinematic merit. Don’t get me wrong, this is still an enjoyable four hours packed with fantastic cinematography, moments of great heroism and an almost dizzyingly ambitious scope, but it does feel like about an hour or so could have been pruned to make it flow better as an actual movie, as opposed an emphatic middle finger to the Warner Bros executives who savagely chopped up Snyder’s original cut. Either way, and taking all the positives and negatives into account, this is still well worth a look for die-hard Snyderfans and curious onlookers alike.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is streaming in the UK right now on NOW TV.