Despite all the controversy surrounding the project, Zack Snyder has finally achieved the unthinkable and finished his definitive take on Justice League following the monumental fan campaign, #releasethesnydercut. The third of his DC adaptations is an impressive four hour R-rated epic, costing a hefty $70 million to complete the visual effects, score, and editing, but can it finally right the wrongs of Joss Whedon’s 2017 outing?
Directed by Zack Snyder, the definitive director’s cut of Justice League centres on a troubled Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) following the sacrifice of Superman (Henry Cavill). Without Earth’s greatest defender, a newly-awakened ancient threat looms, forcing the billionaire vigilante to enlist a new team with the help of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). Together they form an alliance with Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) to protect the Earth from the assault of a powerful New God, Steppenwolf. The General plans to unite the artifacts and use their creative forces to bend Earth to his will – for Darkseid, the lord of Apokolips.
Initially planned as a trilogy, Snyder’s four-hour cut of Justice League is certainly an epic story on a grand scale, think the battle sequences of 300 crossed with the scope of Watchmen. The lengthy runtime allows Snyder to build a fantastic world with added context which raises the stakes. By interweaving the mythologies of Darkseid and his ambitions for Earth, along with the battle of the Old and New Gods reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, he gives the heroes much more weight in their efforts to unite.
One of my main criticisms of Joss Whedon’s Justice League (2017) is that it felt rushed in assembling the superhero team. Unlike the MCU, there weren’t numerous phases of films to properly set the groundwork, giving the sense that the union was unearned. However Snyder’s version results in a more cohesive and complete story, very much mirroring the ultimate edition of Batman V Superman, by restoring integral scenes.
Surprisingly, the film doesn’t feel overly long either; it’s well paced, packed with a balance of action and quieter, more poignant moments, as the characters are afforded more complete arcs. There’s also a lot more lore and characters from the comics included, particularly from pioneering creator Jack Kirby and his expansive Fourth World, which will certainly keep fans captivated. Pulling threads from the dense saga could potentially affect accessibility for the casual fan, but to Snyder’s credit, he invests a substantial amount of time and effort into plotting the backstory through effective flashbacks and exposition.
The cut also benefits from the inclusion of a lot more hope and optimism than the previous version, with the heroes working together with much more unity and purpose. Strong themes of family, along with an emphasis on the bond of parents and children, results in a surprisingly emotional narrative, with a fantastic mix of heart and humour. That’s not to say it was without flaws however. At times it was bloated and overly indulgent, with plenty of unnecessary slow-mo shots scored to odd musical choices, particularly when it comes to the introduction of Iris West (Kiersey Clemons). (Hot dog, anyone?)
One significant change from Whedon’s cut is the restoration of Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone/Cyborg as the true heart of the film, with his tragic but inspiring arc truly fleshed out by the fantastic Fisher. The struggle to come to terms with his new cybernetic body, accompanied with his strained relationship with his father, lends a real empathy and pathos to the character. His connection with the technology of the Mother Boxes, combined with the impressive power of The Flash utilising the speed force, cemented the two as far more integral to the plot. There’s also plenty more of Barry Allen’s sweet, nerdy moments too, along with a better exploration of his tragic backstory. Thankfully the creepy and inappropriate moment when he falls on Diana has been removed too.
Gadot’s Diana definitely felt more powerful and vengeful in this cut, namely as a result of an extended sequence at Themiscyra involving Steppenwolf. Cavill’s Superman is also given a much more significant and impactful rebirth, pulling key moments from previous instalments Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. If this is the fan favourite’s last hoorah in the cape, it’s certainly a much more fitting end, complete with the stunning black suit and significant power upgrade. The six share a significantly better chemistry from the get go too, with their unity feeling much more believable – this is the Justice League I know. There’s also much more weight given to the impressive supporting cast, including standouts Connie Nelson as Queen Hippolyta, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Jeremy Irons as Alfred.
Villain Steppenwolf certainly has more depth to his character, with Snyder dedicating time to explore his personality including his insecurities as he searches for redemption and acceptance from his master. Darkseid also looms large, rivalling the sheer bulk and imposing stature of Marvel’s Thanos, along with his lofty ambitions for Earth. The threat of their invasion feels much more imminent and oppressive than Whedon’s cut, resulting in much more weight to the impending doom.
As expected from a Snyder film, this is a highly stylised outing, complete with signature slow-mo montages and desaturated colour tones, but with the welcome addition of some variation in his usual choice of colour grading. The visual effects are particularly impressive in bringing both Steppenwolf and Darkseid to life, especially in the intricate detailing and purple hue of Steppenwolf’s armour. The action sequences are also impressively choreographed and well realised, particularly the extended ‘history lesson’ involving a grand battle uniting men, Atlanteans, Amazons and old gods against the incoming invasion of Darkseid and his expansive army. This thrilling sequence really is reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There’s also plenty of Easter Eggs for fans to enjoy, along with an expansive new score from Junkie XL, I’m just not so sure about Wonder Woman’s shrill new theme.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an ambitious and epic instalment full of heart and humanity which will undoubtedly become a sure fire hit with Snyder and comic fans. If this really is the last instalment from Snyder, then it’s an incredibly fitting last hoorah – but the teasing cliffhanger will definitely leave you wanting more. Will this become a crowd-pleaser for the everyday filmgoer though? Only time will tell.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will be available to rent on Sky Cinema and Now TV in the UK, and stream on HBO Max in the US from Thursday 18 March.