“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021)
Running time: 242 minutes
Written by Chris Terrio
Directed by Zack Snyder
Featuring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Willem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen and J. K. Simmons
Barry Allen: “This guy’s probably fought hundreds of thousands of other super beings on the other planets he’s destroyed, right? And we have to assume he’s won.”
Bruce Wayne: “I don’t care how many demons he’s fought in how many hells. He’s never fought us. Not us united.”
Released this week on HBO Max (NEON in New Zealand) is the recut, reimagined and retold movie that was originally released as “Justice League” (2017) four years ago and now with fan support, a new streaming service and a major injection of talent and money comes what is titled as “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021) a movie that not only adds over two hours to the original but broadens the plot, changes the narrative while actually imbuing it with some real emotion that I was not expecting to enjoy as much as I did. There is no way to offer a review that takes into account all that happens without it turning into a self serving essay as well as offering far too many spoilers to keep any audience happy. In saying that I am going to address this new movie without referring (much) to Joss Whedon’s effort which I absolutely unabashedly hated, it was a letdown on all levels, in terms of plot, narrative, filmmaking and what it did with some of the most loved characters not only in the DCEU but also all of comics. I don’t want this to be a dumping ground on the former version of this movie but I really want to celebrate what Snyder has accomplished with little physical reshoots as well as little support from some areas of the industry, the entertainment industry that is.
Before I begin to address the movie itself as a work there are some aspects that need to be addressed, they are firstly the running time which is huge by anyone’s standards setting it up as some kind of event movie, it now runs at four hours and two minutes which on surface may seem like a head scratcher, will this be a bloated mess that is mired in its own importance, will its narrative feel stretched just to prove some weird point about a story that was set up a few years before? Well I can assure you that this is a movie that is made for streaming, it has six distinct parts that are titled which means you can pause at those points and come back, although in my opinion you will not want to as this movie feels like a much shorter movie by half. From the opening I was hooked, it grabbed and did not let go even with the elongated epilogue which for me is the weakest part of the entire thing but is not enough of a weakness to not give this effort nothing but the highest marks. Also gone is Joss Whedon’s name as director (obviously) and co-writer, but what does that mean especially with all the controversy that has plagued him recently. I will say this in passing that there are some very off moments of humour in the original mostly involving Wonder Woman coupled with the needless butt shots of her my regard for Whedon has diminished to the point that I would avoid all of his work. Whedon’s additions which are now all laid bare not only take away from the plot but also reduce the idea and central premise of the villain, also gone is the Steppenwolf dialogue about loving him which at the time were jarring but coupled with Whedon speak volumes.
As I have said there is so much to unpack and there are many characters that could be addressed but I am going to stick to one that is how Wonder Woman is treated within “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”, her performance as well as one difference between the earlier movie and this one. Before I talk about Wonder Woman though in general terms the characters themselves are all given a huge amount of room to breathe and to find themselves within the story as well their own plots which I found quite welcoming, this has the largest effect on Cyborg who becomes the centre of the story which I welcomed. This movie was able to give audiences a spotlight on each Leaguer, their origins and their own support characters to an extent that I would have thought to be detrimental but I welcomed it. Now on to Wonder Woman who for me is one of the most fascinating characters in the DCEU but for the most part has not been given a light to really shine. This may be a dissenting decision but I love the way Zack Snyder treats Wonder Woman as a hero, her physicality, her relationship to both her allies and her enemies as well as the way she does battle. Whilst I have no gripes about he way Patty Jenkins handled Wonder Woman’s origin and the early part of her adventure in the ‘modern’ world everything else about her work on those movies is dire, lifeless and the action is a mess. In both “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) and now “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” she is not only an incredible fighter but has agency like nothing seen in both stand alone movies, not only that she is not hung up on lost loves or an Island far away, she maintains her independence whilst honoring what has come before. My belief is that Snyder could have helmed a stand alone Wonder Woman movie with ease although I understand why that was never on the cards. Seeing Wonder Woman in this movie is a revelation, there is no trade off on her sex or sensuality, it is all about her as a person not as an object. She even offers the villain the coup de grace as a full stop on the third act battle which unlike some other appearances feels anything but pandering.
The driving force behind “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is obviously Snyder who if anyone thinks he is not a good director has no clue as to what he is up to in putting together each and every scene making them in turn into a cohesive plot and narrative. The way in which this movie has been constructed, filmed and edited is nothing short of miraculous, Snyder deserves much of the credit in harnessing a huge cast with some very grandiose ideas and being able to get these across to an audience from Themyscira to Atlantis to Gotham to Metropolis as well as to all the other places that the movie takes place in, to keep this straight requires skill but to populate the movie with characters we know to others we do not to the fact that each locale operates just a little differently really is a massive task that requires huge skill. Not only that but this is arguably the best a Snyder movie has looked since “300” (2007), it has a dark palette that gets brighter as the narrative progresses although even in the darkest scenes it is easy to see what he trying to accomplish, in fact we see a brightness when Superman is resurrected which looks incredible, when the heroes clash in the morning sun it is a sight to see. The other architect is Chris Terrio who no has sole writing credit and it turns out he can write a great superhero movie, it is dense, informative but never overwhelming which is saying something given the deep dives that occur within this movie, I was expecting Darkseid but when Desaad appears it blew my mind.
Of course with a movie like this there are some very good performances, obviously Gal Gadot does some of her best work here as Wonder Woman but the other actor that shines is Ray Fisher as Cyborg who shows why he was chosen for this pivotal role, he has interactions with everyone else and holds his own against both newcomers and the veterans, he would have been great to see other movies within the same role. Not only that but Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Jeremy Irons all in bigger and different parts show why they were cast in the first place. I often found myself thinking that all the actors must have been upset with what ended up onscreen in the original movie, all the nuance, plot details and action was jettisoned for a pale imitation of what we see here. This is a movie where almost all the actors inhabit their roles in a meaningful way, this movie proves that they all would have been excellent in more Justice League movies and may have been part of a series that could have been fantastic. We are all the worse off for not seeing Cavill, Affleck and others in these roles again.
When comparing this new version with the original the CGI has all been upgraded, not only that but the issue with Henry Cavill’s moustache have all disappeared. All of the CGI characters which consist mainly of the villains all look far more ‘real’ with surfaces that are far more intricate as well as thought out with both Steppenwolf and the parademons looking better than they did in the original movie. All the backdrops look more finished as well as the 3D environs getting a notable uptick in quality. With all the cleanup being completed we also lose some aspects that felt out of place including the people that lived around the base of operations of the villains which made no sense at the time. So that means that the third act showdown feels like the heroes and villains can go at the villains without the need to give other heroes something to do. We also get more CGI with the heroes powers in full force especially Superman and the Flash which I really enjoyed.
In truth there is so much of Whedon’s movie that has not survived, so many random scenes that felt weird and out of place that it was obvious the movie had been stitched together making it a mess on almost all levels. With this new movie we get a serious tone with some levity, not only that we also see a complete third act with all the heroes actually working together as one unlike the approach in the earlier movie. The stakes of this new version feel real and the ending seems earned, we also get more glimpses of other worlds including Apokolips, Darkseid, Desaad, Orion and a host of others which adds layers meaning we have some depth. Snyder has also given us insight into what may have come if he had have been able to release his version first, it is intriguing if not a little messy but I welcomed some of the scenes in the epilogue although not all of them equally. I also could not help two reminders of Snyders own loss, the movie is dedicated to his daughter and in one scene there is a billboard for the US anti-suicide charity something obviously far more important than any movie.
If you are wondering whether to watch this movie in all its four hour glory I say it is a definite yes, if you are curious as to what a full movie version of the Justice League looks like this is it in all its glory with no worries about running time or back stories, it has its payoffs and setups, yes it does end on a kind of cliffhanger but it does end. I still say this is Zack Snyder’s best work since “300”, it has much in common with that movie but this one feels more accomplished and shows a director who finally lives up to his own hype.