Let me just start by saying it doesn’t matter what you, I or anyone else actually thinks of this version of Justice League. I’m incredibly happy that Zack Snyder got to create the film he envisioned from the start. If you don’t know why that’s a cool thing, or you don’t know the story, imagine this. Imagine that, as a parent, you go through the worst imaginable tragedy you possibly can. You lose a child. Now imagine that while (understandably) taking time away from your job, whatever it may be, your boss uses that as an opportunity to fire you, and hire someone they’ve been trying to shoehorn into the job the whole time. That is what happened with Snyder. I’m not his biggest fan. In fact, I am overly critical of a lot of his films, specifically his writing. But he (or nobody else) deserve to be treated the way Warner Brothers treated him. So yes, it is very cool that Snyder got to create this and I figured the least I could do is spend four hours of my time watching his creation.
With that out of the way, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (also known as The Snyder Cut) is a re-edited version of the 2017 Justice League. Now, people may think that’s kind of weird, but director’s cuts are incredibly common. Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, Kingdom of Heaven and The Godfather III are just a handful of examples that have received the same treatment. I think the difference between those and ZSJL is the latter is so vastly different that it feels pretty much like an entirely new film. I believe the 2017 version was 20% Snyder scenes and 80% Joss Whedon scenes. This new cut is 100% Snyder. What is also crazy is that with this now 4-hour runtime that only ONE new scene was shot for this. There was a lot of re-editing of scenes, but literally only one five minute scene was actually new. That is how much footage Snyder had that Warner Brothers discarded and let Joss Whedon reshoot as he was more happy to play along with the studio’s demands (more comedy, two hour runtime) than Snyder was.
I’ll start with the negatives. First off, the story is very basic; the bad guy (in this case, Steppenwolf) needs these items to unlock his full power. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is the basis of what the MCU were building up to with Thanos and the Infinity Stones. Now, you may argue that Justice League came out before both Infinity War and Endgame, but it was clear where the films were heading back in 2012 when the first Avengers film came out, ironically also directed by Joss Whedon. Now, I am not accusing Snyder of stealing his idea from the MCU (or the Marvel Comics that influenced it). I’m just saying that having a storyline very similar to your direct competitor’s storyline isn’t smart. I guess this is more an indictment of the 2017 version, but just know going in that this won’t magically have a great story. It’s the same story.
The dialogue is also still really bad. There are a couple of lines that work really well, but for the most part, the dialogue is incredibly expository, serving no purpose other than to very clearly explain exactly what is happening in the story and what needs to happen to further the story. A little exposition is necessary, of course, but there are whole conversations where each character takes a turn explaining something, usually about the mother boxes.
The runtime is of mammoth proportions, there is no denying that. I wouldn’t personally put it as a negative though, moreso a “mixed.” I say that because it has both positive and negative effects on the final product. I’ll touch on the positive a little later but for the negatives, I think there were quite a few unnecessary slow-mo shots that just seemed like Zack Snyder flexing his muscles a little. Like, there is a scene where Aquaman saves a dude, drops him in a bar then takes a bottle of whiskey and is all like “it’s on him.” Badass right? Well then, his walk back to the ocean involves him walking, drinking the whiskey out of the bottle, taking his shirt off and standing at the end of the pier, all of it in slow-mo. It looks cool, like it really does. There are waves crashing and shit, but it’s 100% unnecessary. But after everything Snyder went through, I’ll allow it.
My final negative is that even with the re-edits, some of the CGI looks bad mostly with Cyborg and Steppenwolf’s new looks. Cyborg’s suit stuck out to me as especially terrible. I don’t think it’s the CGI as such, but the design of it. Both he and Steppenwolf got new designs and the word that jumped out to me about the designs was “sharp.” Not that they were sharply dressed, moreso that their suits are literally sharp and pointy. While Steppenwolf did look better, he still didn’t look great. It was just that the 2017 bar was set so low. But Cyborg didn’t need to be sharp. Yes, he’s a robot but you could’ve made him look really cool.
Now onto the positives. First off, the film looks incredible. No matter what you have to say about Snyder, he knows how to make things look awesome. Obviously this isn’t including the yucky suits I mentioned just before, but there are some fantastic looking shots throughout here. The fact they fixed up the colour grading from the 2017 version is obviously a big reason for the improvement but there are just some really nicely framed shots in this. Heading into the final battle, there is even a cool “team-up” shot that rivals any of the Avengers ones.
The pacing in this is actually surprisingly good as well. Much better than Man of Steel or even Batman v Superman. You will look at the four hour runtime and say “holy shit, four hours is really long”, and it is. Absolutely. Plus, this doesn’t fly by like Martin Scorsese’s 3.5 hour The Irishman does. But I was never bored and didn’t check my phone to see how long it had left. It is pretty well-paced.
It’s also good to see that the extra time Snyder got wasn’t wasted. Every main character is completely fleshed out now. Wonder Woman was already pretty fleshed out in the 2017 version, but at the sacrifice of others. Now Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and even Steppenwolf have pretty much complete arcs for this film. A villain with clear motivations? What a crazy concept. Cyborg got the biggest glow-up, and I would go as far as saying Ray Fisher is the stand-out of the entire film. This is how you introduce a superhero that casual fans may not be familiar with. Imagine how good this could’ve been if the studio allowed Snyder to give all of these characters actual solo films first!
We also get a more coherent story and consistent character work now. With the story, there were things introduced in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman that were obviously left on the cutting room floor in 2017. I won’t go into specifics because spoilers but the majority of those things are now paid off and we get a complete story that, while basic at it’s core, at least makes complete sense now. It’d be a pretty fair statement to say that Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon are polar opposites in terms of their style; Snyder is dark and brooding, Whedon, full of quips and bright colours. So Batman was a victim of these two styles fighting it out back in 2017. In one scene, he is dangling a bad guy over the edge of a building saying the Parademons are attracted to fear. He is literally using a guy as bait. That’s so gangster and so Batman. Later on in the film, Batman gets punched and is all like “ow, I’m so old.” Like, what are you doing? Batman is not a quipper. Now in ZSJL, Batman still has jokes “My superpower is I’m rich”, but his character overall is way more consistent. The rest are as well, but Batman was the most glaring example.
To sum it all up, if you weren’t a fan of the 2017 Justice League film because you don’t really care, then this probably isn’t for you anyway. It’s the same basic film, just way more fleshed out and coherent. But if you didn’t like it because it was an incoherent, tonally inconsistent mess, then you are gonna get a kick out of this and the four hours is a worthy investment. If you think you might want to see it but can’t commit to four hours, it is broken down into chapters which makes for easy stopping and starting points.
If you want to watch it, it is currently streaming on Neon in New Zealand.