Review: ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE, Bigger, Longer, Uncut
Clocking in at a hefty, miniseries-length four hours and two minutes, Zack Snyder's Justice League (aka The Snyder Cut), the much-anticipated director's restoration of the botched 2017 critical and commercial bomb, clocks in at a hefty, miniseries-length four hours and two minutes (including credits), giving it the unofficial world's record for the longest comic-book adaptation to grace digital screens, beating its non-illustrious predecessor by two full hours.
Bigger, longer, and most definitely uncut, Zack Snyder's Justice League also happens to be overlong, overindulgent, and self-indulgent, a paradoxically root-worthy, not-quite living testament to a director’s vision of superheroes and supervillains as brooding, Olympian gods and monsters. Rightly or wrongly, Warner Bros. unceremoniously discarded Snyder’s particularistic vision for the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) when they abruptly decided to replace Snyder with Joss Whedon (Avengers, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) after the box-office returns for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice failed to match Marvel’s billion-dollar grosses for their ever-expanding cinematic universe.
The well-documented loss of Snyder’s daughter provided Warner Bros. sufficient cover to replace Snyder with minimal fallout. (Snyder understandably stepped away to spend more time with his family.) The rest would have been cinematic history except for a vociferous contingent of fans who spontaneously organized an online campaign to release the almost mythic “Snyder Cut,” but after almost three years, Warner Bros. relented, giving Snyder $70M to complete the unfinished cut that existed in the spring of 2017.
Whether the online campaign set a precedent for fan-driven recuts remains an open question, but the new, newly restored four-hour cut will certainly please that particular contingent of the fandom. It’ll likely please casual fans and even non-fans who found Snyder’s earlier contributions to the DCEU, Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, sporadically worthwhile.
Zack Snyder's Justice League certainly doesn’t shortchange viewers action-wise, delivering epic-scaled, grandiose set-pieces filled with vigorous hand-to-hand combat (shot and edited, as always, to delirious, speed-ramping effect), CGI-heavy fireworks, and iconic poses for his superheroes and supervillains directly inspired by their comic-book origins. Opening with a rousingly frantic battle on Themyscira between Amazons led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), an alien conqueror with an unforgiving off-world boss, Darkseid (Ray Porter), searching for so-called "Mother Boxes," semi-helpfully described later in the film as super-advanced living machines that can restore or rearrange matter to the owner’s preferences. To get his world conquest plans in motion, Steppenwolf needs three Mother Boxes to create the “Unity” (somewhat like the Infinity Stones when collected and used together), setting up an attenuated, film-long search for the other two boxes, one held by Atlanteans, the other by humans.
With four hours at his disposal (a luxury for any filmmaker regardless of the medium), Snyder had room to let individual scenes and set pieces to breathe, though not always to his or our benefit. Two early scenes end with songs, one in-film that goes on far too long, and another a catch-up montage with Lois Lane (Amy Adams, underused again) almost immediately afterward.
All that time, though, also has its benefits: Each member of the once and future Justice League not named Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) or Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) get their own, miniseries-style spotlight, from Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and, of course, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Every superhero gets a backstory and/or origin and just as importantly, the opportunity to show what they can contribute individually and collectively to a superhero team-up.
Snyder periodically breaking away from the rote central storyline (Steppenwolf’s search for the Mother Boxes) to focus on individual characters has its narrative costs too: Characters may appear briefly early on and then disappear for the better part of an hour. Lois Lane is by the far the most egregious example, but once Snyder dispenses with superhero introductions, each one practically a standalone episode, and focuses on the newly united superhero team, the pace picks up considerably and Snyder’s seemingly overindulgent approach gives way to more cohesive, compelling storytelling. And that’s all well before the newly formed Justice League, fresh from their first official team-up, a well-choreographed battle with Steppenwolf and his minions that ends in a stalemate, decide that resurrecting the Last Son of Krypton offers the world the best hope for stopping Steppenwolf.
Even as Snyder’s alternative cut generally follows similar story beats as Whedon’s truncated, time-limited iteration, it becomes increasingly obvious how little Whedon used Snyder’s actual footage and how much Whedon decided to hurriedly reshoot in the spring and summer of 2017 to create his own, Marvelized take on the Justice League. The differences aren't just tonal or a shifting emphasis from one particular story element or character to another.
It’s a clearcut difference in shot selection, scene construction, and sequence building that serve as repeated reminders that what audiences saw in 2017 wasn’t an ill-conceived, poorly executed hybrid of Snyder and Whedon’s clashing, contradictory visions for superhero mythology, but an entirely different, qualitatively better film altogether, a film no longer beholden to corporate executives chasing Marvel-sized box-office returns or the Whedon-style humor that deflated every serious moment or emotional beat with a ready-made quip or four.
While, like every superhero film before and since, Zack Snyder’s Justice League ends inconclusively, promising a sequel that viewers will likely never see theatrically or at home, it still manages to deliver an experience that feels complete, resolving major story threads, leaving few questions unanswered, and bringing the world’s oldest (and finest) superhero team together. The cinematic road for Snyder’s contributions to the DCEU may be at a bittersweet end, but at least it’s one where fans were given the closure they rarely receive in the superhero realm.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max.
- Zack Snyder
- Jerry Siegel (Superman created by)
- Joe Shuster (Superman created by)
- Chris Terrio (story by)
- Zack Snyder (story by)
- Chris Terrio (screenplay by)
- Joss Whedon (screenplay by)
- Gardner Fox (Justice League of America created by)
- Bob Kane (Batman created by)
- Bill Finger (Batman created by)
- William Moulton Marston (Wonder Woman created by)
- Jack Kirby (Fourth World created by)
- Ben Affleck
- Henry Cavill
- Amy Adams
- Gal Gadot