Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Back in 2017, Warner Brothers released Joss Whedon’s Justice League, supposedly the springboard to a shared universe of spinoff movies. But the movie cratered, and in the years since, it has been widely considered to be a creative disaster.

But another version of the movie was widely rumored to exist – a cut by the original director Zack Snyder, before it was sliced and diced by the studio and Whedon in an effort to make a more marketable blockbuster. And after years of fans demanding that the studio release the artist’s vision, the fabled “Snyder Cut” was finally released, completed and four hours long. Was it worth the wait?

In a word, yes.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League covers roughly the same territory as the Joss Whedon Cut – Batman (Ben Affleck) brings together several superheroes to fight an extraterrestrial warlord named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). This includes the immortal warrior Diana (Gal Gadot), young speedster Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the gruff water-warrior Arthur (Jason Momoa) and a traumatized young cyborg named Victor (Ray Fisher). In their quest to keep Steppenwolf from uniting the three Motherboxes that will spell the Earth’s doom, they realize that they need the help of Superman (Henry Cavill) – and they may have the means of returning him to life.

But whole the overall plot – and some scenes – are familiar, the movie has whole swathes that are new and enriching. Characters are massively fleshed out, poorly-conceived comedy is notably absent, and the rich lore of the DC universe is woven into the tapestry of the plot – most notably in the malevolent Darkseid and his courtiers, who give some reason for Steppenwolf to conquer Earth other than “he just wants to, okay?”

In short, with four hours to expand into, the Snyder Cut has the ability to be a richer, more compelling narrative. Snyder’s vision here is a muscular, smooth, flowing expanse of scenes that all interweave neatly – nothing here could be trimmed without diminishing something else. This even includes some beloved DC characters who don’t play much of a role here, but were clearly intended to contribute more to a shared universe.

Snyder also strikes an almost perfect balance of action, comedy and tragedy here. There are some moments of understated comedy woven in (“This is Alfred. I work for him”), but it’s kept sedate and appropriate to whatever is happening. There are some great action scenes as well (such as the tragic battle of Steppenwolf against the Amazons), though Snyder makes sure to weave subtle characterization into them. But he delves deep into the loss and pain of the characters here, especially Cyborg’s misery and anger over being turned into… well, a cyborg. Yet he also shows their nobility and their desire to help others.

Furthermore, the Snyder Cut simply feels… bigger and more epic than Whedon’s cut. Whedon’s film always seemed flimsy and small in scale, but this actually feels like our heroes are going up against an apocalyptic threat. This is particularly true in the Justice League’s final battle against Steppenwolf, which is turned from a standard superhero climax into something dazzling – time is bent, space is torn, battles are fought in body and in the mind, and it feels like no other heroes could possibly do what the Justice League is doing.

Furthermore, the characters are finally done justice by this cut – Snyder’s Batman is intelligent and competent, his Superman is a stern but kind and good person, and his Wonder Woman is fierce and magnificent. Even Steppenwolf is given more character dimensions here – in just a few lines, Snyder makes this horned alien monstrosity feel like a real person, who desperately wants redemption and a welcome home. You almost feel sorry for him, even if you don’t want him to succeed.

But the greatest character development comes for Barry and Victor. Barry is shown not just as a funny quippy kid, but as growing into his role as a hero and completely devoting himself to saving the entire world. And Fisher does an outstanding job as Victor, whose raw pain and misery are recognizable in any person who’s suffered a life-changing injury or disease, but whose compassion for others is never dimmed.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League has some flaws, but it is a wildly different – and far superior – cut to the disaster that was released in theaters. It combined slam-bang action and a lore-rich script with a lot of heart and soul – all you could ask from a superhero movie.

The Snyder Cut Trailer (Hallelujah!) – Part 2

So, having explained my complicated thoughts on Zack Snyder, my uncomplicated thoughts on Joss Whedon, and my perception of the theatrical cut of Justice League, here are my thoughts on what we see in the Snyder Cut trailer:

  • 1. First, the choice of music. I was a little offput by the choice for two reasons. One, “Hallelujah” doesn’t seem entirely in tune with the operatic scif-fi-fantasy environment…. and two, Zack Snyder used this before. In Watchmen. During an absurd sex scene. Erm. Okay. I guess he likes the song.

But as the trailer went on, I minded it less and less. For one thing, the new footage we’re seeing is actually edited pretty well to flow along with the music. For another, the music kind of complements both the warmer, more human moments we see, and the grander, more epic moments as well. So… yeah, the music is all right with me.

2. Then we see Darkseid right at the beginning of the trailer, which… well, people are a little divided about how he looks, but as I understand it, this is Darkseid before he actually became Darkseid. I’m cool with that, and want to see more.

  • 3. The movie seems to have a lot more alien-attack aspects than the theatrical cut, which I am absolutely on board with. Honestly, the scope of the theatrical cut never felt as big as it should have – most of the fights were relatively small skirmishes, and Steppenwolf just sort of boom-tubes in and out of wherever he is with a handful of Parademons. Even the climax, which overruns a Russian town, feels small because… it’s just a town, not even a big city.

So I was glad to see some big alien ships raining destruction on major cities, and signs of their actual destruction in the Justice League HQ. Which, hopefully, will not be Wayne Manor as in the theatrical cut, because that was stupid – if Bruce is going to openly turn his house into the JL clubhouse, he might as well just announce to the world that Bruce Wayne is Batman.

  • 4. I perked up considerably when I saw the football game being shown, presumably either in flashback or an early scene set shortly before Cyborg is turned into, well, a cyborg. And this is because Cyborg’s story is probably the most bungled part of Josstice League.

Hear me out: in any story about a character forced to undergo traumatic change, you need to see both a Before and an After. We need to see the transition, the change in this person to feel how much their circumstances have hurt, traumatized and altered them as a human being. But in Josstice League, we only see the After. We see Cyborg angsting about his inhumanity and his robotic body… but we never see what he was before. Was he happy? An extrovert? How did he interact with others? How did he see himself? Did he have friends? What precisely has he lost?

We never see. We don’t know the “old” Victor Stone. There are only a few seconds of pre-Cyborg Victor seen, and in those, his body is mostly obliterated. How can I be emotionally invested in the change this character has experienced, when I don’t know what he used to be BEFORE the change? I couldn’t, and honestly Cyborg was my least favorite character because by the end of the movie, all I had seen was pouting and angsting. They didn’t really dive into his feelings and his trauma; they just had him bro out with a couple of other guys, and get over his pain at the end.

The Snyder Cut looks like it’s going to be rich with Cyborg – we see him struggle, we see him losing someone he loves, ripping up a grave, and we’ll see him when he was just an ordinary college guy playing football. I expect to like Snyder Cut Cyborg much better than the theatrical cut’s.

I also wonder what is up with the image of Victor (still in his human form) redirecting a sky full of missiles.

  • 5. There’s also some superheroing for Barry Allen, who is shown rescuing a young woman – I assume it’s Iris, given how the camera lingers on her face – from a car crash.

This seems to be part of a more serious, less “look at how quippy and quirky I am! I’m written by Joss Whedon!” take on the Flash. You know, a Flash who has a serious part to play in the plot, rather than a Flash who faceplants in Wonder Woman’s boobs (such feminism, Joss!) and rambles about brunch. I admit I found the Flash amusing when I first saw the theatrical cut, but time has changed my opinion.

I’m not entirely sure what the Flash’s place in the Snyder Cut plot is, but the glimpses we have indicate that he is going to be doing something more cosmic, more important, more GRAND.

  • 6. Batfleck… sigh. I am going to admit my bias right out of the starting gate: I do not like Batfleck. This is partly because I disagree with Zack Snyder’s handling of the character in Batman V Superman, but it’s also because I dislike Ben Affleck as a human being and as an actor. I just have never seen a good performance from him; he always seems incredibly wooden and douchey to me.

And honestly, Batfleck was a weak point in Justice League. I do not say this because I dislike either the character or the actor – I say this because I love the character of Batman. Batman’s whole point as a member of the Justice League is that he can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the overpowered superhumans like Wonder Woman or Superman, because he uses his brains and his technology to compensate for his lack of superpowers. He is their equal.

But in the Josstice League cut, Batfleck feels like a liability. He seems to spend most of the action scenes bouncing around at the end of a grappling hook, avoiding getting attacked by others. When he does go up against someone else, he gets hurt physically in ways that the others do not. He seems less competent, more fragile, less capable. You’re left wondering why this guy is even going into battle if he contributes so little compared to, say, the butt-kicking Wonder Woman.

But he looks like he’s actually holding his own in the Snyder Cut trailer, where he’s using his body armor to block blasts of energy. So I have real hope that Batfleck is actually going to demonstrate that he’s an asset in these fights, not just a guy who swings around a lot.

Oh, and I’m looking forward to Batfleck’s Whedonisms like “I don’t NOT like you” and “something’s definitely bleeding” being excised. Batman should never sound like a Whedon character in a life-and-death situation. NEVER.

  • 7. A few of the scenes look familiar, if you’ve seen the theatrical cut, but they’re definitely different. It looks like the conversation between Martha Kent and Lois Lane is different, and probably going to be less painfully cringy. Martha is apparently going to pop in during the cornfield scene. And Aquaman’s encounter with Mera looks like it will be somewhat different, given his defiant attitude and her look of distress.

8. Desaad! At first I thought this was Steppenwolf in another outfit because… well, I’m only a moderate comic-book geek with gaps in my knowledge, and I only know about some of the residents of Apokalips. But I’m told it’s the character Desaad, and I’m very curious to see what he is all about. It certainly makes the movie feel more expansive and operatic to have multiple people from Apokalips appear.

  • 9. It also looks like a very different fate is in store for Silas Stone. If you remember from the theatrical cut – you probably don’t – he gets captured and then rescued, and at the end everybody is happy and smiley. But in the Snyder Cut, it seems that his exploration of the Motherbox has some unfortunate results. I smell character development for Cyborg!
  • 10. The redesign of Steppenwolf. Oh, man, this is beautiful to behold. I don’t know what they were thinking with his design in the theatrical cut, but it was terrible. Nobody liked it. It was partly that it didn’t feel finished, as if they literally did not have time to finish rendering the character properly.

But it was a bad design at its root. It was just some grayish guy in a big hat, and he wasn’t very intimidating or impressive at all. I can only assume that WB didn’t want anything too scary, so they insisted on this dumbed-down design. There were other designs, oh yes. You can google them and see the much more intimidating version that was originally conceived.

The Snyder Cut’s design… actually looks menacing. He no longer just looks like a creepy guy in a big hat, but a truly alien creature encased in rippling living armor. There’s some influence from the Destroyer robot featured in Thor, but you know what? I’ll take it.

Oh, and there’s a really dynamic imagine of a black-clad Superman punching Steppenwolf in the face.

11. Speaking of the black-clad Superman, I find myself wondering where the suit comes from and how he’s wearing it. I mean, when we last saw him, he was buried and presumed dead. Does his normal costume turn black when he needs to soak up some yellow sun rays? Does someone in the cast recover this for him? Are we going to have a post “Death of Superman” scenario where his body vanishes, and he later turns up alive and well?

I’m sure this will be explained in the movie. I’m just very curious.

  • 12. Batfleck’s final line is perhaps the one thing I wasn’t enthused about in this trailer, just because it’s a very clunky line. But you know what? If that is the only problem the Snyder Cut has, I will be a happy viewer.

So anyway, those are my thoughts about the trailer for the Snyder Cut. Overall, it looks like a vast improvement on the Frankenstein cut, and I am going to give Snyder a legitimate chance to wow me with his vision.

The Snyder Cut Trailer (Hallelujah!) – Part 1

So I’ve been watching the new DC Fandome trailers and… I’m actually kind of getting stoked about their forthcoming releases. The Batman looks pretty good so far, and Robert Pattinson is living up to my expectations of his considerable talent, and The Suicide Squad looks like it will put being fun and weird above being dark and gritty.

But I think the most buzz is about the long-waited, long-rumored Snyder Cut of Justice League, which fans nagged and screamed and demanded for so long that eventually WB threw up its hands and gave in. So now we’re getting what seems to be an entirely different movie, with all of the material that Joss Whedon filmed ripped out and replaced with Zack Snyder’s original plot.

Let’s be frank here: the theatrical cut – which some are naming the “Josstice League” – was a mess. They took a film that was more or less complete, ripped out giant chunks of it, and then gave it to a completely different director to patch back together with his own material, to the detriment of some of the storylines (especially Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, who has made his distaste for Whedon very clear).

Whedon and Snyder… each makes the other’s style look bad. Whedon makes Snyder look dour, pompous, colorless and grim. Snyder makes Whedon look flimsy, insubstantial, obnoxiously self-satisfied. It’s a Frankenstein monster of a film whose two disparate styles are actively fighting against each other. It simply could never succeed artistically as what it is, and I almost feel sorry for it because of that.

Now, I am as critical of Zack Snyder as anyone. I don’t like his unheroic take on Batman, and I disagree with the constant deconstruction of superheroes through Superman. I do understand what he’s trying to do, but I don’t think he’s doing it well or with the right characters – Batman V Superman had many things that were done wrong. However, I do think he’s a talented filmmaker. I love Watchmen, 300, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (very underrated, definitely watch it), and I like Man of Steel despite its flaws. He does have vision and a unique style, and that’s increasingly rare in the movie world.

So… I’m glad he’s getting the chance to show the world his vision for Justice League. I don’t think it will be the Holy Grail of superhero cinema, but I do think it will have a consistent narrative and style and tone, which already puts it leagues above and beyond the Josstice League cut we got in theaters. I expect it won’t have the bipolar mood swings that so bothered me, with characters talking seriously about world-ending threats before having the Flash babble about something inconsequential.

It will also not have Henry Cavill’s CGI upper lip, which was hideously distracting, especially as it was the very first thing you saw in the film. Goodbye, CGI Upper Lip. We won’t miss you.

And I admit some bias in my interest in the Snyder Cut as well. I have mixed feelings about Zack Snyder, but I have never had the feeling that he’s an unpleasant person. And he’s been done dirty by WB. Whatever my issues with Batman v. Superman, I’m honestly glad for him that he can show people what he was building up to, what he dreamed up. He’s had a rough few years, so it’s nice that something good is coming out of it.

But I don’t like Joss Whedon, and I never have. I disliked Joss Whedon long before it was cool to dislike him because he was found to be “problematic,” because I always got an asshole vibe from him. Furthermore, I was somehow never charmed by his writing. I admit that there were jokes in Avengers that I laughed at, and I acknowledge intellectually that he is an objectively talented writer. But I’ve never been dazzled by Buffy or Firefly or any of the other shows he’s produced, because I always felt like he was waving keys in front of my eyes to cheaply elicit my approval.

I’ve always felt that Whedon is completely in love with his own cleverness and his quips and one-liners and his self-serving feminist cred. And he crafted an image that allowed people to think they were cool and smart if they were fans of his… sort of like a cult. He’s always seemed incredibly smug, intolerant and superior to me, and so it did NOT surprise me that he was eventually outed as a cheating hypocrite who has been using fans and feminists for his own ends for years.

And he’s a colossal asshole to his actors, apparently, as revealed by Ray Fisher. Fisher didn’t specify how, to my knowledge, but I wonder if racism was involved since Fisher (the one black member of the cast) is the only one who has spoken out.

So yeah, considering how badly flawed the Josstice League movie was, primarily because of the needs-to-be-annulled marriage of Whedon and Snyder’s styles… I’m more than ready to see what Zack Snyder has crafted. I’m fine with saying adios to Whedon’s mediocre contributions.

To be continued…