Note that while this review will not spoil anything new from Zack Snyder’s Justice League, this review will cover the major plot points from the 2017 version, so if you’ve never seen that movie and are going into this one, there will be general spoilers.
After years of fans demanding Warner Brothers “release the Snyder Cut“, a version of Justice League without the reshoots done by Joss Whedon, we’re finally here. Director Zack Snyder stepped down from his duties during the original run of the movie after a family tragedy and friction with the studio, and instead of delaying the film, the studio opted to push forward to ensure their executives could keep their bonuses. The final result was a Frankenstein mash of Snyder and Whedon and was mandated to not exceed two hours long after many people thought that the theatrical cut of Batman v Superman was too bloated. But like that movie, an extended cut is now available in the form of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a four-hour comic book epic built upon the years of fan expectations, positive campaigns and toxic fandom. And unlike Batman v Superman’s Ultimate Edition, which is a director’s cut, this version is more like the original vision, free from the shackles of theatrical runtimes and clashing directorial visions. So, after all this time and build-up, how does the actual movie fair?
Familiar, Yet Different
Presented in an old school, IMAX-worthy aspect ratio of 4:3 and slapped with an R-rating, Zack Snyder’s Justice League follows the same plot points as the 2017 version of the film, which was reshot by Joss Whedon. When the threat of great evil comes to Earth, Batman (Ben Affleck) knows that he must unite Earth’s strongest heroes under one banner to stop it. With the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the duo seeks to form a coalition of metahumans to stop Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his Parademons from collecting and uniting all three Mother Boxes (which would be bad for Earth). Unlike the original version, which sped us to the heroes being united in under an hour’s runtime, we only get our first introduction to Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) around 90 minutes into this version. The film, broken up into six parts and an epilogue, is in no rush to unite the team, instead of giving them plenty of time on their own to be naturally included in the movie while setting the stage for the events to come. We get a lot of time with the Amazonians, for instance, and learn that Darkseid, the big bad of the DC Universe, is behind the impending attack on Earth and while it’s fun to see the big villain created by Jack Kirby show up this time, he’s very much the Thanos to Ronan in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
The slower pace is an example of how this version of the movie differs from its theatrically released counterpart. It has room to breathe and doesn’t gloss over major character moments. I think Snyder has finally taken some of the criticism launched at him over the years about being style over substance and applied it to the making of this version of his movie. There is a lot of new content in this cut, specifically over 150 minutes of unseen footage, and this creates a lot more nuanced and room to develop character over the course of its surprisingly manageable four-hour runtime, which let’s be straight up here, would never have been the original theatrical cut of the movie if Snyder got to release his vision on the big screen. No studio would release a four-hour cut as it would diminish ticket sales. But a four-hour movie is perfect for streaming. The lengthy movie never drags, despite some shots/scenes feeling unnecessary, such as Jason Momoa’s Aquaman having a drink before the waves take him back to the ocean. But while we have a few scenes like this that don’t contribute much, there’s so much more new content that adds to the movie, specifically when it comes to Ray Fisher’s Cyborg.
…And Justice For Cyborg…and Steppenwolf?
Out of all the characters and new content in the movie, the lion’s share of it belongs to Cyborg. There’s a lot of new Cyborg content in this movie. His entire backstory is fully explored here and his troubled relationship with his father, Silas Stone (Joe Morton) is realized fully this time around, as opposed to lightly implied. Cyborg is actually the heart of this movie, as Zack Snyder’s Justice League acts as an origin story for the character as well as allowing him to be a key figure in the battle against Steppenwolf, the film’s main antagonist. But while Cyborg is the key, everyone gets their moment in this movie and no one really feels like they’re tagging along for the ride. That was a huge problem with the 2017 version. After Superman joins the final battle against Steppenwolf, everyone else felt kind of useless because the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) was just so overpowered that no one else felt necessary anymore. But this time around, even when Supes is duking it out with Steppenwolf, the rest of the team still has parts to play. It felt more like a team effort this time around. And while the black suit of Superman was more of a symbolic choice, rather than a key plot point, Henry Cavill’s brief time with the movie is much better, largely thanks to the lack of CGI lip, but also due to some brief scenes back on the Kent farm with Lois Lane and Martha Kent (Amy Adams and Diane Lane respectively)
Steppenwolf was a particularly weak element of the 2017 version of Justice League, an alien who just wanted to destroy for the sake of destroying. While he’s no Joker or Killmonger in this movie, his motivations for doing what he’s doing make a lot more sense this time around. It gives much-needed context and justification for his conquest of Earth, as opposed to some crazy zealot who wants to conquer because that’s his shtick. Much of the dialogue where he converses with the Mother Boxes by simply calling them “Mother”, as if they were a sentient entity, is also absent from this version, which is something that irked me last time as well. His redesign is more intense than the 2017 cut but sometimes his CGI can be distractingly weak.
That’s one of the main weak points of the movie. Sometimes the CGI and the greenscreen feels unpolished and poorly rendered. It was a little distracting at times and very noticeable. There is also a fair share of plot holes and inconsistencies that mess with your head when you start to overthink them. While not a huge negative, the new scenes featuring Atlantis and Arthur Curry feel very unneeded overall as they contradict the Aquaman movie completely. I know this version of the movie is considered non-canon by the folks at Warner Bros, but honestly, why would they want that at this point? This is a vastly superior version and one worth watching again.
Side-By-Side and An Uncertain Future
Part of the fun of watching this movie is trying to remember back on scenes from the original cut and figuring out which scenes belonged to Whedon and which belonged to Snyder. I’m not going to lie, there are a few scenes from the Whedon cut that I do miss, such as the “save one” and the “lasso of truth” scene with Aquaman. Other times, it’s trying to figure out if a scene was altered in the original version. When Bruce meets Aquaman for the first time, for instance, there is a handy diagram of the Mother Boxes on the wall and some obvious green-screen reshoots by the time he returns to the water. Both of those moments are gone in Snyder’s version, but he also adds to it in more ways than one.
We’ll talk about this more in a future article, but Snyder filmed some new content for the closing moments of his movie. That scene, coupled with the promise of Darkseid still lurking in the cosmos, begs for a sequel to be made. Snyder has stated in an interview with the New York Times that he left Justice League after clashing with the studio over the vision of the movie. The two don’t seem to be on the best of terms right now and a sequel seems like a pipe dream at this point, which makes that new scene at the end of the movie feels sort of unnecessary. Why set up a future that may never come? But then again, this movie was once a pipe dream. so you never know. I think it’d be an error (another one) on Warner Bros’ part to not create a sequel to this movie, at least for streaming on HBO Max. The 2021 version of Justice League is Zack Snyder’s magnum opus and one heck of an epic superhero film that puts the theatrical cut in the dust. It’s just a shame that it’s ultimately part one of one, as opposed to three. The Knightmare sequences and Barry’s journey through time in Batman v Superman will likely never get resolved and that’s the real shame here. But as someone who has thought Snyder’s previous DCEU offerings ranged from “meh” to “that was fine”, it’s a real treat to say that this one was actually great.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max in the United States. For international streaming rights, where you live may complicate your attempt to view the movie as HBO Max isn’t available everywhere yet. Check here for information on how to view this version of Justice League if you live outside of the USA.