Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a lengthy improvement that’s mostly for superfans

Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Ezra Miller as The Flash in Zack Snyder's Justice League. Photo courtesy of HBO Max.
Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Ezra Miller as The Flash in Zack Snyder's Justice League. Photo courtesy of HBO Max. /

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the manifestation of many fans’ hopes and dreams that the true vision behind 2017’s Justice League could be seen as intended. And through the miracle of streaming, that’s finally become a reality.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (affectionately known as the “Snyder Cut”) comes from director Zack Snyder and brings back the cast that we know from the original film: Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill as Superman, Ezra Miller as The Flash and Ray Fisher as Cyborg. And in this cut, one would be hopeful that these characters finally get justice (no pun intended) for being in one of the most controversial superhero films in recent years. But unfortunately for this 4 hour and 2 minute movie, that isn’t always the case.

What the Snyder Cut does best

First, let’s start with what works in this film. The quality of the visual effects is one of the first things you’ll notice that’s improved. The original had green-screen effects that were surprisingly subpar for a big-budget film from a major studio. But the new one corrects those mistakes and looks a lot smoother.

Another significant improvement — and something I very much enjoyed — was the climactic ending of the movie. (It’s worth seeing Snyder’s vision of this ending for yourself, so I won’t give away any spoilers.) My biggest complaint about the original film was that the heroes had such a tough time defeating Steppenwolf’s CGI army. But when they got to Steppenwolf himself, all it took was a punch and a kick and he was down for the count.

Snyder’s version ups the ante for our heroes as they work together to defeat Steppenwolf, which makes for some thrilling scenes. The stakes are high as they try to save the world from total annihilation, and the entire sequence will leave you on the edge of your seat. After a long setup, it’s exciting to finally see these heroes working together as a team. And the action in the finale is effective because they work so well together.

In fact, all of the action scenes are done very well, especially if you’re someone who likes to turn off your brain and watch some good, old-fashioned butt-kicking. But at the same time, many of the action scenes (sans the final battle) are nearly the same as they were in the original, without any big improvements.

Finally, what almost worked in this movie was one of the most exciting things about it: the introduction of Darkseid. This legendary villain was left out of the original movie, and his inclusion stabilizes the plot, making it much stronger. Just like in the original, Steppenwolf travels to Earth to look for the Mother Boxes. But now with a bit of backstory, we see that he’s doing this to honor his master, Darkseid, as part of his plan to conquer the universe. We see a subservient Steppenwolf in this film who only wants to earn Darkseid’s approval. It adds another layer of depth that makes the entire story feel more three-dimensional.

What falls flat in the Snyder Cut

What doesn’t work about Darkseid and Steppenwolf is that they’re teased as being far more dangerous than what we actually see on screen. The golden rule for storytelling is “show, don’t tell,” and Zack Snyder’s Justice League breaks this rule horribly when it comes to these two villains. Steppenwolf and Darkseid talk a lot about all the destruction they’d like to cause, but don’t really follow through. Likewise, heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman talk at length about how dangerous the oncoming threat is, but what payoff we get is slow in coming.

Length, by the way, is another problem for the Snyder Cut. Four hours for a film is a lot. And while Snyder attempts to break it up into six parts and an epilogue, that doesn’t add much value.

The first half of the film is far weaker than the second half. It feels packed with fluff that was left out of the theatrical cut, and for good reason. Batman’s quest to round up the heroes, for example, falls as flat as it did in the original movie, only here it lasts longer.

That said, one improvement in this part of the film is the expansion of Cyborg’s backstory, which really rounds out his character arc. Aside from that, the first part drags on quite a bit. And you’ll probably have to watch the film in two parts or more just to make it through the entire thing.

Lastly, the Snyder Cut would come out a winner if only it followed the principle of “quit while you’re ahead.” While the conclusion is exciting, the epilogue is like that person who always has to have the last say…several times. The Snyder Cut is the filmic equivalent of, “But wait, there’s more!”

Additionally, the entirety of the film sets up so many plot points that would have been fulfilled in upcoming movies had Warner Bros. chosen not to pivot its DCEU strategy after the original Justice League was released. Many of those loose threads feel like disappointing teases for what could have been instead of exciting additions to the movie.

Overall, enthusiasts who were begging for Zack Snyder’s Justice League will probably be more than satisfied with this movie and what it has to offer. But for the more casual DC fans, you’ll probably be fine sticking with the original film from 2017.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is out on HBO Max beginning March 18, 2021.


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