Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
When the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement began, it seemed like no one actually believed that the pressure the fans put on Warner Bros. executives would result in anything but four years after Joss Whedon’s almost horrible rendition of Zack Snyder’s original idea, we have finally gotten our hands on Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It was an amazing ride and every moment of the wait was actually worth it, now that we’ve seen Snyder’s epic, a four-hour masterpiece.
First of all, we have to reiterate the fact that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a completely new movie. It follows the same premise and has some shared scenes with Whedon’s movie, but it’s a completely different movie. The approach is darker and far more expanding, the narrative is much clearer and all of the elements add up to one logical unit, with little to no unanswered questions or strange moments. So, if you thought this was just a longer cut, it’s not – it’s a completely different movie in every aspect.
Now, how did we even get to the point where this epic was released on HBO Max? It’s a long story, actually, that started way back with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the movie that kickstarted the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Snyder, famous for his earlier comic book adaptations Watchmen and 300, was chosen as the man in charge of crafting and developing the DCEU on a large scale, and he was also in charge of the Superman character.
Man of Steel was largely successful and the studio allowed Snyder to make a sequel. The controversial Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, divided fans and critics, with some praising it as a masterpiece of comic book cinema (especially Snyder’s excellent Ultimate Cut), while others considered it to be a confusing failure. Whatever the truth may be, Snyder was hired to write, direct and produce two Justice League films, that were supposed to wrap up his Superman saga as all four films, essentially, presented a large Superman-focused narrative arc, which would also open the door for other characters, just like Batman v Superman did for Wonder Woman (and also other future Justice League members, who appeared in cameo roles).
The production of Justice League was a very troublesome event. Snyder’s vision, as always, was way darker and moodier than the studio executives – who were, in part, “worried” by the film’s lack of “light” compared to Marvel’s popular movies – wanted and this caused a lot of issues during production. Still, the idea would have gone through had it not been for Snyder’s personal tragedy, because of which he had to leave the production. The studio brought in Joss Whedon (Avengers), who finished the movie, stating that he stayed true to Snyder’s version, but as it turned out – it was a completely different movie. Snyder still received the sole directing credit, while Whedon received credit as co-writer. The film flopped, as was expected, and the studio decided to scrap the idea of further Justice League movies for some time.
And then it happened – the Internet was full news that a so-called “Snyder Cut” of the movie exists. Snyder’s original version was, reportedly, finished, save for post-production editing and CGI, which meant that the studio actually had a finished movie that needed some additional work. And then it happened – again. With the help of Zack Snyder’s teasers and provocations, the fans started the #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement, which became a global phenomenon. The fans put pressure on Warnes Bros. to finish and then release Snyder’s cut of the film, which was reportedly much different and way better than Whedon’s version. And what happened?
After years of lobbying, the fans got what they wanted, as Warner Bros. and HBO announced that the infamous “Snyder Cut” would, indeed, be released on HBO Max (or HBO GO if you’re in Europe and elsewhere) sometime in 2021. Snyder did some reshoots, he shot additional scenes with the original actors, finished the post-production, and announced that his original, 4-hour cut of the movie would be the one that the fans would eventually see. This was a very ambitious plan and after rumors that the film would be released as a four-part miniseries, Snyder confirmed that his Justice League would be released as one, 4-hour movie. And finally – it did and we got the chance to see it!
Now, I am writing this right after watching, so I am still quite under the impression, which is why this is so hard to write coherently, but we’ll give it our best. What did we know about Zack Snyder’s Justice League before we’ve seen it? We knew that it would have lots of additional material, we knew that it would keep only a rough portion of Whedon’s version and that it would be a completely new movie. Out of all the new material we knew would be coming, we already knew about the deleted character scenes (Flash’s meeting with Iris West, Aquaman’s meeting with Mera and Vulko, Cyborg’s expanded storyline, etc.), but Snyder managed to surprise us.
The outline of the story is the same – faced with a cosmic threat after Superman’s death, Batman tries to gather other metahumans to fight this threat; at the same time, a cosmic villain, Steppenwolf, arrives on Earth to collect the Mother Boxes and to conquer the planet. And while this idea was Snyder’s in the first place, Whedon practically crippled it and we never saw Snyder’s grand plan in action, both because of Whedon’s interventions and because the studio cut the movie’s runtime.
The story is more than cohesive and complete, which was one of the bigger issues with Batman v Superman for most fans and critics, if you don’t count the Ultimate Cut as canon, since that cut contains additional material that complements the story. Justice League is, on the other hand, in its 4-hour version a complete story, from start to finish.
There is absolutely no question that Snyder leaves unanswered, he even answers some questions from the previous movies (like part of the story surrounding Jason Todd’s murder by the hands of the Joker, as seen in Batman v Superman) and he portrays a truly amazing story that captivates you so much that you actually don’t have the feeling that the movie is four hours long.
It’s amazing when you manage to take a story that is already known, make it four hours long without any intermissions (our version didn’t have that 10-minute intermission that some earlier articles mentioned), and make it seem like it was a standard movie you can watch in one long take. It’s absolutely amazing what Snyder did to this story, how he meticulously crafted it and how much emotion he invested it, and that is the first thing in which this movie thoroughly succeeds.
As for the technical aspects of this movie, Zack Snyder has, in a way, outdone himself. The scale of Justice League could only be compared to the 3.5-hour cut of Watchmen in terms of technical proficiency and ambition. Snyder’s comic book adaptations have always been very specific, as Snyder has a comic-book-accurate approach to his takes, wanting to be as true to the drawings as possible.
This is best seen in Watchmen, which was visually so accurate that it was almost scary (in the best possible way, of course). And while Justice League is not based on a specific comic book (although the credits reveal a lot of names that inspired the story, including Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, and others), it does feel like a true comic book story and something you could read on the pages of a DC Comics publication.
Whether you like his adaptations or not (and yours truly considers Watchmen to be a true masterpiece!), Zack Snyder is probably the best director you can find for a comic book adaptation that is accurate and true to the comics; just to clarify, Marvel’s movies aren’t really direct adaptations of comic books and are standalone cinematic experiences, which is why they are not really in the same group as Snyder’s movies.
Zack Snyder understands comic books as well as he understands movies and that experience, as well as his passion for comic books, is why his adaptations are so good and authentic. They feel authentic because Snyder tries to capture the visual magic of these panels and bring them to life on the big screen, and for the most part – he succeeds.
This also helped him in the process of directing his three Superman movies (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League), as these are not direct adaptations (although Batman v Superman has a lot of The Dark Knight Returns references), yet they do feel like a comic book.
Snyder’s characteristic camera work is only partially visible in this movie. Namely, the shots are more realistic, with natural lighting and less artificial darkness, as witnessed in his earlier movies, like Watchmen or 300, but even Man of Steel. Snyder didn’t completely forget about such shots, but they are less frequent compared to those he uses less commonly in his work. And although I personally like that style, the lighter visual experience was a refreshment and it fit the movie (not to say that Snyder prefers sunlight over moonlight, on the contrary, but the whole experience feels more natural) perfectly.
As for the shooting techniques, Snyder was always able to find the perfect field size to emphasize all important narrative elements. Combined with the right angles, some of these scenes looked pretty impressive, such as Batman’s arrival on the GCPD rooftop when Gordon turned on the signal or the first fight against Darkseid. This is another aspect where Snyder’s quality kicks in, as he is able to use the field and the angle to create a magnificent visual experience for everyone.
Another big plus is the CGI, which is quite common in the movie, but doesn’t feel redundant or artificial. Namely, the scenes where CGI was used were so epic in their scope and magnificent in their visual aspect that you can’t really blame Snyder for using so much CGI. These scenes, interestingly enough, brought out the best the movie has to offer and demonstrated not only Snyder’s unique vision and approach, but also the amazing scope of his ideas and his creative genius.
Just like all other aspects, the CGI was done meticulously, with great precision and each element had its rightful place in the movie. This is also connected to the production design, as a lot of locations were created using CGI (Darkseid’s palace is pretty impressive in this aspect), but we also have to praise the actual locations, because they also show Snyder’s brilliance in his approach to the film.
Junke XL’s (Tom Holkenborg’s) music was epically befitting to the movie’s atmosphere, especially the composition used during the League’s battle against Steppenwolf, but we do have to state here that we miss Zimmer’s score and that we would have liked to have heard another collaboration between the two, as we did in Batman v Superman.
All in all, Snyder did an amazing job as far as the technical aspects are concerned and that is the film’s second plus. The whole experience feels more like a comic book, but also more authentic at the same time. The whole scope of Snyder’s world is just so amazing, and there is absolutely no aspect in which it doesn’t beat out Whedon’s film, but also a lot of other comic book adaptations we’ve seen in recent years.
As far as the characters are concerned, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a redemption for all characters who needed one because of their previous appearances in the DCEU, even Jared Leto’s Joker (yes, you heard that right!). Snyder, although he is more of a narrative-focused director, pays a lot of attention to his characters and despite some controversial moments (like the changes in Watchmen or the infamous “Martha” scene, which actually makes sense, but never mind that now), these characters are usually crafted with much care and this movie is a prime example of it.
As far as the already beloved characters go, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman all got a brilliant treatment in this movie and a treatment that showed their roles and how their own personalities adapted to the narrative better in Whedon’s movie. Unlike that version, this movie showed us exactly why these characters are as they are, it emphasized their narrative roles (especially Batman’s) and how each of them fit into Snyder’s large puzzle perfectly. Snyder’s treatment of them was absolutely fantastic and it was a true delight seeing them once again.
As we’ve said, a lot of other characters got their rightful roles in this movie and were written and directed much better than in the earlier movies. This mostly goes for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, whose story was expanded and written with so much emotion that it became somewhat of a focal point of the movie. Cyborg’s transition from son to monster to hero is something Snyder executed quite well and we can only praise him for that. The Flash’s arc also got a lot of new depth and the character actually received a lot of emotional depth, unlike the comic relief that he was in Joss Whedon’s version. If this is the version they’re going with, in the solo movie (and we sincerely hope it is), it’s going to be great.
Another character that got much more space – and we loved every moment of his in the movie – was Irons’ Alfred, who was even better than earlier, allowing Irons more space to show his acting skills in an environment that fully suited him.
A lot was done in the new Knightmare Bruce Wayne had at the end of the movie, where both Deathstroke and Joker appeared, with the former being an absolute badass and the latter a character as creepy as Ledger’s version of the character. I, personally, did not think that they could redeem Ayer’s Joker, but what Snyder did in these roughly 3 minutes is more than Ayer did in the whole movie. The Joker was, finally, what he was supposed to be and this is the version we initially wanted to see. Snyder did the impossible here, mind you, and that is something truly amazing.
The main villain, Steppenwolf, actually became scary in this movie, thanks to Snyder’s original CGI version being kept for the movie. He was darker, scarier and looked more monstrous, but still, he felt more “human” and authentic than Whedon’s furnished version from the original movie. Hinds’ vocal interpretation really mattered here, as well as the motion capture, all of which made Steppenwolf a truly menacing opponent. The League’s final fight against him was also done amazingly and was executed in a superior mode compared to Whedon’s version, with a much darker ending.
The additions were also great. Darkseid was even better than we hoped he would be, DeSaad was also masterfully crafter and the Apokolips “court” was truly amazing in every aspect, which is why we want to see more of it in the future, despite Snyder’s confirmation what Warner doesn’t have any immediate plans for a sequel. Martian Manhunter had a very nice role and his introduction was done in the smoothest manner possible, both with his initial revelation, as well as him approaching the league.
Now, we’ve already said that the movie is much darker than Whedon’s weird mashup of… whatever it was… but it was certainly not as dark as you’d expect from a Zack Snyder movie. Certainly, the film fully earned it’s R-rating and it’s way more graphic and bloody than Whedon’s version (which is another way in which it is similar to a comic book), but it’s not as dark as either Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, which worked well, actually, as Justice League is a film – as Batman states on several occasions – about faith (and hope). It’s all about believing that the right thing can be done and it has been done, both with this movie and in it, too.
But, what really differentiates this movie from Whedon’s film, but also from a lot of other comic book movies is that it has a soul. One could see, from every shot, that this was Snyder’s magnum opus, his big project. He is a director who can make a brilliant story, with the main issue being that his stories are usually too long for a standard format (like this review…), but if you’re lucky enough to see his whole vision, you’ll be amazed in every possible way. And that is what he did with Justice League here, but what is more important – he gave the film a soul.
All of the characters and their arcs, the story, the technical precision – all of that adds up to one amazing cinematic experience that you’ll enjoy in one take, despite it being four hours long. Unlike Whedon’s generic flick, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has actual emotions, visible on the characters’ and their reactions throughout the movie, emotions that also capture you and pull you inside the movie, and a soul that is just too beautiful to ignore.
The film was dedicated to Snyder’s late daughter, Autumn, which was an emotional farewell, as he dedicated his best movie so far to his daughter. It was a truly emotional and amazing experience, both for him and for us.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is, in our opinion, among the best comic book movies in history. It is so much better than Whedon’s version that the latter looks like a C-level production compared to this, but it also earns a spot among the best ones. It was a passion project for Snyder and he managed to show us how much he loved this movie and we are thanking him by loving it back. It might not be perfect, it might demand a sequel we might never see, but Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a historical precedent on how fans can get what they want and how an artist can, ultimately, show his art to the world, despite the financial elements of modern cinema. Thank you, Zack, for this movie and we sincerely hope we’ll see more sooner, rather than later!