Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), a new threat to the people of Earth emerges as the villainous Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his army of parademons seek to obtain three powerful artifacts known as mother boxes, taking them from the guardianship of men, Amazons and Altanteans, in order to herald the arrival of his master, the powerful Darkseid (Ray Porter). Earth’s only hope lies with Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who work towards putting together a mighty team who will hopefully work together to prevent global annihilation, eventually bringing together the talents of Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
2017’s Justice League regrettably turned out to be one of the worst films of that year, in my opinion, as it was lumbered with a poor and very messy script which really rushed the “bringing together” of the mighty heroes and it was a film which tried to bring us some MCU style comedy that just fell flat, as well as some really bad CGI and a wholly disappointing and horribly designed central antagonist – truly one of the weakest DCEU films that was currently in existence, only faring a little better than the trashy Suicide Squad. So then, of course, a particularly vocal section of social media began a passionate campaign for the release of the “Snyder Cut”, one that the director was aiming for before he was compelled to leave the project following a horrible family tragedy, and in all honesty, I really did roll my eyes at their efforts, assuming the campaigners in question to merely be a group of moaning DC uber fans who were demanding something that was probably never going to materialise. “Geez, let it go”, I must have said.
But Zack Snyder’s Justice League (ZSJL) has indeed seen the light of day and as it has been the talk of the town lately, I got myself a free trial of NowTV so that I could watch it and to see whether it would be a vast improvement over the original or a film that, while better than its predecessor, was still fundamentally messy and one that no rejiggering could ever hope to fix.
Having now seen it, I can proclaim that I’m firmly in the positive camp as I found JSJL to be infinitely superior to the 2017 theatrical cut and I honestly think that they’re two completely different films; the first was a poor Avengers wannabe whereas this is an epic superhero odyssey that greatly impressed me.
Although I believe that this film would still have been excellent with a three hour runtime or so, with certain parts left on the cutting room floor, it would appear that ZSJL is a film that really needed to be four hours long and as a result of its mammoth runtime (at this point in time, this is the fifth longest film that I’ve ever seen, watched it without breaks and all!), characters really do get the depth and development they deserve and they are more greatly served than they were in Justice League. We have characters like The Flash and Aquaman who are given much more to do and we see more of their “environments” and the worlds that they inhabit, and vitally, the antagonist Steppenwolf is actually granted some motivation and a reason for hunting the motherboxes: rather than simply being a glorified henchman who wants to destroy the world just for yucks, we see that he wants to get back into his master Darkseid’s good graces and to return home. Now, why couldn’t we have had that scene in Justice League? A few moments to let us know just what he’s all about and to show that he’s not just a cookie cutter villain. Truly, Steppenwolf is FAR more interesting and memorable in this film.
The greatly extended runtime also means that when the league finally gets together (after about two hours or so), since we’ve gotten to know them throughout the first half of the film, the “coming together” really feels earned and it’s so much more satisfying watching them all team up to save the day than it was in Justice League, which really rushed the team building and left many characters (Aquaman especially) without the depth or development that they needed.
But it’s Ray Fisher’s Cyborg who really wins with this extended cut because although I personally felt that we got a good glimpse into his tragic nature in Justice League, this film really puts him at the centre of the narrative and makes him truly essential to the story; we learn so much more about his past, his family, and of his tumultuous relationship with his father Silas (Joe Morton) and while he begins the film hating what he is, hiding away in the shadows, he gradually learns more about himself as the film goes on, demonstrating care and compassion towards particular people, and by the end, his journey comes full circle as he accepts who he is (“I’m not broken” is an effective key scene here) and this kind of character development and catharsis is what makes ZSJL such a remarkable experience.
I realise that the story is essentially the same but due to its epic length and the way it’s structured and how it develops, ZSJL honestly feels like a completely different film to what came before; instead of being a silly throwaway film like Justice League was, this film really feels important and it just seems . . . bigger and on a larger scale than the 2017 film, probably because this version properly introduces Darkseid and his “army of darkness” to the DCEU, with the promise of some truly world-shattering events that include the possibility of Superman going rogue and the desperate alliance between members of the justice league and certain villains, and as such, the film just feels epic (sorry if I keep on using that word). There’s some question as to whether this ambitious storyline will continue, whether the “Snyderverse” will endure, but I really hope that it will because the dark events depicted in ZSJL were really thrilling to witness and I would be eager to see the completion of Snyder’s singular vision.
I also believe that while ZSJL is perhaps a more serious affair than what came before, I actually found it to be funnier than Justice League; the 2017 film was purposefully reworked to include more comedy but attempts at humour ultimately failed and came across as forced while in this film, any humour comes through naturally and since it doesn’t try so desperately to be funny, it somehow ends up being funnier than its messy predecessor.
Looking at the visuals, ZSJL is yet again superior to its counterpart as there’s a far less obvious use of greenscreen and obvious CGI (the final battle looks far more appealing than the one found in Justice League) and in addition, the battle sequences look really good (especially that aforementioned one as well as a big standoff that takes place during a flashback) and characters like Steppenwolf and Darkseid are rendered beautifully, the former looking far better than he did in Justice League.
As for negative points, I’ve already mentioned that this film could’ve been just as effective at three hours long and I believe that certain moments could very well have been left on the cutting room floor but I think that the film’s biggest negative point is the fact that there’s a lot of “stopping and starting” as well as a whole lot of flitting about between all of the different characters; there are moments when something “important” happens, with a big dramatic swell to let us know that events are heating up, but these exciting moments are often immediately followed by a “slower” moment (possibly involving Lois Lane) and this “stop/start” approach can get slightly grating after a while.
So in conclusion, though I at one point must’ve rolled my eyes at all those hardcore fans who campaigned fiercely for the Snyder cut and though I honesty believed that a longer version would merely be a polished you-know-what, I was left greatly impressed by Zack Snyder’s definitive version of the big DC team up, not bothered at all by the four hour plus runtime (though my eyes sure were hurting by the end), and I saw it as an epic superhero odyssey that really let its characters breathe and develop very well. I don’t know if the featured storyline will continue but if it does, and if it’s as good as what we’ve seen here, I’ll be one satisfied viewer.
An ambitious, well constructed, and truly epic superhero odyssey that greatly improves on the 2017 version thanks to its character development, improved visuals, and intriguing storyline which promises some exciting and dark future events.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Well, well, well. Giving a DCEU film five stars. I never thought I’d see the day.