By Eammon Jacobs
The journey leading up to Zack Snyder’s Justice League hasn’t been an easy one, with the director originally leaving the 2017 film during production after a family tragedy. Infamously, Marvel Studios alum Joss Whedon picked up the rest, and what followed was a hugely disappointing by-the-numbers super-dud. But after years of fan campaigning, Snyder was given the greenlight (and an extra $70 million) to finish his original vision for the DC heroes and their fight against otherworldly forces.
As in the theatrical version, the Snyder Cut follows Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne as he attempts to bring a team together to defend the world from Steppenwolf, who wants to overthrow the planet for his master – Darkseid. But with all-new scenes and a number of new characters, it’s a vastly different beast to the one audiences saw in 2017. And while fans of Snyder’s take on the DC Extended Universe will definitely enjoy the lengthy new version of the film, it might be too much for casual audiences.
With an intimidating four-hour run-time, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an overstuffed mess. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of greatness (because there are a few) but it takes a painstakingly long time before the team is even assembled. That’s down to the sporadic injections of scenes developing the characters a little further. From Steppenwolf’s motivations for attacking Earth and the history behind Darkseid, to Lois Lane dealing with the grief of losing Superman. And usually, that would be welcomed, but it pulls the film in so many directions, it almost feels frantic. The upside is that it makes the plot much clearer, as well as revealing Snyder’s wider intentions for the sequels he had planned, but needing four hours for audiences to fully understand a story isn’t exactly ideal when most other movies manage it in under two or three.
However, the new scenes of Steppenwolf slaughtering both the Amazons and the Atlanteans show off the director’s undeniable flair for violent battles of good versus evil, and the villain’s drastic redesign is one of the better elements of the cut. He becomes more of a terrifying barbarian rather than the Thanos-wannabe from 2017’s so-called “Josstice League”. And the climactic scenes of the team fighting the villain and his Parademons in Russia are much more exciting, especially as The Flash (Ezra Miller) has a better opportunity to showcase his abilities. The Scarlet Speedster rolls back time in an inventive sequence, teasing what might be ahead in the 2022 The Flash movie from IT director Andy Muschietti.
Snyder’s near-mythical approach to the DCEU works in his slow-motion-loving favour, but the edgier depiction of these colourful crusaders can be very jarring at times. Batman drops F-bombs with the Joker, while Steppenwolf decapitates countless Amazonians and Atlanteans. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) even vaporizes a terrorist with her gauntlet blast before turning to a young schoolgirl and spinning an inspirational line about “being whoever you want to be”. There’s a nice sentiment there, but prefacing it with the Amazon hero murdering someone in front of a group of children feels a little off.
In truth, there’s definitely some heart from Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio and Will Beall. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is a prime example, as the film expands on his origin briefly teased in Snyder’s Batman v Superman – with Joe Morton’s Dr. Silas Stone using the Motherbox to create his new body after a tragic car accident. The conflict between Cyborg and his father is unquestionably compelling, with Victor hating Silas for trapping him in a robotic existence as he grapples with the loss of his former self. Fisher puts his all into these new scenes and his entire arc works so much better this time around.
But characters like Lois Lane aren’t so lucky. Amy Adams’ intrepid reporter has no agency of her own as she mourns Clark’s death. The film tries to say something about how overwhelming grief can be, but there’s little else under the surface there. The one time Lois has a genuinely touching moment with Diane Lane’s Martha Kent (which just about lets Lois think about something other than Superman for once) it surprises the audience with a shocking reveal which instantly diminishes all of Martha’s heartfelt words.
While Zack Snyder’s Justice League is undeniably better than the theatrical cut, it’s still a very chaotic experience. Of course this was the director’s last chance to show off his sprawling vision for the DCEU, so it’s understandable why he included everything, but ultimately it makes for a laborious watch.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League cut will be released on Sky Cinema and NOW TV in the UK on Thursday 18th March.