A sign of the merciless indulgence to follow, Zack Snyder’s Justice League picks up not even where Batman v Superman left off but before it, when Superman’s dying cry was heard ‘round the world. You’d think it would blow some heads up at that volume, but as we’ll soon see reiterated, collateral damage is no longer Zack Snyder’s concern. The point is that this skull-shattering scream blasts through sea, stone, and closet doors, stirring the so-called Mother Boxes and kicking off a four-hour story about collecting a trio of MacGuffin cubes. And Batman says “fuck” to Joker!
Of course, the larger and only slightly more exhausting story of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is how it came to pass as a possessive monstrosity twice the length of 2017’s original Justice League release. To be brief (a more cherished trait now than it was four hours ago): during the original production, some mix of personal tragedy and Warner Bros. wanting a snappier, Marvel-style flick led to Snyder exiting the project toward the end of his shoot. Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon was then brought in to do some rewrites and finish things up—and it showed.
We called that version “a bland slurry churned out by so many cooks that the end product lacks any trace of a consistent creative voice—even Snyder’s unwelcomely dour one.” Like the Justice League team members themselves, the unsmiling, stoic voice and the quippy fanboy yammering didn’t come together all that well.
In the years since, “The Snyder Cut” became a thing of legend for Snyder’s unbearably vocal fanbase. They seemed to believe that Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were actually good, and in an even larger stretch of the imagination, they dreamed up the Visionary Director’s original vision as a lost masterpiece.
Now it’s here, and it’s not. But it is the somewhat improved Justice League. And, Jesus Christ and all his symbolism, is it ever Zack Snyder’s.
It’s hard not to compare the two versions, even if it’s a bit unfair. Snyder was apparently shooting what, all-told, would need to be a four-hour superhero movie to properly function. As Batman no longer says to Aquaman, “That’s not a saying.” A four-hour superhero movie isn’t a thing, nor should it be. Whedon’s edit was C-, generic pap, but at least he completed the group assignment he was given. Given a four-year extension and twice the word count (not to mention $70 million) for the same piece, Snyder eking out a C doesn’t exactly merit a pizza party.
As expected, giving Snyder full creative control has fixed the original’s all-over-the-place tone and approach. No one will be shocked to learn that the constant quips of 2017 were Whedon’s addition—though they may be surprised that Flash Barry Allen is actually more of a Big Bang Theory side character now. But otherwise, with the smirks smacked off their faces and given twice the time to breath, the characters come off slightly less like Saturday morning cartoons—as laughably punctuated by Batman finally(?) dropping F-bombs amid his nonstop gunfire (as he’s famous for!). The action sequences are likewise more coherent and elevated by the time and Snyder’s sure-sharper-than-Whedon’s eye, even if they too needlessly force this into the territory of a no-kids-allowed movie about Superman zapping a monster man with his eye beams.
All this to say, by comparison, Snyder’s cut is an improvement. But by contrast, it sure does make his usual tone-deafness scream as long and loud as the Man of Steel’s caterwauling.
Take an early scene where Wonder Woman is stopping some London terrorists from leveling a bank and the surrounding city blocks. In both versions, she gets rid of the bomb (which for some reason has a timer even though it’s a suicide bomb?), takes out the henchmen, defends the hostages, and leaves the main baddie (Michael McElhatton) awestruck. In Whedon’s, the scene ends there with a dissolve on the blinding flash of Wonder Woman clashing her wristbands together. Snyder… follows through on that a bit more.
Instead of apprehending the criminal—or even just snapping his neck or something—she uses her wristbands’ blast to send him through the fucking wall. Yes, after stopping the bomb from destroying the building, she decides to still cause hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage to the place by smoking this dude in front of a room of children. Police below stand by in shock as the lead terrorist’s hat floats to the earth, presumably the only thing left of his obliterated corpse.
Is this added runtime and violence there to echo the issue of superhero collateral damage that stoked Batman’s rage in Batman v Superman? Nope! It’s just fuckin’ cool, bro!
Per usual for Snyder, every goddamn moment of this thing is A Moment. The Flash opens the padlock on his apartment and it’s shot like he’s unlocking Pandora’s Box. The soundtrack is constantly over-the-top in one way or another—be it rocking super hard for how awesome everything is (Junkie XL’s score is an improvement over Danny Elfman’s generic 2017 work—until it starts sounding like a fighting game character select screen) or some chorale, melodramatic tune. (Sorry, Leonard Cohen*, because Snyder has a new favorite plaintive old man baritone he’s obsessed about: Nick Cave, who’s mournful ballads are featured twice.)
There’s also, of course, an unconscionable amount of slow-mo dragging this thing out even further. And he brings back Man of Steel’s on-the-nose Christ-on-the-cross space shot. And in what may be a new peculiar quirk, the director repeatedly opens scenes with odd, completely unnecessary context. Cutting to Bruce Wayne shaving? Let’s first make it explicitly clear that he’s using a Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor. A scene where Lois Lane is carrying coffees? Better start on the barista, so the audience understands that she first ordered them! We already saw that in The Room, man, but credits for originality in the later prolonged slow-mo closeup of a hamburger bun’s savory, flying sesame seed.
The plot is pretty much the exact same thing as the original, both dumb enough for a child to understand and so dumb as to be utter nonsense. This big, ugly, CGI moron (now even uglier and spikier than before!) is collecting magical, graphite-colored hat boxes while Batman goes around assembling his team of the fish man, the rope woman, the speedy man, and the robot with half a guy’s face. While, again, the added runtime helps with the still-thin characterization and the now-cohesive action, it’s purely a detriment to the film’s stupid premises. Every Snyder Moment is another second to slowly realize just how completely idiotic everything is.
The most egregious example may be in Snyder fleshing out his inane lore. A scene that was once a brief footnote is now this whole tangent about when mankind, the Amazons, and the Aquamen all teamed up to fight big-bad Steppenwolf’s boss, Darkseid.
In it, we see that the three forces combined were able to drive Darkseid and his forces away, and he ends up abandoning the Mother Boxes in their escape. But get this: it turns out, he doesn’t remember where he left them!
Darkseid was just like, “Goddamn, where did we leave those things? It was the one and only planet where I suffered a bloody defeat…?
And his cronies were like, “We were gonna ask you! We should have written it down or marked it on a map or something, huh? Guess we’re just going to have to wait until the boxes call to us after a man screams himself to death at them.”
Even when Steppenwolf arrives to the planet of man, Amazon, and Atlantean, and has recovered two of the Mother Boxes, it seriously takes him more than half the movie to give Darkseid a ring to say, “My man, you’re not gonna believe it, but I think this might be the same place?”
By the standards of other streaming-on-demand, hyper-extended, chapter-divided, director’s cuts of superhero movies, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has no equal.
Snyder promised Ray Fisher’s Cyborg would be in the spotlight in his cut, and he wasn’t lying. There’s this whole section where it’s basically an infomercial for being a cyborg, closing with Cyborg using his newfound cyborg powers to do the obvious: immediately spy on poor people. Fisher is also now gifted one of the film’s most fascinating standout lines, a stoic “I’m always dressed.” Men who can disrobe will never know the pain of Cyborg, the always-dressed man.
One such man: the partially-nude Clark Kent. As in the 2017 edit, being resurrected blasts off half his funeral garb and he’s left shirtless, wearing only these really wide, floppy slacks, so low-rise that early-aughts Britney Spears might find them a bit revealing. Classic pube-teasing funeral garb! You’ve heard of “boot cut”; these are Snyder Cut—big, dumb, dark, broad, far too long, and you can plainly make out the ass behind it all. But somehow still a little easier to put on than the old patchwork pair half their size.
*Stick around through the credits to find out that actually Zack Snyder still fucking loves Hallelujah.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Director: Come on.
Runtime: 242 minutes
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons