Zack Snyder has done the impossible: he’s managed to weave a coherent movie out of the scraps that made up the original cut of Justice League. But a good movie requires a solid foundation and in that regard, Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the entire DCEU is sorely lacking. While the new cut improves on the pacing, story and characters of the original, it suffers the same over-stuffing that’s quickly proving to be the downfall of DC’s movie universe.
This review will dive into spoilers for the film, so don’t read on if you’re still keen to see it yourself.
For a quick recap, Zack Snyder‘s Justice League explores the same catastrophe as the original: Darkseid’s planned takeover of Earth. But it also introduces wild concepts like the Anti-Life Equation, the Speedforce, alternate realities, the Injustice universe, the Mother Boxes, the ages-old war between the Amazons and Atlanteans, Martian Manhunter and the Green Lanterns.
That’s in addition to telling the tragic tale of Cyborg, fleshing out Barry Allen’s awkward nature, having the heroes decipher and counter Darkseid’s world-ending plot (which fails) and an entirely new universe being born in the last twenty minutes of the film.
Yes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is four hours. But even that’s still not enough time to give these concepts room to breath. It means important lore is delivered in multiple narrated flashbacks. And killer concepts and characters from the DC Universe are treated as throwaway lines.
Did the film really need to include a cameo from Crispus Allen, the future Spectre? Did it need to mention the Anti-Life Equation or introduce Martian Manhunter with the assumption that every fan will know who and what he is? Did Granny Goodness need to make an appearance? No.
All of this makes for an incredibly dense film that’s difficult to parse.
There’s a reason why the film is split into multiple parts, including an epilogue. It’s acutely aware of its own foibles, and just how much it’s trying to achieve. While the new cut rearranges existing scenes into a logical order that provides more emotional gravitas as it builds to the final Darkseid confrontation, sense is still difficult to find.
It’s hard not to compare it with Marvel’s Avengers franchise.
Yes, the two companies differ greatly in how they approach their source material. But the success of Marvel directly correlates to DC’s failures.
Marvel spent two decades building a movie universe and explaining comics lore in a slow, accessible way.
Comparatively, DC has tried to pack in 50 years of comics history into a single film with minimal explanation. It means you have to read up on every piece of lore and every character to even understand the film if you’re unfamiliar with any part of that source material.
Even as someone who’s grown up reading DC comics, I found myself double-taking at the lore whiplash. One moment Zack Snyder’s Justice League is showing off witty banter between Aquaman and the Flash, and in the next it’s diving deep into the impact of Anti-Life and the lore of Apokolips.
And then there’s the fact that the final moments of the film are set in an alternate reality that’s barely introduced. Here, Superman is evil, and Deathstroke and the Joker are working with what’s left of the Justice League. It’s like Zack Snyder decided he was going to create a whole other movie with the budget he was afforded.
The good news is the weird epilogue finally gives Jared Leto a chance to shine as the Joker.
Leto’s wide-eyed villain, who refers to Batman as his best friend and teases the death of Robin, is a breath of fresh air in a cluttered film.
He feels like a unique version on the character, and one that has major potential. He’s not the same gangster we saw in Suicide Squad, but more of an annoying, maniacal sidekick.
There’s a strange buddy-cop banter between him and Batman that is extremely interesting — but given the way DC films have gone it’s unlikely we’ll see this dynamic explored again.
Not only that, the overall set-up and purpose of the scene is so baffling that it basically renders the performance a complete waste.
While there’s every chance DC could evaluate the success of Zack Snyder’s Justice League and decide it warrants a follow-up, the current plan means this alternate universe epilogue is just a teaser for a future that will never come to pass.
The other two bright spots in the movie are Aquaman and Cyborg. Both characters were sidelined in the original cut of the movie, but here they get a chance to shine.
What’s actually most surprising about the new cut is just how important Cyborg is to the plot and emotion of the film.
He’s the core player that brings everyone together and unlocks their potential to save the world. But if you’ve watched the original cut, he barely makes an appearance. Here, the vision for the character is restored. His character arc is a great one, and his story is by far the most meaningful and intriguing of the film’s cast.
Meanwhile, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman continues to be a total scene-stealer. For that, I have to thank Snyder.
In the first 50 minutes of the film, Aquaman removes his shirt dramatically twice and does it again later on. Half the film is filled with Aquaman pouting to camera, showing off his chiselled, tattooed abs and generally not wanting to get involved. Yes, it’s very distracting, but also welcome.
In a four hour movie, eye candy is essential. It doesn’t fix the flaws of this strange, packed film, but it does make it far more entertaining than it could have been otherwise.
In essence, Zack Snyder’s Justice League repairs the major flaws of the original, inferior cut. The story is more emotional and exciting, but it’s also more dense and confusing. There’s standout scenes, like the Amazon’s defence against the parademons and the tantalising Knightmare vision that concludes the film — but overall it’s far too cluttered and long to stay engaging.
It also features bafflingly awful CGI in some scenes, like the fight against Steppenwolf (where he briefly resembles a character straight out of a PS2-era video game) and an odd early scene where Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor appears to be badly CGI-ed into a body of water.
Much of this is to do with the difficult nature of filming during coronavirus and the tight budget of the film, but it makes several scenes stick out like a sore thumb in an already muddy and beige-soaked film.
DC fans will love all the references and the justice the film finally gives to Cyborg, but it’s hard to really recommend spending four hours of your life watching this new cut. It certainly improves on the original Justice League, but it’s still a film built on incredibly rocky foundations.
With the future of the DCEU currently up in the air, Zack Snyder’s Justice League may end up being just a strange footnote in DC movie history. It’s a position that the film has unfortunately earned.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now available to stream on Binge in Australia.