As a huge comic book fan, one of the largest disappointments in cinema over the recent years has been Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017). That said, the 2017 Justice League film has had an asterisk for the way the film was treated during production. Throughout the entire production, there were multiple controversies and multiple reports of Warner Bros. hating most of what Snyder was crafting. Things took a turn for the worst when Snyder’s family suffered the tragic loss of his daughter, and at this point Zack and his wife Deborah left the project as director and producers. Warner Bros. then brought on Joss Whedon, of The Avengers (2012) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) fame, to take over the project. With no extra budget, high tensions between crew/cast and the new director, and WB’s long list of things they wanted either removed or forced in, the Frankenstein monstrosity that hit theaters was a complete unenjoyable mess, and the diehard DC fanbase has been crying out and begging WB to restore Snyder’s original vision ever since. With the recent introduction of HBOmax as Warner’s premier streaming service, the fanboys finally got their wish, with a 4-hour version of the exact same mess.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) follows the exact same plot as its 2017 version. Following the death of Superman (played by Henry Cavill) in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne/Batman (played by Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) set out to find metahumans in order to form a team to protect the Earth from an ancient alien threat called Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter). While the heroes are recruiting The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a servant of Darkseid named Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) sets out conquests against man, Atlanteans, and the Amazons in order to retrieve the mysterious Mother Boxes that will summon Darkseid and his armies to Earth.
Much of the fanboy hysteria over this version of Justice League has been because, “IT”LL BE A WHOLE DIFFERENT MOVIE!”—they were completely wrong. Most major plot points in the original are the same this time around. That said, what this version does do is provide something that sorely lacked in 2017: context. It seems like everything that Warner Bros. and Whedon didn’t like in Snyder’s footage was everything that made the story and character motivations make sense. Originally, every member of the Justice League felt flat and soulless, but with this new version, every character is made relatable, sympathetic, and heroic. This is most notable with Ray Fisher’s portrayal of Victor Stone aka Cyborg, who was completely butchered by the 2017 cut. Every new scene of Cyborg in this director’s cut was absolutely needed in order to make this film watchable. Another big thing missing in the Whedon cut was the mythological epic tone that Snyder brought to his Man of Steel (2013) and that subsequent DC films (notably Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018), and Shazam! (2019)) had. The DC films are about gods living among and protecting man and need this tone to portray that, and this 4-hour journey brought that feeling back (particularly in the flashback, flashfoward, and Themyscira scenes). This tone and added runtime made every action scene feel heavy, important, and very enjoyable with every character—main and side—having fantastic scenes to show off their skills and, most importantly, giving the audience enjoyable action scenes to keep them around.
Despite that added contextualization of the plot and characters, the more fitting tone, and enhanced action scenes, this film is still not the saving grace that DC fans were hoping for. I don’t care if it’s a director’s cut, 4-hours is incredibly too long. While many of the extra scenes were great and needed, several scenes could have easily been shortened or removed. The lack of trimmed fat, along with Snyder’s overuse (overuse is an understatement) of eye-rolling slow-motion scenes, easily makes up for about 20-25 minutes of runtime that bog down the entire film’s pacing. Overuse is actually an applicable statement for every aspect of this film. Fan service is a great tool in every director’s tool belt, but Snyder took it to extremes and, in doing so, actually created logic inaccuracies and scenes that provided little-to-no narrative purpose other than promising comic fans future films that will never come to fruition (much like the disastrous over-setup in Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)). One of the improvements in this version is Junkie XL’s score, but the overuse of character motifs without any variation causes many scenes, specifically with Wonder Woman, to feel overly comical and saturated. Jokes about Batman’s wealth, quips about Wonder Woman’s beauty, Cyborg’s moody stares, Aquaman’s entrances, Lois Lane’s (played by Amy Adams) sad eyes, and so much more, are used so much, that even the law of diminishing returns feels like its definition has lost some of its meaning/weight.
Is Zack Snyder’s Justice League a significant improvement and more enjoyable than Whedon’s 2017 cut? Yes, 1000% yes. However, this film isn’t going to swoop in and save DC fanboys’ hopes and dreams to restore the Snyderverse. While these fans are singing praises all over social media, what they fail to recognize is that improvement does not equal greatness. The new character scenes, greater villain/plot development, and tone are all great pieces, but they still don’t quite fit together like the 4-years of fan outcry for the cut hoped for. With a sluggish pace, repetitive everything, and the overabundance of editing room fat, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is nothing more than better presented mediocrity.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is rated R for violence and some language.