Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)

I have to start off by saying I never saw the original Justice League.  I saw Man of Steel, which completely rebooted the Superman franchise after the failure of Superman Returns, and thought it was pretty to look at in the beginning but became tedious during the the final fight.  I was happy with Zod and his crew from the original Superman II, so I didn't think that there was any real need to improve on it.  Henry Cavill was decent in the role of Kal-El, but beyond that there wasn't a whole lot that was memorable. 

I remember getting some snide derision for being a "hipster" when, upon seeing the trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I said immediately that if the advertisement looked liked crap the film was going to be.  Obviously the majority of people who saw the film, including critics, agreed.  Zack Snyder directed both of those films, and it largely set the tone for the DC cinematic universe: lots of brooding, lots of noise and everything just this side of monochrome.  I thought the fact I had not seen that movie either would put me at a disadvantage for seeing the newly released cut of Justice League.

The original came out the same year as the one movie that I had liked from the DCEU, which was Wonder WomanEven though that still had many of the faults of the other films, at least it had a comprehensive plot, even if I could care less about Ares.  Justice League was pretty much universally hated.  I did get some side-by-side examples of what the original was like from watching Red Letter Media's review of the Snyder cut, and seeing Steppenwolf (the main villain in both movies) in his theatrical form clinched it.  I could understand the promotion behind Wonder Woman because, other than just being a pretty good film all around, it largely served as an apology for making audiences sit through a movie that could have killed the entire franchise. 

Justice League ended up the way it did because Zack Snyder had to leave due to the death of his daughter.  The movie was pretty much wrapped up and ready to be edited and have the effects added.  Someone at Warner Bros. decided that, since the Marvel movies over at Disney were making money hand over fist and the DC movies were quickly losing audiences, that instead of just having Joss Whedon tighten up a few things and then let the editors whittle things down to a normal theatrical length film that Whedon should instead just make a brand new movie.  That meant reusing sets, bringing in cast members (including Cavill) that were already deep into other projects and, in many cases, doing shot-for-shot replacements of scenes but with conversations about brunch and Whedon's fake feminism thrown in.  Along the way someone forgot the movie was more about Cyborg and Flash than any of the other characters, since Batman's origin story was already well known and Wonder Woman and Aquaman were going to get their own movies.  Instead it was retooled to pay attention to the two main draws.

The fans that cared, and they turned out to be quite vocal, demanded repeatedly that Snyder's original version be released.  The problem was that it was handed over to be finished - there was no finished film, and as pretentious as Snyder can get, I doubt he meant to drop a four-hour movie into theaters.  After denying there was enough to work with for the longest time, Warner Bros. capitulated due to Snyder's willingness to help complete his version for no extra charge and the fact that audiences had been stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Warner's streaming service, HBO MAX, got off to a rather shaky start, but it was the perfect platform to release a number of event films at a time when many theaters were still closed or, where they were open, most people were still not willing to take the chance.  While a four-hour movie in a theater is not going to fly without bringing back the old-fashioned intermission, all bets are off if you can watch it at home.  

The events begin at the moment of Superman's (Cavill) death by the hands of Doomsday in the previous films.  His death shout literally shakes the Earth, giving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) a vision of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and awakening the Motherbox on the island of Themyscira, the home of the Amazons.  The awakening is what summons Steppenwolf, who arrives on the island to take possession of the box and then leaves, setting up his base of operations in an abandoned Russian nuclear power plant that had been closed off after a meltdown.  Meanwhile, as a result of Superman's death, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) has been searching for other heroes to form an organization that can protect Earth in the Kryptonian's absence.  Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), aka Wonder Woman, is already on board, but Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), otherwise known as Aquaman, is not interested.  

Diana is sent to recruit Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), a young man who was turned into a cyborg by his father Silas (Joe Morton).  Silas happens to also be the lead scientist working on discovering the secrets of Superman's ship, as well as the person in possession of the Motherbox given to normal humans to guard.  Victor is at first reluctant to participate until Silas is kidnaped by Steppenwolf's Parademons, who have been sent out to hunt for the boxes. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), with no other major prospects, is more than happy to join and lend a hand, making Wayne's job at recruiting him rather easy.  After the Motherbox in possession of the Atlantians is stolen, Aquaman joins as well, and they all go after Steppenwolf - only to find out that he's a lot stronger than they anticipated.  It turns out that they need someone else to assist them; only problem is, that person is dead.  Meanwhile, Steppenwolf realizes that Earth is the one world in which he and his master, Darkseid (Ray Porter), was turned back from.  It is also the planet that has something carved into the surface called the Anti-Life Equation, which Darkseid seeks in order to reset the universe to his liking.

That, to be honest, is nowhere near scratching the surface of the movie.  Surprisingly, about three and a half hours of it deserve to be there.  If even a two-and-a-half-hour cut of this version had been released to theaters and the longer on DVD back in 2017 then Warner Bros. wouldn't still be as far behind the curve with the DCEU.  Instead of looking at Wonder Woman as a fluke fans would have been able to point to Justice League whenever the Marvel side got too smug.  That doesn't mean this is perfect in any way, but it justifies most of its length through building on the characters that it needs to - Cyborg and Flash - while not retreading the origin stories of everyone else.  It doesn't add any unnecessary tension between everyone, save for a fight against Superman before he gets back into his right mind, which is worth it even if it is gratuitous.  When it comes to the final attack against Steppenwolf everyone plays to their strengths, which means Batman may not have a lot to do beyond tactical support and being a decoy, but it's better than putting him in a position that doesn't make sense just to remind audiences he is there.

The movie also seems to balance the fight scenes with the character building, which is something Snyder has been terrible with in the past.  Barry Allen is introduced in a beautiful sequence where he saves a woman (Kiersey Clemons) from a runaway truck, while Cyborg is introduced not through action sequences but through his difficult relation with his father.  Also, as said before, it turns out that these two are more important than any of the other members of the team.  While Flash may not be able to defeat Superman in a fight, he has certain abilities that Kal-El had in the first two Christopher Reeves film, but has never exhibited in the Snyder movies.  Cyborg, meanwhile, was not just built so Stone could survive, but was also given abilities that could heavily impact the modern world and are integral in stopping Steppenwolf from setting things up to let Darkseid take over the Earth.

On the other hand some major missteps are made.  Wonder Woman's first big sequence is stopping a terrorist attack in London.  It's great, even if it results in the usual Zack Snyder cliché of unnecessarily blowing things up, but then it takes time to awkwardly throw in the "You go, girl!" type of dialogue that stands in for actual feminism in Hollywood these days.  Also, the sequence has no bearing in the rest of the movie; it's there to showcase her powers, which may have been necessary at the time, and it is better than the mall scene in Wonder Woman 1984, but would work better if there was some connection to Steppenwolf or the Motherboxes.  We get a heartfelt conversation about moving beyond grief between Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), but then undercut it by introducing a new character out of nowhere.  And, finally, there is a 30-minute epilogue after the end of the battle, where it could have just cut to credits and had a mid-credit sequence further elaborating the new character mentioned above.  Instead we get a dream sequence that sets up what would possibly be an interesting movie in itself (if they dumped Amber Heard on the trash heap where she belongs), but in this case just seems to be pretentious wankery.  Finally, a major elephant in the room that no one seems to be talking about is how much Darkseid resembles Thanos, while having many of the same motivations as the bad guys in The Chronicles of Riddick.  

Speaking of pretentiousness, there is plenty to go around, from the aspect ratio of the film - meant to emulate IMAX, but instead looking like we accidentally rented the wrong version of the film - to the fact that Snyder's intended black and white version of the movie is said to be on its way, and with a different ending.  Which, happily, is what IMDB is for, as this pandemic has already worn enough of a groove in my couch.  Still, I would definitely suggest giving this the time, as it does show that Snyder had a good DCEU movie in him, and gives more than a taste of what could have been.  It might even be good enough, and make enough money for HBO, that we get to see more of the Justice League in action. 

Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
Time: 242 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Ciarán Hinds
Director: Zack Snyder



  1. Zack Snyder delivers by far his best film with Justice League. The film has an engaging story with a lot of heart and a great cast of characters who all have good chemistry together standouts being Ezra Millers Flash and Ray Fishers Cyborg. The film i heard about it on also has many easter eggs and cameos fans of the comics will recognize. Honestly as a big fan of DC this is my favorite DCEU film.


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