Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller & Ciaran Hinds
Review by Damocles
It’s an improvement … that’s about it.
In what must be a first for Hollywood and setting a rather expensive precedence (70 million USD), comes the first ever DLC edition of a film, years after its’ failed release in 2017 at the hands of audiences and critics alike.
With over 4 years to mull over the project and fans clamouring for his vision to be realised, Snyder has finally had an opportunity to right many of the wrongs in the original cut of the film.
However did that opportunity really have to come at a 4 hour run time?
Snyder, as a director, seems to relish elaborate story-telling techniques and vast inclusions of world building elements. This, whilst exciting, often bogs down the film with references that some die-hard comic book fans will love, but others will leave, scratching their head. In particular, I found the “Epilogue” of the film to be far too long with a lot of world building elements that do not need to be added.
However, Snyder’s slavish attention to further explore the backstory of a lot of these characters is a necessary evil, as without them, the film truly suffers with emotional stakes as seen in the 2017 cut.
Here, in the Snyder cut, much of the additional cast without their solo films, like Cyborg and the Flash gain much needed improvement, in regards to their characterisation and motivations. They are more realised and iconic now, due to their past being a key element as to why they want to join the Justice League.
The same is also said for the main villain, Steppenwolf whose generic motivations were now transformed into a desire to fall back into the good graces of his true master, Darkseid.
Again, this was another necessary sacrifice to create a more realised “world”, with Snyder’s decision to insert Darkseid into the plot, a way to set up a future story about the true evil that was coming to destroy Earth. This of course, negatively affects the importance of Steppenwolf, but such is the nature of this beast that the DCEU has become.
The overall plot is also remarkably improved by Snyder’s direction, as there are less silly contrivances and conveniences. however the film does suffer from a slight pacing issue with having to balance so many character’s individual aspirations, motivations and actions.
The sheer amount of times, in which Snyder cuts between Cyborg then to Flash, then over to Wonder Woman, then back to Batman and finally to Superman, with a splash of Aquaman in between is dizzying and serves to blur the film slightly when looking back upon it.
But gone are the silly quips that plagued the original Justice League and soured its tone. Instead a more natural and cohesive colour grade, tone and pace was injected into the film, creating a less confusing and more consistent watching experience.
Fight sequences which lack panache before, are now more exciting and gritty. The score in particular, under the expert supervision of Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) is now much more memorable and heroic, serving the visuals well. It is pleasing to note that all the heroes have their own moment to shine in the score, and to hear the iconic Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme again is always a blast.
When discussing visuals, there are times when the visuals do not match well with the rest of the film, no doubt a key issue due to budget and time constraints. Certain CGI heavy scenes stick out from the rest of the film, and there are some scenes that do not need the signature Snyder slow motion shots, for the sake of brevity. In fact, I found the use of slow motion a bit excessive but that could just be a personal gripe speaking.
Overall, the improvements are there. The film has punchier and bloodier fight sequences, something which, I will admit, is not quite something I approve of. There is something odd about seeing superheroes kill their enemies on film, especially when they espouse a higher moral code.
But I digress …
The backstory of key characters have been fleshed out and a lot of their flaws from the 2017 cut have been addressed. The way how the story evolves and unfolds throughout the film has a lot more rhythm and sense to them, and the visuals finally match the tone that its’ creator had always strive for.
I just wished it didn’t take Snyder so damn long to tell this story and focus a bit less emphasis on extravagant world building for future sequels. I thought that there was already enough in here to warrant a great Justice League film.
It is a pity, because had the DCEU followed a better business model like its’ great rival, the MCU, in creating individual films for each of their main characters, the Justice League would be a much more concise and precise film, removed from the restraints of having to introduce characters and their motivational arcs.
For a lot of Snyder fans this is a vindictive moment, a film that justified their belief in a director, whose visions are often torn up by the studio. The 2021 version of Justice League has some excellent moments that really highlight the heroism of their characters and overall enhance the experience of the film to the point where the 2017 version seems like a bland rip-off in comparison.
Perhaps a necessary step forward for Snyder is to understand one of his greatest strengths is his weakness in the studio’s eyes. His penchant for long, elaborate stories, often require a lot from the audience with their 3 hour run times (as seen in Watchmen Extended Cut, Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition, this 2021 version of Justice League) and such a run time require a director to be extremely adept with story pacing, an issue he suffers from often.
But there is a reason why I place a question mark at the end of the Yes? above in the recommendation. This film is best appreciated when you have seen the 2017 cut before. As a standalone film, it is a bit trickier to recommend to new audiences, because of the long run-time, the wildly elaborate story and the excessive amount of backstory work Snyder had to do, to create compelling emotional moments for each of the main characters and villains. This does not even include the hundreds of Easter eggs scattered throughout the film.
To wrap things up, Snyder’s Justice League is a marked improvement over the 2017 cut and worth viewing if you were disappointed with the film when it first came out. If you are new to the DCEU, this might be an undertaking that may underwhelm you slightly.
A scene to recall: There is something oddly striking about seeing Wonder Woman’s silhouette against the backdrop of London, desperately throwing a bomb away from hostages. It makes her a believable mythological figure and somehow the composition of the shot and colours made the scene so photo-realistic.