Whew! Here we are. After years of intrigue, drama, and one exceptionally vocal and motivated fanbase, the once-mythical and now real “SnyderCut,” henceforth known as Zack Snyder’s Justice League, is upon us.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is presented with six nicely separated parts, that may allow some to digest its unwieldy length in multiple sittings. There’s no way to disentangle it from the 2017 release, mockingly called “Josstice League,” after Joss Whedon stepped in to conduct rewrites, direct additional scenes, and edit the final cut that made its way to theaters.
But the question on everyone’s mind: Is it a different, better movie than the version of Justice League released theatrically in 2017?
Yes and no.
Yes, it is unequivocally, if not substantially, better. But it is largely the same movie released in 2017, just longer and with Junkie XL’s scoring duties restored. Despite previous claims that only about half of the 2017 release was shot by Snyder, about 80% of that movie is found in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
It takes 3 hours before a plot point significantly different from the theatrical release occurs. And there is a minor change to the theatrical film’s third act climax — and it lands better — but again, the plot of the 2017 Justice League is largely unchanged here.
What’s new are extended character backstories, and teases that would have set up the originally announced Justice League Part 2. The film also tacks on 15 minutes to the original narrative, all setups for future stories. Those backstories do an admirable job fleshing the Flash and Cyborg — Ray Fisher’s arc is much more significant and emotionally grounded than the original release — but is also expounds on Wonder Woman and Aquaman in ways that are less interesting than the histories and arcs they were eventually allowed to explore in their own films.
And oh yeah, in case you didn’t hear, Superman has a black suit. I can’t tell you why, and the film doesn’t either.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a better film than the 2017 theatrical release because of its length and added character arcs, allowing some of the beats of the film to resonate more. And with the added exposition, it thankfully eliminates some of the plot holes Whedon created trying to dance around a studio-mandated two-hour running time while introducing three new and woefully underdeveloped characters. And despite Whedon’s reputation for building team dynamics, the relationship between the members of the Justice League play out better in Zack Snyder’s Justice League than in the 2017 release.
The action is also better; throughout the film, you can see Snyder’s deft hand in crafting fight sequences, and it’s perplexing as to why some of these shots were excised from the original release. The action in this cut’s third act is a major step-up from Justice League.
But the film still falters under the weight of what came before: unevenly scripted themes from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which muddle much of the payoff in this film. One of the minor improvements in this version of the film is a more clearly realized resolution to Superman’s three-film arc. But it still relies on deep reads into the meaning of those films in a way they didn’t execute well: themes of Superman’s inner conflict, his romance with Lois Lane and his relationship to mankind, and how it views him alternately as both a savior and a threat.
So much of the film turns on Batman and Superman’s arcs from those movies before, so it is impossible to separate previous lackluster entries in the DCEU from Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The redeeming feature of those films — beautiful cinematography and epic presentation — is missing for long stretches here; almost as if Snyder intended to install some of his trademark visuals during reshoots that he was ultimately never able to conduct.
All the regular sins of the Snyderverse are here too. Repeated instances where the film fails to adhere to its own narrative logic. Beautifully dramatic (and slow-motion) sequences overlayed with poignant music but used too frequently to diminishing returns, and a scene where Wonder Woman indiscriminately (and needlessly) murders a villain, thereby endangering the lives of dozens of police officers.
And for those who made a hubbub about the switch from Junkie XL to Danny Elfman, who scored Justice League, I found myself repeatedly distracted by odd musical cues in this film; it’s a change for the worse.
So what was all the fuss about?
If it is the artistic integrity of a director’s original vision, well, this is the nature of making a film with someone else’s IP: you have to bend to their desires (a lesson Josh Trank, Edgar Wright, Patti Jenkins, and others have learned). If it’s about restoring some alternative version of a film that some believed was weakened and changed substantially — now we know that was incorrect. Justice League was already Snyder’s movie, just whittled down.
And if you advocate that Warner Brothers should have allowed Snyder’s full vision into theaters, it was very unlikely they could release a 4-hour movie after the commercial disappointment and critical failure of Batman v Superman.
(Yes, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” made $873m at the worldwide box office; however, adjusted for inflation, it made $270m less than The Dark Knight in 2008. The film was widely panned by critics, with a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. It did perform modestly better with audiences, with a 63% audience score, almost certainly inflated by the same cohort whose loud and fervent praise ultimately led to the release of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”).
So where, if anywhere, do we go from here? Already fans are loudly clamoring to #RestoreTheSnyderVerse. Aside from a substantially different world for Aquaman that has since been neutered by his own film, and teases and setups for future DC installments, there is nothing here that takes the DCEU in a different direction than the original Justice League release. Snyder’s already proven twice, possibly three times over, that his vision isn’t popular with the general movie-going public, so him returning to the director’s seat for future Superman or Justice League installments seems unlikely.*
(Many also thought a SnyderCut would never see the light of day, so while unlikely, underestimate the pull of his fans at your own peril.)
So, best to enjoy Zack Snyder’s Justice League for what it is: a better version of the film released in 2017. It is by far Snyder’s best and most narratively coherent entry into the DCEU (even if it’s not as beautiful as its predecessors), but it still can’t escape the inadequacies of previous installments.
Justice League (2017): 5/10
Zack Snyder’s Justice League: 7/10