'Zack Snyder's Justice League' Sees a Director Have His Messy Revenge on Movie Execs Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Willem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Ciarán Hinds, Connie Nielsen
Published Mar 19, 2021There's no denying that the 2017 theatrical release of Justice League was a disaster. For those out of the loop, here's the basic story behind the troubled production: after the poor critical and commercial response to 2016's dour Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. panicked and brought Geoff Johns and Joss Whedon to do rewrites on Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio's next script. In March of 2017, as post-production of Justice League was beginning, tragedy struck when Snyder's daughter Autumn died by suicide. Snyder planned to continue and complete the film, but with growing resistance from the studio and a mandate that the film needed to be no more than two hours long, he left the project. Whedon stepped in as director, rewrote the script to fit the two-hour time constraint and reshot a large portion of the film. The result was a horrid amalgamation of Snyder's dynamic visual style and Whedon's mid-2000s TV show aesthetic. No one liked it, but Snyder fans were especially upset and launched a movement that sought to restore Snyder's version of the film.
Finally, in 2021, after a lot of tweets and fan campaigning, "the Snyder Cut" is here. While it may be a marked improvement over the theatrical cut, it's also an unwieldy mess.
Like the 2017 version, Snyder's film is centred around Batman (Ben Affleck) assembling the Justice League to stop the evil Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) from collecting three boxes that will destroy the planet. The main story beats are largely the same as in 2017, but there is a large amount of new material, and scenes we've seen before are presented differently.
Cyborg's (Ray Fisher) arc is restored to serve as the emotional core of the film and the Flash (Ezra Miller) is given a few different scenes to show off just how powerful his super-speed ability is. These are standout scenes in the movie and play to Snyder's strength as a visual storyteller. It's bizarre that they had this footage in 2017 and didn't use it. These scenes have more heart, humour and emotional resonance than anything in the theatrical cut. Then again, the sheer amount of footage is also one of the film's flaws.
It's clear this movie needed to be more than two hours, but it didn't need to be over four. Snyder's films don't have the same kinetic pace as many big blockbusters. Scenes just happen without furthering the narrative in a meaningful way. Some of these scenes are great, like an impressive action sequence with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) bashing luddite terrorists into the wall with brutal efficiency. But there are also scenes of Aquaman (Jason Momoa) standing around posing in slow motion while a pop song plays. In fact, in the first hour and half I counted at least three slow-motion montages set to sad pop music. It all gets a bit tedious in the context of a four-hour movie.
A lack of memorable themes in Junkie XL's score doesn't help the length of the film. Batman is often accompanied with butt-rock guitar and, aside from the rousing theme "Crew at Warpower," there's little to hold onto here. Hans Zimmer's Wonder Woman theme returns, augmented with a warcry and intense electric guitar replacing Zimmer's electric cello. It's very badass, but it appears almost every time Wonder Woman appears in battle. By the end of the movie it sounds like Junkie XL is just hitting a drop every time Gal Gadot appears on screen. Granted, it sounds better than Danny Elfman's 2017 score, but so does a toilet flushing.
Because of its sheer length, there's a lot to like in here, especially for fans of DC and Zack Snyder's previous movies in this universe. It's visually impressive and enjoyable on a visceral level that Batman v Superman never managed to reach. It may be a mess, but it has purpose and a unifying vision. A three-hour PG-13 version of this same movie would have been considerably more well-received than what we ended up with in 2017. Hopefully, this will serve as a lesson to the studios that they should stay out of the way and let filmmakers do what they were hired to do. Otherwise, as we've seen here, they'll come back with an army of fans in tow and have their revenge.
Zack Snyder's Justice League is streaming on Crave now. (HBO Max)