Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a much better film than its theatrical counterpart and its predecessor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Nonetheless, conceptual issues and pacing still keep it from being a recovered classic like the longer Lawrence of Arabia or even Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.
Like that later recreated film, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is very much a retelling of the theatrical version with most of the original director’s original intent restored. Unlike the Donner Cut, though, it also reveals the theatrical cut maintained a surprising level of fidelity in terms of plot and how story beats play out. What Snyder brings to the proceedings instead of a massively different film is added texture.
Benefiting the most from this is Ray Fisher‘s Cyborg. Instead of the half-man worried about the alien components grafted onto his shattered body (as seen in the theatrical version), Vic Stone is consumed by loss and angered by the seemingly carelessness of his father, Silas Stone (Joe Morton). That change leads to a better performance from Fisher, more material for Morton, and an interesting origin story for Cyborg on the big screen.
It also reveals why Warner Bros. wouldn’t put a dime into a Cyborg solo film: the stuff they like to see in a first film is all right here.
But for all the texture added scenes like the ones with Vic and Silas offer, the film adds no additional depth to the characters. It is an overall conceptual flaw with Snyder’s view of the DC Superheroes. He sees them as gods and approaches them accordingly. They are often framed in gorgeously rendered slow motion shots and move with dynamism in the action scenes; all of which are an improvement over the muddiness of BvS. But deifying the characters also makes them unknowable, and thus the scenes of them interacting tend to lack for humanity — with the exception of an exchange between Diana (Gal Gadot) and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) and some of the added Cyborg material.
The overall effect means the film is always in the epic tone Snyder seems more comfortable executing, even when he knows the characters should be bonding and revealing more of themselves to the audience. Some of these scenes work better than others, though, and may be down to the individual viewer’s appreciation for these versions of the characters.
Curiously, the epic approach offers Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) a clearer motivation as he literally interacts with god-level beings. And, of course, because he is a god himself. The film goes to great pains to make his purpose on Earth and its connection to Darkseid (Ray Porter) clearer. Also, in comparison to the character in the theatrical version, he is both more visually dynamic and, somehow, more pathetic. If you know your New Gods history, that latter aspect will feel very much intentional. Although, it is possible some will see him as even more of a damp squib since Darkseid is just a Boom Tube away. Additionally, no amount of re-editing can remove the fact Steppewolf’s plan is the same as Zod’s in Man of Steel and that redundancy makes the film slower.
Then there’s the Barry Allen problem. In our review of the theatrical version, we kept referring to Ezra Miller‘s character as someone claiming to be Barry. This is only amplified in the Snyder Cut as the character gets additional moments to be annoying (and not in a good way). Instead of his many fears and ailments, though, this Barry is just a motor mouth. The joke fails to land every time and you wonder why the Batman (Ben Affleck), even as desperate as he is for allies, would put up with this. We will admit he does mellow out just as they plan to bring Superman back; which is interesting as this is where his quipping goes into overdrive in the theatrical cut.
That, in a round about way, brings us to the pace. Divided into six chapters and an epilogue, each section is fairly well paced within itself. They all lead to a rise in action or plot which feels pretty satisfying. The problem, though, is that instead of an executive producer credit and an option to pause, you just get more movie. Combined with the overall epic tone, it means watching it as one film can be a chore. Although, we imagine the SnyderCut faithful will enjoy the whole thing in the same way Lord of the Rings fans can marathon its Extended Editions.
And with good reason: the film is the unrestrained vision of Zack Snyder for both good and ill. It’s extravagant with the slow motion shots, epic compositions, and world-building. And it his most beautifully shot film since Watchmen; a welcome return as his artist’s eye is his best quality. Also, the film just feels like the work of a singular creative force. It does everything its director wants to do with each scene, even if most scenes could use some judicious editing.
Also, his insistence in depicting Superman (Henry Cavill) as an alien menace with burning eyes is once again on display. In fact, we’ll say one thing for the theatrical cut over Snyder’s version: allowing Superman to smile and be a little sarcastic after his resurrection is as good choice. In Snyder’s version, he’s still the brooding weirdo who’s only slightly less weird around Lois (Amy Adams) and Martha (Diane Lane) and it underscores how much the director misunderstands the character.
Really, that push and pull of pluses and minuses is all Zack Snyder’s Justice League could be. Born of a campaign with its own unresolved toxicity and a genuinely sad story about a grieving filmmaking family manipulated by a studio, there’s no absolute way to view the film. There are too many stories embedded in it and orbiting around it for it to be judged solely as a film. But if you do choose to watch it, we highly recommend using the chapter breaks as a places to pause and do something else entirely. You’ll need that every so often.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available on HBO Max.