Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Snyder, 2021)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, and Henry Cavill

Rating: D+

Ask and ye shall receive, I guess. Here we are, a half-decade in the making of Zack Snyder fans around the world begging to see the director’s intended vision for Justice League. Originally released in 2017 with Joss Whedon at the helm due to a personal family tragedy in Snyder’s life took him from production, the film was nothing short of a disaster. Snyder’s dark DC Comics universe, originating with both Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, was retooled to fit Whedon’s quippy Whedonisms. To put it kindly, it didn’t work. What was clearly intended to be a trilogy by one filmmaker’s authorship was stripped away, but now we finally have it: Zack Snyder’s Justice League, coming in at four hours, everything the fans (and only the fans) could ever want.

And it’s still not great. A bloated Frankenstein’s monster made up of what comes across as deleted scenes and extended cuts that either add nothing to the very-thin overall core narrative or give padded exposition to make what didn’t make much sense in 2017 fully realized. It’s a representation of what this movie always was supposed to be, Warner Bros. trying to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe by rushing ahead with a big blockbuster cross-over movie akin to The Avengers (hence Whedon being hired to take over in the first place). 

This movie always had the impossible balancing act of telling too many stories at once: a light origin story for Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash, setting up a big bad antagonist, dealing with the trauma of Superman’s death, and Batman forming the Justice League not unlike The Seven Samurai. Even extending the runtime to four hours, which definitely allows these plots to unfold at a much better pace than the incomprehensible 2017 version, it’s still too much content. For the first few hours, scenes are presented with no clear intentional order, as to merely just give fans what they want — more, more, and more.

The story takes place immediately after the events of Batman V Superman, with the latter’s death and the affect it has on the world. It’s brought to Batman’s attention that Steppenwolf, a buffed up lackey for ultimate DC villain Darkseid, is attempting to bring his boss to Earth for a genocide by assimilation. It’s up to the Dark Knight to travel the world and form a Justice League to keep both Steppenwolf and Darkseid from destroying humanity. A generic who-could-possibly-care monument of high stakes that we’ve been given repeatedly in comic book adaptations. 

If Warner Bros. had been patient and had set these characters up in their own individual movies instead of green lighting the ultimate team-up beforehand, then this movie could have possibly earned the big moments it’s constantly striving for. Instead, we’re fed scenes of individual character growth all the while waiting for them to earn the ranks of being the equivalent of a Wonder Woman, a Batman, or a Superman. 

This is of no fault to the great cast, who do everything to earn their paycheck and immortality of playing these iconic characters for the screen. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen, whom without this movie would be entirely devoid of any joy whatsoever, keeps things light through pure charisma. Fisher shines as Victor Stone, enduring a heart wrenching origin story riddled with familial loss. Momoa bros out with genuine enthusiasm as Arthur the Aquaman, Affleck makes a great latter years Bat, and Cavill is the embodiment of Superman’s simultaneous wholesomeness and strength. Gal Gadot, once again, kills it as Wonder Woman. In a set piece early on, she saves a group of kids from a terrorist attack. A little girl asks her, “Can I be you when I grow up?” To which Wonder Woman replies, “When you grow up, you can be anything you want to be.” Which is sweet, but who is it for?

Remember, this is Zack Snyder’s take on this whimsical universe. The film itself is intentionally rated R by the MPAA. No kid will (or should) be watching this viciously violent comic book movie, even though these characters are intended for younger audiences. All of the typical complaints that attach themselves to Snyder’s filmography are amped up here: gratuitous violence, one-note characters, thin plotting, and a mise-en-scène that looks as though it was intended to double as a series of wallpapers for a junior high student’s 8K gaming monitor. At one point, Batman tells the Joker in a dream sequence, “I’m going to fucking kill you.” What’s meant to send chills can only produce audible groans. It all comes across as bleak, trite, and very boring.

But nevertheless, the customer is always right. There is an audience for this. An audience who wants to see superheroes beat the shit out of an endless horde of formless CGI creatures while saying “fuck you” and posing like Jesus Christ. The fans clamoring for the “Snyder Cut” knew exactly what they were going to get, and get it, they did. Considering the future of Warner Bros. upcoming slate of DC adaptations, it looks as though this will be the closing chapter to his unique universe, for better or worse. We can all take a deep breath and move on. 

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