Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

There isn’t much I remember about 2017’s Justice League. From what I do, I recall it being a mish mash of tonality, like some kind of comic book movie Frankenstein by a studio and replacement director attempting to recalibrate a sinking brand on the fly. Following the personal tragedy that struck Zack Snyder and his family, WB decided to bring in one of the architects of Marvel’s multi-billion dollar franchise, hoping to inject what they assumed would be some much needed levity. It felt like a schizophrenic Saturday morning cartoon. If Zack Snyder’s Justice League demonstrates anything, it’s that its much lesser 2017 counterpart just needed an abundance of heart and earnestness. 

After debuting with a visceral and effective remake of Dawn of the Dead , Zack Snyder has often been a filmmaker who paints in broad – and gorgeous – brush strokes, damn the nuance. We saw this with the testosterone fuelled 300 and incredibly faithful yet flawed Watchmen. Here, however, the filmmaker presents us with what might be his most emotional and subtler works.  Where the previous film’s plot was merely concerned with getting from point A to B, damn how it got there, the Snyder cut is far more interested in the journey, using its admittedly testing four hour runtime to far better use. Sure, Snyder is and always has been interested in the heroics of the League, but here he’s way more concerned about the people behind the mask. 

In this version, characters and moments are given room to breathe, allowing for more depth and discovery, and really enriching the overall experience. With Affleck behind the cowl once more, Batman’s drive to put together the team is propelled by his own guilt, stemming from his own panicked and destructive behaviour in Batman v Superman. The viewer gets far more of the internal conflict and possible self hatred of Arthur (Jason Momoa) and his disdain for the underwater kingdom that’s rightfully his. There is way more time spent on Themyscira and you get to experience Diana’s absence in full effect, as the Amazons have to battle a much more three dimensional Steppenwolf. Rather than a thinly constructed world destroyer in the previous iteration, here he is the disgraced herald of Darkseid, looking to get back into the good books of his former master. While he could have used more development, it is a much welcome and needed change from what is often a tired comic book archetype. And Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen / The Flash gets a heftier expansion of his character. Before, merely relegated to comic relief, here Barry is attempting to figure out what it means to be a hero while trying everything he can to get his father out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit. 

The true heart of the film is Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone / Cyborg. A promising student and athlete who’s life is cut short in a car accident, he’s rebuilt with the help of his grieving father (Joe Morton) and the otherworldly Mother Boxes – alien technology that can remake matter as the user sees fit. It’s fairly enraging to see just how much of Fisher’s role was whittled down to in the theatrical cut. In the Snyder Cut, Cyborg is almost the lifeblood of the team. A young man who’s attempting to rediscover his humanity after having it snatched from him, Victor struggles with the hatred for his father that was never there until his worst possible moment, while dealing with this new and immense power he has at his fingertips. If there’s a reason to watch this version, Cyborg’s arch is very much worth the runtime.

Of course, the film is not without its problems. For all the good that Snyder injects into his cut, it also feeds some of the director’s worst creative impulses. There’s roughly 45 minutes that could disappear right off the top. Scenes and moments are stretched unnecessarily and some of the deep cut fan service feels unearned, possibly alienating a larger audience. And while it’s great to see Leto’s Joker and Batfleck actually get a scene together before the Snyderverse is no longer, the Knightmare sequence in this film feels self-indulgent and unnecessary. One of the more bittersweet aspects of this film is just how under utilised Henry Cavill’s Superman is, particularly when Cavill’s own involvement as the Man of Steel is currently up in the air. Basically, needs more Cavill.

Overall, though, Zack Snyder’s Justice League will no doubt make some of the more fervent fans of this iteration of the DCEU very happy. Through all the sadness and negativity surrounding this film, Snyder has managed to construct an extremely heart felt and surprisingly touching superhero film that could possibly the best of the three he’s directed. If this is indeed his swan song from the franchise, then it’s a very high note to leave on.

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