So, this is the “original” Justice League film that was supposed to release back in 2017? The one that followed the amazing Wonder Woman in the summer and the colorful, vibrant Thor: Ragnarok was released two weeks before version one? Zack Snyder decided to hear out the unwavering desire of mega fans for his take of the film that could theoretically challenge the Avengers franchise (in the DC Extended Universe’s case, they have a long road ahead of them even to consider that possibility).
DC fans went after Warner Brothers (WB) vigorously after the mediocre reception of version one in November 2017. Recall at that time, Snyder was unable to finish production on his work due to a family tragedy, so the company decided to bring in Joss Whedon (the director of the acclaimed Avengers film and its sequel, Age of Ultron). Whedon utilized a small fraction of Snyder’s footage and added much more fun and humor in the script (resulting in a Frankenstein film). The outcome was an uncoordinated, starchy film that spends copious amounts of time with the absurdity of our heroes in action (and their villain’s dull plans). And thus, the film became a box office bomb, and WB decided to move away from Snyder’s plans for a shared universe of interconnected films (like the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
But wait, it gets better. Snyder listened to his fanboys and decided to spend an additional $70 million (on a budget that was already pushing WB on edge) for a 242-minute version released on HBO Max. Yup, now we must spend 4 hours watching this version because of social media and folks’ stubbornness of not letting go of the past. Who knows, maybe Snyder will release the fifth version of Batman vs. Superman in 2040. Or fans will encourage Patty Jenkins to release her version of Wonder Woman 1984, claiming it became tainted by corporate management. DC fans are like WWE fans. You do not give them what they want, and they resist immediately and hope their voices will be heard by those residing at the top of the chain.
The director’s cut follows the same plot and structure (for the most part) as the original version. Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead, and it triggers the MacGuffin Mother Boxes to come alive, bringing the enemies to go and find them and conquer the Earth. Batman (Ben Affleck) must create a team composed of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller) to fend of the enemies to save the world.
Snyder this time infuses his work with a much more well-defined direction, maintaining his darkish tone and intriguing developments for our characters’ fate. Instead of saturating the work with weird one-liners and somewhat unnecessary jollity, he brings a different approach to storytelling. The heroes, most notably Cyborg and Superman, have more layers attached to their flawed personalities. Miller is still fun as the speedy superstar, while Fisher gets a well-rounded arc centered on his character’s family and how it factors into the story unfolding. Gadot shines brighter here (rather than being slightly oversexualized in the first version and woefully ruined by moral integrity in her standalone sequel film). Affleck reacquires the complexity and sincereness he had in BvS, and Cavill makes that impact he had lacked since Man of Steel.
The glaring problem is…the film is long. Too long. So long that it reaches a point of frustration over an hour in due to laborious (and excessive) details needed for Snyder to achieve his vision. Yes, we need an explanation for why the big bad guys (Steppenwolf and Darkseid) are hanging around, but it is boring. Version one, at least, was brief. Snyder adores the usage of slow-motion here, so much that it is frighteningly reminiscent of David Ayer’s camerawork in the forgettable Suicide Squad. The film also has disproportionate pieces to balance in that it fails in engaging pathos due to gorging of exposition and action. There is no texture or nutrients attached; simply a bloated structure covered up by the redone adulterated visuals. Sure, Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) does look stylish, but how many folks still care about him?
Oh, and speaking of the villains, they receive a lot more screen time and backstory this time (which is a plus). Darkseid appears (aka the DCEU’s version of Thanos), and Steppenwolf gets involved in the action of trying to satisfy his master by retrieving the Mother Boxes to destroy Earth. The unfortunate thing is Snyder still misses the beats with the character because Steppenwolf lacks that sympathy for audiences to care about his desire. Why is it that Warner Brothers (and Zack Snyder) still fails to conjure up at least one memorable villain in this series? Perhaps they can work it out with Darkseid when it is his time, but for now, they will need to go back to the drawing boards for the next Justice League film. The MCU series also had this villain problem, but they have diligently worked on it well (and exceeded expectations) in past years.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an improvement on its original version, but not so much that it warrants a viewing. The purpose of any film is satisfaction, to feel complete and inspired by the individuals behind the camera. Snyder indisputably shows his commitment here for his work to be recognized. It is dissimilar and darker, but it does not redeem the work distributed worldwide almost four years ago. Unless you are a diehard fan of this franchise or one who engaged in the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, you can spend one-sixth of your day wisely elsewhere.