Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

After a long and persistent fan campaign, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has finally been released in a cut that is just over four hours. 

Rating: 2.5/5

Synopsis: “Fuelled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his new-found ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.”

Ready to give Justice League another chance

May 2021 marks four years since Zack Snyder took the difficult but understandable decision to step back from DC’s Justice League movie. The decision came after a family tragedy and Snyder realising he needed “to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me,” which he told The Hollywood Reporter back in 2017.

The responsibility of finishing the film came to Joss Whedon, also known for directing rival superhero film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Whedon oversaw the post-production of the film and his two-hour cut was released in November 2017.

Whedon’s version of Justice League left the movie with a 6.2 rating on IMDb, 45% on Metacritic and 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. They are devastatingly low scores for a film that had all the components to be a commercial success. However, not surprising for people who watched Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is arguably one of the most underwhelming Marvel films in the Infinity Saga.

After disappointment from DC’s fanbase, a fan-led campaign brought us to where we are today: the four-hour Snyder cut. Did the two extra hours and Snyder’s reshoots add anything to the calamity that was the 2017 release?

When approaching the film, I attempted to do so without judgement for the movie’s predecessor. Whedon’s version of the film was enough to put anybody off DC movies for a lifetime. I found myself apprehensive to sit down for this new cut of the film. Nevertheless, I sat down with an open mind and the opportunity for Snyder to change my perception of the DC universe.

Snyder’s cut deserved to be seen

Ultimately, I’m glad both Snyder and long-time supporters finally got to see the movie how it was originally intended. Taking on and directing/producing a project as big as Justice League is not an easy challenge. It’s essential to remember that Whedon’s interpretation of the film was not how Snyder envisioned or expected it to be. There is something to celebrate in the way fans cared enough to drive the #SnyderCut campaign. It gave Snyder the opportunity to release the project that was originally his.

Just because Whedon’s film was bad, doesn’t mean Snyder’s was good

Whedon’s Justice League left DC’s reputation in a state which seemed to be almost too far gone to save. For many fans, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was exactly what was needed to revive the franchise. However, there needs to be a distinction between both films and the reviews each version has received. Both fans and critics have praised Snyder’s movie, calling it superior to Whedon’s version. However, it is clumsy to work in absolutes.

Arguably, Whedon’s cut was so calamitous that anything Snyder put out after was inevitably going to be better. If something is already poorly executed, the only way is up, and this seems to be the case for Snyder. If Snyder’s version had been in 2017, I don’t think it would have been met with as much acclaim as it has been now.

There is a mixture of sentimentality in getting Snyder’s cut into the world, anger over Whedon’s version and anticipation to compare the two cuts. Whedon’s version of the film may have been offensively bad, but that does not automatically make Snyder’s version good. There needs to be a removal of emotional sentiment when reviewing the Snyder cut. This is to give both movies the fair opportunity to be reviewed and criticised from an objective lens. However, Snyder clearly takes the crown for the superior cut.

Six different characters, one chaotic film

Whedon’s Justice League was not the only film that caused me apprehension when watching the Snyder cut. Unfortunately, I’m still recovering from the sour taste of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice back in 2016, also directed by Snyder. With several heroes on one screen, it was difficult for each character to establish their own place within the narrative. Knowing this balance had not been met in Batman vs Superman, I was intrigued to see how Justice League would compare.

The theatrical release of Batman vs Superman felt disjointed with a narrative that was condensed into a three-hour runtime. Unfortunately, after watching both, there is no amount of cuts or reshoots which could save Justice League. The storylines aren’t particularly engaging and for any collaborative superhero film to succeed, you must have strong individual stories to build the foundation.

Man of Steel, Wonder Woman and Batman vs Superman should have created a platform for Justice League to leverage from. However, there is a lack of uniformity throughout the 2017 cut and the 2021 version. It looks as though six different movies have been cut and edited together to make this four-hour superhero story. The characters remain fairly dull, despite three of them having their own standalone movies. Also, there are several missed opportunities to expand on their personalities and backgrounds. The script and interactions between the characters did not reflect their true potential.

Where did the resources go?

Considering the backing and funding of Warner Bros. and the resources available to such a monumental film, the state of the CGI used in the final cut was shocking and disappointing. In a digital age, I expected digitally mature fight scenes, monsters and an effective use of CGI. Instead, a scene with Wonder Woman in London looked as though it had been taken from a video game. This theme occurred throughout. The most digitally developed and impressive scenes revolved around The Flash, utilising the art of slow motion to his character’s advantage. However, the magic of slow motion became an overused creative tool throughout the movie.

Ray Fisher: DC’s saving grace

The four-hour runtime enabled Snyder to change the narrative and viewing experience for fans. In Whedon’s version, it felt as though the storyline was condensed and over-occupied. There was not nearly enough time to properly delve into character stories as part of a superhero backstory.

However, in the updated version, the audience gets to see Ray Fisher effectively portray Victor Stone/Cyborg. It becomes one of the more intriguing angles within the film.

Additionally, Fisher has now spoken out against Whedon’s “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” treatment of the cast and crew on set. During the reshoots with Whedon, there was a drive to stereotype Fisher’s character as “an angry Black man at the centre of the movie”.

It feels better to know that Fisher got to work on a set that championed his talent rather than dampening and exploiting his race to the director’s advantage. Viewers can never fully enjoy a movie if they are aware of the toxicity that festered and developed around it.

Since the Snyder cut was released, fans have also signalled differences between various shots in the film. For example, there is an over sexualised emphasis on Wonder Woman, the only female protagonist within the film. In the theatrical release, The Flash (played by Ezra Miller), saves Wonder Woman from a falling object and ends up lying on top of her. Since then, that shot has been removed from Snyder’s version. It was important to see Snyder removing the sexualisation of female characters from the film: he did not feel the need to shoot the movie from the lens of the male gaze.

Final thoughts

Overall, it felt as though Snyder’s Justice League was not properly prepared to carry the weight and stories of six superheroes on one screen, despite having a four-hour running time advantage. More work on character building should have been carried out before coming together in one film.

I had hope for the last scene featuring Jared Leto as The Joker. I thought it would help me look past the previous three and a half hours. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Leto’s scene was utilised more as an incentive to watch the next film and help promote it. It should have been used as a cliff hanger or to establish the dynamic between him and Ben Affleck in The Batman (being released in 2022).

I hope DC can begin to evolve from this stale period and instead, step into a more interesting and well thought-out space. Superhero films are tried, tested and universally loved. It is a shame both versions of Justice League missed the mark.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available to watch now on Sky Cinema.

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