Released: 18th March
Seen: 18th March
So it has come to this. On March 18th in 2021, as a result of years of campaigning under the hashtag “Release the Snyder Cut”, WB finally decided to release the Snyder Cut of the Justice League film. Now, here’s the funny thing about that, as a critic my opinion means precisely jack shit regarding this film.
NOTE: So, I wrote a stupidly long explanation BEFORE the review that I refuse to cut because I’m dumb. You wanna skip that? Scroll down to the spinning 1960’s Batman logo that’ll pop up just before the actual review.
This isn’t a film that’s made for the masses (cos the masses don’t actually care that much about the early DC films if the box office is any indication) but a film for the minority who not only decided that Zack Snyder’s version of the DC universe is the ultimate version and created an entire community dedicated to his films. That’s who this film is for, they’re the ones who decided it was a great film way back in 2017 when they hadn’t even seen it. Critics opinions on this film do not matter in the slightest.
…but I have a blog and this is what I do so we’re doing this.
Before we even approach Zack Snyder’s: Justice League (which I’m just gonna call Justice League from here on out), in the interest of context, let’s talk about how we got here and my mindset when approaching this film. For starters, I didn’t like any of the pre-2017 Justice League films besides Wonder Woman. They all give off the air of an internet edgelord who gets off on saying the darkest things they can think of and none of them was that much fun. I have enjoyed the recent DCEU films like Aquaman, Shazam and Birds of Prey. Hell, I even enjoyed Wonder Woman: 1984 which got a ton of backlash (for good reason).
This isn’t to say that every superhero film needs to be light and fluffy, Christopher Nolan proved that you can make some great dramatic dark superhero films with his Batman trilogy, but I should at least enjoy watching them. I can’t say that with Man of Steel, Batman V Superman or the 2017 Justice League. Honestly, the one of those I enjoyed the most was, interestingly, the Justice League movie and even then, I only kinda liked the parts that were clearly Joss Whedon pulling more tricks from his Avengers bag and it was ‘like’ because at least it wasn’t Batman V Superman.
That being said, Joss Whedon can go fuck himself for how he treated everyone on his sets, I stand with Jordan Fisher and I wish circumstances hadn’t forced Zack Snyder to leave the 2017 Justice League. Everything that happened surrounding the 2017 Justice League’s production was a shitshow of the highest order. No film should have a production history like this and no people trying to do a job should have to go through what these people went through.
Indeed, the way Zack Snyder was treated would’ve made me argue for him being allowed to make his director’s cut of the film at some point, but that’s when we get to the big reason I’m writing this preamble before the actual review.
Before Justice League even begins, I don’t believe it should exist due to the behaviour of the loudest elements of the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement. I have personally witnessed them threaten, harass and attack anyone who even dares to suggest the early films weren’t good. I’ve literally seen them send death threats to people… over a cut of a film that they hadn’t even seen. Ask anyone who talks about film online what it’s like to talk about Justice League and, after they let out a 20-minute long exasperated sigh, get ready for tales of harassment and abuse that will curl your hair.
This is the crowd whose bad behaviour has been rewarded with Justice League, so we’re going into this film with a bad history already. I do try to go into films as neutral as I can but there are times when that’s impossible and that should be admitted. And please, for the love of god, do not do the “Well I never did that” thing because I know it was not every single fan treated people like crap, just the loudest ones. If you were not one of the ones who harrassed/abused/sent death threats to people then that criticism was not aimed at you, but you should acknowledge that that element of the group has tainted it’s image.
Hell, because Justice League now exists this same mob have moved on to “Restore the Snyder Verse” which means they aren’t going to give up and the harassment will undoubtedly continue. They already lost their minds because 2 hours of the film leaked a few weeks early (not a joke, they called it “sabotage”) so… yeah, this movie has so much baggage that I can’t put down before watching it, so now you know how I came into this film.
So… was the years of harassment, bullshit original production and lengthy campaign to get a new edit of a failed team-up film worth it? Well… kinda?.
The plot of Justice League is identical to the one we saw before. There’s a bad guy called Steppenwolf who wants three magic boxes which he can use in order to do some serious destruction. Batman would like to stop him getting those magic boxes and so he goes off to find Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg to team up with him and stop Steppenwolf. At some point, they realise that one of the people they need is Superman, who is super dead due to the stabbing he suffered in Batman V Superman. Pretty much every major plot point from the original is here, but bigger and longer with a lot more forced gravitas sprinkled on top to give this film the epic feeling it desperately wants to have.
From the jump, Zack Snyder’s Justice League runs into the exact same problem that the 2017 Justice League movie had. Namely, three characters need to be introduced (because remember, this was meant to be the 5th film in the franchise) and they need to revive Superman. Now, does this film handle those issues better? You bet your ass it does, but it does it by taking longer to do all of it.
Most of the extra time goes to Cyborg who benefits the most from this cut of the film, and he deserves every extra second because Ray Fisher is a fantastic actor and deserves to have more films to his credit besides the ones in this franchise. The other characters? Not so much, Aquaman seemingly gets even less time than he did in the 2017 film (possibly because between then and now we had an Aquaman film so they figured we didn’t need as much time with him?).
We get a lot of little details about other characters that flesh them out a bit but also severely expands the runtime. Justice League is going to milk all it can, even if that means adding pointless little details (Yeah, I needed to know that an important talk between Lois and Martha was actually between Lois and the Martian Manhunter who is here BECAUSE) or copious amounts of slow-mo. At four hours long, I felt every single second. The pace is brutally slow and ponderous and in the end, it’s telling the exact same story that we already saw four years ago.
Some scenes in Justice League work a lot better than they did before, the opening fight with Wonder Woman and the terrorists feels more visceral and the big battle scene at is a lot less jokey… but it’s also a little less fun. Every scene where Cyborg goes into his past is a genuine highlight of the film, I honestly wish we could just have a Cyborg movie but after the way WB higher ups treated Ray Fisher, I don’t blame him for not doing that. We also get a sense of a bigger battle coming, a bigger baddie than Steppenwolf who is waiting for his chance and would’ve been fun to see (we probably never will though, every setup in this movie is destined to go unanswered).
There seems to just be no one living on the planet beyond our leads, the world just seems bereft of life. One of the few good parts about the final act of the 2017 Justice League was that they not only had to deal with Steppenwolf, but there was a lot of people in that area who needed evacuating which gave Flash a lot to do and created the rivalry between him and Superman (which was my favourite thing about that movie, the two super fast characters comparing their speed was a fun nerdy moment) but here Steppenwolf is in an abandoned area where no one is so we really don’t need to hire more than maybe 15 extras at the most.
Then we get to the actual visuals of Justice League and the CGI is so bad that, at one point, a family member commented that the effects on the first season of the Supergirl TV series was better than what was in Justice League. I can almost hear some people trying to excuse the CGI, I’ve seen people claim they had 7 months and it was during a pandemic but I have two counter arguments to that.
The first being to just point at the movie Soul, a film animated almost entirely during the pandemic and state how that is no excuse anymore.
The second is that there was no time limit because this didn’t need to be released until it was done.
Some of the effects are comically bad, ragdoll bodies flying around and bad compositing that makes everything feel fake. I have to just compare these shots to something like the shots in Endgame where they had giant completely CGI battles between armies that don’t exist in reality, but Endgame looked polished and this feels like they needed another go over to nail what they wanted to because you can see how close they are to having it look really good.
Throw on top of this a weird feeling that I can only describe as ‘pretentiousness’ that fills so many of the choices. The aspect ratio that’s almost designed to make the film stand out but also doesn’t seem to match its content, the chapter cards that split Justice League up into 6 segments and an epilogue that feels added in for no reason. It’s all stuff that one would see in an arthouse film that’s about a communist revolution, not a Superhero film that’s about a bunch of people with powers punching a bad guy in the head until he stops being evil.
Hell, the epilogue, in general, is a big ball of pretentious bullshit, complete with the king of pretentious acting Jared Leto popping up to do anything but say the one funny line that they put in the trailer to troll everyone. He does offer to give Batman a reach around though, which would be a much more amusing film to watch than this. This is a film that feels like the director wants to prove he’s smart and cool and dark, that’s why he can make so many characters say Fuck and bleed a lot of bad-looking CGI blood because this is a grown-up film for grown-ups!
Oh right, the R rating that exists purely through several forced uses of the word fuck and some CGI blood… that’s it, as I pointed out the story is the same and the added obscenities and gore don’t add anything to the film. It’s another case of the Snyder films wearing edginess as a badge of honour and doing whatever possible to be considered a hard serious adult film for adults… and does it in the most childish manner by having several characters swear and spraying red around. The story didn’t get more adult, it just played the ratings board in order to give off that appearance.
Also the big problem with making every character and element of the film grim, dark and brooding is that Batman’s main character traits (grim, dark and brooding) no longer stand out. He’s no longer an anomaly, designed to stand out for being dark. You can’t stand out for being dark when everyone else is just as dark as you!
Nothing about Justice League is enough of an improvement on the original to really warrant the two extra hours they added. A good editor could hack out an hour of this thing and maybe make a version that’s not just exhausting to sit through. I don’t know, maybe cut out the stuff that’s setting up a universe that we’re never gonna see anyway? The entire epilogue could go and cut out 20 minutes on its own! They could cut out all the characters that they added to this version because they really don’t have a purpose and maybe curb Snyder’s love of slow-mo a little and make this a more reasonable run time. Seriously, I’m old enough to remember when fanboys complained that Endgame was going to be 3 hours long, but this is acceptable?
At the end of the day, as I said at the very start of this review, Justice League isn’t a film for the masses. This is a film for those die-hard Snyder fans who proclaimed this as their favourite film back in 2018. It’s overstuffed, poorly paced and pretentious with glimmers of promise sprinkled through. It gives some characters the story they truly deserve, but others get shortchanged. It’s almost like making this the 5th film and killing Superman just before it was a horrific idea. Much like the original Justice League, the problems with this one go down to the foundations.
Is it better than the 2017 Justice League? Sure, that’s not a high bar to clear. It’s still a long and tiring sit, and I say this as a person who has sat through a 7 hour documentary about a slasher film series on multiple occasions. I’m glad Zack Snyder got to realise his vision, I’m glad Ray Fisher got to give a performance he was proud of and I’m glad that those fans of the early DC cinematic universe who didn’t abuse people get to have this film to enjoy… I’m just not going to be one of them, Justice League just did nothing for me. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, I accept that it exists and will be OK with never watching it again.
Now, please, can we move on from this and never look back at this saga again? Cos I wanna work on getting back to liking Snyder’s work in time for that awesome looking Zombie movie.