REVIEW: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that I was approaching with mixed feelings. The DC Cinematic Universe has a reputation as something of a train wreck. Both Batman vs. Superman and Justice League‘s original cuts were considered to be terrible by a lot of fans. This was after the mixed reception that Man of Steel, Suicide Squad, and Birds of Prey got. While Wonder Woman and Shazam got good receptions, they were entirely removed from the rest of the DC Universe.

The story of the Snyder cut is a fascinating and tragic one. Zack Snyder having to stop his production of his version due to the suicide of his daughter. Joss Whedon proceeded to take over the film and made what was apparently 4 hours of footage into a single 2 hour movie with a number of new scenes that ramped up the humor. The result was, honestly, a disaster and came off like a poor man’s version of Joss’ The Avengers.

What happened next is what’s unique and possibly aided by the fact that a lot of us had way too much free time on our hands for a while. But a lot of fans heard about a “Snyder Cut” and demanded the chance to see it. It took on an almost mythical quality online and with the failure of Justice League’s theatrical version, people increasingly put out pressure for its release. Zack Snyder was given 70 million dollars to complete special effects and pay residuals to actors for a release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Justice League' Snyder cut on HBO Max is still a mess — just way longer

The results are impressive. What is easily one of the biggest reversals of quality in a cut since Blade Runner. I unironically say that I am not a Snyder fan, but this movie is fantastic. Perhaps lowered expectations is affecting my judgement or the fact that it is basically two movies shown back to back (with multiple chapter breaks). There’s no way this could be released in theaters.

The biggest improvements I found in Zack Snyder’s Justice League are that there’s an impressive number of character arcs and development scenes that make the movie feel more grounded. Cyborg has an entire storyline that was removed which was a crying shame. Here he’s shown from his origins, what he does with his powers, and his resentment toward his father that is both fair as well as unfair. Silas Stone (Joe Morton) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) both do magnificent jobs and I almost regret this isn’t a full Cyborg movie.

The special effects are also strongly improved with the infamous “Superman mustache” CGI having been corrected, presumably with Henry Cavill’s help, so that nothing looks embarrassing anymore. The characters are overall more serious too with only a few of the original jokes left in. The Flash doesn’t have his moment of self-doubt where he needs Batman to coach him to rescue people and that’s a shame but I only missed it as well as the “Wonder Woman is so hot” confession via the lasso of truth. Virtually every other scene is improved and the characters feel more like the heroes they were meant to be.

Steppenwolf's Justice League redesign was a huge endeavor, says producer - Polygon

Oddly, perhaps the character most improved by the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is Steppenwolf. A one-dimensional world-conquering tyrant that felt like Mongul copying Thanos copying Darkseid is made into a three-dimensional character. He’s still a world-conquering tyrant but making him a homesick flunkie trying to appease Darkseid gives him some depth. We also get moments with Desaad and Darkseid that hint to a larger Fourth World cosmology. The special effects for him are also much better done and we get more of the original actor’s performance.

I’m actually disappointed that we’re not getting a larger Snyderverse out of this. Retroactively, this makes both Man of Steel and Superman vs. Batman better movies. I don’t agree with all of the choices like introducing the Martian Manhunter to do nothing with him and killing Superman in his second movie but I can see what everything was building toward. Even Jared Leto, who I loathed as the Joker in Suicide Squad, gives a pretty damn good performance in the epilogue.

This never would have worked in theaters but as people trapped in our houses by a plague, it’s certainly something I’m glad I have to watch and I encourage people to give it a shot. It’s really two movies in one and I wish it had been Justice League part 1 and part 2 officially but as a course correction you can’t do much better.

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CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.