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Zack Snyder's "Justice League" (2021): A Double-Sized Epic Movie Review

Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League

The Snyder Cut Has Arrived!

Well this was basically eight years in the making, wasn’t it? Ever since Zack Snyder’s launch of the DC cinematic universe with 2013’s Man of Steel, it has been an ever-growing buildup to when the Justice League would finally unite on the big screen. And then they did in 2017… sort of? It’s a bit of a messy story honestly, one that I summed up in my 2017 Justice League review last year. However, to give a quick recap on the matter; during the production of Justice League, Zack Snyder had a terrible family tragedy occur with the sudden loss of his daughter, which ultimately led to Snyder dropping out of the project while leaving Marvel’s The Avengers director, Joss Whedon, to take over production.

Zack Snyder on a boat... I'd watch that movie.

Zack Snyder on a boat... I'd watch that movie.

Even though the majority if the film was already shot and in the can, once Whedon took over as director, a massive amount of rewrites and reshoots took place that resulted in a major shift in tone. Not to mention a reduction of cinematic scope and world building that was originally intended by Snyder to be seen. Now years later, we are finally able to witness the true vision of Justice League that Snyder had in mind, now available on HBO Max. At a whopping FOUR HOUR runtime, do we officially have ourselves the comic book masterpiece we’ve long hoped for or is it simply the same dud we received in 2017, only needlessly longer? And the answer is… well… let’s talk about it!

The Plot

As a direct result of Superman’s death (Henry Cavill), an ancient power has awoken from its eternal slumber to call out upon an intergalactic warlord named Steppenwolf (Cian Hinds). Determined to defend the Earth of Steppenwolf’s incoming invasion, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) seeks to enlist a team of superpowered individuals to fight alongside him and his new-found ally, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Together they may save the world from Steppenwolf’s attack, as well as hopefully deter his master, Darkseid (Ray Porter), from also returning to unleash hell on the world.

I Actually Really Dig this Film

Pushing all the teasing aside on whether I did or didn’t like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I truthfully dug it quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong though, I do still have my issues with the movie as a whole and I will get to those eventually. That being said, this was actually a vast improvement on the theatrical cut we were given four years ago and I really hope that this becomes the definitive version of the picture. Pretty much most, if not all, of the qualms I retained in the Whedon cut are more or less eradicated here in the Snyder cut. Granted, those vanished issues may have been replaced with others, but for the most part I am completely satisfied with the final product we have here in 2021… making me extremely hopeful that there may be more to come in the future.

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The Story

When comparing the two editions, narratively speaking, the basic story structure remains largely the same funny enough, despite the radical two-hour difference in their respective runtimes. Three mystical cubes known as “the Mother Boxes” contain a power strong enough to rebuild entire planets. These boxes call out to an alien warlord who intends to retrieve the power and take over Earth in the name of an emperor named Darkseid. What separates the two from one another… other than the obvious… is the tone, attention to detail, scope, and time spent on character. In the theatrical cut, the tone was a rough mess attempting to balance a lighthearted and campy action flick along with a darker, more serious superhero movie. The Snyder cut is clearly a singular vision of a dark and epic graphic novel come to life.

Plot points were given time to breathe and themes of redemption were allowed to be fully realized. I recall before in Whedon’s take when a supposed major plot point was introduced or a new danger was discovered, they would quickly be resolved within a matter of minutes. Or the villain would somehow mysteriously teleport exactly to where he absolutely needed to be without any explanation whatsoever. Not the case here, thankfully. We get far more visual storytelling to help the audience understand how and why certain moments occur. For instance; before it came across as a random occurrence that the Mother Boxes have awoken, while in the Snyder cut it is depicted as a direct reaction to the death of Superman releasing an energy that powers the boxes. Another irritation was the fact that Stepphenwolf always miraculously knew somehow exactly where these boxes were at any given moment, but only when it was convenient to the plot; now it seems to be revealed that the boxes give out a specific signal that Steppenwolf can track when strong enough. Rounding out those rough edges to make the story line flow more fluidly.

The additional scenes getting a better understanding of the Mother Boxes made the script feel less convenient to the plot.

The additional scenes getting a better understanding of the Mother Boxes made the script feel less convenient to the plot.

Admittedly, even though I relished how much more well developed the story became through the extended four-hour length, there were times where the pace did drag slightly in excessive amounts of exposition explaining so much backstory on some of these newly introduced characters. To an extent, I still appreciate some of these scenes, although others go on for a little too long and could have easily been cut to speed the story up a tad. I mean… the film is four whole hours long, I don’t think it’s exactly necessary to watch a whole random short film of a misfortunate waitress at a diner getting financial aid from Cyborg nor anymore extra scenes of Aquaman explaining yet again why he’s not a fan of Atlantis. Even though the occasional bump in the road would happen, what we mainly have here is a far less rushed script that takes its time fleshing out the story and characters… maybe a little too much time, but at least it doesn’t feel like a movie on ‘fast-forward’ like before.

The Last 30 Minutes

Alright, for the most part I enjoy the flow of the screenplay and how the story is mostly handled… that is up until the final 30 minutes or so within the ‘Epilogue’ section. That’s when things get to be a little messy. Beforehand, the majority of the narrative was focused with a solid structure established and maybe the occasional drag in pace from an extra scene of exposition here or there. Then we hit what feels like the natural conclusion of the picture where the day is saved and we watch as our heroes begin to rebuild their lives again, fading to black to give us the finite end to our epic experience… only it doesn’t end. It starts back up again with another scene between Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor conversing alongside Deathstroke played by Joe Manganiello, just to fade to black again… and then another scene appears from the darkness in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as though we’re in another movie entirely, watching Batman and Jared Leto reprise his role as Joker, giving each other sh*t… and then one more ending teasing a brand new character for a future Justice League sequel that will probably not happen… this goddamn movie has too many f*cking endings that aren’t even actual endings, they’re a bunch of sequel baiting for productions that may never come to fruition since Warner Bros. has shown no signs of wanting to continue on with the ‘Snyder-verse’ after Justice League; making these tacked on sequel baits feel extremely pointless as I’m just telling the screen to frikkin’ end already.

Now, would I be excited to see more from Zack Snyder to rebuild his DC cinematic universe again and find out what more he has planned for the franchise? Absolutely! But I would have been equally as content with those ideas being fleshed out in actual future installments and not just random teaser trailers stuck in at the end of a movie which ruins the integrity of everything I just saw. In other words, let your film be a film and not a string of short clips to lure in the fanbase for products that may not ever exist, please and thank you!

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The Epic I Sorely Missed

One of the aspects I had specifically mentioned about disliking in the 2017 version was the lack of ambition and grand scale that a Justice League film rightfully deserves. Snyder’s Justice League, on the other hand, completely rectifies that problem by tenfold. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest comic book event movies that I have ever seen, I mean that in terms of the reputation built up over the years as well as strictly on the breathtaking scope witnessed throughout. Seriously, the artistic style which compliments the epic quality is a visual treat for the eyes all the way through. There were several scenes that on a visual standpoint alone had me wowed, including those that were roughly the same scenes from the theatrical version, yet look far more impressive this go around.

Thinking back about the aesthetics between the two films; the Snyder cut accomplishes so much more in its smaller 4:3 aspect ratio than anything seen in the theater four years ago. Why? Well for one, while the aspect ratio technically fills less of the screen, it embodies much more of the incredible scenery cropped out in the Whedon version. Another reason… the effects work is so much f*cking better. My God were the special effects absolutely atrocious in the 2017 release, now we get to see the truly gorgeous sets and grade ‘A’ visual effects that capture this universe so beautifully now. Which also I believe the effects are largely helped by the better color design shown in the 2021 version as opposed to the 2017 one that was trying too hard to be bright and colorful, coming off looking like a cheaper production than it really was. Now is every single effect perfect? No, there are definitely a handful that get somewhat shaky in that department. Overall though, this is the awe-inspiring larger than life spectacle that I have been yearning for and am thankful for Snyder’s ambition being realized in all its glory.

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The League

If there was anything that I was particularly worried about, besides the intimidating four hour runtime, is how much or little character development would be involved with Snyder’s vision. Largely my reasons for feeling this way was the fact that Whedon’s cut was surprisingly successful at creating likable characters with personality while Zack Snyder himself had previously failed in that department in my opinion. Granted, I do maintain a level of respect in regards to the ambition and style of Snyder’s first two installments of the DCEU, however the character writing in both those features were two-dimensional at best. And because the development of his characters were so piss poor, it has ruined my viewing experiences of both his previous DC ventures. Resulting in me being rather afraid that his vision of Justice League would unfortunately cast aside character yet again.

Thankfully not the case at all as the extensive screen time grants a tremendous amount of devotion to its characters, getting a better understanding and feel for them as fully realized people rather than exposition robots like Snyder has supplied in several instances prior. Not only do we get better backstory, but genuine personalities from every member of the cast; they have multiple sides to their character, they go through their ups and downs, yes they are dark and brooding yet they still also have a fun enough sense of humor that gives the right amount of contrast, they feel like people who have actually lived a life before being thrown on the screen instead of only existing to explain the plot. These are aspects that Snyder has truly been struggling with over the last decade in his films; now being allowed to expand on his characters for roughly four whole hours, it seems that he finally clicks with the right balance of story, style, and character depth. Snyder succeeds so well that his version of the movie legitimately turns me around on characters I thoroughly hated in the theatrical cut into somewhat admiring in the newest one.

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Mother F*cking Batfleck!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I f*cking love Batfleck and I will not apologize for this, ever! No joke, even though I am honestly not the biggest fan of Batman v Superman or the theatrical Justice League… my absolute favorite element to come out of either was Ben Affleck as easily my favorite Batman since Michael Keaton, I swear to God! He’s so cool, he’s suave, he’s intense, he’s simply badass in every way. Even in the 2017 edit of Justice League I retained that Batfleck was still awesome and I wanted more of him… now I’ve seen the Snyder cut and that ‘want’ has turned to ‘NEED!’ Because I NEED more Batfleck, I really freaking do. He’s so damn good in this movie and it breaks my heart all the more knowing he’ll likely never get his own standalone feature sadly.

A key ingredient that separates a major difference between the theatrical version and the extended one, in terms of the Batman character, is the optimism presented more so in the extended version. While I understand that a more optimistic Batman isn’t exactly the personality most associated with the character as he’s always been more of the dark and brooding type, this feels like a natural progression of his arc from the last time we saw Batman. Last time, we started off on a very angry and cynical Batman who perceives hope as a weakness. Now after everything he went through with Superman and recruiting his team of superheroes, he’s grown more inclined to have at least a little bit of faith even in the darkest of hours. An interpretation of the character that I frankly enjoyed seeing as Batman is still the kickass crimefighter we all know and love, only this time around he’s willing to trust in his team to work together in stopping the evildoers; while in the theatrical cut it was more or less Batman holding a “my way or the highway” mentality. Not necessarily bad, yet this is clearly the superior arc.

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Wonder Woman / Gal Gadot

Oddly enough, I think Snyder’s version might feature less material for the Wonder Woman character than Whedon’s. In the 2017 picture I at least recall the rough foundation of a bond forming between Diana Prince and Cyborg; it wasn’t much, but it at least gave Diana a smidge more chemistry to work with. In this edition though, her bonds with the team feel minimal amongst everyone. At no point does Wonder Woman get lost in the crowd because she’s still a badass warrior who holds the whole team together. While I do admire how the roots of her connections between the individual members of the league are planted, I wish they had more screen time to bloom by the end. Regardless, the character is lovable and kickass as always, and Gal Gadot plays her to perfection of course.

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Aquaman / Jason Momoa

Jason Momoa is a natural born scene stealer; that’s exactly what he was in the theatrical version of Justice League and it holds just as true in the Snyder cut. There’s something almost indescribable about Momoa that is insanely charismatic as the man oozes a rugged charm on the screen in every frame. Believable with every punch thrown, yet quick as a whip with humor. Aquaman is one of my favorite characters in both versions of Justice League because he can kick some major ass while still being the most charming guy in the room, he’s freaking terrific and I love him all the more in his standalone features too.

  • DC's 'Aquaman' (2018) Movie Review
    When it seems that an all-out war will rage between the people of the land and the beings of the sea, Arthur Curry (Aquaman) must put an end to this rivalry by challenging his half-brother, King Orm, for the throne.
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Steppenwolf

So… Steppenwolf, in the theatrical version, was a villain I hated quite a lot. Not an exaggeration, I declared this to be one of the worst antagonists I’ve ever seen in a movie because he is so painfully boring and generic. His motivations? Destroy the world because yadda, yadda, yadda; who gives a sh*t?! His personality? Being a bad guy. Don’t even get me started on his dialog being the most trite, villainy villain one liners ever written. Steppenwolf bores me to tears! Then on top of all that lameness, the special effects used to bring him to life were some of the least convincing and ugliest PlayStation 3 graphics ever shown on the big screen. Awful. Absolutely f*cking awful! How about the latest take on the same baddie? Well, it’s definitely better, but still not exactly anything great either.

There is one drastic difference between the visual quality for sure.

There is one drastic difference between the visual quality for sure.

To touch on the improvements first, I’m actually getting motivations from Steppenwolf that are easy to follow and don’t feel like the same old recycled crap I’ve seen before. Technically speaking, yes, it’s still a warlord fanatic who wants to destroy the world for flimsy reasons to appease his boss. On the other hand though, his personal reasons why do at least create a small amount of depth for the character as he’s simply someone who is attempting to pay a debt in the hopes of one day returning home. No, the movie doesn’t spend a tremendous amount of time fleshing those ideas out, but it’s more than anything the theatrical cut ever tried supplying our big baddie.

At the end of the day, this is still just a fairly straightforward villain trying to destroy the world with reasons that don’t really grip the audience at any point. That being said, there was a noticeable difference in effort put into the writing of this character to make his motives slightly identifiable along with painting him as a more imposing figure in the fight sequences. Coming across as a skilled brutish warrior who isn’t invincible at the convenience of the script, he feels like someone who can be defeated, but because he’s skilled in the art of war he manages to slaughter most who cross his path. Also, it helps an astonishing amount that the special effects used this time around are a million times more impressive than the ones in 2017.

Steppenwolf's Intro in 2017

Steppenwolf 2021

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Flash / Ezra Miller

Look, I said some pretty hateful things when I reviewed Ezra Miller as the Flash in the theatrical cut…

Every single scene Flash is in makes me instantly want to punch him right in the face.

After a while, I prayed for something terrible to happen to that loud mouthed, goofy faced f*ck.

I’m convinced there is no God now.

Kill him, kill him, kill him!

I didn’t like Flash very much in 2017 to say the least… why? To me, he was an obnoxiously terrible joke machine with no depth whatsoever and ruined entire scenes with his annoying presence every second he appeared on screen. Constantly mugging towards the camera with lines that made my ears bleed. Now? Well… here’s the thing… I think he’s… great! Seriously, the inclusion of Ezra Miller as Flash this time around felt so much more likable as he livened up scenes that needed it while actually feeling like a fleshed out character instead of a goofy cardboard cutout. A large portion of his jokes still remained in Snyder’s cut, except they actually work here because they feel more natural to his somewhat anxious and hyper persona. We get a better feel for the guy and why he is the way he is, plus his worst jokes have been completely snipped out of this version luckily. So no more idiotic monologues on why brunch is a thing… ugh.

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Cyborg / Ray Fisher

Previously in the Whedon cut, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Ray Fisher as Cyborg as it seemed like there were huge chunks missing from his story and performance… turns out that was exactly the case because Fisher absolutely rocks it in his full length feature debut, giving one hell of a performance providing that heart originally promised yet missing in the theatrical cut. There’s a real arc going on in Cyborg’s character that isn’t ‘brooding for the sake of brooding’ like before; he’s someone we root for rediscovering his humanity, coming to terms with the devastating changes that have turned him into the cyborg creation he is today. Even though the themes of remorse, guilt, and redemption are heavily prevalent in Fisher’s role as well as Joe Morton playing his father; there is still levity and optimism injected into their personalities to help make them feel more three-dimensional, something that I think would not have been seen in Snyder’s first two DC pictures. Showing again how much has improved over the years.

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Superman / Henry Cavill

Pretty much anything I said about Superman/Henry Cavill in the theatrical cut can be applied to the Snyder cut; these are the first installments to include Cavill’s Superman in a capacity that is decently written. In Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, I was adamant on the topic of Henry Cavill being perfect casting for Superman, yet the writing of his character sucked since it was awfully wooden. Justice League, both versions give a far more rounded and even at times an intimidating interpretation of the character that I’m quite fond of. Only I still have to give the vote to the Snyder cut as superior seeing how his character develops in a more interesting way that doesn’t leave off on the same upbeat note of the Whedon version.

Yeah... he's not quite alright anymore...

Yeah... he's not quite alright anymore...

In 2017, Superman’s arc was rushed from him being resurrected as a confused and angry Supes into the cheesy superhero akin to the Christopher Reeves Superman. In 2021, we get a psychopathic alien terminator who does technically come back to his senses, yet we don’t see arrive to the same cheerful note we saw four years ago as it appears he might still be relatively affected by his death and rebirth. Something I would actually be looking forward in seeing that storyline progress if given the opportunity. To an extent, I appreciated how much better implemented this plot point was crafted, although I still feel as though this was a death and resurrection story that deserved their own respective movies rather than being tossed in as a moderate subplot in the middle of a Justice League flick.

Superman’s Upper Lip

It’s real… it’s actually real… thank f*cking God, it’s real!

IT'S ACTUALLY REAL AGAIN!

IT'S ACTUALLY REAL AGAIN!

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Darkseid

Darkseid was cool… honestly not a whole lot to go off of in the grand scheme of things here, but he really was cool to watch. My fingers are crossed for more and that he isn’t simply ‘Steppenwolf: Part 2’ as a standard villain of the week. If, and that is a big ‘if,’ Darkseid is featured again in future DC installments then I’m expecting a step up in antagonist quality. Although the effects work to capture his gnarly hulk look was flawless, so that’s nice.

R-Rated Action

Zack Snyder has a tendency to release extended cuts that are supposed to contain more blood, gore and violence; i.e. 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, 2009’s Watchman, and most notably before Justice League was 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with his ‘Ultimate Cut.’ When I watched the director’s cut of Batman v Superman, I was extremely underwhelmed by its inclusion of an R-rating as it was barely discernable from the PG-13 cut aside from minor CGI blood splatters seen in the background sometimes. After hearing about how Snyder’s Justice League would include the same R-rated treatment, I was honestly expecting the same disappointing outcome… I was very, very wrong.

This is the hard R-rating that I was begging to see in Batman v Superman yet was sadly let down by, 2021’s Justice League delivers on the bloody carnage I desire and can only dream to see more of in the modern comic book genre. A four hour blood-soaked visual feast of monsters getting cut in half, hands sliced off, a decapitation or two, and blood just exploding from bodies… I LOVE IT SO MUCH! Not only does it make a vast tonal difference from the theatrical’s PG-13 aesthetic, but because the film was allowed to go that extra distance in the violence it aides the action to stand out as much more exciting than before. The action from Whedon’s version wasn’t necessarily bad, but it felt about as standard as a comic book movie could get nowadays. Currently here we have something that actually shines with badassery throughout with memorable action instead of obligatory punching and explosions like we’ve seen so many times already.

The Music

I won’t lie when I say I wasn’t expecting really any divergence in the musical score where I would ever notice between the two cuts. Maybe that’s because the score by Danny Elfman back in 2017 was sort of forgettable; with the exception of the music ques taken from his original ’89 Batman score. Other than that, the theatrical score was fine yet nothing special. So I naively and unfairly assumed no more or less from composer Thomas Holkenborg… well he definitely proved me wrong as well as made me feel like an utter jackass for underestimating his talents. Granted, it wasn’t as though I were expecting him to do poorly, I just wasn’t expecting a single note to stick in the ears for very long. However, Holkenborg’s stylish blend of heavy industrial, gothic symphony, gentle vocal harmonies, and sick electric guitars was pretty f*cking awesome. Creating a whole new vibe for scenes I didn’t previously realize needed the sprucing up, yet this music brings life and style to scenes that are otherwise “okay.” In conclusion, I apologize to Holkenborg for my ignorance, please forgive my dumb ass. Thank you for the kickin’ soundtrack!

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Overall

Zack Snyder’s Justice League… Snyder might not have crafted a masterpiece, however he did accomplish one truly epic vision that is all his own. Whether or not someone can agree on enjoying the Snyder cut, at the very least they have to admit that this was without a doubt the more cohesive and artistically consistent version of what essentially is the same story. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience here and would love to see what more there may be to offer. Is it perfect? No, the pace occasionally drags with a little too much exposition from time to time. Plus the last half hour or so is horrendously tacked on when the film was clearly supposed to naturally end already.

Other than the few moderate issues with pace and structure, there’s still another three hours’ worth of a gorgeously improved spectacle compared to what was shown on the big screen a few years prior. Did the 2017 flick have its merits? Sure, but in all honesty those merits are still witnessed and even developed better in the Snyder cut; basically rendering the theatrical cut mostly inferior. Now if someone doesn’t want to spend four hours watching a movie, that’s understandable and I suppose the Whedon cut also still exists for anyone who would prefer the ‘fast-forwarded’ edition of the same movie, although the Snyder cut breaks the movie into separate chapters so if it’s needed, the viewer can simply hit pause in between the segments and save the rest for a later date.

Plus a 'Prologue' and 'Epilogue.'

Plus a 'Prologue' and 'Epilogue.'

Ultimately I have to award the Snyder cut as the superior film as a whole; the characters all have great chemistry with one another and is given the proper amount of depth individually while never seeming as flat or boring like we’ve seen in Snyder’s filmography before; even the villains are better written here, although still could have used more fleshing out. The hugely epic scope and the spot-on special effects are superb to behold. Batfleck is f*cking awesome as always and I do highly recommend Zack Snyder’s Justice League for anyone who’s curious or is a fan of Snyder’s other DC installments. I believe for any Zack Snyder fan, this will be an exciting watch. Give it a shot if you haven’t already!

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Which 'Justice League' is Best?

That’s All Folks!

Zack Snyder’s Justice League… what did you think? Did you like or dislike it? Agree or disagree? Still believe the Joss Whedon’s theatrical 2017 cut was better? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a super-duper day!

© 2021 John Plocar

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