Anyone who has followed the DCEU films knows by now how we have arrived at this place, and why it is so significant for those who have been there since 2013’s Man of Steel. Zack Snyder has been at the helm for two of the tent pole films of this universe, and both of them have been met with mixed reactions, and sometimes just downright bad reviews. But in 2017, the culminating event was to take place and everything was supposed to be made right. All of the heroes were to be together in one film, fighting evil, and on their way to rivaling the box office numbers that Marvel had done with the Avenger movies.
The project seemed snake bitten from the start, however, as Snyder had to leave due to the death of his daughter, which led to Joss Whedon (The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron) taking over and rewriting and reshooting much of the film. What we were left with was a movie that felt as awkward as Henry Cavill’s CGI removed mustache (if you want to read my thoughts on that first film — you can do so here). The first iteration of Justice League was tough to watch, and felt like it didn’t fit with the other films up to that point (especially those directed by Snyder), as everything presented was different and large parts of the story that had been built up to that point were just ignored. With Zack Snyder’s version of the film — all of that is put back together, and for good or bad in this 4 hour movie — we finally get to see what Snyder’s vision was all along.
So out of the gate — this film is much better than the first rendition. Yes, it’s long, but it is more like what I expected to see when I stepped into the theater in 2017. Segments of the earlier films which were retconned with Whedon’s version, are reinstalled and what seemed unfinished (especially with Batman v Superman) finally make sense. Namely, the introduction of the character Darkseid, and how he fits into the overarching story going back to Batman’s vision/dream in Batman v Superman.
Let’s start with how the team is assembled in this film versus how it was done in the first version. In the original — the team is formed hurriedly, as the film wasn’t even 2 hours long. The time required to develop the tertiary characters, such as Aquaman (prior to his solo movie), The Flash, and Cyborg were pretty much glossed over. We knew little about them or their backstory, and especially Cyborg’s character, left the viewer with not much to root for. I just kept waiting for them to get out of the way so Batman, Wonder Woman, and eventually Superman could take over. When the credits rolled — the film didn’t exactly leave me wanting more. If it had ended right there — I most likely would have been indifferent. It was formulaic, and like a poor imitation of the Avengers.
This version of the Justice League does that part (and the rest of the story)…Well, more justice. In my original review of the first film, I suggested that Steppenwolf (the bad guy) could have been left out and the whole film could have been dedicated to the formation of the team; and once done, the uphill battle of fighting against and for Superman after his resurrection (you may recall, he comes back not really knowing who he is, and is initially not a nice dude). That is essentially what this film does — minus more fighting for Superman and his identity. What we get is more background into all of the new meta-humans, and their eventual buy into the group. That is especially the case for Cyborg, who ends up receiving the bulk of the new screen time. His relationship to his parents, especially his father, is fleshed out and more nuanced. It was also interesting to see how he deals with his new reality as part man — part machine, as he is really the only one in the group who isn’t exactly proud of who he is. With these extra details provided in their stories — Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg may not end up being as popular as the main three — but they seem just as important and are just as integral to overcoming the attack on Earth.
In addition to those three getting more background, so does the rest of the story — which again is more inline with the films that came before Justice League. We learn more about the battle that first happened long before the current storyline, with Darkseid (who wasn’t really even in Whedon’s version) attempting to conquer Earth this time instead of Steppenwolf. The battle that ensues is more thorough and executed cleaner, showing how Darkseid was stopped, while featuring more characters and how they joined together to stop him. The revised struggle also lays out better how the Mother Boxes play into the present time, and what makes them so special. More history around the Amazons in Themiscyra, Bruce Wayne’s quest to unite everyone, and Clark Kent / Superman are all provided, which adds depth to the film— though all of it can take a little while to “click in” so you completely understand how it all fits into the story.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the two films is the threat of evil. As I’ve mentioned, we are introduced to Darkseid in this film — who is DC’s answer to Thanos in the Avengers. Though a lot about his motivation to rule the universe isn’t made clear in this movie, as Thanos’ true intentions weren’t learned until Infinity War, we get a very clear picture into how evil he is, and how difficult it will be to defeat him. Steppenwolf, who was a major let down in the first film, is also re-introduced here. His role is essentially equivalent to all the baddies who came before Thanos in the Avengers’ universe. He’s the obstacle that the good guys must eliminate in this film — but he is only a stepping stone to the true threat. In 2017’s version, Steppenwolf just seemed like a distraction in the story in order to give the heroes something to unite around, there wasn’t really any mention of Darkseid or something more ominous behind him. He didn’t really seem to have any story, other than he wanted to destroy the Earth, and that he needed to be stopped. It seemed like he literally could have been anything — he was just there to be taken out. In Snyder’s version his character is given backstory explaining why he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s still a bad guy — but at least now we know more completely who he is. There’s a bit more depth and reasoning behind his madness as he tries to get himself back into the good graces of Darkseid, after betraying him. This little detail, makes you understand his desperation in finding the Mother Boxes, and trying to take out anything in his way. He is visually repaired as well. In the original — I felt the CGI work on him was not on par with what we were used to seeing, most likely due to the fact that Joss Whedon rewrote his character and his appearance. In this film, he not only is more evil, but he looks and sounds the part as well. How he goes out in this film is also a much better payoff than what we were left with in 2017’s version.
For years the internet rumors wouldn’t stop. There was a different version than what Warner Brothers served up in theaters. It was supposed to be more complete, better thought out, and more closely tied to what we had seen up to that point. Zack Snyder did his part to let us know that he wasn’t satisfied with what ended up on film, letting pictures and details trickle out on social media, that only whetted everyone’s thirst for what could have been. Well, now that vision is here for all to see. In the end, was all the clamoring, negotiating, and extra work worth it? For my money it was. This movie isn’t ground breaking, and it may not be as good as Infinity War and Endgame from Marvel (which when put together are essentially a 6 hour movie, for those bashing the 4 hour length), but Zack Snyder’s Justice League is leaps and bounds ahead of what we saw a few years back. There’s something very satisfying to seeing what was supposed to be. It’s good to finally get the answers to questions from the movies that led up to this one. I cannot imagine putting in all the work Zack Snyder did, and then have to turn over the reigns to someone who wasn’t there for the journey, only to see them take what you had planned and basically throw it in the trashcan.
Are Zack Snyder’s movies for DC perfect? No. I have a lot of the same issues with them that most everyone else does (i.e., how Henry Cavill’s version Superman has been written — depriving us of an actor who had the talent to be as iconic as Christopher Reeve, the “Martha” incident from Batman v Superman and more) — but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to know how it was all supposed to play out after having watched the building blocks. In the end, it was fulfilling. I got out of it what I was expecting when I saw the original in 2017. And, it makes those earlier films better, because their stories are now more complete.
I have serious doubts about if it will ever happen now — but I’d like to see more. Just like I wanted to learn more about Thanos in the Avengers movies and see his character fully realized on screen, I feel the same way about Darkseid, after finally catching a glimpse of him. I want to know what Bruce Wayne’s last vision/dream means. I’d like to see more of Jared Leto as the Joker now after having seen his interaction with Ben Affleck (those two could be just as powerful on screen as Christian Bale and Heath Ledger were). I’d like to learn more about the new characters introduced, and see what Lex Luthor might lead to, and I’d like to see these actors and the characters they’re playing get more screen time in the Zack Snyder universe. It’s a shame that it took 4 years for us to finally get this film, and it’s a shame that it will likely end here. To me, it seems as though everything has finally lined up and became what it was originally intended to be. Only the future will tell, but I’m thankful for those who beat the drums long enough for Warner Brothers to cave and allow for Zack Snyder’s Justice League. For those of us who enjoy the darker, more complicated storytelling in the world of superheroes — it was worth the wait.
4 out of 5
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now playing on HBO Max, and is Rated R for violence and some language.