Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
No movie has ever been quite like Zack Snyder’s Justice League. After all the hubbub, I think everyone's curious to see the end results. Have the petitions, billboards, and millions of hashtags been worth it?
Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), a series of ominous dreams warn Batman (Ben Affleck) of an ancient evil's return. Bringing together Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), might be enough to stop world-conqueror Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his army of Parademons before he can assemble the three matter-altering Mother Boxes hidden on Earth and use them to reshape the world.
If you’ve seen 2017’s Justice League, you’ve mostly seen this movie... but not really. Obviously, the running time is much longer, which means everyone gets more opportunities to show off their abilities and develop their characters. The big winners are The Flash and Cyborg, who kind of become the hearts of this adventure. The Flash plays a huge part in the finale. Now enormously endearing, you can't wait to see more of him. With Victor Stone/Cyborg’s father, Silas Stone (Joe Morton) we get a much more emotional story than before. Surprisingly, Steppenwolf also gets a lot more material. Rather than a generic gray CGI monster, he’s a gray CGI monster with just enough dimension to make you wonder how you feel about him. Though he remains a force of destruction, his backstory is expanded upon greatly. He’s been sent on a mission by the lord of Apokolips, Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter) following a failed coup. If he cowers in front of Darkseid’s enforcer DeSaad (Peter Guinness) and barely dares utter his lord's name, how big a threat are the heroes actually facing?!
Also different is the overall tone. Whether you care for Zack Snyder as a director or not, he has a distinct, recognizable style and that’s always preferable to a gooey mush no one has put any kind of mark upon. The score is consistent with the previous Man of Steel and BvS films, the humor is significantly downplayed, and the violence (you might call it edginess) is dialed up. There’s also a lot more slow-motion. With the seven narrative acts, this feels so much like a living comic book that all you can think about are double-page spreads. It’s still moving, but you have the time to drink in all of the details.
The fights feel epic - even though you already “know” how things will end. The fallout of Superman’s death is handled so much better you’ll never look back at the way it was previously handled (actually, I kind of like what they do here more than in the original comic it takes its inspiration from). All of the actors get to reprise/expand upon their roles, the best bits you saw before remain but the plot is clearer, more satisfying. If you helped convince Warner Bros. to make this happen, you’ll be over the moon.
This is a better movie than the one we saw before but it isn’t the best movie it could be. The running time must be criticized. For the most part, you don’t really feel it, particularly not at home. You will grow restless during the Epilogue, however. This segment feels self-indulgent. We're not talking a quick tease of more to come (even if this movie doesn’t get a sequel, you just assume the adventures will continue). We get at least 20+ minutes of new characters and plots. Be grateful for what you got, Mr. Snyder, show some restraint.
My final criticism concerns the screenplay. It’s terrific that this movie is better than the two-hour version in every way (including the special effects) but I'd argue almost every movie could be made “better” if it were longer. Anyone can write a novel that spans 10,000 pages or shoot a 7+ season TV show with fully-rendered characters. What’s impressive is delivering all that in a fraction of the time. Zack Snyder’s Justice League does not successfully do everything it wants as efficiently as it should.
I never expected Zack Snyder’s Justice League to happen. Now, here we are, and I’m grateful. This is a fun movie, even when it does teeter towards becoming an edgelord’s idea of what a superhero adventure should be like. It’s better paced, edited, scored, and realized. Its epilogue is a bit much, however. I say cut the movie off after the scene with Deathstroke and you have a better end product. It may be self-indulgent towards the end, but this new Justice League is what we hoped for. (March 28, 2021)
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