Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Review

Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Zack Snyder directing Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Courtesy of HBOmax.

Available on Sky Go and Neon for New Zealand viewers & HBO Max in other territories

Hallelujah! After years of consistent grumbling from fans and cast members we have finally arrived at perhaps quite a pivotal moment in cinematic history; not because it involves a film of high quality, but because of the circumstances surrounding it. A film that was thought to be left in the dust to degrade with the other box office bombs of the past returns to life, new, shiny, and just as absurd as you’d expect from a creator like Zack Snyder. Well, you’ll be glad to know that Zack Snyder’s Justice League actually improves upon the original theatrical version, to such a degree that it feels almost alien from what was originally received in theaters. If you’re familiar with Snyder’s work you’ll know that many of his films have a tendency to contain greater clarity and context in their extended versions – this is true for both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition (2016) and Watchmen Ultimate Cut (2009); in both instances these extended directors cuts received significantly higher praise than the original cuts released in cinemas; this is the nature of Zack Snyder’s storytelling style – a man who tells long, long stories.

Zack Snyder is a creative that thrives on two forms of storytelling – the first is his visual storytelling that he uses to apply layers of contextual themes into his films; many of Snyder’s hardcore fans know all about what these visual motifs are and even have their own interpretations of them, but the brass tacks is that Snyder’s visual style is so central to his identity as a filmmaker that it has practically become a style in its own right. The second form of storytelling Snyder uses is his expansive storytelling, it lies in the way he sets up his narratives – his stories often have a wide berth in terms of their scope, they require many pieces working together in order to function. The 4 hour runtime of Zack Snyder’s Justice League allows this film to fulfill both of these narratives requirements, something that would not have been possible in a cut any shorter than three and a half hours. I say this because there’s content here that could certainly be cut or perhaps even replaced with a couple of sequences from Whedons cut that did not appear here. Sacrilege I know, but Whedon did have a couple of scenes between Bruce and Diana that aided in developing their characters.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is without a doubt an improvement upon the original, but herein lies the question; is it now a good film? Well, it’s no longer bad, I can say that much. Many of the major issues still persist, primarily with the overall direction the story chooses and the villain Steppenwolf still remaining quite vanilla despite efforts to expand him. This narrative was always going to be a densely compacted and complicated story to tell, with only two of the six heroes containing their own standalone films before the release of Justice League; it’s no surprise that these issues still persist. What I feel is important to note is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League manages to actually work within its 4 hour runtime, expanding on every character and story line to make this film the true experience it was always meant to be. As I mentioned, it still contains the absurd scenes you’ve come to expect from Snyder; an example of this would be the classic Granny’s Peach Tea scene in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Similarly absurd scenes in this film involve Jared Leto’s Joker and Ezra Miller as the Flash – both with bizarre dialogue or moments of absolute absurdity. However, this film avoids one major issue that plagues any film of this length and that is dragging – that’s right, despite its absolutely bananas runtime, this film managed to keep my attention for the entire length; quite an accomplishment for a franchise that has a mixed response.

I don’t consider myself someone who is particularly enthusiastic toward Snyder’s narrative vision, but as you watch this film and see Zack and his wife Deborah pour everything they can into making it the best version of itself, it’s hard to not respect the effort put in here by this husband and wife duo. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a fundamentally flawed improvement. Despite its many issues, there was a decent film in here; sure, it may not reach the heights that one would expect from all the excitement surrounding it, but it certainly proves that Snyder had a superior vision that we now fortunately get the opportunity to see. Perhaps this trend will persist into the future, paving the way for future re-cuts of films that simply didn’t get their dues. 

Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Ray Fisher as Cyborg, Ezra Miller as The Flash and Jason Mamoa as Aquaman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Courtesy of HBOmax.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a visual effects extravaganza featuring over 2,800 VFX shots in the entire 4 hour runtime – to put this in perspective, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame both had around 2,500 VFX shots. The visual effects still align closely with the quality of the original Justice League film, you can bet that most of the $70 million budget were towards reshoots and the prolific actors in those roles. There are moments in this film where the entire frame is fully computer-generated imagery with nothing practical – these are often the moments where the VFX faults really reveal themselves. The character design of Steppenwolf is largely improved as the VFX team adds more detail to the character that makes the character feel more of a threat. 

It’s no secret that Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder have completely different visual styles. I base the notable difference in the visual elements of the film on colour-grading, frame composition and action set-pieces. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice uses anamorphic lenses that allow the picture to feel more cinematic compared to the spherical lenses used in Justice League. While the camera-work and lighting isn’t as bold nor has the same impact as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – it still feels more naturalistic than whatever we got in the 2017 version of the film. The colour-grading restoration fits in line with the original vision, which has a more comfortable feel to it as they shot it to accommodate the dark and gloomy tone without the brighter colour-grading used in the 2017 version of the Justice League. The action set-pieces are far more effective in this because of enhanced depth cues, including colour-contrast and framing that adds depth to the frame. This makes Zack Snyder’s Justice League look significantly better than the 2017 version of Justice League.

With superhero movies, team up movies especially, one of the key ingredients to establishing the unity of the team is an iconic theme. Alan Silvestri nailed it with The Avengers, yet Junkie XL failed to incorporate a lasting theme for the Justice League. By the lack of iconic theme score, it tarnishes the big moments and money shots as these heroes come together in defeating Steppenwolf. The lack of theme is not the only aspect that is wrong with the music, but the lack of score itself was uninspiring. We hear snippets of Hans Zimmer’s Superman score from Man of Steel and his Wonder Woman score from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with the latter being devalued by the choice of having a harmony cry play before which is constantly used throughout. The result is a mishmash of sound that feels anything but cooperative.

Ultimately, this is a love-letter to the fans, for the fans – in many ways you’ve got to tip your hat to their insane commitment in getting this film green-lit. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is possibly everything the fans wanted, of course, it’s not quite enough to elevate this flawed blockbuster to greater heights, but holds up enough of a fight to leave one satisfied enough with the end result. I appreciate this film for what it is, in all its imperfections the craziest part of this 4 hour superhero flick is that it actually exists to begin with. It’s times like these where it truly feels like we’ve entered a new age of cinema – where something like this can happen.

5.1/10

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