I have stated many times that I love to be pleasantly surprised. Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a gift with certain expectations only to have it surpass anything imaginable? Today, I received my gift. It came from Zack Snyder and its name is Zack Snyder’s Justice League. This is a long review, but it was a long film, so a long review is the only way I can do Zack Snyder’s Justice League any “justice.”
Most everyone by now knows the story of what happened when Snyder began to film his Justice League project. His reputation was already in question given the mixed fan response with his previous movies Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. I was one of those dissenting voices. Then, due to a terrible personal tragedy, Snyder stepped away from the project and Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to finish the film. What ended up happening was Whedon scrapped at least 70% of the movie and re-shot with a different narrative that made the movie extremely watered down as well as somewhat vague. Story points were not treated well and in some cases completely abandoned making for a rather confusing and highly uneven movie. Then fans got onto social media and started demanding #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. Luckily for the fans, Warner Bros. and Snyder did one better by not only sharing this cut of the movie but also by completing and fleshing it out in ways that were probably not possible had it been released in theaters back in 2017. But let’s take several steps back, shall we?
I found BvS to be a terribly disappointing movie, and I outright loathed Man Of Steel, despite the strong presence of Henry Cavill as the titular hero. Snyder’s approach at deconstructing the superhero myth had gone too far making the superhero into almost an anti-hero. While this may work for some the idea of doing this with Superman was unthinkable. He was supposed to be the paragon of virtue but instead, he was treated as a horribly flawed individual, and to make things even worse Snyder depicted people as the worst of humanity in their response towards Superman. Now, he has delivered characters who are hellbent on doing the right thing for all of humanity, especially in the face of overwhelming odds. And that is nowhere more plainly told than in the portrayal of Bruce Wayne aka Batman. Here is a character who for the last several decades saw a return to being the “Dark Knight.” Batman was supposed to be the anti-hero to Superman’s virtuous hero. Now, he is a hero who will still go to incredible lengths to get the job done, but it is done with a sense of hope. Even when his manservant Alfred questions Bruce’s decisions the reply is the same. It is about faith. This is a 180-degree turnaround from the Bruce Wayne we saw in BvS. Now Snyder isn’t engaged in the act of deconstructing his heroes. Now, he is building them up into something better. Perhaps this was all part of Snyder’s plan in the first place. Then again, maybe this is an element that he merely added when he walked away from the movie for a time. Maybe the personal tragedy gave him a different perspective that he brought to this completed epic. Then again, maybe this was all part of Snyder’s long-game. In any event, the patience that fans have had for the past four years has been rewarded in ways they could not have anticipated. It was operatic in tone, epic in scope, and it was artfully constructed from the ground up.
The performances from the primary cast were nothing less than brilliant, and having a movie that clocks in at 4 hours and 2 minutes allowed for in-depth development and examination of these characters in a way that was not served in Whedon’s version of the movie but might have also been shortchanged had Snyder’s version originally gone out to movie houses. By breaking down this film into chapters and then giving sufficient spotlight to specific characters in these chapters helped to inform who they truly are and where their values are placed. It even allowed seeing an evolution with some of those characters that made sense instead of having their particular character arc questionably reach its destination far too quickly. The portrayal of Victor Stone as Cyborg by Ray Fisher saw the crisis of character he was going through from all different sides. But by the end, he was able to look himself in the eye (literally) and declare that he was not broken. With all of the CGI effects attached to him, Fisher was still able to deliver that sense of growth and acceptance. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman no longer suffers from the pain of loss that we had previously seen. She still carries the love for Steve Trevor in her heart, but it doesn’t limit her anymore. Her sense of courage and determination was a definite callback to what we saw in her premiere feature film, and Gadot’s sheer strength of personality was a clear reminder as to why she IS Wonder Woman.
Ben Affleck as Batman was one of the biggest surprises in changing from a Dark Knight to perhaps a Light Knight. He still carries that shroud of pain and personal loss, but as he repeatedly said in this film, he now has faith. Affleck played it wonderfully by giving the character a lighter tone but without sacrificing any of the gravitas that made Batman the superhero he is. Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman was another big surprise in that he too carries a terrible burden about the loss of his mother. He has a bitterness that he tries to hide behind but in the end, he still does care as he does enjoy helping out the people of a small Icelandic village. It’s almost a chink in his armor of bitterness because when the situation became most dire even he couldn’t admit that he didn’t care about what happened to the people of Earth. In the end, Arthur Curry cared and Momoa gave that arc a very gradual believability.
The biggest surprise was Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash. They (Miller regards themselves as non-binary) still have their quirky and slightly comedic approach that makes watching them on the screen great fun, but their character possibly provides the big save needed for our heroes to defeat Steppenwolf. Miller has shown that they have incredible depth to their acting chops that make for a believably diverse portrayal of Barry Allen. Lastly, there is Cavill as Superman. He doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of active screen time than the rest of our cast, but when he is on there is no taking your eyes off of him. He commands the screen as if truly was Superman.
The action sequences were brilliantly choreographed to make each one full, but never overwhelming. Even as we approached one of the final battle sequences with our three most powerful heroes squaring off against Steppenwolf I could feel a smile on my face that was growing wider and wider with each second. By now this film had tapped into my inner child! The visual effects were incredible as shown by this film’s portrayal of Steppenwolf. As laughable as he appeared in Whedon’s film, here he looked truly terrifying, and I would be remiss to not mention either DeSaad, one of Darkseid’s lieutenants, and especially Darkseid himself. He is supposed to be the biggest menace in the DC universe and Snyder had that delivered.
After watching the first third of this film it began to dawn on me that I was watching something unique. As I stated earlier, this film was artfully constructed making it both epic and operatic. Snyder has managed to give us a superhero art film. If I were to have any complaints it is that I did not like the use of the Mother Boxes as they do not fit in with how they are used in any of the New Gods stories in the comic books. Their use in this way made them an undesirable plot device. I was also surprised and slightly disappointed that despite having a widescreen 4K television when the movie started there was a card put up by HBO Max stating that the movie would be shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio in order to preserve the integrity of Snyder’s creative vision. To say that I was disappointed by this is an understatement given the epic nature of this movie. Nevertheless, that did not take away from my overall enjoyment of this masterful art film that Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. have given to us.
For succeeding AND exceeding in giving us one of the most highly anticipated superhero movies in the last 10 years, I give Zack Snyder’s Justice League 4.5 out of 5 Mother Boxes.