2020s

Review: ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

Zack Snyder's Justice League Movie Film

Warner Bros. allowed director Zack Snyder to dive back into the DC Mother Box and give rebirth to Justice League (2017), largely in response to the #releasethesyndercut petition from the American filmmaker’s rabid fan base. Four years after the original dud, Zack Snyder’s Justice League clocks in at an intimidating four hours, and even the most ardent DC fans may share my view that Snyder should have sharpened his sword and swung it a few more times.

Snyder stacks the hero cards with “King” Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), “Queen” Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and three “Jacks” consisting of The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), who is critical to the resurrection of the “Ace,” Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Cyborg wouldn’t be able to work his magic if it were not for Clark Kent’s love of Lois Lane (Amy Adams), which enables him to reorient himself.

Zack Synder’s Justice League retells the formation of the Justice League and their first team-up battle against the villainous Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), picking up after the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Steppenwolf’s insidious scheme is to gather and unite the technological monstrosities known as Mother Boxes and rewrite the rules of reality in service to Darkseid (Ray Porter). In my 2017 review of Justice League, I mention that Steppenwolf is not a sufficiently foreboding villain as found in the comic books. While Zack Synder’s Justice League doesn’t completely wipe away the blemishes of Steppenwolf’s theatrical backstory, it is with a slight sigh of relief that I happily report that the devil-horned monster finally has a sense of urgency. Snyder now treats viewers to a fully fleshed-out version of the villain, complete with a Shakespearian-inspired twist and a clear understanding as to why he is willing to commit such heinous and irredeemable acts. More to the point, his unnerving re-design, including disturbing interrogation methods and graphic acts of violence, present him as a dire threat to the Justice League and all mankind on earth.      

The performances of both Affleck and Gadot and their characters’ arcs remain largely intact, consistent with the 2017 presentation, albeit with slight cosmetic changes. The same goes for Cavill’s portrayal of Superman, except now, as a bonus, viewers no longer have to stare at his digitally doctored-out mustache or listen to cringe-worthy dialogue such as “Tell me…. do you bleed?” Meanwhile, second-stringers Cyborg, Aquaman and The Flash receive significant character modifications in comparison to the 2017 film, with additional scenes that explain their motivations and further define their burdens. Among this trio, Fisher shines as the immediate standout. As Cyborg, he perfectly captures his comic counterpart’s misgivings towards the new technology that his career-obsessed father unwilling bestows upon him. Cyborg serves as an excellent entry point for new audience members unfamiliar with superhero lore, and his character arc serves as a great reminder of how vital the elements of pathos and feats of strength are to the hero’s journey. Viewers should not have to wait 40 minutes, however, for the intriguing Cyborg scenes to blossom, especially given that Snyder stated over two years ago to various film sites that Fisher’s character is the heart of the Justice League.

More by Peter Bell: Review: Ben Hozie’s ‘PVT Chat’

Zack Snyder's Justice League Movie Film

Unsurprisingly, Snyder spares no expense in packing his DC epic to the brim with CGI slow-motion action. Yet, even his most zealot fans might regret the long gestation period of these sequences and the sheer volume of them. A scene as simple as Lois Lane grieving for her intergalactic Lancelot’s passing must adhere to slo-mo — Snyder logic. This sequence comes complete with an overly long and drawn-out walking montage from a generic coffee shop to Superman’s ground zero memorial. Just in case the self-parody is not already apparent, decelerated raindrops and an unnecessarily loud rendition of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ “Distant Sky” are present throughout. The sequence takes place nearly 18 minutes into Zack Snyder’s Justice League, yet it is only at the 40-minute mark that the director informs viewers about the origins of Cyborg and Flash. 

During a traffic accident, Barry Allen’s faster-than-the-human-eye rescue of Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) proves to be quite the spectacle. It is fantastic to see Barry walk through glass with just the touch of his index finger and have lightning bolts pop around his entire body. However, the inclusion of a dog barking and drooling in slow motion and the sight of sesame seeds scattering all over seem more than a tad overkill for communicating the desired emotional effect, which itself, is questionable. One moment, Barry is frightened at the potential loss of this woman’s life, then he is making creepy, googly eyes at her. Finally, for added comic relief, he picks hot dogs to later feed to dogs while hanging mid-air. It’s an extraordinary spectacle, as all the emotions tend to invalidate each other. Yet, this sequence does speak to Barry’s socially awkward, immature existence.

Ultimately, this brings to the forefront the primary issue — the editing and re-shooting of various sequences, or rather the reshuffling of scenes and the clunky injection of new material. Some of this proves unnecessary due to the fact that it does not establish any new insight. The additional scenes of Lois Lane, for example, do nothing in terms of further expanding upon her relationship with Clark Kent or the Superman mythos at large. One can only show Adams mourn so many times before it begins to feel like another Lifetime network movie. Additionally, the scenes of Aquaman are stuck in the same repetitive patterns, and the verbal sparring matches with Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) and Mera (Amber Heard) are old news.

While the addition of Silas Stone’s (Joseph Thomas Morton, Jr.) “altiora” monologue serves well as a proper send-off to the old DCEU, Synder’s insistence on including one final Bruce Wayne nightmare sequence proves to be one too many. In theory, the inclusion of a scene that sets up a hypothetical sequel and showcases a fantastic roster of characters sounds like a comic fan’s dream come true. However, the reality is more jarring and confusing. It’s as if Mr. Synder is publicly pitching his ideas for an HBO MAX television show to AT&T executives rather than providing a logical extension of the story. Even the inclusion of Jared Leto’s redeeming Joker portrayal emerges as a minor fan boy wish fulfillment at best, and, at worst, offers nothing to the Batman-Joker rivalry.

More by Peter Bell: Review: Robert Machoian’s ‘The Killing of Two Lovers’

Zack Snyder's Justice League Movie Film

In the 1980s, the president of DC comics, Jenette Khan, brought new life into the stagnating company and tried to look at the superhero genre from a new perspective. Her boldness led to great results, including classic comic titles such as Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Several years later, WarnerMedia and Snyder have tried to come up with that same royal flush of creativity, and they have repeatedly placed too many jokers in the deck. In an era where Disney allows Marvel to experiment boldly with narrative structures in a show like WandaVision, Zack Snyder’s Justice League seems like a tired old horse that needs to be put out to pasture. If AT&T is serious about competing in these superheroes streaming wars, they need to start thinking outside their Mother Box.

Peter Bell (@PeterGBell25) is a 2016 Master of Arts – Film Studies graduate of Columbia University School of Arts in New York City. His interests include film history, film theory and film criticism. Ever since watching TCM as a child, Peter has had a passion for film, always trying to add greater context to film for others. His favorite films include Chinatown, Blade Runner, Lawrence of Arabia, A Shot in the Dark and Inception. Peter believes movie theaters are still the optimal forum for film viewing, discussion and discovering fresh perspectives on culture.

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