Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, JWillem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Ryan Zheng, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Lisa Loven Kongsli, David Thewlis, Jared Leto, Kiersey Clemons, Ray Porter
Run Time: 242 mins
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the director’s cut of the film Snyder tried to originally make before butting heads with Warner Brothers executives and then departing the project after a family tragedy. Joss Whedon of the first two Avengers films was drafted in to finish the project and effectively rewrote and reshot a significant portion of the film. The studio further mandated a two hour run time after the disappointing reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Whedon further didn’t want to use Junkie XL’s score that he had written for the film and drafted in Danny Elfman to write a new score.
The end result was a crushing disappointment that was a schizophrenic mess that represented a clash of two opposing styles of direction with a feeling that it felt unfinished. The film neglected to develop its new characters of Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash that it introduces and Steppenwolf was a very forgettable, one-dimensional CGI villain with typical end-of-the-world antics. It failed in establishing the stakes faced against these characters and the film has a poor sense of flow. The action sequences were cartoonish and for a $300 million dollar budget, the visual effects were laughable.
Fans have petitioned for Snyder’s original vision and the movement began on social media with the hashtag #RestoreTheSnyderCut. After many months of speculation, Snyder then revealed that he had most of a finished cut completed and it was up to Warner Bros to release it. Fans continued to push for its release in their numbers and the ‘Snyder Cut’ was announced in May 2020. Warner Bros granted Snyder an additional $70 million to finish the film and it now sees the light of day in its full 242 minute glory.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an astonishing achievement and represents a mature and risky effort in establishing the DC team. The four hours fly by and it is a visual treat throughout. This is a Zack Snyder film through and through but it interestingly represents a more mature effort in that the storytelling here is improved from some of his previous filmography, where some of his films have bordered on the incoherent. By the film having its length, the film can breathe and Snyder works wonders in establishing and developing each and every character of the team. There is no conceivable way this story can be told in a two hour run time.
This director’s cut is completely different in story and structure from the theatrical cut. There isn’t many of Snyder’s scenes in the theatrical cut and it’s interesting that Whedon cut many of his scenes to the point where they dramatically alter the meaning they are attempting to effect. This director’s cut has real stakes and sets up a greater arc for future films to explore, although it is improbable that will come to fruition. Snyder presents his superheroes as god-like figures that have made sacrifices and the narrative interweaves with various forms of ancient mythology.
Ray Fisher’s Cyborg makes the biggest impression in this cut, a character that barely registered in the theatrical rendition. We witness the origins of how Victor Stone becomes Cyborg and there are real emotional stakes in his character, particularly in his relationship with his father played by Joe Morton, again in an expanded capacity in this cut. Wonder Woman and The Flash also have expanded roles compared to the original cut that further develop both characters, Snyder portraying a darker and more gritty take on Wonder Woman. The focus Snyder takes with Ben Affleck’s Batman is more of a mentor role, which is also interesting and we see the more vulnerable aspect to the character in some of the action sequences where he clearly isn’t as physically strong as other members on the team. Aquaman features more in the film but isn’t as much the focus, but this is a nice introduction to the character in preparation for what was his solo film. It’s fascinating that Superman’s resurrection sequence occurs around two and a half hours into the film, which is quite a long way in and the first two and a half hours effectively portray the dour reality of a world without Superman.
The villains are much better in this film compared to the theatrical cut. Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf was really poorly established and developed in the theatrical cut. Interestingly, Steppenwolf’s first scene in the Snyder Cut is when he acquires the first Mother Stone from Themiscyra. It is a much better scene compared to in the Whedon cut (which this scene was surprisingly one of the highlights) as his motivations are made much clearer. Steppenwolf is actually a pawn to a greater power, Darkseid, and the interplay between them is excellent and Steppenwolf’s servant role is greatly explored. Ray Porter’s Darkseid also makes a strong impression here in a limited role that introduces audiences to him, almost the equivalent in stature in DC than Thanos is to Marvel.
Jared Leto features in a scene towards the end of the film as the Joker that was shot towards Snyder’s completion of the film. Leto’s portrayal was derided in Suicide Squad (although I found enough to like in his portrayal) and in the scene he shares with Batman here, he is unhinged and unpredictable, diverting from other portrayals in that he focusses more on the ‘Wild Card’ aspect of the character.
This director’s cut also wildly succeeds on a visual level, playing to Snyder’s strengths. At no point in the 4 hour run time did I feel that the effects looked unfinished or rushed and the apocalyptic aesthetic of the film has far more weight than the brighter aesthetic of the theatrical cut. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is outstanding – it didn’t make much of an impression in the theatrical cut but clearly, the majority of that cut consisted of reshoots. Wagner crafts some mesmerising images, complimenting Snyder-regular Larry Fong’s work on Batman v Superman.
Junkie XL’s metal-heavy and god-like score further elevates the film and is far more bombastic and ambitious than Danny Elfman’s stale score for the theatrical cut. That said, not all of Elfman’s score made it to the original cut and there is some material on the soundtrack that is excellent. Junkie XL successfully crafts new and memorable themes for the new superheroes introduced and it’s impressive that throughout the extended run time, it manages to sustain its quality.
Ultimately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a frequently astonishing and bold take on this DC lineup and it earns its four hour run time. Snyder has matured as a director and he has markedly improved on some of his lesser qualities in previous films in regards to storytelling and representations. The wider context of this director’s cut is fascinating in how different it is from what Warner Bros chose to release. The stark differences between both cuts is something that can and likely will be studied for years to come and having watched this director’s cut, one has to question the psychology of the decision to approve the theatrical cut for cinema release. It would be really interesting to see where the narrative of this cuts leads with further installments but that is unlikely to happen. Still, it’s miraculous that this director’s cut has seen the light of day and if there is the audience demand for the continuation of Snyder’s storyline, it would be barmy for Warner Bros to ignore its market.