After all the sturm und drang to get to this point, Zack Snyder’s Justice League—the official name of the “Snyder Cut”—is here to give Zack Snyder a mulligan on Justice League after he had to leave the project in 2016 before completing it. One thing can be settled now that Snyder has completed his film: there is absolutely no reason to ever bother with the theatrical cut again. That movie is a Frankensteinian mess, and in one extremely critical way, Snyder’s version is a massive, unquestionable improvement. ZSJL is now a coherent, cohesive story. Does that mean ZSJL is a good movie, though? That depends entirely on whether or not you like Snyder’s approach to superheroes in the first place. If you do, then yes, ZSJL is your wildest dream come true. If, however, Snyder’s DC films never worked for you, then ZSJL probably won’t, either. Nothing about Snyder’s approach to the characters has changed, and in some ways, this version is worse than before. Wonder Woman, for instance, was charming if wasted in the theatrical version. Here, though, Gal Gadot’s performance is charmless and wooden, and arguably worse than her performance in Wonder Woman 1984.
Similarly, Snyder always seemed embarrassed to have to tend to a do-gooder like Superman, and just as in the theatrical version, Henry Cavill doesn’t show up till the end—well over two hours into ZSJL’s FOUR HOUR runtime—and while there is no CG-mustache mouth to contend with this time, Superman still falls flat. ZSJL is so grand in scope and intention, it feels like it should be capping off a years-long run of multiple films through which we build genuine love for this character. But though the narrative rise to his resurrection works much better now than it did before, the crescendo still falls flat as we have no real connection to this iteration of Superman. His resurrection just feels like ticking a box to get to the climax of the film. Even that, though, feels a little engineered—if Cyborg made one less stupid decision in the moment, Superman wouldn’t be necessary at all. If you need characters to be stupid to make the plot work, the plot ain’t great to begin with.
Other elements of ZSJL work out much better. Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) remains a highlight, but with a fuller characterization that teases out the latent sadness under his chipper nature. Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is BY FAR the most improved character, in that he actually has one now. The character look is still clunky and overdesigned—an obvious result of trying not to look like Iron Man—but Fisher’s performance is good enough to make moments when Cyborg “talks” to computers not feel completely stupid (for comparison: Oscar Isaac could not sell a similar scene in X-Men: Apocalypse). And the natural rapport between Barry and Victor is still great and has more time to breathe, given the expanded runtime. (Did I mention this film is FOUR HOURS?) Aquaman (Jason Momoa) feels a bit strange, because this film takes place before his solo film and we’re still dealing with Bitter Loner Arthur Curry, but he is less overtly sexist and gross this time, so that’s a plus. Also, a moment in which a woman picks up a sweater Jason Momoa just discarded and sniffs it is supremely relatable. We all would, village lass. We all would.
But the single best element of ZSJL is Bruce Wayne/Batman. Ben Affleck is simply excellent, from his worn-in relationship with Jim Gordon (JK Simmons), to his affably snippy repartee with Alfred (Jeremy Irons), to his self-appointed role as founder of the Justice League, Affleck captures all sides of a complicated man who is mostly at peace with his double-life and has lowered partitions between his two personas. Again, it feels like we needed more of a run-up to this moment, when Bruce abandons years of cynicism for trust and “faith” in the power of heroes—he liked Superman for MAYBE ten minutes before the guy died, so the about-face Bruce pulls because of that death rings hollow as a result. But Affleck is good enough to propel past that weak narrative underpinning.
Of course, all the usual Snyder things are on display here. There is plenty of slow-motion action set to downbeat pop songs, a drained color palette—though it is noticeably brighter than that of Batman v Superman—a laughably self-important tone, and though the CG is much more detailed now than it was in the theatrical version, more of a bad design is still a bad design (all of the villains look AWFUL). But Snyder’s style does make for some compelling moments, visuals are never his problem. There are several shots juxtaposing the insignificance of man against the vastness of nature that pop off the screen like paintings, and Snyder’s signature speed ramping technique is especially suited to The Flash, whose “time in a bottle” sequences come with a sense of sickening motion. There is one action sequence in which Superman and The Flash fight inside the Speed Force that is particularly good.
And there is the usual dumb superhero movie crap that happens in most of these movies. The Mother Boxes are a stupid MacGuffin that mean nothing to the audience—they do NOT follow a multi-year, multi-film arc building up their significance—but most superhero movies revolve around some stupid glowing object that can end the world, so whatever. And the third act is a CG garbage fight, but most superhero movies end in a CG garbage fight. More specific to ZSJL, a Martian Manhunter (Harry Lennix) cameo undercuts an otherwise lovely scene between Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), deflating exactly the kind of human, emotional exchange Martin Scorsese says is missing from the genre, and a second cameo in the epilogue is the sort of bald-faced plot setup Marvel is (often deservingly) criticized for. These problems exist across the genre, and Snyder doesn’t solve them, either.
While ZSJL is unquestionably better than what came before, it is still, ultimately, the same movie we’ve already seen. More character development doesn’t change the story, though it makes the dumber plot points easier to tolerate, and this is still a vision of the Justice League I don’t much care for. Again, if Snyder was already your bag, you will love ZSJL. But if you didn’t care for his previous films in the DCEU, this probably won’t change your mind. Yes, everything makes more sense and is more coherent, and it is visually a huge improvement over the contrast-cranked theatrical cut, but it is still Snyder’s grayscale view of this world (a few moments BEG for more color and feel flatter and less grand than they should because of the washed-out tones). At the end of the day, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is just more and longer of a thing we’ve already seen. It is an interesting curiosity object, and not without merit, but it is still a flawed film stemming from a deeply flawed approach to the Justice League. Adding two hours to the runtime doesn’t change that.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will be streaming on HBO Max in the US and Crave in Canada starting March 18.