by @holocronGeorge for @DCMotherbox
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Zack Snyder’s Justice League
With a sprawling runtime of over 4 hours, there’s a lot to unpack with Zack Snyder’s Justice League, much of which can’t be done without covering spoilers. It’s surprising to talk about spoilers for a movie that has been billed by many as an ultimate director’s cut, but this just highlights the extent to which the Snyder Cut is a completely different entity than the film we all saw in 2017. If you’re curious about our general opinions on the film, check out our non-spoiler review. But, in this review, we’re going to delve deeply into all the ins and outs of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
What better place to start than the very beginning. Snyder opts to open his film with a reexamination of the dramatic death of Superman seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Out of a film that we confidently gave a 9.5 out of 10 in our non-spoiler review, in which we branded the Snyder Cut as the best DCEU film yet, the opening credits sequence of Zack Snyder’s Justice League felt kind of awkward and was probably the weakest sequence out of what was truly an incredible film. While the subtext of Superman’s cry being heard all around the world is poignant, something about this sequence feels off. The visual effects look a bit awkward and the sound traveling around just doesn’t really work. That being said, the second the words ‘Directed by Zack Snyder’ grace the screen and Ben Affleck’s Batman enters the cavern to locate Arthur Curry is pretty much where our criticisms of the Snyder Cut end.
This is in stark contrast to the theatrical cut’s opening, spotlighting Batman using a thief as bait to attract the attention of a parademon. The entire concept of parademons smelling fear has thankfully been left behind in favor of a much more ominous threat in the Snyder Cut. Steppenwolf is no longer the silly characterture of a villain we previously saw, but is, instead, a hulking, merciless menace. The scene where Steppenwolf and his legion of parademons drag captured Atlantians out of the ocean to interrogate them regarding the Mother Box’s location was beautifully shot and showcased the real threat posed by these characters.
The Snyder Cut not only ramps it up in terms of violence, but also in terms of emotional impact. Subtle shifts in lighting, editing, and dialogue make Barry’s connection with his imprisoned father so much more poignant. Lois’ conversation with ‘Martha’ was so heartfelt in conveying the trauma Clark’s death had on Lois and how it continues to impact her. It’s difficult, though, to not speak about Justice League’s emotional impact without mentioning Cyborg. As we noted in our non-spoiler review, we wholeheartedly agree with Zack Snyder’s sentiment that Ray Fisher’s character is the heart and soul of the movie. As an audience, we feel Victor’s pain as he has transformed into this new being, but also as we see Victor come to grips with this new reality and forge bonds with a new family. It was really touching to see the movie begin with Victor listening to a recording from his father, and then the film conclude with the continuation of this recording in a heartfelt speech about being a father and living a valued, meaningful life despite obstacles.
One of the more surprising things about the Snyder Cut was its similar handling of Superman as its 2017 counterpart. Yes, we don’t have the abominable CGI to mask Henry Cavill’s mustache and Superman isn’t making awkward jokes about brunch. But, overall, Superman’s role is largely the same across both cuts. With several incredible exceptions. The black suit is jaw dropping, as is the scene where Clark dons the suit. Hans Zimmer’s theme from Man of Steel always gives me goosebumps and its inclusion in the Snyder Cut was no exception. Superman’s iconic return to the battlefield is handled much better in Zack Snyder’s version with the sheer power and might of the Kryptonian on full display. And the scene in which the league discusses and eventually decides to resurrect Superman was dumbfoundingly altered for the theatrical cut – dumbfoundingly in that it was easily one of the best scenes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
It’s really Part 6 and the epilogue where we delve deeply into spoiler territory. Darkseid casts a long shadow across the whole film, but his appearance during the final act was breathtaking. As he appears, the characters, along with the audience, are flooded with a sense of dread. And this dread culminates in yet another catch-your-breath moment as the team loses their efforts to stop the Unity. Cyborg’s haunting proclamation of this loss resonates strongly and, for a moment, the audience sits with the league as we watch them lose everything before our eyes. Shortly after, however, we see The Flash save the day in spectacular fashion. And the usage of time travel in the speed force nicely sets up the aspects of Flashpoint that are likely to be seen in Barry Allen’s upcoming solo film. As the team recovers from their temporary loss, we see Wonder Woman behead Steppenwolf, a far better conclusion to the character’s journey than his demise in the theatrical cut. But, even as the league wins the battle, there’s a sense that the war has just begun.
Coming off the final battle, Zack Snyder’s Justice League just follows with one punch after another. The entire epilogue feels like a series of in-movie post-credits scenes (yes, we understand how absurd that sounds), in the best possible way. First, we get an altered version of one of the theatrical cut’s post-credits scenes. Deathstroke and Lex Luthor converge again, but much of their dialogue is altered. It’s hard to watch this scene and not think of what could’ve been, given that the encounter quite obviously sets up plot threads that would’ve been explored in a Batman solo film directed by and starring Ben Affleck. This scene would’ve been enough to leave fans satisfied, but Zack Snyder doesn’t stop there.
In what is inevitably going to be regarded as the film’s most iconic scene, we are welcomed back into the Knightmare world. The visceral, vision/dream-type glimpse into the future took fans aback when we first saw it in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and, somehow, Snyder surpasses himself with Justice League’s Knightmare sequence. This glimpse into the apocalyptic world that the future beholds is haunting. Our cast of heroes has dwindled down to but a few. But our cast now also includes a few villains, in Deathstroke and the scene stealer himself Joker. Seeing Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker finally converge and share a series of verbal blows exceeded any and all expectations we had for this scene. Joker taunting Batman about the murder of Robin sent chills down our spines. But the icing on the cake was Batman’s proclamation that he “will f***ing kill” Joker when the time comes. This is not a Batman who is consumed with an internal dialogue of morality. This is a hardened Batman living in a hardened world, desperate to do whatever he can to reverse the devastation that occurred and enact justice in his own brutal way. In a single scene, Leto shows more than ever why he was cast as Academy Award winner Heath Ledger’s successor in the ultimate villain role. His back-and-forth with Batman felt like it was straight out of a classic DC comic. His outfit disturbingly evoked Christ imagery. And his depraved laughter upon the arrival of the villainous Superman was palpable. All in all, in a movie that already blew us away, the film’s Knightmare sequence stood apart.
But, it doesn’t end there as we see Harry Lennix appear as J’onn J’onzz, a.k.a. Martian Manhunter. Fans have long speculated that Lennix’s General Swanwick was actually the Martian Manhunter and we finally got confirmation of this in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It was touching to see the character take the form of Martha Kent as a means to help Lois heal from the trauma of losing the person she loved the most. And it was incredible to behold the character in full view go face-to-face with Bruce Wayne. Martian Manhunter’s look is spot on and evokes the best depictions of the character from comics and animated projects. Lennix has an iconic voice, a voice that is amplified with subtle changes to his performance as the Martian Manhunter.
It’s difficult to watch scenes like this, the Deathstroke-Lex encounter, and the Knightmare sequence without thinking that Zack Snyder has plans to continue this narrative in future films. At least, we hope that’s something the acclaimed director intends to do as the Snyder Cut is a fantastic movie on its own, while also setting up so many interesting plot threads to explore in subsequent films. The anti-life equation. Deathstroke knowing Batman’s identity. The emergence of Martian Manhunter. There is so much to explore here, but, for the time being, we are so happy that Zack Snyder’s true vision for Justice League is finally actualized.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max. Stay tuned to DC Motherbox and Star Wars Holocron for continued coverage of the Snyder Cut.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment and HBO Max