Zack Snyder’s Justice League, 2021, directed by Zack Snyder
– 2.5/5 Stars
Zack Snyder’s Justice League, divorced from its actual content, is a fascinating cultural event. When Snyder had to step down from directing the original theatrical cut of Justice League in 2017, Joss Whedon, known for his work on the Avengers series, stepped in to finish the job. Whedon and Snyder have distinctly different directorial styles, and the final product that audiences saw in theaters was, in the most delicate terms, less than up to most fan’s expectations. Footage shot for dark, gloomy color correction was altered to be bright and gaudy, and once-serious scenes were awkwardly reworked to force out-of-place attempts at comedic moments. When Snyder mentioned in an interview that his original, almost-finished version of the film was quite different than what made it to theaters, dedicated fans began clamoring online for a release of Snyder’s version, what they dubbed the “Snyder Cut”. After four years, in what was likely an attempt to draw subscribers to the new HBO Max streaming platform, Warner Brothers finally followed through on fans’ requests, cutting a deal with Snyder to release his “vision” of the film, giving him full creative control. The result of this deal isn’t exactly perfect either. The bloated, four-hour-long version of Justice League is riddled with mediocre visual effects, stilted performances and unnecessary exposition, but it still, in its excessive runtime, manages to be more engaging and entertaining than Whedon’s theatrical cut.
While Snyder has a unique and recognizable approach to filmmaking, his visual style is often muddy, inelegant and downright ugly. Many scenes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League are far too reminiscent of Snyder’s earlier films like 300, with fight scenes taking the form of brown blobs slamming into each other on a gloomy, gray backdrop. Snyder also has a particular tendency to overuse slow motion, often stopping the pacing of action sequences in their tracks to give the audience a beautifully crisp shot of a bullet casing flying out the side of a gun. In one especially laughable scene, the camera holds on a sesame seed falling from a hamburger bun for an inordinate amount of time.
One has to wonder if most of the effects budget went into rendering that surprisingly realistic sesame seed, as many of the effects-heavy scenes in the movie look more like video games from a decade ago than a movie released in 2021. Steppenwolf, the main antagonist, is impressive-looking alone, but sticks out like a sore thumb when placed next to live-action actors. Most of the greenscreen is also painfully obvious, which is unfortunate considering that most of the movie is shot on greenscreen, even when it seems highly unnecessary.
Perhaps the film’s biggest and most glaring flaw, though, is its length. While just over four hours gives the movie plenty of time to establish its characters and more fleshed-out emotional backstories, it drags to the point of tedium, and will likely have viewers yawning around the two-hour mark. This overpacking of exposition and establishing scenes isn’t helped by some truly blasé performances, especially from Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who struggle to deliver some of the more laughably over-the-top lines with any real emotion.
All this being said, Zack Snyder’s long-awaited version of Justice League at least follows through on its promise of being better than the 2017 version. The nonsensical and painfully unamusing comedic scenes from Whedon’s version are gone, and Ezra Miller’s portrayal of the Flash is far more likeable. The film keeps a consistent tone throughout, and the emotional conclusion, thanks to the arduous setup earlier in the film, feels much more earned. What’s also thankfully absent is the bizarre, digitally replaced upper lip on Henry Cavill’s Superman, an unfortunate happenstance of Whedon’s reshoots.
For fans of Snyder’s past work, this movie will likely be rewarding. For all others, it will likely feel pointless and boring. Those who were clamoring for years for the film’s release will not be disappointed to see Jared Leto return as the joker in a stapled-on epilogue sequence, but the average audience member will undoubtedly be scratching their head in confusion. In short, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an aimlessly inflated work of filmmaking designed for a very specific breed of moviegoer. Some will find solace in it, but the vast majority are just fine scrolling right past it in their HBO Max app.