Review by Daniel Blackaby March 21, 2021
Zach Snyder’s Justice League
Final Verdict: No amount of flashy visuals or slow-mo shots can rescue this flawed and soulless movie from the weight of a convoluted and uninspiring script.
About The Film
In 2017, Justice League limped into theaters after a notoriously troubled production (including a change of directors) and was almost universally deemed a major disappointment. Then came #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, as fans rallied for Warner Bros to release the film as it was “originally intended.” After years of hype and anticipation, the so-called “Snyder Cut” has finally been released to the world. It’s a fascinating case study into both the power of fandom and the creative process, but in the end, there’s only one question that truly matters: is it a good film?
I did not see 2017’s Joss Wheaton incarnation, so I cannot compare the two cuts. Experiencing Zach Snyder’s cut on its own merits, however, I couldn’t avoid the feeling that this film is a disaster.
Grim, monotone—both visually and thematically—and mostly soulless, the film suffocates under the weight of an overlong, overly complicated, and under-edited plot (not all studio input is an evil). Despite boasting a mammoth runtime of four hours, the movie still feels overstuffed. The amount of exposition is staggering, as various characters spout off extended monologues filled with important plot details and complicated histories. Several of these exposition dumps are accompanied by visual flashback scenes, which are far more engaging, but cannot fully overcome the issue that the movie is constantly stopping its forward momentum to fill viewers in with backstory or plot details. With so much set up, it’s not until nearly the two hour mark that Bruce Wayne actually suits up as Batman.
Zach Snyder also suffers from “George Lucas” syndrome. He has a keen eye for the cool looking visual shots, but too often characters stand around and voice their emotions and character motivations rather than showing them through their actions, such as Bruce Wayne on a plane at the start of the filming verbalizing to Alfred all of his goals, struggles, and inner conflict. A subtle storyteller, Zach Snyder is not.
The plot itself revolves around the big baddies (the visually interesting Steppenwolf, and the overwhelmingly bland Darkseid) searching for three “mother boxes” which, once united, will allow them to take over the world, while the heroes race to put together their super team. Neither of the parallel storylines are very captivating.
The Mother Boxes (which aren’t given an explanation until over an hour into the runtime) are standard MacGuffins, resulting in a handful of action scenes involving secondary characters and largely disconnected from the main protagonists. Also, gaining one box does not offer any advantage for the villains, so there is no escalating stakes, merely a waiting game to delay the final conflict and give the Justice League more time to unite.
Again, there is just So. Much. Plot. In an already convoluted story, there is a jarring story detour to introduce something called the “anti-life equation” that the villains also want to obtain for some reason. I wasn’t clear what this meant. Turns out, I didn’t need to, as this detour is merely to set up a future sequel that is now unlikely to be filmed. Similarly, at one point the Amazonians conduct a ritual to shoot a flaming arrow to light a fire in another temple (“the beacons are lit! Gondor calls for aid!”), in order for it to be reported on news, so that Wonder Woman will hear about it, understand its meaning, go to the temple, use the arrow to enter the hidden crypt, and then see the carvings on the walls detailing the mother boxes. She is already familiar with the history and power of mother boxes; the entire complicated process is just to let her know that the mother boxes are waking up. Plot. Plot. Plot.
The uniting the Justice League is storyline is only slightly more interesting, mainly consisting of a series of scenes where characters meet and talk. Unlike Marvel’s Avengers, where differing philosophies and personalities led to mental and physical clashes, the Justice League heroes are more civil and less stubborn. The heroes either join immediately or else leave, take a day or two to think on it, and then return and join. No drama or suspense. Just checking off plot boxes.
In the end, Zach Snyder’s Justice League demonstrates that studio interference or a troubled production are not the only powers that can detail a film, and that no amount of creative freedom can overcome a bad script.
On the Surface
Profanity: 2 F-words and several minor profanities (“son of a B—).
Sexuality: None. The Amazon warriors wear armor exposing their midriffs and Aquaman is highlighted taking off his shirt multiple times, but nothing overly sexualized.
Violence: More violent than a typical superhero film, will splattering blood and bloodstains left on the walls.
Beneath the Surface
Engage the Film
OF GODS AND MEN
The dance required of most superhero movies is that while they attempt to inspire average people to live heroically, they do so by showcasing super-charged characters with god-like abilities far beyond the reach of mortal man. At one point, a starstruck little girl asks Wonder Woman, “Can I be like you some day?” to which Diana tenderly responds, “You can be anything you want to be.” A touching sentiment, until the girl grows up to realize that “not being daughter of Zeus” has its limitations. Later, Barry Allen’s dad tells his son, “You can be anything you want to be.” After watching the Flash in action, it’s hard to argue with papa Flash. The film establishes a clear distinction between superhero/gods and regular people.
One of the strengths in Zach Snyder’s vision for the superhero genre is the utter devastation and carnage left in the wake of the clash of gods. Yes, the fight scenes often play out like PlayStation 2 cut-scenes, with a weightlessness and lack of any semblance of physics, as punches send characters flipping through the air. Yet, these scenes highlight a far more realistic depiction of the mismatch.
In fact, there are very few important non-super powered individuals. This is not a film about heroes and demigods inspiring mere mortals to rise up. It’s a film about regular people getting out of the way and letting the gods battle. Even Batman takes a backseat, offering little to the conflict beyond assembling his more powerfully-endowed allies. There is a clear line between mortal and god, and Zach Snyder doesn’t pretend to that it can be crossed by good intentions and inspirational slogans.
The film wants unity to be its central theme. At one point, with the heroes on the cusp of the final showdown, Bruce Wayne gruffly declares, “They’ve never fought us. Not us unified.”
Yet, the way the film presents unity is lackluster. My main issue with the film as a whole is the completely uninteresting dynamic between the members of the Justice League. Each of the heroes is well cast in their roles, but they simply don’t work together as a unit. The actors lack chemistry, and the script doesn’t provide enough interesting material to work with.
Rather than a unified whole, they are more akin to a puzzle. They contribute to the team, not because of who they are, but merely because of what they can do. The Flash is valuable because he is fast, not because he adds a unique and valuable perspective. Batman seems to be the leader because he’s Batman, not because of any display of inspiring leadership. In fact, both Batman and Aquaman (and perhaps even Wonder Woman) could be removed from the team without any significant impact on the story. They kill their share of parademons—the dispensable CGI goons—but only Cyborg, The Flash, and Superman use their abilities in essential ways, or offer anything to the mission beyond their abilities (Cyborg being the film’s standout and most compelling character).
These six heroes stand side by side (in dramatic slow motion), not because they’ve shown any real bond or trust with each other, but because this is a Justice League movie and the script dictates an epic scene like this. They may all share a common goal and march (or fly) in the same direction, but they do so as a group of individuals, rather than as a single body or unit.