The Media Man Reviews: Zack Snyder's Justice League
Updated: Apr 24, 2022
Superhero movies have certainly gotten a massive popularity boost in the past decade. It started to grow with the release of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins in 2005 and come 2008, we'd get The Dark Knight which is often considered one of the greatest movies in all of cinema while also getting Iron Man, the very movie that spawned the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ever since then, superhero movies have just been getting bigger and bigger and have become some of the biggest films in pop culture history, along with being some of the most successful films in recent years. Heck, some of the highest grossing movies of all time are superhero movies with Avengers: Endgame being the movie that managed to dethrone Avatar as THE highest grossing movie of all time...for all of an entire year before Avatar took it back in March 2021. XD
Sadly, just because superhero movies are popular, doesn't mean they're ALL profitable. Case in point, 2017's Justice League. This movie even to this day serves as one of cinema's biggest cautionary tales on how executive meddling and conflicting visions can sully the final product. With a whopping great budget of around $300 million, with $25 million of that budget being down to reshoots, Justice League was released to mixed reviews from critics and fans and failed to break even at the Box Office, only making $657 million worldwide when they needed to reach $750 million to turn in a profit. This ended up costing Warner Bros. $60 million overall and has played a huge part in their decision to take the DCEU in a different direction than what we initially had. Their current movies are more stand-alone and have a lighter tone as a result of Justice League's failure with other consequences involving Zack Snyder's planned Justice League sequels being cancelled and his set-up and vision being discarded in favour of what we have now.
So the big question is what exactly led to Justice League being such a colossal failure? Two words: Executive Meddling. While Justice League was being made, Zack Snyder had to leave the project due to a horrible tragedy that hit his family. His daughter, Autumn Snyder, had committed suicide at the age of 20 due to depression and Zack understandably had to leave the director's chair to recover from the grief of such a tragedy. Warner Bros. than hired Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Avengers fame to fill in for him. The results...were not good. Not only did they trim the movie down to the point it was basically a skeleton of what it once was but Joss carried out extensive reshoots that only ended up ballooning the film's budget (particularly when they had to CGI out Henry Cavill's moustache he was sporting for his role in Mission Impossible: Fallout) with another $25 million just to carry out said reshoots, while also filling the movie with special effect failures, an inconsistent tone and scenes that don't really add to the movie in any way. There were also allegations of Joss treating the cast horribly on set but that's another story...
All of this resulted in the legendary hashtag that would give us today's blog post: #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. This very hashtag started a movement from fans that would balloon into a campaign that led to the director's cut, or "Snyder Cut" of Justice League being released on Warner Bros. streaming service, HBO Max, while countries that didn't have HBO Max would get in elsewhere like in cinemas or on Sky Cinema for the UK. The Snyder Cut would go on to receive MUCH better praise from both critics and fans and has become a huge success for HBO Max. Despite the success, Warner Bros. is still very dismissive towards the movie and otherwise intends to carry on with their current vision for the DCEU. That however hasn’t stopped people from spreading a new hashtag in favour of restoring the Snyderverse by any means. Heck, Warner Bros. actually wanted to release the Snyder cut unfinished just so they could justify not releasing it! No, I'm not making this up! See for yourself:
WB Originally Wanted To Release Unfinished Justice League Snyder Cut (screenrant.com)
JUSTICE LEAGUE: Warner Bros. Initially Suggested Releasing The "Snyder Cut" In An Unfinished State (comicbookmovie.com)
Still, we got the movie released, fully completed, and that's what we're here for So here, on the Media Man's Media Blog, let's see if Zack Snyder's Justice League was worth campaigning for or if we should've let Darkseid and his minions destroy it when they invaded Earth...
Section 1: The Story
Just to clarify guys, no, I'm NOT going to compare both versions of the Justice League movie. That requires its own blog post. This review will be the Snyder Cut of Justice League on its own. So on its own, how does it fare up?
The story continues where Batman v Superman left off with Superman dead at the spikes of Doomsday and the threat of something bigger coming to Earth coming to fruition as the nefarious Steppenwolf and his forces from Apokalips arrive to finish what they started centuries ago. It's up to Batman and Wonder Woman to gather the team together to gain enough manpower and superpower to repel the invasion and save the world from devastation.
The first thing I'll warn you about is that this is a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG movie. It's about 4 hours in total so this is not a movie you can get through in a single sitting. Thankfully, the movie splits itself into "chapters" to give the viewers a break and a jumping off point so they can come back and watch the rest later. My personal viewing experience with this film is to watch it in halves, half the movie one night and the other half the other night. Despite the long running time though, the pacing of the movie is surprisingly well-handled. I never really feel those four hours when I watch this film. It flows well from one scene to the next, never once feeling too long or too short (with some exceptions). You get the action packed moments that really get you hyped up and ready for more and you get the quiet moments that allow you to take a breath and either enjoy the atmosphere or get some neat character moments to fill you in until the next action scene arrives.
What I love about the story of this film is that it truly feels like a Justice League movie. I've seen many of the animated DC movies and some of them will often feel like they shaft a few heroes in favour of others, ESPECIALLY in Batman's case as DC loves to prop him up whenever they can. Not so here for every League member gets their time to shine from Batman proving he can be badass without superpowers to Wonder Woman kicking ass whenever she's onscreen to Aquaman proving how not lame he really is to Cyborg providing much of the movie's heart and having a lot of great character moments and of course, The Flash having one of cinema's most epic moments that I daren't spoil for those who haven't seen it. This is a movie that really is about the League in general and not just a select few and most of the characters have their own individual arcs with Cyborg and The Flash having the most important ones that come to satisfying conclusions.
I also love the world-building of the Snyder cut. Not only do we have more depth added to the villains, but we learn more history of this version of the DC Universe and how things came to be with the presence of Darkseid and the history of the Mother Boxes and how they ended up on Earth. We even get confirmation that the Anti-Life Equation exists in this universe and although it's mostly vague, they tell enough about it so the audience knows why it's significant to Darkseid and why it's so terrifying that Steppenwolf was able to locate where it is. This kind of world-building not only adds more interesting lore to the DCEU, but provides opportune moments for sequels in the future. Good world-building should always give us a feeling that this is a wide, expansive universe with a lot going on and plenty of stories to tell.
But one of my favourite things about the story here is the heart of the movie. The tone has its dark moments but compared to BvS, it's clear that this is where things get more optimistic for the world at large for we less cynicism from the characters, especially Batman, and some truly wonderful heartfelt moments. Those moments for me include Wonder Woman checking on the school after stopping the terrorists, Barry's scene with his father, him saving Iris from the truck accident, Cyborg using his powers to help a financially struggling woman and Superman's return. Those moments really can tug at your heartstrings and make the world not seem so bleak for these particular characters. After the darker tones of Man of Steel and BvS, these moments especially feel well-earned. It also helps that the movie has some pretty funny moments too, especially when it comes to the wit of the characters and some of their dialogue.
Also, due to this being the director's cut of the movie, we get a lot of additional new scenes that were missing from the original cut. Most of these scenes either provide new context to pre-existing scenes that has them make more sense or makes them feel more complete, adds more layers to the characters and their stories or gives the story more time to breathe thanks to the running time allowing these scenes to be included to flesh out the plot some more. This in turn makes the Snyder cut a more epic and a more fulfilling viewing experience as a result. It just makes you wonder why so much of this stuff was just left out in the original cut because the movie benefitted so much from having it back in.
If there's any issues I have with the story, they're all relatively minor in the grand scheme of things but still need addressing. First of all, when it comes to the Justice League themselves, Aquaman feels the most inconsequential of the bunch. Batman and Wonder Woman are recruiting the team, Cyborg has to come to grips with his cyborg appearance and his estranged relationship with his father, The Flash has to make a living for himself and fulfil his father's wishes while also needing to make friends and Superman's passing is the driving force behind Steppenwolf's invasion and how bringing him back is necessary to stop him. Aquaman...what exactly does be bring to the movie? The plot doesn't really impact him a whole lot and he doesn't really have a story of his own. The most we get is that "he's a cynical loner who helps a village on occasion until he...wasn't anymore". The most he does is join the team and play a part in the fight scenes but nothing that major. True Atlantis is part of the backstory behind the Mother Boxes but really think about it, if Aquaman was taken out of the movie, would anything really change? Take any other League member out and you lose a lot of context for the story, character moments and important bits of plot. Aquaman on the other hand...yeah, let's just say his movie put him to better use.
Also, the movie can have a few odd moments that either feel out of place or feel a bit cartoonish, namely the scene where Aquaman leaves and the villagers just start singing...because, or the whole truck accident scene where Iris West is nearly killed...because some truck driver couldn't help fumbling around for his burger while driving. That especially requires A LOT of suspension of disbelief because I don't think for a minute anything like that would happen! Nobody's that stupid...or at least I hope nobody is. Also depending on how you view the scene, the way Barry saves Iris can come off as creepy with the way he just stares longingly at her while the world's at a standstill with his superspeed. And sweet merciful crap, who's the idiot who thought Wonder Woman needed some epic chanting to go off in the background every time she...does something?! It gets really friggin' annoying after the hundredth time they do it and it almost feels like the sound engineer's putting it in there on purpose just to annoy the viewer!
And although the pacing is really good for the most part, some scenes can feel like they drag a bit due to the film relying way too much on slow-motion a lot of the time. The opening sequence especially feels too long and could've been trimmed down and adding the Knightmare scene at the end causes the ending to drag a bit too. Personally, they should've had the scene as an after-credits scene or maybe as a DVD extra rather than put it in the movie.
Regardless, Zack Snyder's Justice League delivers a more complete viewing experience thanks to the extended running time allowing more room for the story to breathe while including a lot of new scenes that provide stronger context that makes the story feel much more whole as a result. With great action, heart and some compelling character arcs, this is the kind of story I expect from a superhero team-up movie.
Section 2: The Characters
As a Justice League movie, naturally it's about the individual superheroes that make up the team and the enemies they'll face.
We have Batman who is presented here as the atoner who is desperate to make up for his actions back in Batman V Superman and is working along with Wonder Woman to unite the heroes of the world to stop Steppenwolf. Batman is not only really likeable here, but he comes off as a man who has truly been changed by past experiences with the events of Batman V Superman truly having shaped him into a better person. He also manages to have some badass moments without overshadowing the other League members, which is really refreshing because most DC media loves to shill him to Apokalips and back.
There's Wonder Woman who is of course, a true badass like always but the movie also shows us her compassionate side to remind us that her true strength isn't her Amazon powers, but her kindness and loving nature. Her best scenes for me include her trying to reach out to Cyborg and the aftermath of the terrorist attack where she's stopped the terrorists and then goes to check on the schoolkids and the teachers. I know I smiled when she told that schoolgirl "You can be anything you want to be". That's pure Wonder Woman for me. Although some of her badass moments are undercut by that annoying chanting, Wonder Woman is really well handled here and feels so true to the character we know and love.
And then there's the new characters that we see hints of in BvS and see in proper, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. As I said, Aquaman is pretty superfluous to the overall plot and could honestly be written out entirely. The Flash and Cyborg on the other hand are not only more important, but provide much of the movie's heart and have the most compelling arcs of the whole movie. Both are incredibly sympathetic from the information given to us that reveals much about their pasts and where they came from and both have logical reasons for joining the League that make sense in the context of the movie. Both also have some of the best moments in the movie be it Cyborg helping the struggling woman with his new powers or The Flash playing a big role in the movie's climax that cements him as a true superhero. The one downside to The Flash is I feel his personality is closer to Wally West than Barry Allen, which begs the question of why this is Barry Allen instead of Wally West. But hey, he's still great in this movie at least.
Superman comes back, of course, but he's not in the movie much due to being dead for most of it. When he does come back, he makes the most of his screen time with his battle with the League re-establishing what an unstoppable juggernaut he is, his reunion with Lois and Martha re-establishing his gentle side and his relationship with the humans that made him truly feel welcome on Earth and his aiding the League in stopping Steppenwolf re-establishing his role as a superhero who will put the lives of mankind and won't back down from a threat, no matter how big it may be. If you ever need a reminder on why Superman is great, this movie does a great job on that front.
And then we have the villain of the movie, Steppenwolf. In the Snyder cut, Steppenwolf is a far more compelling villain due to the extra depth that is added to him that gives much more layers to his character that were sorely missing from before. This Steppenwolf is a guy who conquers and destroys not for worthless pursuits like power or glory or just for the evils...but because he thinks it's the only way Darkseid will forgive him. He does what he does to please his master and he knows no other way of getting in his good graces so he goes on with his desire to finish what Darkseid started so many years ago. You kinda pity Steppenwolf with this in mind. All this plus the fact he comes off as such an invincible force of nature makes Steppenwolf a fantastic villain that commands our attention whenever he's onscreen.
And while we're on that subject, Darkseid actually appears for real in the Snyder cut and it is AWESOME! Darkseid is not only depicted brilliantly, but he plays a part in the film's world-building that builds him up as the biggest threat to the universe that anyone has ever known and it really shows how dangerous he is when humans, Amazons and Atlanteans all had to team up just to get him to retreat. We also have Cyborg's Knightmare visions that show a dark future where he wins, adding further menace to his character as it shows he's a guy who could potentially defeat the League and conquer everything. If Zack's original vision for the DCEU ever got to continue, it'd be great to see this version of Darkseid in the future.
We also have other characters like Lois Lane, Silas Stone and Alfred Pennyworth who are great supporting characters for the League members in the movie. Alfred is his usual great self (and come on, it's Alfred! He's always great!) and gets some of the funniest lines in the movie, Lois while Silas is an important piece of Cyborg's story that gets to play a part in helping the League stop Steppenwolf in the end. Both those two are well handled and show the importance of supporting characters being supportive to our mains.
We also have characters like Ryan Choi and a surprise appearance from another classic DC hero that I won't spoil for you but they're mostly there for fan-service more than anything. I still appreciate knowing that they exist in this version of the DC Universe.
All these characters are brought to life by some great acting from everyone. Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher and Henry Cavill are all fantastic as their respective superheroes, Cirian Hinds is a superbly menacing Steppenwolf with a world-weary voice that shows this is a character that has been through a lot, Ray Porter is a FLAWLESS Darkseid who gives him a voice that truly invokes terror in anyone who faces him, Peter Guinness gives an enjoyably slimy performance as Desaad and Jeremy Irons is always charming no matte role he's in. Amy Adams is great as Lois Lane and Joe Morton gives a great performance as Silas Stone, effortlessly portraying him as the man who has been caught up in his work and wishes to re-connect with the son he's often lacked the time for. And while he only shows up in the Knightmare sequence, Jared Leto makes a great return as The Joker in which he's not only given great dialogue to work with, but gives an unnerving and unhinged portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime. Overall, the acting really has little to criticize with just about everyone being sensational in their roles.
The characters are really well-done here with compelling arcs for our heroes and some much needed depth for our villains. If there's anything that got a huge improvement from having the Snyder cut come out, it was definitely the characters.
Section 3: The Cinematography
It's a Zack Snyder movie. Is anyone surprised that it looks amazing?
The cinematography here gives us what we usually expect from a Zack Snyder movie: slow motion scenes, incredible action, sensational special effects, interesting angles and a lot of gorgeous looking scenery. And of course, he brings his usual trademark of desaturated colours that he often brings to his movies. While I can agree that this movie would've benefitted from looking more colourful, I do think that the movie is still really pretty to look at.
I'll start off with the special effects here. You can tell that the SFX team working on this wanted to make the most of the time they were given to polish everything and make the movie look the best it can for the CGI is really damn impressive and at times looks near realistic. Steppenwolf especially is so convincing that it feels like I could touch him and feel the rough texture of his skin or cut myself on his sharp armour. Even Darkseid looks really convincing too to the point I can practically feel the texture on his knuckles when you see close ups of his hands! And as for their designs, Steppenwolf may look a little over-the-top with his spiky armour but they manage to make it work by having the armour able to put the spikes away or even be used in ways other than armour to show it has a lot of functionality to it that makes the over-the-top design seem more plausible as a result. It also helps that he's given a more alien appearance this time around to make him look more convincing as an otherworldly being that could conquer plants and his armour looks strangely beautiful whenever he's in the sunlight for how shiny it looks. It's like a perfect visual metaphor for "beautiful but deadly". For Darkseid, he looks like he came straight out of the comics right down to his high forehead and trademark helmet he wears. It was such a treat to see him here and looking so good.
But they're not the only examples of good SFX work here. The SFX during the action scenes are really well done too with how the actors interact with the alien characters and how their powers are depicted. Every time we see the Justice League fight Steppenwolf or the Parademons, they never look like they're fighting CGI creatures or men in suits, they look like they're fighting against real aliens! Every blow they land looks and feels like a punch or a sword blade or a laser beam hitting real flesh and bone and the actor's performances during these scenes helps to sell the illusion further. We also get some dazzling display of the character's abilities from The Flash's superspeed to Cyborg accessing the databases of the world with his hi-tech hacking. The Flash especially looks incredible during his big moment in the climax where the special effects really go above and beyond to give us a jaw-dropping spectacle that will already go down as one of the most epic moments to come out of a superhero movie. When your special effects are able to make your hero's powers look this amazing, you know you've done your job well.
We also get some convincing looking fictional settings too from Atlantis when go underwater to see the Atlanteans defending their Mother Box to Apokalips in the brief times we see Darkseid and his underlings there and also Steppenwolf's base he sets up in an abandoned district. Once again, the CGI makes these places look like you could be there and see them for yourself and they really sell you that these are fantastical, alien places that exist in this universe. Even Batman's vehicles all look real and like you could sit and drive these things around and shoot at bad guys like he does.
And I can't talk about a superhero movie without mentioning the costume design. All the superheroes have great looking costumes that fit for a live-action depiction of the Justice League with the costumes looking more detailed and realistic but still recognizable as to who these characters are. If Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman existed in real life, their costumes would look like these easily and I give major props to the designers for making them look this good. Now if only they looked more colourful...
And then there's the action scenes. Zack has a reputation for being able to direct awesome action scenes and this movie is no different. The action scenes here are well choreographed and directed with our heroes and villains truly feeling as if they're in the fight of their lives with a lot of powerful blows, skilled gymnastics and slick moves with each and every character involved having their own unique battle-style that makes them stand out from one another. The highlights for me include the Amazon's battle with Steppenwolf to keep the Mother Box away, any time Wonder Woman is fighting and the climax with the League vs. Steppenwolf. Those are all incredible scenes that bring the best of the movie's action and effects and I could watch them forever without getting bored.
Is there anything I'd criticize about the cinematography? Other than the movie could've done with being more colourful, I'd say that Zack really needs to limit the amount of slow-motion he uses. Even by his standards, this movie has more than what he actually needs. A good chunk of the movie has slow-motion and it's not always necessary. We know the cinematography looks impressive, we don't always need to slow it down to show just HOW impressive it is. And we don't really need some of the fancy camera work to the point we need a close-up of a sesame seed from a burger bun. That's just going a bit far. XD
Regardless, this is a very pretty looking movie with some incredible action scenes, dazzling SFX, great costume design and some lovely location work to give us four hours worth of eye-candy. Thank goodness the film was released as it was and not unfinished or we wouldn't have gotten a movie that looks as good as this...
Zack Snyder's Justice League is the version of the movie we should've got in the first place. The plot is compelling with great character arcs and heartfelt moments, the characters are well-handled with strong development all around, the action is top-notch and Zack Snyder's cinematography is a feast for the eyes as always. I wholeheartedly thank everyone that campaigned for its release as it feels like we fans have closure for the whole Justice League debacle and that Zack Snyder can have closure for the film is out there and released the way he originally intended for it to be seen. Does it have flaws? Of course it does, but the film's strengths more than make up for them.
While Snyder's vision for the DCEU may be gone, we can at least take solstice knowing that we can see it concluded with the Snyder cut of Justice League finally out and there maybe hope that one day, we may see his other Justice League films come to life soon. For now, I'm just going to say #RestoreTheSnyderVerse and see what the future holds. Here's hoping that the next DCEU films will be worth a watch...
And that's my review for Zack Snyder's Justice League. I hope you enjoyed it and feel free to leave your own thoughts on the movie in the comments below. Tune in to my next blog post in which I'll be analysing both versions of the movie and determining which one is the superior version. See you next time...